Keith Morris reports for Network Norwich & Norfolk ...
Simon told a 600-strong audience at Soul Church in Norwich on Sunday (April 2) of his early life in Norfolk. Born in Norwich, the life-long Norwich City fan grew up in Cromer then Grimston in West Norfolk where his father was an Anglican curate then rector.
“God was an ever-present in terms of family life as I was growing up,” he said. “I guess I had those moments when I thought ‘is it true?’ – but deep down I always knew that it was. For me is was a strong sense that this God that I have heard talked about is actually for real.
“One day when I was seven, after a rainy morning, we went for a family walk in Massingham Forest, a couple of miles from home. It was a pine forest so there were not that many trees which you could climb, apart from one huge one which I scrambled up and sat in.
“It started raining again. Mum said ‘we need to move into the shelter’. We said ‘why do we need to move as we are sheltering under this enormous tree already’. She said it for a second time and again we said it was ridiculous as we were already being sheltered under the tree. She said it for a third time with a real sense of firmness that we had to move across to the other side of the clearing right now.
“Within seconds of us moving across, there was what I can only describe as the sound of a Tornado jet flying very low followed by the most incredible explosion and flash of red and this almighty thud. The tree in which I had been sitting second before had been hit by a ball of lightning and that would have been the end of me.
“We were very traumatised by it. We went home and some good friends came around and we talked about it and they asked ‘why did you move?’ My mum said ‘I felt really strongly God’s voice saying you have to move now.’
“Many, many years later I was talking in church to a wise church leader who said to me ‘I don’t know much about you but I know that when you were seven you had a very powerful demonstration that the God you grew up worshipping is real.’ I thought, how could he possibly know what had happened in a little old village in West Norfolk all those years ago. I firmly believe that God had intervened in that situation.”
The other defining moment was when Simon went on a Blue Peter mission to learn to sky dive with the RAF Falcons Display Team out in San Diego, California, where there are blue skies every day.
“I was quite confident about it, then you sit in a plane for the first time and there is a smell of diesel fumes and a certain fear in the aircraft as we cranked up to the correct altitude,” said Simon. “I suddenly thought ‘what am I doing here?’ Then someone opens the door and the 14 people you are with all jump out of it and you follow them.
“The first four jumps went fine with instructors holding onto me – that was the easy bit. Free falling at 120mph is quite extraordinary there is no other feeling quite like it.
“With jump number five, out of the plane I went with the instructors by the side of me. I pulled the old rip cord and things were taking a lot longer than they should and I was thinking something is not right here, this thing should be above my head by now. I could sense being whacked on the side and eventually the parachute up it goes and I land safely.
“Afterwards, when we watched the video, I realised that this had been a very serious moment as when I pulled the rip cord, the parachute did not come out and the bumping I felt on the side was the two instructors try to bash the parachute out. I completely and utterly lost my bottle and the whole trip ended there and then and I went back home with my tail between my legs.”
Simon went on to jump again in Oxford and then went back to San Diego to conquer his fears.
“I did not sleep a wink the night before I was due to jump again and rang my friend Phil in the morning and told him I could not do it,” said Simon.
“I prayed and said to God I just need that confirmation again that you are real. I went across to Dunkin Donuts to get some doughnuts for the guys and I am waiting at the traffic lights to cross the road. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turn around and there is a young American guy there who said to me ‘I just want you to know that Jesus is for real and he loves you’. I stopped for a moment and thought ‘what?’ I turned round and I could not see the guy anywhere.
“I went on to complete the course and do the jump. It made a really good film as it showed the young kids that not everyone can just do these things, sometimes you have to conquer your fears.”
PHOTO (Top): Simon Thomas talking to Soul Church pastor Jon Norman, with the lightning-hit tree in the background. Above: "I just need that confirmation again that you are real".
Pictures by Thom Law, Soul Church.
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