When I was a lad, I was very heavily involved in a youth organisation called the Boys' Brigade - like the Boy Scouts, but more firmly based in church and "discipline". Put it this way - Baden Powell's first camp was actually a group from a Boys' Brigade company.
Anyway, by the time I went to University I had been selected to go on their leadership training course, which consisted of two weeks a year apart. I attended the first week in 1981, then left home to go and study at Newcastle University.
The reasons for picking Newcastle were two-fold. Firstly, they offered me a place without needing to get certain grades in my last school exams, and the course was good. Secondly, and more subtly, I wanted to make a clean start. As a result of various things that had happened to me and my family, I was an incredibly shy and withdrawn teenager, and I thought the only way I was going to break that was to get as far away from home as practically possible.
Well, it was a good plan, but I had overlooked one small point. I had become so withdrawn and shy it was virtually impossible for me to make friends easily, so for the first few months at Uni I was a loner. Over the year, I eventually got to know some people very well, and make some friends. A number of those friends were exploring their own lives, and through a group called the Navigators had come to know Jesus as their saviour.
At the time, I called myself a christian, but I also realised they had found something else. Regretfully, my BB commitments meant I could not go to the meetings they were attending, but I attended a church with them from time to time and started to explore the issues myself. Without realising it at the time, I was slowly beginning to understand that there was something wrong, something in my life that was out of balance, but I had no idea what that was.
Until the second week of the training course in 1982.
The course was at a place called Carronvale House, an old manor house outside Larbert near Stirling. At the end of each day, there was an evening devotional, but on the Friday evening, 7th August 1982, the devotional took the form of a communion service.
The previous year, I had been lucky enough to attend an event in Denmark called Julsolejr, a massive camp held every five years for young men and women involved in organisations like the BB, and there I had attended a communion service in the open air. There had been a strange feeling that day, but I had no idea at the time what that feeling was - only that I felt happy afterwards.
On that night, 7th August 1982, I felt that feeling again. Complete, total peace, the feeling that no matter what may happen, someone was there waiting to help you, if you only asked them.
So, after the service was over, I went outside the house and looked up at the clear night sky, with the stars twinkling overhead, and I said something like the following.
"God, I've heard a lot about you, but until now I don't think I've ever really experienced your presence. But tonight, I really think you were there with me and telling em that your son died for me. I do believe you are real - so take me and help me to learn more about you. "
As a commitment prayer goes, it's probably not the most eloquent or theologically correct, but that was it. From that day on, I have called myself a Christian, and although I have made mistakes over the years and felt lots of pain, I have never regretted that decision once.