On the 24th November 2023 Joanne Duke was ordained as a Pastor with Church on the Street Ministries. Joanne’s journey to this special day has been full of challenges, pain, and at times surprises. Her journey of faith and recovery started many years ago and it is this journey that Joanne would like to share with you now.
My name is Joanne and I work for Church on the Street overseeing Loaves & Fishes community cafe in Barnoldswick. I was born in a small town called Padiham, just outside Burnley. My early childhood was pretty good, although my parents divorced when I was about 5 and for me as a 5 year old it was really hard. I did see my dad at weekends but it was not the same, I hated it really. I also hated school due to me being dyslexic, there was not much support back then, so you were just left to struggle on your own. The funny thing is that my favourite subject at school was Religious Education and this was the only GCSE that I passed. Maybe it was due to my mum being a catholic and some of that rubbed off on me. I was always getting into trouble at school, mostly for fighting which carried on into my adult life and eventually led to several criminal convictions.
“When I was 21 my boyfriend committed suicide, it was a really traumatic time so I started to look for comfort in various things.”
When I was 21 my boyfriend committed suicide, it was a really traumatic time so I started to look for comfort in various things, I used to think about God, death, and the spiritual side of life. I ended up going to a spiritualist church where I thought I would be able to get in touch with my dead boyfriend. I knew in my heart that it was not right, then my life started to change for the worse, I started to drink heavily and my life seemed to become very dark. At the same time my mum seemed to recognise that I was looking into the spiritual side of life and introduced me to a lady who attended a Christian church. She began to talk about God and the spiritual aspect of life in a way that just made sense to me. I knew then I was heading down a wrong, very dark path and needed to go in a different direction.
Just after the conversation with the Christian lady I decided to get baptised, I stopped drinking, got married, had money, houses and all seemed to be going well, I started to feel happy. But things changed when I found out my husband was having an affair, I could not handle it so I got divorced. All those things that were making me happy, husband, money, houses, businesses had gone, literally overnight I was left with nothing. This experience left me completely broken, so to find comfort and numb the pain I started drinking again and partied hard with my mates. I would not say I was depressed, although I was too busy drinking and partying to feel depressed or know anything was wrong. But, looking back, I know that deep down in my heart I was full of this acidic resentment, bitterness, anger, and unforegiveness which was eating me up inside.
“I was 42 years of age and stuck in a destructive lifestyle and hated it. It was out of this desperation that I prayed to God for help.”
About 4 years ago I began to realise that I needed to change, I became really desperate to stop drinking and partying. I was 42 years of age and stuck in a destructive lifestyle and hated it. It was out of this desperation that I prayed to God for help, it was one of those – if you are really there God please help me prayers. The week after I had prayed I ended up going to a Sunday service at Church on the Street. Pastor Mick was preaching about repentance and it felt like Mick was talking just to me and the words had been written to speak directly into my life.
After the service I went home and prayed “God, if you are real I am going to give you six months and in the six months I am going to read my Bible and go to church, but in six months I need to know if you are who people say you are”. During those six months I went to Sunday service at COTS every week and I began to hear other people had similar stories to mine, but they had this peace, this freedom and a joy that I so desperately wanted. I became hungry for it, I wanted what they had.
“Today, as I write these words I have that peace, freedom, and joy that I had seen in other people.”
During one conversation with Pastor MIck he asked me a very simple question, “if I could ask God for anything, what would it be”? Instantly I answered his question, ‘I want my life to be transformed”. Mick asked me to close my eyes as he prayed for me. When I opened my eyes the room was filled with light, the colours looked different, it was like a veil had been lifted and a light had come on inside me. I knew then God was real, he loved me, and he was going to transform me.
One week later I was applying to study at NTC, a theological college in Manchester. Even writing this now makes me think “me, with my 1 GCSE in Religious Education, having lived a life of fighting, partying, alcohol and with all my resentment, bitterness and anger actually applied to study a degree in theology”. Even more amazing is that 3 years later, in 2022, I graduated with a degree in theology from the University of Manchester. Only God can do this! My 3 years of studying at NTC were my rehabilitation years. I knew God was washing me clean from my pain, hurt, resentment, bitterness, and anger, washing me clean from my own sin. Psalm 32:5 talks about acknowledging our own sin, not hiding sin from God, then confessing to the Lord and he will forgive us. I started to practise this in my own life, all the things I had done to other people, to myself, as well as all the destructive, acidic feelings and emotions in my heart, I acknowledged them, bought them before the Lord, confessed them, and He forgave me, He really forgave me.
Today, as I write these words I have that peace, freedom, and joy that I had seen in other people. I know that God is now directing my life, my work, my marriage to Brad, my 3 beautiful children; Tia, Rio, Jai, my studies, and now my ordination. It feels natural, I actually do not feel that excited about being ordained, I feel comforted by the fact that I know God is leading me now and in the future. I can only thank Him through my Lord Jesus Christ.
Heavenly Father, Almighty God. We thank you for transforming Joanne and leading her to a day when she is able to be ordained as a Pastor. We ask that your hand leads, guides, and provides all she needs as Joanne shines your light into the injustice in the world. Amen