Volume 19 Number 6
Hooked for Life
01 December 2006
Paul Williams has been editing Turning Point since it began in 1992. He tells Laura Boobbyer about some of the significant moments in his own life.
PAUL WILLIAMS can’t remember the first major turning point in his life. He was an 11-month-old baby, curled up in a tight ball with a severe form of tubercular meningitis. The doctors tried flashing lights in his eyes and sticking pins in his body, but there was no reaction.
As his parents left him in hospital one Saturday evening, they were told there was no hope of recovery. ‘On Sunday the congregation of the church where my father was minister, prayed earnestly for me.’ On Monday morning, his parents were greeted by a still-incredulous consultant. ‘We can’t explain it, but he seems to have made a complete recovery!’
When he was old enough to be told about it, it didn’t have a specially big impact on him. ‘Yet somewhere at the back of my mind,’ he reflects, ‘was the knowledge that for some reason God had touched my young life.’
He says he was 14 when he made his first attempt to really take God seriously. During a Christian summer camp meeting, he felt an overwhelming tug to go forwards and surrender his life ‘to a God who loved me so much’. It was an emotional experience, which left him feeling as if he had been wrapped in a bright cloud. Looking back on the transaction he had made, however, he came to realise that, while genuine, it was devoid of any suggestion that a change of lifestyle on his part might be needed.
That challenge came just a year later. His father was part of a group which invited the Initiatives of Change (then MRA) play The Forgotten Factor to Rotherham, the Yorkshire steel town where they lived. It was a professionally staged drama about industrial dispute and class war and their impact on two families. God was the forgotten factor. Afterwards people from boardrooms and trade unions spoke from the stage, telling how steps of faith had brought significant changes in their own situations. ‘It all took my breath away: I had never heard anything like it.’
Williams and his brother met the cast and stage crew. There were Americans, Canadians, Dutch and Swiss—all with stories to tell of real changes in their lives, with an honesty he had not encountered before. Hooked, the boys decided to look at their own lives. For Williams this meant an honesty session with his father—’after courage had been called up from somewhere to knock at the study door’. There were also things to be straightened out with his 11-montholder brother. He had often felt he was living in his shadow and there was a below-the-surface jealousy that had long gone unacknowledged.
The second time he made a decision to give his life to God came between leaving school and starting military service. He was attending an Initiatives of Change conference in Caux, Switzerland. This time the transaction was much less emotional and far more considered. Friends helped him to be sure he went into it with his eyes open. ‘Had I fully weighed up the implications and the cost? What would giving my life to God mean in terms of career ambitions, relationships and lifestyle?’
Going into the army was just the right moment to make such concrete decisions, he says. ‘They helped me to hold firm and to keep the faith.’ When the two years were over, he went to Oxford University eager to join a small group of friends who were working out the consequences of putting God first in their lives. One of many fascinating encounters involved raising a considerable fund to bring world student leaders to the Caux conference centre. This led to tea on the House of Commons terrace with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer— explaining what the fund was for!
On graduating with a degree in Modern History, he couldn’t think of anything more relevant and satisfying than ‘joining those committed to furthering God’s kingdom amidst the chaos of the world’. So began 46 years (to date) of work with Initiatives of Change, firstly in India (for 8 years in total) and then in Wales.
Although Williams was born in London, both his parents were from Wales. ‘From the start of my 31 years there I was acutely aware that such a small country had so many divisions— yet so much potential.’ He decided to learn Welsh as one small step in bridgebuilding. Over the years he was able to organise a series of informal national dialogues, gathering people together to look at Wales’ particular role and contribution.
It was during of one of these dialogues that the idea came that Wales might find a ‘twin’ to relate to in the Third World. ‘In our minds we thought that working with another small country on the basis of friendship and understanding might be a way to rise above some of our own divisions,’ he says. Lesotho was chosen, and in 1983 Dolen Cymru (the Wales-Lesotho Link) was born. Williams acted as National Secretary for its first 21 years. The Link (see FAC Aug/Sept 2006) is the world’s first-ever country-country twinning and has grown to involve people, organisations and institutions throughout Wales.