The hard road of emptiness


‘Do more than exist, live.
Do more than touch, feel.
Do more than look, observe.
Do more than read, absorb.
Do more than hear, listen.
Do more than thank, ponder.
Do more than talk, say something.  

(John H. Rhoads).

‘Live, feel, observe, absorb, listen, ponder’.  It takes a deep seeded depth of love to embrace these words. As I do, I ask myself:  ‘How deep is my love today?’  I confess writing the monthly update is emotional and draining, but love, real love is not merely an emotion, it is a motion, simply because real love is love in action.  John Wesley wrote: ‘Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can’.   ‘As long as I can’ is my opening prayer each morning. 

Beautiful rays of sunshine greeted me this morning, yet I know for many it is winter in their hearts.  The cold winds of darkness, emptiness are undeniable mountains refusing to disappear.  If only they would ‘commit’ their pain, suffering, worry, anxiety, burden, loss to the Lord.  C.H. Spurgeon’s exposition of 1 Peter 5: 7 is clear and instructive: ‘Commit thy way unto the Lord.  Roll the whole burden of life upon the Lord.  Leave with Jehovah not thy present fretfulness merely, but all thy cares; in fact, submit the whole tenor of thy way to him.  Cast away anxiety, resign thy will, submit thy judgment, leave all with the God of all’.   There are times I feel I am stumbling in the darkness but this brings me closer to a greater understanding of more love for the Lord. I repeat: ‘As long as I can’.  

Many of our families, patients are from the Orthodox religion.  Their morning prayer includes this petition: ‘Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all’.  Wow!  I sat down this morning and analysed the words: ‘all that comes to me’.   All that comes to me is certainly by Divine Purpose and I know (while painful) I must continue to love, sharing the Good News and supporting my children, patients and families.  How can I not when I read?

Ionut, (John) (22) diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, causing him to be permanently bedridden.   Ionut has been in our care since he was ten years of age, although recently we noticed he was very weak. A sweet boy who, when asked what he wanted to mark his twenty-first birthday, replied: ‘A Giant Pizza please’.  Ionut died on the 17th of August after years of pain and suffering.  His condition worsened with the years bringing unimaginable complications. Ionut inherited this condition from his mother who also suffers from muscular dystrophy. Although her condition has worsened, she was motivated to fight for her beloved son.  His sick mother and father who has one leg amputated lovingly cared for him. It is winter in this home. Our Hospice team are concerned they will not cope with the loss. They miss his smile, with life having no meaning, as the purpose of living has gone.  This precious couple need our support in prayer.

Berti (13) and Alex (5), two brothers with tetra paresis. There are three other siblings who assist in caring for their brothers. They are a precious family who live in extreme poverty.  A family bereft of health, food, clothing, shelter, they have nothing to call their own.   

Kevin is scheduled for foot surgery this week.  Remember our wee gem and his mum Gabi who is still in the depths of grief from the loss of her beloved Robi.  Pray the surgery will be successful (without complications) enabling Kevin to finally be able to walk again.  I know Uncle Wesley, Uncle Peter and Auntie Mary, (Falkirk), Auntie Barbara, Auntie Sheila and many others pray for Kevin and will be holding him close in heart. 

Dani (12) the young boy with a brain tumour is continuing to do palliative chemotherapy. Dani is confined to bed permanently now and is very thin, with virtually no appetite. His parents are devastated; their tears would fill a reservoir. They would rather suffer themselves than to see their precious darling wasting away before their eyes.  This is real pain and it hurts to watch.

I find these particular cases harrowing, lives with overwhelming circumstances, obstacles.  The mountains are high, vision impaired, the climb is much too steep.  Their eyes are dark and they stare ahead in fear wondering ‘what next?’  There is only one who can smooth the rough and uneven paths, level the high and towering mountain.  Can we bring light to these darkened hearts?  Will you hold out your hand to one of these precious families? 

Estera, Emanuel Church Hospice Team, writes: ‘Sister Shirley, thank you so much for holding us in prayer. We are blessed to be held in prayer as we care for our patients’. 

Another Mariana (58), ovarian cancer, receiving palliative care from our dedicated Hospice team.  Mariana knows her time on earth is limited.  Despair, panic attacks and depression crowd her mind, thinking that her illness is a punishment from God. Mariana was a very religious person prior to her illness and harbours feelings of resentment towards God, saying she is unable to pray now.  She questions the goodness of God, doubting the way He choose to manage this world.  Pray for Adriana in her visits to Mariana that she will point her the way to find peace; that she and her family may be brought to faith, to know the Lord, that He can be with her even in these circumstances.

Caterina (my dear friend) has been admitted to hospital.  I felt in my own heart from a recent photograph shared with me, all was not well.  Caterina began to choke when sipping water and swallowing food.  A sign that her neck tumour may be growing inwardly. She will start a session of radiotherapy.  This dear lady has become so precious to me, I love her dearly and want her to know the Lord I love.  She still asks ‘When will Sister Shirley return to visit with me?’

Working in fields or fruit farms is ‘normal’ to Roma girls, these are certainly not fields of peace or contentment but fields of necessity.  An arduous journey of struggle for many elderly ladies, the work involves strenuous effort and at the end of the day, their breaking backs and heavy feet make another arduous journey – the road ‘home’.  Constantly weighed down by the weight of their circumstance, they ask only for one thing – ‘change’. They lack joy and their tears seem to go on forever; the anxiety in their heart is overwhelming.  The Word of God brings a wealth of knowledge and a legacy of joy.  My prayer is that through the love shown by our team in Iochebed, they will realise the power of prayer and that prayer changes things. 

Claudia has a baby girl of one and became pregnant again four months after the birth of her baby daughter who was delivered by caesarean section.  Claudia requested the possibility of a natural birth for her second pregnancy. However, on August 01st a baby boy was delivered also by caesarean section.  This precious little darling only survived one day as he suffered a major heart attack.  Claudia is broken, only God can wipe her tears and heal her broken heart.

Georgiana (18) married with two children is facing days of disbelief and hardship.  A young teenager with the responsibility of two precious children.  Her husband has been arrested and she is totally with no family or loved ones to support her and her babies.  The cold Romanian winter will soon make an unwelcome return.  Georgiana is overwhelmed by fear that her babies with freeze to death as she has no money for firewood and is bereft of support of any kind.  A few logs of wood would bring heat to precious little ones, cook a soup or stew.  The dark walls of circumstances are crowding in. With her back against the wall, Georgiana has nowhere to hide or to run.  Our girls in Iochebed are waiting with outstretched arms of love.  Let us buy wood for tiny toes and fingers to be warm.  They have no Daddy to hold them.

Didina, (40) has ten, yes, you read correctly, ten children.  Didina came to Iochebed in shock and disbelief that she is pregnant with her eleventh child.  This was unwelcome news for her and she is in total shock. Her last pregnancy was extremely difficult and she was on medication throughout her term.   Two years ago, she suffered facial paresis; it is still noticeable as she has not healed completely.   A lady of forty with ten children, washing, ironing, cooking for twelve every day, in her eleventh pregnancy with serious medical issues.  Didina needs the Lord to strengthen her weak body and frail mind.

Elena (30) a single mother with a five-year-old child came to Iochebed requesting a pregnancy test.  She confessed her desire if the test was positive, she wanted an abortion.  After much prayer within our team, the test result was negative. Pray that all the information she heard in our counselling classes will change her heart about abortion.

A few days ago, my friend Wesley and I were reminiscing on some favourite hymns we enjoyed playing in Castlereagh Baptist Church. As we ended our conversation, I sat down at my piano and began to play:

‘Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end’.

I can hear Wesley saying: ‘Shirley, maintain a quiet heart and keep trusting’.

My monthly blog is written over many days of tearful consideration.  I find myself questioning why so much suffering is allowed?  As I prepare lunch or our evening meal, pictures of my families occupy my thoughts, those who do not even have a morsel on the end of their fork to quench the hunger pains of tiny tummies, dark eyes looking up, longing for food.  But then, many don’t even have forks; they gladly eat with their fingers. The next time we sit down to eat remember the team at Casa Grace who lovingly prepare weekly food parcels for the endless stream of mothers, fathers who knock our door pleading for food. Pray for the team, as they also seek for opportunities to share news of the One who is the bread of life.

A cruel and violent area is home to one our families where the conditions are of a vicious nature.  It is unsafe to leave children unattended. Therefore, in order to protect her little girl from harm, one mother makes many sacrifices.  They are extremely poor, no treasured possessions or surplus of money. In fact, the food they receive from our feeding programme enables the family to have money for utility, or medical expenses.  These days, I find myself thinking of the little mouths that would gladly eat the ‘left overs’ we disregard.

Eight children run excitedly to Casa Grace, their faces beaming with joy.  They can’t wait to receive ‘food’.  Their eager, hungry eyes gaze in disbelief at the bags of food.  The food is a lifeline to them as without it they would find it impossible to survive.  The mother cooks for her large family and manages well on a low family income.  As we prepare our personal case study representing each family, we identify the fear of tomorrow these families harbour in their hearts.  Pray for our team as they counsel and instruct these precious people that their amazing influence will teach them the true meaning of resting in the calmness of his presence.  Robert Louis Stevenson ends one of his prayers with these words:

‘Help us with the grace of courage that we be none of us cast down while we sit lamenting over the ruins of our happiness.  Touch us with the fire of Thine altar, that we may be up and doing, to rebuild our city.’

Neli, Casa Grace Team, writes: It is not a coincidence these families came to be assisted by Casa Grace.   We want to help them as much as we can, but more importantly to be an example and a witness for them. This would not be possible without your help and support. We would be unable to offer food without you and your friends who donate money enabling us to purchase for the feeding programme.  Thank you in the name of Casa Grace and our families.  Please extend our thanks to those who donate that their hunger may be satisfied. Sister Shirley, may God bless you and take care of you! May God give you and your supporters good health! May God reward your sacrifice which you do for the ministry in Romania and in particular for Casa’s ministry.

OUR PRECIOUS MARIANA although 70 kilometres drive from Oradea continues to receive daily from our feeding programme.  Mariana was able to proceed with her final chemotherapy.  The oncologist performed a series of in-depth scans and will analyse the X-Rays, recommending future treatment and pending surgery.  Mariana’s pastures in the wilderness are not over; there are still miles to travel.  Work on her new home is ongoing and we pray the Lord will grant Mariana many days with her seven children.  We know, all things are possible; we have proved that the Lord can make our precious sister anew.  My heart reaches out to you in thanksgiving for your evident love and prayers that have carried this family though these many difficult months.  My prayer is that Mariana will come to know the true meaning of the peace that passes all understanding in her life.  Pray for the young Hungarian pastor who faithfully ministers weekly in her home.  Mariana expresses it is a miracle she is where she is today but still no evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched her life.  May she be directed to read Psalm 103: 3 ‘Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases’.

Our hope is not in nations or rulers, our trust is in the Almighty God who holds this world in the hollow of his hand. Each day hails unwelcome news of spiking numbers of the Covid pandemic, earthquakes, bombings … a broken world.  The fourth wave of Coronavirus has hit Romania.  The State have segregated the vaccinated from those unvaccinated, meaning only those vaccinated will be permitted to enter shopping malls, Restaurants and must display proof of a negative test.  Hospitals are overstretched and cannot tread anyone sixty and over.  Our teams in Emanuel Hospice, Casa Grace and Iochjebed are under tremendous pressure. Today’s moment of need is prayer – remember them. 

Another blog. Additional accounts of struggle, worry, inadequacy, rejection, disappointment, unanswered questions, pain … every second, minute, hour, day, week, month, year after year. I need to remember that God is in control. He and He alone must be my focus, the centre of my attention, otherwise I will become totally overwhelmed.  I sign off another update asking you to prayerfully remember Hamilton and I.  We are just another ordinary couple but feel the need of your prayers for the days ahead.  As you continue to pray for Emanuel Hospice patients, Casa Grace families, orphans, disabled, down syndrome children and abandoned babies, Iochebed families, please remember other aspects of the ministry.  The final stages of the translations into Romanian, Russian and Hungarian of The Pastoral Epistles and Glory in the Cross are coming to completion.  Pray for guidance in printing and distribution.  One Ukrainian leader has requested one thousand copies.   

We continue to give thanks for the tokens of our ‘Divine Appointments’ for the Lord proving His faithfulness through the love of brothers and sisters. One couple sponsoring Mariana’s treatment; one couple purchasing five of our ten tailoring chairs urgently needed in our Vocational Training Room.  God Bless You.    At times I feel totally helpless, but there is a drive within me that I must press on, I am compelled by my love for these precious people.  Shirley: ‘Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’.  Amen.

Shirley, August 31, 2021. 

42B Bernice Road, Co. Antrim. BT36 4QZ