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Around The Sun: Fire And Brimstone

Steve Harrison takes over a church in the quiet little Texas town of Valley Mills.

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I have climbed the highest mountains, I have run through the fields only to be with you, only to be with you, I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls only to be with you. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for – U2

After graduating from the preaching school I didn't know what to do with myself. I had given up on India. American churches gave bucket-loads of money to missionaries who lived in beautiful homes, wrote the odd letter back to folks stateside, and did little else. I had struck of Indian missionary work with my magic eraser. Now I was like a ship without a rudder.

I was offered a job as a junior minister in Valley Mills, Texas. The job would be for six months, then the church would give me financial support to go wherever I felt led. I had visited the church a number of times. Its members had given me some financial support and helped me to go to India. Now it was payback time.

Valley Mills is a quiet back-water small town, a place where a man can gather his thoughts. I decided it was the place for me.

Before going there I returned to England for three weeks to see my family. Old ties, old ways, old temptations... England was definitely not for me.

Then back to Valley Mills. One gasoline station, two sets of traffic lights, a coffee shop and 1,200 people. The church provided me with a small one-bedroomed cottage. It was beautifully decorated and perfectly cozy, a short walk from town, on the edge of a forest. It was beautiful, a picture-perfect home surrounded by pecan trees. My neighbours were squirrels.

Valley Mills was the picture of innocence, a Huckleberry Finn-Tom Sawyer sort of place where a man could marry, raise kids and enjoy the silence.

A church family gave me a car, a gas guzzling cruise-controlled rocket ship. It was impossible to keep with the 55 mph speed limit. As soon as you touched the accelerator the car took off with a mind of its own to contentedly purr along at 70 mph. When pushed it would go in excess of 100 mph. I loved it.

In my first week there the church's full-time preacher became ill. I had six sermons in stock when I graduated from the preaching school. I could hold on for a week or two. I preached my heart out. The congretation loved me. A new man and new ideas.

I regularly visited the preacher. One day out of the blue he announced that he was not going to preach again. He had been thinking about quitting for some time. His fire had gone out. My arrival presented him with the perfect opportunity.

So congratulations. I was now the full-time preacher.

They bought me a new suit, cowboy boots and a cowboy belt. They were intent on turning me into a Texan.

On the surface I was in paradise. But inside I was still longing to raise hell. I was 34, in the prime of life. Valley Mills was a great place to live if you were about to retire, but I was a long way short of wanting to settle down. My preaching drew more poeple into the congregation. But I still felt as though I had a life to live and a world to conquer.

On Friday nights I drove to Dallas. I travelled fast along back roads, avoiding the main highway. I went to the Galleria mall where there was ice skating, young people, life! There I watched the parade of youth, of beauty and optimism. Then home again on the back roads.

“Saw you tearing by last night. Hey you nearly took out my fence there boy.”

I was the talk of the town, the odd ball, the one man show. My congregation grew steadily. Everyone wanted to shake my hand. Come and see the hell fire and brimstone preacher but you might find him hard to understand ’cos he don’t talk like one of us.

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