The spirit of giving and receiving – Interview with Valerie Cuff-Adams

This month I chatted to second year Diploma student, Valerie Cuffe-Adams, to find out about her story and her pioneering

Val, can you tell me about your early life, and also about Alpha? I am aware Alpha had a big impact on you and you have had a big impact on ‘The Alpha course’ in your community.

VC-A: I came into faith when I was 13 years old through another 13 year old at a holiday Crusader camp in Devon – she simply presented me with Jesus wanting to be the centre of my life. I was taken by my mother to a very traditional church from about five years old, but although I know my mother and grandmother always prayed for me, I do not remember hearing about Jesus or where he fitted into Christianity before this time. The shock of this remained with me and coupled with a lack of any teaching subsequently, except through Crusaders, I was keen to learn but did not know where to find answers to my questions. I think this is when later I encountered the Alpha Course through Holy Trinity Brompton – I found it was just amazing – I think I may have gone on one of the first Alphas, which was much longer in content then.

Much later, when my husband and I moved out of London with our small son and settled in Twyford, we realised how helpful Alpha could be to the church we had moved to. This church was just discovering prayer from a quite untaught background. We ran the Alpha course there for approximately 11 years through my husband’s very serious illness. Something we learned and has been so highlighted in my studies at CMS is about vulnerability – who are the poor in Spirit? My husband was progressively ill for 13 years, in a wheelchair for eight years with a very rare tumour of the spine. However, he still managed to train as a local lay minister.

We had about 300 people on the Alpha over the years, first church people and then invited guests from the edges and the community. About 10 Alpha+ groups came out of this which have remained strong in fellowship and we met as a whole gathering of Alpha+ groups on a Wednesday evening, monthly, for more teaching from our vicar and hospitality and talk, keeping the Alpha style, which suited many. I realised that some people could not have fitted into the usual style of the services. This whole experience was the impetus of a more pioneering sense.

HH: Val, I am so sorry to hear about your husband’s death. Thinking about the current time, what made you choose the course here at CMS?

VC-A: After my husband’s death, I found God was speaking to me hugely. Numbed and rather exhausted from an intense situation and caring role trying to protect my young son as well, nevertheless, I believe that desert experience of chronic illness prepared me for being on this course now. Through the illness of both my husband and mother overlapping, I spent a good deal of time in many hospitals and met all kinds of people (one had been shot by a sniper in Sarajevo) in Stoke Mandeville hospital; my eyes were opened to such need of little kindnesses, practicality etc and would have loved to see an Alpha course running there to bring hope to the many long term patients suffering from spinal injuries. We were able to arrange with the chaplain for local churches to donate cotton sheets for the long term patients to lie in (nylon sheets are not pleasant).

I then had an experience which was like standing back from the church, as if God put a large pair of red glasses on my face. I have never known if this was one of those half-awake times in the morning and your mind carries on a subject you may have been dreaming about, but it was certainly a very vivid picture. It was not a criticism of the church, but an objective and different view. I felt God was speaking to me about the barriers and the expectations, at times the sheer ‘churchiness’ and assumptions made.

Prompted surprisingly by many colleagues at work (one of whom made me promise to pursue such a route) and backed up by my vicar who had unexpectedly asked me to preach sometimes, I considered the ordained pioneer deacon route. However, a combination of seeing quite a few Directors of Ordinands who moved on (I promise I did nothing to them) and personal circumstances of my family needing me, somehow I couldn’t seem to get started and suddenly through another pioneer, I heard of this course. Having missed the open day, I was just able to come to the last one of the year for the diploma and spent the day at CMS. It all seemed to fall into place. Being part of the experience of Lego men used about Paul and Barnabas’s missionary journeys clinched it for me! Just my kind of thing!

Then I came on the CMS course and one of the activities was to look at pictures and the word of God with different coloured glasses – I almost laughed out loud at God’s humour with me…and it was a confirmation that I had been guided to the pioneer course.

HH: Can you say more about your journey? And how are you finding the course?

VC-A: My own path has increasingly been sharing something about Jesus and praying for healing with many people outside the church; often with people who have no knowledge of faith at all. I have had a strong sense of passion and call for this combination of ministry and tried to listen and be sensitive and creative in introducing Jesus and reassuring them why I was praying in his name. In the past I had worked with a vicar and his team praying for healing face to face or over the phone for people all over Britain. I also completed the Acorn Listening Course and a psychodynamic counselling course, which have been essential back-up skills to my teaching career with students 16+ and now 19+, linked to the Disability Service in Higher Education (Reading). Although I am a tutor helping them with their academic organisation, so many students need to be listened to and heard – I pray for them in the background and know that God has used me in my work, just as I have received so much from them.

John Wimber’s ministry at Holy Trinity Brompton, after Alpha, had a huge effect on me – it was about equipping the saints for ministry and the message that came over was about having a toolkit – the toolkit contains many approaches and it is choosing the right one as God prompts in a particular situation. I believe that the CMS course is a vital part of the toolkit for my next season of life.

I want to be more effective and creative in mission, so the pioneer course is making me think deeply how to do this.  It is also about my own inner growth and transformation in my faith which has a knock on effect in any particular mission activity. When writing an essay question on genre in the Bible – I seemed to find the word of God was having a powerful impact on me, even in the researching and reading for this assignment. It is a process and I am right in the middle of change.

Now, I am being open about a possible move. God seems to have been speaking and preparing me for this for a while. I have been visiting one project in a new village in Somerset and keep open for the way forward regarding this. Also I am just changing as I read, learn and experience more of God’s work. I am excited for a chance to build on some early foundations of pioneering and to learn more about using art in mission too.

HH: I hear the Mission and Evangelism weekend away in Birmingham was a very special time. Can you say a bit about that weekend, please?

VC-A: Since starting the course, the ongoing conversation in my mind engendered by the red glasses experience was confirmed by the weekend away on the Mission and Evangelism course – the enculturation course.

We were based at the Pioneer Centre in Winson Green, Birmingham, a deprived area in the shadow of the huge prison there. I experienced the two way process at the centre of giving to the community, but also receiving, through our visits to a Sikh wedding, a local mosque, hearing testimonies from two men (one who had been in prison and one who had struggled with drug addiction). We also saw what practical steps the centre was providing in terms of training and help so that these men and others could provide for themselves in future jobs e.g. we learnt to cook Indian food from lovely Pakistani refugee ladies as part of their building up a points system for food and a CV.

All these experiences left me almost speechless. The spirit of giving and receiving was a beautiful thing to see. Nobody seemed overlooked in the community and I particularly loved the animals around and about – goats and alpacas visiting nursing homes and schools – I even walked an alpaca through the streets from a field home to the centre. There is no problem having conversations with the local community when animals are involved!

HH: I hear you’ve been getting involved in Interfaith work, can you say more, please?

VC-A: Recently, due to a new found confidence from the Mission and Evangelism weekend about taking part in interfaith events, or just making contact, I went with Rachel Burton (on the course too) to an Iftar meal, breaking the fast of Ramadan at the local Cricket Club with some Turkish neighbours. It was part of an interfaith fellowship and immensely interesting. We chatted to Turkish Muslims on our table and since then we have had a meal with a Turkish family who we met there. Such opportunities seem to be naturally around and were enjoyable and I have decided to go to more of these events when possible, prayerfully trying to listen to God and the people I meet!

HH: Lastly, Val, how can we pray for you, please?

VC-A: Please could you pray that my prayer life will deepen, for gifts of faith relating to the power of the cross in praying for healing and that I will be open to that ‘toolbox’ extending in working with others. I believe that the deep waters that I have been through can be used in others’ lives. Also could I ask for specific prayers about a move to Weston and all the practicalities that it will entail. Thank you, CMS for your part in my unfolding journey in the next season of my life.

Pray: please pray for Val, she is an amazing person and a great student to have with us here at CMS.

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