Upon emigrating to Australia, Neil felt he had landed on his feet. Newly married, with a good job and the best spots for fishing on his doorstep, life was great. Years later, after redundancy, depression and health problems, Neil talks about how Alpha has been the final piece of the puzzle for him and his family.
What was your experience of Christianity before Alpha?
My experiences had been quite negative and I had a distorted view of Christianity. I used to say that if I were to step into a church my skin would start bubbling. Alpha really changed that. Alpha was in a pub, which was great, and I loved that we weren’t beaten over the head with a Bible. For someone like me it’s a big step to even enter a church and it is a daunting prospect when you haven’t really had any religious involvement before. Running Alpha in a pub is a great way to introduce people to it.
What kinds of questions did you have?
I had a very cynical view of religion. I thought religion was for weak people who couldn’t handle the harsh realities of life and death. I had a typical male perspective: if you couldn’t see it, touch it or smell it, then it wasn’t there.
What led you to explore Christianity?
At the time I was taking anti-depressant tablets, which caused me to have irregular heart rhythms. This was worsened by caffeine and sugar. I was also suffering from insomnia. I was at a low point. I kept an open mind at Alpha and paid attention, because I appreciated the importance of making the right decisions.
During Alpha, we looked Holman Hunt’s painting, The Light of the World, which shows Jesus knocking at a long-unopened door. The concept of inviting Jesus in was very new to me, but for the first time since childhood, I knelt down in my bedroom and prayed to Jesus. I said, ‘If you are there and if you are real, please come into my life, I want a relationship with you.’ I didn’t really feel like anything was happening at the time.
The following weekend we met in town with some friends and I had too much coffee. Once home, my heart began beating and thrashing violently. It was terrifying. I dug out a Bible that had been stuffed away for years. Sobbing, I placed the Bible against my heart saying, ‘Lord please stop this.’
My heart instantly resumed a perfect rhythm; it was like someone had flicked a switch. It blew my socks off. I started to calm down and I became aware of a presence in the room, which I had never felt before. I sat up in the dark room and said, ‘Hello?’ half expecting an answer to come back. I was so convinced someone was there.
Usually, due to insomnia I would wake up in the dark, but on this occasion I woke up in daylight for the first time in over two years. As I was waking I could clearly feel a hand resting in my left hand. I opened my eyes and no one was there. I told myself that I was half asleep but after a minute I could still feel this hand resting in mine. I was desperately trying to make sense of it, so I reached over with my right hand, at which point the sensation left me. But I have absolutely no doubt that I had a very real encounter that night.
What has changed for you since doing Alpha?
My whole outlook and value system has been turned 180 degrees. Once you realise there is a God and that there is more to life than what you see here, you become more relaxed. I am not as anxious now about earning more money or getting a better job. I go to church every week and have a great network of friends – beautiful people who have restored my faith in humanity.
What has been the reaction from your family and friends?
My wife Jacqui encouraged me to do Alpha to get out of the house and socialise. But she never dreamt that I would react to Alpha the way I did or that it would make such an impact in my life. We go to church every Sunday as a family, which is an absolute blessing. We realise we are very lucky.
What would you say to someone who is considering doing Alpha?
There is no hard sell and you are allowed to make your own mind up. You can raise any questions that you want, nothing is out of bounds, and everything is up for discussion. I love the honesty that comes from that.
Alpha is an opportunity to explore the meaning of life. Find an Alpha near you
Interview by James Nixon