Winds blow across the Irish Sea adding a chill to the fall air in the English town of Blackpool. On England’s northwest coast, the natural beauty of its setting –the clear horizon, the beach quality and shoreline features – has few rivals, yet behind the beauty of the seaside resort lies one of England’s unhealthiest towns, one with its lowest life-expectancy rate and one where drug addiction, all night drinking, payday lenders and depression fill the day-to-day lives of many financially, medically, mentally and spiritually challenged people.
In this city of contradictions, where many come seeking joy and light, I found myself on one cold dark night in October. Perhaps dancers were twirling to the music of the Wurlitzer organ in the Tower ballroom, friends were buying drinks at the pubs, kids were thinking about a ride on the wooden roller coaster, or people were just enjoying the Illuminations, but on the boardwalk members of Blackpool’s churches met to share a greater Light with the people who came. It was at that gathering where I met Matthew Branson, a kind and friendly man whose heart was obviously set upon sharing the message of hope and love that he had found in Jesus.
His glasses and the small stiff brim of his “trademark” flat cap could not hide his enthusiasm as he told the group, waiting to begin doing street ministry, about the three hour, Christian radio talk show called the Christian Chill Out Lounge that he is doing on Sundays on Fylde Coast secular radio and about how God is blessing him with equipment and the possibilities of starting an exclusively Christian radio station which would be one of only three in all of England. I wondered what had brought him to the point of dedicating his whole life to serving the Lord.
“It was a process,” he said in an interview a few days later. As a child he said he had cried to the heavens, “If there’s a God, please show me ‘cause I’m having a hard time.” The “hard time” he refers to was in large part caused because of his autism and dyslexia. In the Victorian school Matthew attended, he had been put in the corner with a dunce hat on his head, a situation that caused his peers to ridicule him even more. He was usually not allowed to play with the other children because parents and teachers thought he “would affect them.” Matthew said, “I would be beaten at school and at night I had my problems., too.”
His mother was and is “a devout …born again… Christian” and “amazing.” His father was a Christian and a strict disciplinarian.” Neither was fully aware of all that was happening to him. Having come to the conclusion that no one could be trusted, his friends became books though he had a hard time reading them because of his dyslexia.
Growing up in an old Victorian house thought to be haunted where bumps in the night were frightening Matthew said, “At one time I had a sense of God in my bedroom. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure I saw God…. It was a great glowing light and He said, ‘Matthew, come here.’ Now you could possibly say that was the light of the veranda showing through my bedroom door, but I don’t think it was. I think He was calling me then but I wasn’t ready for Him.”
It would be some time before he would walk forward and give his life to the Lord at a Billy Graham Crusade in Aston, England. However, a very dark time followed. Through a failed marriage, a child that turned out not to be his, college years and beyond filled with women, alcohol, drugs and paganism, God seemed distant. Yet during those days Matthew did have many glimpses of God that shone through the innocence, the beauty, the simplicity and understanding of people that had disabilities.
He also had “golden moments.” For example, when school was breaking up for Christmas once during his college years, he and his “mates” were walking through a shopping center. He heard someone playing “Annie’s Song” by John Denver. “The guy was blind and he had a little cup on the floor with some money in it. My mates thought it was funny to kick the contents all over the floor. I was embarrassed and I bent down and put the money back in the cup. I apologized to him for my friends. As I did that, he put his hands on my head and thanked me and said, ‘Can you walk me to a train station?’
“I stood on the platform and waited with him for the train to Birmingham (England). As the train arrived, the man said, ‘Stand still.’ Then as he touched my face he said, ‘What’s your name?’ I said, ‘Matthew.’ He said, ‘I will never forget your kindness. Thank you.’”
When Matthew’s father died and Matthew went back to Birmingham, he went to a pub for a Guinness. The blind man was there after all those years still singing “Annie’s Song.” “I stood amazed,” Matthew said. “When I went up to him, the man said, ‘stand still’ and he felt my face. ‘I remember you,’ he said.”
Some things were right about his life during those years including the birth of his daughter Danielle. Also, he learned how to be a very successful disc jockey. Later he became a property manager and along with some people in a Fleetwood church formed a charity for the homeless called the Mustard Seed Group. After some time sensing that God was calling him away, he left the ministry and church to seek the Lord. Through self-examination and seeking God’s path, he joined a new church where he received in neon lights the vision God had for him: CORNERSTONE, a Christian radio station. During that time he also found and later married the love of his life.
Though continuing to persevere, it seemed the vision would not become a reality, but one day the call came from a man named Don. Would Matthew like to do a three hour radio show. After discussion of times and types, Don agreed to Matthew’s request for a Christian show on Sunday evenings “that would make a difference” and would be called the Christian Chill Out Lounge. It would involve “relax and chill” conversation and include
modern Christian worship music. The show began and has grown from 200 listeners in the first two months to more than 3000 listeners in a short time, growth that he credits to the prayers of Christian friends.
One night he shared his vision of CORNERSTONE on one of his shows called “Tales of the Unexpected Gifts God Gives You.” The station owner, though not a Christian, was “blown away” by it and in response promised to give Matthew what he would need to start his own radio station.
Matthew, who has at different times defined himself in terms of autism and dyslexia, now defines himself as a Christian who will operate the Cornerstone’s Christian Radio Station which wraps listeners in Jesus’s words of love, feeds them words of life and shares the Lord’s living water. For Matthew the world’s standards have disappeared and his life’s values are based upon God’s Word: “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Matthew 25:35).
This happy, heavy set man wearing a flat, floppy cap, giving out leaflets and praying for people
– the man I met on the sea front of Blackpool explained, “I got there through the overcoming power of Jesus Christ in my life.”
Matthew may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Developing Horizons Magazine