The northern English city of Manchester has many suburbs of nondescript, red-brick terrace homes. In the early 1950s, a Christian lady went from door to door along these adjoining homes every Sunday afternoon to invite people to her church’s evening gospel service. No one ever came, yet, each week, she faithfully went out. Her name was May Holland.
One week, May’s little church was having a mid-week Bible study, so she rugged up and went down a particular street to invite people to attend. That street no longer exists – Manchester City Football Club built its new stadium over the site. Despite her invitations that day, no one had any interest in attending, until May came to one home. A young mother lived in that home named Alice. She was not a Christian, but had attended Sunday School as a child – the only member of her family to do so. Alice later said that she “loved God, but didn’t know him”. And she didn’t have the heart to say no to May. And so, reluctantly, Alice went to the Bible study with May where she heard the gospel. Her heart was opened and she surrendered her life to the Lord.
Three weeks later, Alice’s husband, John, was so impressed by the change in her life that he requested to go to church with her, where he heard the gospel and received the Lord. Not long after they came to faith, Alice, John and their three children emigrated to Australia.
The family grew. Alice’s eldest daughter ended up marrying a pastor. He became one of the leaders of his denomination, established a significant church in Melbourne, planted churches and had a fruitful global ministry until his retirement some years ago. Alice’s second child, a son, went on to become a pastor in Queensland where he, too, became a prominent leader in his denomination, built a large church in Brisbane, travelled extensively for ministry, and is still actively preaching despite having retired some years ago. Alice’s youngest child, a daughter, also ended up marrying a pastor who had an effective teaching, children’s and pastoral ministry. Although they have also retired, they both continue to serve God in teaching migrants and leaders in the developing world.
Alice, the lady who lived in that non-descript street in Manchester, is my grandmother. As a result of May Holland’s simple invitation to my nana, Alice, to attend a Bible study, there have been thousands and thousands of people who have come to the Lord through the family’s gospel ministry. Significant leaders have served their denominations and the broader church, dozens of churches have been planted, countless lives have been transformed by the teaching of Scripture, and I am now the incoming international director of a mission agency working among the least-reached people groups of the world in more than 70 nations. But May Holland knew nothing of this.
For some years my parents annually went to England to minister in churches. Everywhere they went, they would ask the pastor whether he or she knew of May Holland. After many years of asking, one pastor found out that she was attending a church in the Welsh seaside resort of Prestatyn. He then arranged for my parents to minister in that church and to meet her. They arrived early and May was waiting for them. As they warmly embraced, May burst into tears. Consoling her, my mother asked May why she was crying. She answered, “One week ago I prayed to the Lord and said, ‘Lord, my Christian life has been a failure. I’ve never done anything for you.'” Mum told May how all three of Alice and John’s children were in Christian ministry and that “…whatever fruit has come from that you have a part, because you planted the first seed.” May was deeply touched.
Along with my grandmother, Alice, and grandfather, John, May Holland has long gone to be with the Lord, but the fruit of her life continues each day through my family’s ministry.
To me, the most profound lesson from this remarkable story is that we never really know the eternal impact of our witness or work for the Lord. We often become discouraged because we seemingly don’t see the results. My heartfelt encouragement would be to keep faithfully doing what’s in your hand to do, keep serving Jesus with every fibre of your being and keep sharing the gospel with others. Because, like May Holland, we may not know the full extent of how the Lord has used us, but it will all be revealed on that day.
Pastor Bruce Hills is International Director of World Outreach International.More