Pioneering pastor Dennis Niziol went from running for his life to running the race of life.
Born in America into a family of four boys, all with different fathers, Dennis Niziol could easily have been just another statistic.
But a brutal bar fight left him on the run with a contract on his life – and the US Air Force provided a welcome flight to the UK where he found Christ, planted a church and then spent nearly 40 years as an Elim Minister.
Dennis says: "If you asked the 20-year-old me where I had come from and where I was going I couldn’t have answered the last part. All I knew was that I was running."
Dennis grew up in Columbus Ohio and, despite the stabilising influence of his stepfather, he admits, "I was restless and reckless, which culminated in me upsetting the wrong people and having a contract taken out on my life."
Fearful for his life, Dennis needed to escape.
"So, I ran – straight into the arms of the US Air Force. Vietnam or UK were my choices. I chose the latter, naively hoping I could continue my broadcasting aspirations in USAF radio, which had been exercised in local radio stations in America, and rivalled only by my professional guitar playing ambitions.
"As it turned out, the only radio I would be carrying was to communicate as a security policeman in England."
This move brought Dennis into a date with destiny, as it was in the UK he would meet his soon-to-be-wife.
"Thankfully, the Lord knew where I was heading and joined me quickly with a beautiful, God-fearing Irish lady, Anne, in Oxfordshire, which has largely been my home as I now approach 70 years of age."
Having escaped his pursuers in the US, Dennis had a second dance with death.
"As a security policeman, I was far from home and alone on post for long shifts. One night I was directing traffic and it was dark and rainy.
"Suddenly a fast-moving fire truck blindsided me, hitting me into the air. The M16 rifle I had only moments before adjusted to carry on that side of my body, took the brunt. I knew God had saved me."
Whilst his previous brush with death caused him to run into the arms of the US Air Force, this time Dennis ran into the arms of grace.
"After recuperating, I had to return to that post at a lower ebb than ever.
"That is when a fellow airman walked across the field to tell me that God loved me more than anyone else could. This guy had tried many times to get me to church; I always declined, but now I was ready."
God had big plans for Dennis: "Once I gave my life to Christ, I was no longer running from something but running in my God-given race. The call to plant a church came a few years later. I knew that God wanted a church in Bicester, Oxfordshire."
In 1979, Dennis planted an independent church, but God spoke to him about joining the Elim Movement.
"I came to know that I needed a covering. The Lord gave me a picture of me riding on a colt named 'Elim'."
The church joined Elim in 1983.
Dennis reflects on the Lord’s ability to fulfil our desires: "God redeems all things. Those music aspirations I had in my youth have been used for the Kingdom. From worship leading to outreach in various settings, from seniors’ tea dances and street proclamation to prison ministry.
"I was also a regular guest for ten years on BBC radio Oxford giving a Christian thought for the day.
"Through God’s grace, I was anointed with gifts beyond my personal characteristics and leanings. A prophetic ministry has given me the joy of seeing lives released from all kinds of anguish. And God gave me a true pastor’s heart; a father’s heart, which can only have been an anointing."
His faith has led Dennis all over the world.
He has been involved in missions to India, Sweden, Poland and Ukraine, and five countries in Africa.
"If you were to ask that fleeing boy in the early 70s, 'Where are you going?' those locations were beyond my ability to think or conceive.
"And God orchestrated a miraculous chain of events around my 60th birthday.
I met my birth father whom I thought was dead. I got to know him 40 days before he died and prayed with him to accept Christ. The Lord gave us both peace in that season. What a birthday gift.
And in a twist that you could not makeup, my mother and my father, who had not met since my birth, ended up in the same hospital and passed away within a month of each other.
"Even when our lives look messy and full of loose ends, the Lord has a way of bringing it all-round full circle."
Dennis and Anne have three grown-up children and seven grandchildren.
As Dennis prepares to retire in January 2022, his pioneering spirit is as strong as ever, and he is excited about what God is going to do in the future.
He says: "Strength is returning to the church. We are being put in a position to bring down the works of the enemy. We are coming to a time that will bring glory to God on a scale not seen before.
"I am excited about the next adventure."
About Lighthouse Church
The Lighthouse Church in Bicester was planted by Dennis Niziol in 1979 and joined Elim in 1983.
Beginning with a large American demographic drawn from the nearby US airbase, the church has become increasingly international with a multicultural membership from more than seven different nations. The congregation is active in serving through ministries such as the Samaritan’s Purse Shoebox Appeal, prison ministry, visiting care homes, holding tea dances and holiday clubs for children and seniors. The church aims to be a 'light-house that will bring people from all nations safely home.'
This article first appeared in September's Direction Magazine. For further details please click here.
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