LCM MISSIONARY CHARLOTTE MAYHEW’S LOVE FOR THE WORD OF GOD GOT OFF TO A VERY SHAKY START. SHE RECALLS READING THE BIBLE FOR THE FIRST TIME.
While I was studying at Manchester University, one of my housemates was a Christian. I asked him a lot of questions about his faith so he invited me to join a Christianity Explored course. He said it would help me understand Christianity. By the end of the course, I was convicted I was sinful, and I wanted to get to know Jesus. One of the leaders took me under her wing and invited me to read the Bible with her. I was really pleased because I had never read the Bible before and I wanted to learn more. She said reading the Letter to the Romans was a helpful way to get deeper into the gospel.
So I went away, got myself a Bible and a notepad, sat down on my own to read the first chapter and work it all out. The experience of reading those opening sentences is still a vivid memory. Literally every key word was unfamiliar to me. I didn’t know who Paul or David were, what an apostle or a gentile was. Reading it made me feel so stupid. It’s weird to find something you just don’t understand at all. It felt totally irrelevant. I thought I needed to know about Jesus, and I wasn’t sure this was about Jesus. I had no idea how to go about finding answers because there were so many books in the Bible, and I didn’t know where to start looking. On reflection, I guess part of it may be my student mentality – feeling I’ve failed if I didn’t know something. But at the time, I felt I couldn’t do it at all. I thought, “I’ve got nothing. How can I turn up to this Bible study with nothing to say?”
When finally we did meet, my friend handled it in exactly the right way. She assured me it was okay not to know all those things and promised they would become clearer. She explained we were starting on the Christian journey. “We’re starting at the top and just getting into it, and as we read more over time we’ll go deeper and deeper,” she said. That was really helpful and reassuring. She was a really good example of discipleship. We ate together, talked and she opened up her life to me. She was a fantastic Bible teacher, but for me the relationship was a key part to me growing as a Christian.
My life was not at all gospel-aligned, and we addressed issues naturally as they came up. She was very sensitive. She never avoided difficult issues, but at the same time didn’t try to force everything to the surface immediately. She never tried going ahead of the Spirit. I guess it’s the same with reading the Bible. I had to wait to see what I needed to know. Just having my friend with me while I explored these words, and not being frustrated that I didn’t know them, was an immense help. I’ve learned a lot from my experience and her example. John Stott talks about double listening. As we are teaching the Bible, we must be so careful at the same time to be listening to what the other person is coming with.