Ministry on the Mountaintop

Nigel Cooke of Nebo, Cefn Cribwr tells his story of coming to faith, from rugby notoriety to an encounter on a mountain which drastically turned his life around…

“When we meet for Bible study now, we’ll all sit around the table – so if someone comes in, they couldn’t tell immediately who was leading,” says Nigel – plasterer, father of four and now lay minister of Nebo, Cefn Cribwr. “And though we are fewer in number than a few years ago, the actual fellowship among the fifteen of us has grown stronger.”

The testimony of spiritual growth has come about through some amazing mountaintop experiences both for Nebo church (named after an important mountaintop in the Bible) and for Nigel himself over the last few years.

A mountaintop experience

“I wouldn’t say I have a special ministry to rugby lads”, Nigel explains, “but as I was one of them myself – and probably the roughest around here for several valleys over – there is that relationship that means I can share spiritual things with them.” Nigel, now is his fifties, can look back over several decades of his life where he wasn’t following Jesus at all, though he had always believed in God. He recalls the years where he would work, play Rugby, get drunk and then look for fights on a Friday evening afterwards. “My skullduggery on the rugby field was notorious too – I had a real reputation for it!”

But then one Easter, it all changed. “I was lying on my bed and it was the day before Good Friday and I heard a still, clear voice say to me from nowhere: ‘what are you going to do for me tomorrow?’” He knew it was God’s voice, and early the next morning set off up the local mountain with one aim in mind – to put up a cross overlooking the valley. As it happened, Nigel walked past his brother’s home and for some reason he was out on the doorstep despite the early hour. They went up together and after raising the wooden cross, felt led to pray and to thank God for what Jesus did at Calvary.

“We just sat there in silence after praying, and neither of us being what you’d think of as ‘religious men’ and then my brother started singing a hymn too. There was this atmosphere, you know? And later when we were walking back down the mountain, we looked back and saw these figures in white around the cross – and then they were gone.”

Two months later, his brother was suddenly stricken ill and died. “I can’t know…. but I don’t think it’s coincidence, looking back, that God led him to that Easter experience with me. I have to trust that God was leading us all on”.

He felt he should go to a church and turned up at a local chapel one Sunday, where he was warmly welcomed. “It was just a small gathering, but it became something I did – just slipping in at the back at first and then taking part. God had led me there.”

Ministry in Nebo

A couple of years later and a change of circumstances meant it was time for him to move to Nebo in Cefn Cribwr village nearby. “The church had had a rough time with their minister then, but there was blessing awaiting us as a family there. My Dad started coming back to church for the first time in decades, and my wife too.”

And then in 2021, Nigel was asked by the fellowship whether he would consider becoming a lay minister for the church. “I’d actually had this growing stirring of a calling, had been praying a lot and had started going to preach at other Baptist chapels in the area too. The end of it was that I was ordained later that year, and I’m now doing a ministry course at Cardiff Baptist College.”

“For me, now, it’s about keeping it real. We’re just ordinary people, but sometimes we can do extraordinary things. This church had been in a difficult valley season without a minister since the previous one left and it really wasn’t clear how on earth they’d get another one. Then God brought me along – and we have a real warmth between us all in the fellowship now.”

He explains that his vision is quite simple; “I do want to reach people with the gospel – that’s why I put some of my messages on Facebook and I will get people – harder men sometimes, people who have known me – responding or liking what I put out there. That can be surprising! And it’s the same when I now get asked to do funerals in the area. I tell people that I will pray and I will share the Christian faith and people will say they’re happy with that. I think we have a calling – and it’s to go out to people who are struggling, who are needy and to do that with the gospel.”

We thank God for Nigel and all at Nebo – and we pray that they would continue to see God’s hand guiding and leading them into the amazing plans He has for them as they reach out their community!

This article was originally published in The Messenger’s 2024 Spring Edition. To read more stories of God at work in Wales and across the world today, head to the BUW’s The Messenger Spring 2024, and previous editions.

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