1976 - 2011 : The First 35 Years
The Maranatha Christian Bookshop began 38 years ago back in the long hot summer of 1976. The shop came about as the result of the vision of the two founding couples Geoff & Janice Wallace and Richard & Marilyn Albery who had come to Brunel University to study science and engineering. Both couples had been involved in the running of bookstalls and felt drawn to pray together for the establishment of a local Christian bookshop. At that time the nearest one was in Harrow and having had such rich and challenging experiences in reading Christian literature at the Brunel Christian Union we all had a burden to make such literature available locally.
The vision became clearer after times of prayer and fasting and so the idea was shared with a number of local churches and a prayer meeting organised in one of the married flats at Brunel. What emerged from that meeting was that a number of people had been praying for some while for such a shop to be established locally. At this point neither of the couples had expected that they would be personally involved in setting up such a venture. Geoff was working as a research chemist at Kodak and Jan and Richard were about to take their finals and already had jobs lined up in industry. However by the Spring of 1976 it became clear that the Lord was calling us to be involved and so we sought to confirm this important change in the direction our lives were taking. As students we had been taught at the Christian Union all about prayer and fasting to confirm important decisions and so we decided that we would spend a weekend away from Brunel to really lay the whole issue before the Lord.
Check It Out
Full of enthusiasm (as naive young Christians) we even managed to borrow a tent so that we could go off somewhere to be free of any distractions. However the weather that wintry week was so cold that we realised that it would never be practical. It was in fact so cold that we ended up praying huddled round the heater in one of the tiny kitchens of the married flats at Brunel. God knew the desires of our heart and showed us that we didn't have to go away to seek His will, just be still. Despite the ups and downs of the weekend, God confirmed in our hearts that the plans were right and we were ready to take our next step. This involved sharing the vision with the missionary organisation WEC at Bulstrode in Gerrards Cross. As they were dedicated missionaries we wanted to learn from them how to test our calling and also to learn something of their experience in the Christian Literature ministry. It was quite an eye opener. If we had any reservations already then we were soon presented with a whole lot more. The work was going to be hard, with very little reward and especially not a financial one. As we traveled back to Uxbridge in Richard’s 3 wheeled Robin Reliant we came away thinking that they had tried their hardest to put us off and we all knew in our hearts that far from stopping we were even more sure that it was right. We were so grateful that they had laid before us all the pitfalls so that we were truly sure of our calling. As a result of the time with WEC they put us in contact with a training course run by the Christian Literature Crusade, which proved very beneficial in getting some idea how the book world operates.
The Search Is On
With final exams fast approaching we began to look out for suitable premises. Jan had already felt that God had showed her where we were to be in a dream. She had seen in her dream an empty shop down a very old street. (We should explain that Brunel was a very enclosed society where everything you needed was to hand and so we rarely went in to Uxbridge and didn't know about the town layout.) Jan was really taken aback when she saw the shop of her dream at the bottom of Windsor Street, an empty and seemingly derelict property. In those days retailing was very different to the current situation and you hardly ever saw empty retail shops. However we had also discovered a lock up shop for rent at the entrance to the New Arcade at the top of the High Street. The two shops couldn't have been more different. The lock up was a reasonable size, affordable and clean with no work needing to be done on it. The property in Windsor Street however was in need of a lot of work. Geoff was too embarrassed to ask in the betting shop next door who owned it and so we went up the alleyway between the shop and the bakers (now our shop extension) and asked at the Uxbridge Cars showroom (remember them?). It turned out that the local council owned the property and that they had put it up for rent with a deadline closing that day but were prepared to extend the deadline for us to go and have a look round. The Lords timing is always perfect. As we picked up the keys we had big plans and dreams and thought that we would all be able to live above the premises but we soon understood why the council had deemed the upstairs not fit for human habitation. We entered the building to find ceilings hanging down, wiring too dangerous to use and floors that sunk in places. But God never looks on the outward appearance and we knew immediately that this was the right place for us. One of the leaders of the church where one of the couples was attending came and surveyed the building for us. Our hearts pounded as he stuck his knife through rotten beams, jumped up and down on the floor (or rather bounced) and showed us the state of the nails holding the tiles on the roof but instead of telling us we were wasting our time he said ' its been here a few years and will hold up for a few more’. We were delighted (but still trod carefully on the attic floor) It didn't even put us off when we found out that we could only have it on a weekly licence for a maximum of 6 months before it was due to be demolished as part of the Phase 3 development of Uxbridge. We were very naive and young Christians but our time at Brunel had filled us with faith, ready to step out and obey Him. When God gives you faith to move mountains these problems just seemed like mere anthills and we made an offer to accept their terms.
Think Of A Number
All that remained was for us to tell the council how much we would pay. God encourages us to dream dreams and after a day spent praying and fasting we came up with two different figures. It was a bit of a mystery until we realised that we were to offer the council the lower figure while we were repairing the building and then the higher one once we began trading. Sure enough the letter came back accepting our offer and enclosing the keys for 22 Windsor Street. As we had been offered a weekly licence the council came and sent a photographer to make a record of the state of the building. It has always been a regret that we didn't pay the £5 they wanted for us to have a set of the prints - there were a lot of them. £5 was a lot of money in those days and we didn't have any money to spare. (It’s amazing how the value of money has changed).
It was an exciting time. By now Jan and Richard had taken their finals and before we started the refurbishment both couples went off to the Brunel Summer House party at Hildenborough Hall in Kent. It was a wonderful time of fun and fellowship, of prayer and of teaching and through it all God confirmed to us again and again that we were following in the right path.
During this time a particular Scripture became relevant to us. Isaiah 40 v 6-8 says
all flesh is like grass. The grass withers and the flower falls but the Word of the Lord lasts forever
It was also during this time that we chose the name for the shop. Maranatha means 'Come quickly Lord' and is an Aramaic word that is often left untranslated in the Greek text of 1 Corinthians 16 v 22. It reminds us that our work is only until He comes again. Because of the unusual spelling we often get amusing variants addressed to us including Marawathas and Mary and Arthur's. Sometimes, after you've had to spell it several times down the phone to someone we wonder if we should have chosen an easier name to spell, but it often gives us the chance to share what it means when people ask.
Count Down To Opening
One of the many ways that God encouraged us was by the generosity of others in giving towards the work. Day by day we began to receive various gifts of support. God had touched the hearts of others to share their resources with us to fulfill the vision for the shop. It seemed that each time we had a need (some wiring to buy, or shelf brackets, or plasterboard) then the money would be there. Over the years God has blessed us in so many ways by the giving of others. On the Monday after the weekend away we started work on the shop. It was a bit like coming down to reality as we realised the enormity of the task before us, but God had already prepared for that. One by one God sent along volunteers to help us do the mountain of jobs. Someone rewired the shop, others took away mounds of rubbish to the dump, still others stripped walls and painted and still others kept us all going with refreshments. Some helped to clear the attic, which was literally waist deep in rubbish and was so heavy that it had bowed the floor. All in all over the next few weeks we had about 30 volunteers at different times and instead of the 3 months that we had estimated that it would take we proudly opened after just 6 weeks on Saturday June 28th 1976. There were no trumpets, no fanfares; no launch party or special guest, just open for business and amazingly, in came the customers.
Read on in part two of the story