No-one expected Michael and Becki Huth to get together, though Becki's dad, Jim, once said he'd roast a pig in celebration if they did. Read as they shares their inspirational life stories and how God brought them together and gave them a shared vision.
IN MANY ways Michael and Becki couldn't be more different. He's German; she's British. He grew up in a comfortable middle class home. She grew up in a chaotic working class one. His family wasn't Christian; hers were - yet he's the squeaky clean type and she spent years addicted to heroin in a world of violence and crime. Chalk and cheese, you'd think.
Yet when I sat down opposite them, sprawled on a ramshackle settee, they seemed every inch the contented, affectionate couple. "My full name is Abraham Michael Obadiah - Junior" says Michael, sombrely, and it's only when Becki dissolves into a fit of giggles I realise he's not entirely serious.
Michael, 37, grew up in Stuttgart. His upbringing was stable, if unremarkable - he describes the "worst thing he ever did" as taking off with some friends - in their parents' Porsche - in pursuit of some girls and breaking down in the middle of nowhere. Michael laughs at the memory and shakes his head.
Though his family were not churchgoers, Michael went to a Christian youth group and had what he calls "the steady input of good Christian men" from an early age. At 19, while on national service, someone challenged Michael to become a Christian.
"I got on my knees and confessed my sins to God. People prayed for me and without any great shaking or trembling I started speaking in tongues". Simple as shelling peas, it seems. There is a straight-forward, no-nonsense quality about Michael.
Receiving the Holy Spirit planted a hunger in Michael for what he now calls "living the New Testament". He came to the UK in 1990, on placement from his University management course. After having searched unsuccessfully for a church he felt at home in, he bumped into a couple from the Jesus Fellowship on the streets of Oxford.
Michael quickly found the "New Testament church" that he'd been looking for. It wasn't long before Michael was baptised ("in a seriously overheated baptism pool: they'd left the heating on and it was like a hot bath - in July!") and became a pillar of the Jesus Fellowship in Oxford.
I ask Becki about her childhood. "It was just bizarre", she says wistfully. ("Bizarre" is a word Becki uses often and as she unfolds her story, I come to realise why.) "My dad wasn't a Christian and my mum was this radical bizarre Christian" explains Becki. "I had three brothers who were into all sorts - they gave me my first fag when I was 9, know what I mean?"
Becky pauses and stares into the middle distance, remembering. "We were confused because at that time, my dad wasn't a clear role model, but there were other people around who were sort of father figures - but they were bizarre people, really".
But things went badly wrong for Becki when she was raped at the age of 15. "I was babysitting for this woman and this bloke - he was about 18 - he raped me. I didn't want to tell the police, didn't think they'd believe me. I think that's when I started hating myself.
"It wasn't long after this that I met the proper idiot". She laughs and sighs all at once. There's a pregnant pause and then she explains - "My best friend, Jo, was going out with a guy called Matt. His cousin was called Robbie and I ended up with him. I needed someone: fell in love at 16. I moved out to live with him and he smashed my face up."
The matter-of-fact tone with which Becki says this last detail is frankly unnerving. What follows is a catalogue of two years of beatings, robbing, a tangle with some gypsy gunmen, Martini drinking and then - after an encounter with some people who knew the lad who had raped her - heroin.
"It took away the pain basically. It was good for toothache too." Becki is entirely serious. So am I. So is Michael. There is a silence.
"I was doing two jobs, robbing at lunch-time, robbing on the way home" says Becki. "Mum and dad had no idea, 'cos I managed to hide what was going on and make up excuses for the bruises. My dad had become a Christian by then. One day, when things got really bad, I went to him and told him everything. He was completely gobsmacked."
With her parents' help, Becki managed to leave Robbie. But the new start was to be short lived. "I was cocky, very cocky" sighs Becki and she relates how she ended up going off with Jo and Matt, who by this time had had a daughter, Kiah. Things went from bad to worse, until Becki's twenty-fourth birthday, when she spent the whole day "clucking" because they'd run out of money for drugs. Desperate, she cried out to God: "If you're real, get me out of this s**t".
Two days later, she decided to go and sell some CDs to her mum to raise drug funds ("bizarre"). Walking into the Pre-school where her mum worked something totally unexpected and "awesome" happened.
"I felt this amazing peace. I walked up to my mum and collapsed and cried. All these kids were looking at me. I didn't care: God had answered my prayer."
Becki describes the time that followed as a "healing time". To me, listening, it seemed more like a catalogue of minor miracles. She had to appear in court: her solicitor cried in the courtroom and the hard-faced judge let her off saying "I don't really know why I'm doing this".
God had intervened, but that wasn't the end of heartache: in April 1999 Becki's dad, Jim, died suddenly of a heart attack, plunging Becki, her family and the church in Oxford into grief.
"At my Dad's funeral, my cousin was trying to give me gear, but I managed to keep off it" recalls Becki. But that wasn't all that she remembers. Michael spoke at the funeral and Becki found herself respecting his strength and integrity. Over the next few weeks Becki sensed God saying 'Tell Michael you love him'.
Becki snorts with mirth at the recollection. "My head's done in, my Dad's just died, I'm just off drugs - and You want me to tell a leader of the Church I'm in love with him!"
Michael chips in with a confidential air. "A friend grassed her up... Actually, when Beck first came back I thought 'Oh no, not another pressure on her parents'. But after that I really saw Becks' sincerity and we became really good friends. And when Jim died we were all welded together."
Michael describes the process of realising that his dreams of the "perfect Christian girl" morphed into an understanding of the true Kingdom relationship that was possible with Becki. After some thought and prayer, they began to explore a relationship. "Our chances seemed very slim," Michael admits. "All I know is that God has been amazingly good and amazingly God in making it happen".
Michael and Becki were married in June 2000 and at their wedding reception a pig was roasted on a spit, in memory of Jim who had nurtured a hope that his daughter may one day wed Michael. It was a day of celebration.
After six years of marriage, Michael and Becki still have the air of a couple who are faintly surprised (and delighted) at being together at all. Yet together they very much are and today they are the hub of a lively new Jesus Fellowship group in Cutteslowe, Oxford. Having originally moved in next door to Becki's mum, it wasn't long before their magnetic presence had gathered people around them and a little church was born.
"The year we were married, my mate Jo was put in prison and Kiah came to stay with us" says Becki. Kiah is 11, now, and Michael and Becki have become her legal guardians. Becki gave birth to "another" daughter, Trinity, in 2002.
But their family is more than just their relatives: today, Michael and Becki have a single dad, and his daughter (also 10) living with them. Another friend lives next door with Becki's mum. And there are lots of other friends around. "The plan is to knock through and create a big shared lounge," says Michael, "and we're having a loft conversion."
Michael and Becki bubble with enthusiasm as they talk of their vision for 'Spirit Life' as their little church household has come to be called. Healing, growth and the establishment of closer sharing and a common purse are on the agenda.
Becki sums it up in a (characteristic) burst of enthusiasm: "We think 'Come on God, what's next? Bring it on!'"
I'm left with the certain impression that God will, indeed "bring it on": given half a chance, I'd move in with them.
Some names have been changed