I was born in England to South African parents who were travelling. It was a very difficult time in my parents relationship and neither my mother nor my father had a personal relationship with Jesus although they had grown up in a religious environment. When I was two years old my parents were invited by friends on a Christian weekend where they encountered Jesus Christ and began to follow him. That was a huge turning point in our lives. Dad ended up responding to a call to ordination in the Anglican Church and was called back to South Africa when I was four.
Jesus was a rock to me growing up in an emotionally stormy home. I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 6, bouncing off the walls and often feeling like the odd one out among friends. I was gripped by fear and full of insecurity. I went to boarding school at the age of 13 and was bullied but my faith sustained me during that time. I do not remember a time in my life when Jesus was not an anchor in my life.
When I was 10 years old some missionaries came and spoke at our church about the urgency of taking the Good News of Jesus to the ends of the Earth. I started getting this strong desire to tell people about Jesus. I thought I was destined to be a missionary in the Amazon but God had other plans.
In 1994 while I was a student I returned home one holiday and my parents excitedly told me about this course called Alpha they were starting in their church where people would invite their unchurched friends to a meal and a talk and small group discussion. I saw them setting the tables for dinner - they really went all out on the preparations! That was the first I heard about Alpha.
When I finished varsity I moved to London as a supply teacher and joined Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), a church that some friends were part of. I decided to do Alpha as a way to make friends, but I thought it was really basic and the group leaders never seemed to answer my questions. After Alpha the group would go off to the pub which I thought was a bit strange for Christians. At the end of the course I realised this course wasn’t aimed at me but at my unchurched friends - at which point I realised Alpha was the perfect tool to reach my friends outside of church.
That same year a friend invited me to join her team for the Alpha day at HMP Blundeston, a maximum security prison where they were running Alpha. I’ve always had a fascination with prisons (especially escape stories!) so I signed up in trepidation but was blown away at how God was at work in these men’s lives. Emmy Wilson led the day, a proper English lady! But you could hear a pin drop when she spoke to these men about the Holy Spirit. I couldn’t believe how hijackers and murderers were visibly encountering the Holy Spirit. God gripped my heart!
The following year I returned to teaching in Durban with the sole purpose of asking the love of my life, Brenda, to marry me. After we were engaged Brenda’s mom was running an Alpha in their local church and roped us in to lead a small group. It was such fun being part of seeing people’s lives transformed by Jesus on Alpha!
After our wedding we moved back to London for a bit of an adventure before “settling down.” One evening my aunt, who wasn’t a church goer, joined us at HTB for the evening service. During the worship she pointed to an advert for a job with HTB taking Alpha into the prisons and said: “This is for you!” As I read the ad I was suddenly aware of the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through me like electricity through my body. I was so surprised that though I was a trained and practicing high school teacher, somehow God was making a connection in my heart between my passion for sharing the Good News, Alpha, the prisons, and my un-churched aunt!
I prayed and asked God that if I applied for the job - that he would close the door and show me that I was already in the right place. I applied and got the job and spent the next four years coordinating Alpha teams from local churches going into prisons across the UK and in many other countries around the world. It was so exciting seeing the map of the prisons change and at one point 125 of the 160 UK prisons had Alpha’s running in them.
It was during this time that one of my greatest role models, Sandy Millar, then vicar of HTB, called me to his home and asked me what I was doing about this call on my life. I entered the discernment process and was selected for ordination training starting in 2003.
Brenda and I continued running Alpha’s, Marriage and Parenting Courses wherever we went: from theological college in Oxford, to my first role as a minister in Watford, and then as assistant minister at Christ Church Kenilworth in Cape Town when we moved back to South Africa. We ran Alpha with our connect group in a community centre for muslims. We ran Alpha in the churches we were part of, and for teenagers in our home. We ran Marriage Preparation courses at home with couples I was preparing for marriage. I gathered a team in Cape Town and we started an Alpha in Pollsmoor Prison which is still run regularly 10 years later. A major highlight of running Alpha is seeing people encounter the Holy Spirit on the Alpha weekend.
I think of Paul, x-SAS soldier, who suffered serious depression and bipolar disorder after his tours in Iraq. He signed up for Alpha at our church in Watford and one day just walked into my office and asked how he could get Jesus into his life. He brought his girlfriend Sam on the next Alpha and she became a Jesus-follower too! It was such a joy to be invited to conduct their wedding! Sam brought her mom on the next Alpha and she was healed of 5 years of painful arthritis on the Alpha session Does God Heal Today? She ran into my office three days after I'd prayed for her saying “Look Jeremy - my hand is completely healed!” and “I can’t stop telling my friends that Jesus has healed me!"
In 2013 I came to a junction in my life where amazingly I was offered five different roles within five days of each other, one of which was to lead the Alpha South Africa team. As I prayed with Brenda and with friends I felt God led me clearly to see how the role with Alpha connecting with every part of the Church in South Africa would use all of my gifts. The thought filled me with joy! In fact if you could describe my dream job - this would be it! I am so passionate about every part of God’s Church in SA and the vital role the Church has in bringing hope to our Nation today through the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I’d love to encourage every church to try Alpha. Alpha is such an incredible way to engage with people outside the church by creating a safe place where they don’t feel judged or preached at. Alpha has worked for me - it might work for you too!
Jeremy Jobling, Alpha South Africa National Team Leader