Hi, my name is Emmy, and I’m from London. But I’m a bit of a mixed up kid, because my dad was Canadian and my mum was Australian. But I was brought up in the UK where I’ve lived most of my life apart from one year when we emigrated to America and we lived north of San Francisco for a year, but then we moved back to London again.
My life is not now in a place where I ever dreamt I would be because one of the verses that has always struck me as being extraordinary, is Proverbs 16:9 that says, “In his heart, a man plans his course. But the Lord orders his steps.” So I had a wonderful plan for my life.
I grew up in a home where we did go to church, but I didn’t really have a faith. And then, in my 20s, my sister became a Christian and I was cross with her. I said, “What do you mean, you’ve become a Christian? I’m a Christian.” And her reply was, “Why do you think you’re a Christian?” And I said, “Because I lead a good life. I go to church from time to time, I’m not involved with things I shouldn’t be involved in. Why do you think you’re a Christian?” And her reply was, “I now have a day to day personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” And I literally stopped in my tracks thinking, I cannot say that I have a day to day relationship.
So she’d been going to church for six months and I immediately said, I’d like to come and find out from this church what you have found that I obviously hadn’t found and that Sunday, she took me to church. I was bowled over by a number of things, first of all, by the worship, which was just so relevant, and so beautiful, and I watched one of the girls singing, and as she worshiped, I thought, you are worshiping a God, I don’t know. And then I was amazed by how many young people were in the church. But I was also amazed that the sermon was really fascinating and I didn’t fall asleep. So I asked if I could go again, the next Sunday.
The next Sunday, I went out to supper with someone who was a member of the church and I grilled him over the meal about what it meant to become a Christian. And he said, “Well, it sounds as if you’re ready to become a Christian.” And I said, “Well, how do you become a Christian?” And his reply was, “You have to pray.” And I said, “How do you pray?” So he led me in a prayer whereby I acknowledged that I was a sinner, that I needed to invite Jesus into my life, and that I wanted to follow Him for the rest of my life and I did that. That was the start of a journey that I never dropped, I would go on. So for many years, I sort of carried on coming to church being part of a HomeGroup.
Then in the early 80s, I was nursing people with HIV and AIDS. I would sit in on outpatient appointments when doctors would interview these patients as to why they were sick with this horrible virus. It would be quite normal for someone to say they might go to a Turkish bath or a sauna bath and in one night, have sex with six different people. I literally had to wire up my jaw because I didn’t know that people lived a lifestyle like that. And in those days, because no one knew how HIV was passed on, we had to wear full green theater protective clothing. So I was covered from head to toe.
One day I was waiting for a patient to come in to have one of these investigations and I was talking to God and saying, “Lord, no wonder they’re sick with HIV, because they live such a promiscuous lifestyle.” And I heard God say to me, “You are judging.” And I said, “Yes, but God it’s disgraceful how they live.” And again, the Lord spoke to me and said, “You are judging. I love this person just as much as I love you. I died for this person just as I died for you.” So I prayed a very grumpy prayer, which was, “Lord, if I’m to love this person, you’ll have to change my heart.”
So around this time, our church was a church that had worship on a Sunday. We had a small course called The Alpha course, which is an introduction to the Christian faith, but we did not have any outreach beyond the walls of the church. I went on a skiing mission with my pastor Sandy Miller, and told him about how I was nursing these people with HIV and AIDS and the long and short of it was a week after this mission, he invited me to lunch and said, “We’d love you to join the staff of our church in order to start a street ministry.” When I was invited to do this, if the ground could have swallowed me up, I would have probably disappeared, because it was the last thing in my mind. Because in my heart, my plan for my life was, I would be in my nursing career until I met my husband, I would marry, I would get pregnant with my first child, and then I would leave my nursing career in order to be a mother and probably have at least six kids.
But as I said at the beginning, that was my plan for my life, God had a different plan. So I joined the church staff in October 1985. But just before I joined the staff, we went to a conference in San Diego, California. We had had some wonderful teaching from an amazing man of God called John Wimber. He had come to our church to teach us about the healing ministry, and about all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit. So I went with a group of people from my church to San Diego.
On the third morning of this conference, John Wimber had a word of knowledge, which he gave out at the end of the morning, and I knew I needed to respond to it, but the issue was I had a very full bladder. So I went to the restroom, and of course, it was a long queue. Eventually, I came back into the hall where the meeting was taking place and there must have been about 60-70 people at the front receiving prayer. I thought, I’ve missed this opportunity. I knew this word was for me, but I’ve missed it. And then again, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me saying, “Don’t move in self pity. Go to the front, and bless what I’m doing in other people’s lives.”
So I walked to the front, closed my eyes, and just started to pray for everybody else who was already receiving ministry. As I did so, the Holy Spirit started to minister to me, and what happened was, I just started to get this sort of aching heart and then I began to sob. The sobbing got greater, and stronger, and eventually, I just knew I needed to lie on the floor. And then I was aware that people had gathered around me and began to pray for me. As they were praying, and my heart was getting just, the pain was so great. I heard a girl say to someone, “Don’t worry, the Lord is just breaking her heart.” As she said those words, I remember lying there thinking, “Yes, Lord, that’s what You need to do.” So this heart that had become hardened through just I suppose life, I at that point allowed the Lord to literally break my heart open.
I came home from that conference, I started this street ministry on the staff of the church and it was terrifying. I wasn’t trained to be a minister on the streets. I had never talked to prostitutes or drug addicts on the streets or to homeless people. And you know, I was worried about what to wear or what to say. But every week, I just had to submit myself to God and allow His Spirit to lead me forward. So it became known as the Earls Court project, and it began to grow. More and more people began to volunteer to help us and we began a coffee bar outreach on a Friday night, and it became very exciting. So that developed and then we realized we needed to raise money to have a safe house to put these people in if they wanted to come off their drugs. So God supplied a quarter of a million pounds to buy a safe house and the work grew and grew and grew.
Then, completely out of the blue in 1990 – By now, five years after I joined the staff. – my pastor Sandy Miller, one day stopped me outside his house and said to me, “Did I know that he was on the Board of Visitors of Holloway prison?” Which is a very large, it was the largest women’s prison in London. So I said, “No. What do you do on the Board of Visitors?” He said, “Well, we’re an independent group. We go in and we listen to the complaints of prisoners and staff alike and we try to help. So I said, “Well done, Sandy.” And then he said to me, “Well, I was talking to the chaplain yesterday and he told me how stretched he was with all the pastoral needs of the women.” So I said, “Yes, there must be a lot of pastoral needs.” And then Sandy said, “Well, the pastor asked me if I could think of someone in the church who could get involved in the prison.”
Now, I was staff, so I thought he was asking me as to who together we could think of in our congregation who could get involved. So I stood there looking pensive for a while and then Sandy turned to me and he said, “Well, actually, I thought of you.” And I went, “No, not prison ministry, Sandy, why me?” And he said, “I just think you’d be quite good at it.” So I said, “I need to go home and think about this and pray.”
So I’ve got a short memory and what I had forgotten was just three months before, we had had a conference in our church where some people from Kansas City had come to speak on the prophetic gifting. They were known as the Kansas City prophets and they did a two day conference. On the second day of the conference, Sandy asked if they would pray individually for some of his staff members, and I was one of them. I was in a room with four others, who were about to be prayed for by John Paul Jackson and Bob Jones, who were these two Kansas City prophets, and when it was my turn, I was sitting across the table from Bob Jones, and he asked me to put up my hands. As he started to pray, he leant forward and touched my hands. As he did so, 20,000 volts of power went through my body, as if I was glued to the parcels, and I could not move. It was as if literally, my hand was in a power socket, and the fear of God came on me and I started to sob.
Then they began to prophesy and part of what they said, it was all given in a beautiful poetic rhyming, they said I would be a key unto many, whom themselves could no longer be free. That I would be right in the middle of the Salvation Army, bringing the love of Christ to people, and that a teaching ministry would rest on me to reveal the love of Christ mightily. At the time, it meant nothing. But it was all taped, and I transcribed the tape and I wrote it down in my journal.
When I went back from this meeting with Sandy and reread those words, “a key unto many, whom themselves can no longer be free,” I thought, “Oh, no!! I think that means prison ministry!” So out of obedience to God, and to Sandy as my boss, I went for an interview with the prison chaplain, convinced he would think I was far too posh to become a prison volunteer on the chaplaincy wing. But to my horror, at the end of the interview, he said, “We’d like you to start as soon as possible.” And what happened was, in the next few weeks, I had to fill in some forms, they had to check out your security clearance. But I wasn’t too keen for everything to be passed too quickly, because it was still a bit of a shock. But God knows exactly where you’re at.
So what happened was, I filled in the forms, sent them off, and then I heard nothing back. And I thought, what’s happened to my past, you know, maybe it was something I did at boarding school that has shown up that they don’t like. Anyway, I wasn’t keen to follow it up. But in the next few months, my father had a very serious car accident and was nearly killed, and I was very involved in caring for him. Then my eldest sister went through a horrible divorce with four young children. So I was very involved with that. So these six months, eight months, were busy caring for my family, and I literally forgot I’d ever had this interview.
The following summer, I went on holiday with six single friends to a little Greek island called Skiathos. On the flight was a married couple, not in our group, but I knew them vaguely. When we got to the airport, the wife came up to me as we were waiting for our luggage and she said, “God’s told me you should read this book.” And I said to her, “Oh,” and she gave me the book and the book was called, Rescued by Love. It was written by a woman who had discovered that her husband was in a gay relationship and three days later, she shot him dead. On the day she went into Holloway prison, she had a vision of Jesus in her cell. As a result of this vision, her whole sentence was transformed. I sobbed my way through this book because it was so moving. I handed it back to this girl on the beach and she said, I’ve got another book you should read.
The second book was called The Pastor’s Wife, written by Sabina Wurmbrand. Now I knew Richard Wurmbrand had been in prison, the end of the Second World War because of his Christian faith, but I didn’t know his wife had also been in prison. It was her account of sharing one cell with 60 women, one slop bucket, rats, cockroaches, famine, disease. As I lay on this Greek beach, with the sun shining and the sea lapping up my feet and the birds soaring free, I remember saying to God, I don’t understand why 10 months ago I had this interview at the prison and I’ve never had anything back. But if it ever re-emerges, who am I to say I can’t attempt to bring some of Your love and some of Your freedom to people in prison? Within a week of coming back from that holiday, I got a call from the prison chaplain saying, I’ve just discovered under this large pile of papers on my desk, your security forms that were actually passed nine and a half months ago, but they got buried. When can you start? And I found myself saying, “Next week.”
So I went into Holloway prison, and it was terrifying. I didn’t know what to say, or what to do. I had never been in a prison before and I didn’t know how to relate to the women. But what I did know I could do was I could love them. The first week, two women were brought to the chaplaincy wing and they spoke with such strong east end accents, I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. But at the end of this hour, of them sort of complaining to me and I was sort of saying, “Oh. Ahhh. Oooh. Oh, no.” not really knowing what they were saying. At the end of the hour I said, “I’d like to pray for you.” Because I thought if I’m chaplaincy, I need to at least offer prayer. And they weren’t Christians, but they said, “Oh, okay,” so I prayed for them. To my horror, they said, “We’d like to see you again next week.” And I went, Oh, no.
Anyway, Monday afternoons was my training run. Every Monday, I went in for two to three hours and I listened and I learned why people are in prison. I could count on one hand, at the end of the four years I worked at that prison, the people who grew up in a happy home. Most of them had grown up in an abusive home, whether it be sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, or even spiritual abuse. It was the most extraordinary time because I did learn so much.
Then there was a new move of the Holy Spirit in 1994. I had a friend who always knew where God was moving. He told me about this little church at the end of an airport runway in Toronto, and that God was moving powerfully there and they were holding revival meetings every night. One Tuesday morning, our staff had all gone to hear a lady called Ellie Mumford, who had just come back from this church, give her testimony, and I knew where they’d all been. I went into a rather boring lunchtime meeting when we discussed the Sunday services and what we were going to do each Sunday and our pastor, who was meant to host that meeting, Nicky Gumbel, was actually out at the meeting with Ellie Mumford. So when he appeared at the door of our meeting, at the end of our hour when he should have been there, he said, “I’m sorry, I’ve missed the meeting. But I’ve got another meeting to go to now.” And I said to him, I said, “You can’t go without praying for us.” And he stood at the door of this meeting and he said, “Lord, thank You, that You’re moving by the power of Your Spirit. I pray Your blessing on this group in Jesus’ name, Amen.”He turned to go out, and as he turned, the Holy Spirit started to manifest in his PA’s life and in my life.
Now, I’m quite a normal person, quite a sensible person. Quite well, you know, I used to be a sister in the hospital; I was a senior person in the hospital. But when the Spirit came on me, I fell in love with Jesus in a way I had never been in love. And I had what I call the googly feeling in my tummy. And then I had this cry that came from my belly that went, “Whoa, Jesus!!!” It was like, “I love you so much.” This went on and on for several hours. At the time, I just put up my arms and I said, “Lord, I don’t mind where You send me or where I go. I love you so much.”
That night, I spoke at one of our home groups and the Spirit came in power. The next night Alpha, I was there and saw, in the team meeting, God move in power. That Sunday, Ellie came to our church on the invitation of Nicky Gumbel and basically the ministry time was second to anything I’ve ever seen. This went on and on week after week after week, and I just kept being filled over and over and over again with the Holy Spirit. Everybody, it was like a sort of, like a fire just was lit and everybody I prayed for was filled with the Spirit.
About three months later, Nicky Gumbel rings me up one morning and he said, “Em, I’ve had a call from someone who’s doing Alpha in Exeter prison and he’s invited me to go down and introduce the Alpha course there. But I told him I’m a little bit busy, and I can’t go.” But he said, “You do prison ministry. So I’d like you to take a team down.” So I said, “Nicky, I’ve only ever worked in a women’s prison. There’s no way I could walk into a men’s prison.” And Nicky said, “Just talk to the chaplain. He sounds really nice.” So I duly rang the chaplain, and he said, “Look, you’ll be fine. I’ll look after you, it will be absolutely fine. We just want you to come and give your testimony.”
So on December the 14th 1994, I took a team of six people down to Exeter prison and this man who had invited Nicky, one of the inmates, was sharing a cell with his father. Together, they’d been caught importing 12 and a half tons of cannabis worth something like 10 million pounds. It was a huge haul. It was the biggest ever drug haul. We gave our testimony that day and then we invited the Holy Spirit to come. That chapel was just full of people receiving the power of the Holy Spirit.
It was extraordinary because Michael, and his father, Brian, they went on to do the Alpha course in the January of 1995. And then, because if you are someone who’s done a big crime, you never spend your whole prison sentence in one place, because you become a bit of a leader in that prison. So you get transferred to another prison. So when they finished the Alpha course, they were transferred to Swaleside Prison and one of the duties of the chaplaincy is to go around and just say, you know, when Sunday services are and find out if they want a Bible or anything. These two men said, “Do you run the Alpha course in your prison?” And they said, “What’s Alpha?” And so they said, “Oh, if you ring Emmy at HTB, she’ll bring a team down,” because that was their experience.
So I get a cold call from the chaplain saying, “You don’t know me, but I think you might know two of my inmates.” And I said, “Oh, yes, I’ve met Brian and Michael.” They said, “Well, they told me, you’ll come down and tell us about the Alpha course.” So down I went, and these two men had dragged from the wings all their friends to the chapel because they wanted them to meet me. When we invited the Holy Spirit to come, again, we saw the most extraordinary move of the Spirit. Those men were in that prison for 18 months and then they got transferred to another prison. Within 24 hours, I get a call from the chaplain saying, “We’ve got two inmates in our prison who tell us you will come down and tell us about the Alpha course.” So God used to serving, big time prisoners to spread the Alpha course in our prison system. All I did was respond to a chaplains phone call, and go and introduce the Alpha course into that prison.
All of this began to grow and grow and grow and we started to do Alpha conferences all around the UK, and then we started to do them around the world. I would talk about this extraordinary ministry wherever I went, and then Alpha began in other prisons and other parts of the world. Meanwhile, I had met – Because many of these ex offenders become my friends. I call them my naughty boys, because that’s what they are, you know. They’re seriously naughty, some of them. – But I had met a man called Shane Taylor.
Shane was once listed as being one of the six most violent prisoners in the entire UK. He had tried to murder two prison officers when he was in prison and he spent three years in solitary confinement. He had just a hatch that was open to put the food through when he wasn’t allowed out of that cell. If he did come out for any reason, it required seven armed officers to guard him. They had to have full ratchet gear, and shields. Eventually, after three years, he left solitary confinement, went back onto the wing, and one day he was on his way to the Education Department, but he wasn’t on the list. If you’re not on the list to go into a department, you can’t go in. But the officer at the door of the Education Department said, “Why don’t you go over there?” And “over there” was the chapel. He went into the chapel, sat down, and he suddenly thought, Oh, dear. They’re talking about God. So he was about to get up and leave and they said, “Oh, we’re about to serve chocolate biscuits.” So he said I’m staying.
It turned out they were running the Alpha course in the chapel and unbeknown to him, he had joined an Alpha course. The chocolate biscuit was so good, he thought, well, if they serve chocolate biscuits every week, I’m going back. So he went back for the chocolate biscuits. But meanwhile, every week he was learning more about God. And he thought, Why would God have anything to do with a scumbag like me, you know, I am the least of the least, and hated by everybody.
But on the Holy Spirit Day, he was prayed for and he had an experience whereby, as he was prayed for, he felt what he called this well, that just started in his stomach, came up, and then he began just to sob and sob and sob in the presence of the chaplain who was praying. He cried his eyes out for about an hour and at the end of this time, he gave his life to Christ. The chaplain handed him a Bible and said, “You’re going to need this now.”
When he was taken back to the wings, normally the guards would be wary of him because they knew how violent he was, but he went racing up to the guards with his Bible, and he said, “Jesus is real! Jesus is real!” He was like a Saul who became a Paul at that moment of conversion. He was utterly transformed. Eighteen months later, he finished his sentence, he left the prison, he met and married this sweet lady called Samantha, and in eight years, they had five children. They called them Angel, Grace, Jacob, Isaac, and Elijah.
I met him and took him in on his first ever prison visit to give his testimony to a group of men. I said to him, “Look, when you’ve given your testimony, it could just be that some of the men might want to ask Jesus into their hearts. I’m going to come and stand with you if that’s alright.” He said, “Yeah.” So he gave his testimony, and I came up, stood beside him, and I started to say, “Any of you believe that Jesus can transform your life as he has transformed Shane’s, why don’t you…” And before I could finish saying, “come up and stand around Shane,” virtually the whole chapel of men just came up, and they stood around Shane. And basically, he led them in a prayer and they all said, Amen.
So Shane started to do more and more testimonies, because it was so, so powerful, you know, how God had transformed him. Eventually I said to him one day, “Shane, you need to get a passport.” He said, “Why?” I said, “You’re going to be traveling soon.” Sometime later, he emailed us in London, he said, “I’ve been invited to go to Luzira Maximum Security Prison to give a TEDx talk. I’ve never been on an aeroplane. I’ve never been out of the country. I can’t go on my own. Please, can someone take me?” So I turned to the guys on our team, the men on the prison team, and I thought, they’ll be the ones who will be taking him, but their diaries were full. So they said to me, “Em, you take Shane.” I said, “Okay.”
I had this extraordinary trip whereby Shane had never even been on the underground, he didn’t know how to get from Central London to Heathrow Airport. Someone had to bring him to the airport to meet me there. So the picture of me is standing with Shane as he’s just been delivered to me by someone from our staff at HTB. We arrived in Uganda, and we went into the prison, before he was ever going to go in to give his talk. He met all these people who are on a life sentence, and he couldn’t believe the poverty in the prison.
Then the day came for him to do his TEDx talk and he did a brilliant talk. He had rehearsed it and practiced it and in the break, there are about two and a half 1000 prisoners who are listening to him and all these dignitaries, including governmental ministers. After he gave his talk, these men crowded around him and they said to him, “If God can transform your life, then maybe He can change my life.” It was such a privilege to take him because here was a man once listed as being one of the top six most violent prisoners in the entire nation and yet, there he was visiting a prison where he was able to tell other people how God, through the power of His Spirit, had changed his life and I was the one who had the privilege of taking him.
Shane has gone from strength to strength, and he has led hundreds of people to Christ, just through his powerful testimony. I know that if God can change one man’s life, He can change your life through showing you that the key thing is to be obedient to the call. I can genuinely say now, I have the best job in the world, which is to go into the darkest places and just show people that they can be loved and transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit as they come into relationship with Jesus Christ.