‘What might have been?’

‘But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God’.

The most wonderful gift ever given was the gift of Jesus to a world in desperate need of a Saviour.   Jesus is the true meaning of this blessed time of year.  For a child there is no other day as important as Christmas Day. As we grow older the glow and excitement of Christmas fades. Reflecting on the memories of Christmas past, ‘Wonderful, Counsellor’, ‘Prince of Peace’, ‘Unto us a child is born’, ‘O Holy Night’, still cause me to glow with excitement and thanksgiving.  This Christmas let us celebrate the birthday of the King.

The Danish poet and author Hans Christian Andersen, is famous for his fairy-tale, ‘The Little Match Girl’.  Glancing through the pages reminded me of the hundreds of children throughout Romania who shiver barefoot; those trying to survive on cold streets, families in remote villages huddling together for warmth, who have no money to purchase firewood.  December is cold; winter snow greeted my colleagues this morning.  January to March bring freezing conditions. The reality hit hard as I read an urgent email; one line read: ‘Sister Shirley, I do not want to place you under pressure but please can you help?’  At this moment I asked myself: ‘What might have been?’

I question my heart these days, asking myself ‘have I any need I cannot meet or that has not been met?’  Before you focus upon my short blog this month, pray that you will read with a heart tuned to listen.  Children, families with one moment of need, urgent need, real need.  The urgency of one is breaking my heart.  

Daniel (12) has been discharged from hospital today.  Home for Christmas but home to a freezing room.  An adorable little boy lovingly cared for by his devoted grandparents; to them he is their beloved son. Their daughter abandoned Dani after giving birth to him in hospital. Dani regards his grandparents as his parents. They are humble village people who barely exist from day to day as they are extremely poor.   Dani is now unable to walk; his cancer is progressing; he will not recover.  Once a month Dani is taken by ambulance to hospital for palliative care and chemotherapy. They have no money for firewood. A baby abandoned, terminal cancer, I do not know how long Dani will live. But for the remainder of his days, will you offer comfort and warmth in the face of such suffering, uncertainty and anxiety. ‘What might have been?’

Maria (59) was admitted into our care in early autumn. She was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2014 and went through several extensive surgical procedures followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Despite oncological treatment, the disease recurred with bone metastases.  Spring 2021, Maria’s weight plummeted resulting in physical weakness and lack of appetite. Further investigations confirmed the disease had progressed beyond any surgical possibilities. She was advised to have palliative radiation therapy.  After a few sessions, the radiotherapist told Maria it was futile.  Maria’s pain continued to increase through to the summer of 2021 with numbness in the lower limbs. She found increasing difficulty in doing any physical effort, including walking or standing; a CT scan showed a spinal fracture. She became increasingly bedbound until she is now paraplegic and immobilised.  Hopeless in front of the evolving disease, she returned home to live the remainder of her days with her family and friends. Maria is totally dependent on her husband and has lost the will to live. The entire Hospice team visit her, sharing hope and offering guidance.  God is in control of all that comes our way. Pray Maria will find him, know him and come to love him. ‘What might have been?’

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house ….’ We know this poem well. December 6th was St. Nicholas Day in Romania. Early in the morning there was a stirring within the three bungalows housing our adult orphans in the area of Cighid Forest. The excited throng hurriedly made their way to the front door to see if St. Nicholas had left gifts.  Bethany Baptist Church Knit & Knatter Group under the direction of Marion Morrow ensured all our precious treasures in Cighid were not forgotten.  How could I forget them?  I love them.  They were thrilled to receive Dolls and Cadbury Chocolate. The men decided to hide the bars inside their pullovers (good move methinks). The ladies proceeded to measure the dolls to ensure all were the same size!  We can smile but they are someone’s son, someone’s daughter. I miss my times with them and yes, constantly ask myself: ‘What might have been?’

The desolate, insecure and those banished from any form of privilege that was never theirs, need to feel loved and accepted.  Hos. 13: 5-6 ‘I cared for you in the wilderness, in a land of burning heat, as if you were in pasture.’  The team of Casa Grace are caring for families who live in the wilderness of despair.  Six hundred children will receive a shoebox filled with a little something to bring a ‘smile’ this Christmas.  Families will receive food and hygiene; the homeless who have traversed a hopeless terrain will be shown love.  We may never walk in their footprints; we may never hear their voice; we may never walk their way, BUT we can show we care.  

Mariana has finally received a date for her surgery, January 9, 2022. Surgery will be extensive and she will be required to spend two to three weeks in hospital.  Mariana and her seven children will open their shoeboxes in their new home.  A first for them. Last year was open fields.

Eight thousand bible stories (Hungarian) in DVD format are on route to Romania, for the Hungarian Baptist Churches ensuring that thousands of children will not feel forgotten. Tom Patterson made many journeys to Tesco to secure the total sum of forty-one banana boxes. Seventy-two shoeboxes provided by Monkstown Baptist Church under the direction of Natalia Montgomery have arrived with Pastor Andrei, Sofronea. Another two boxes from Allan Hopper are on route.  Children and elderly are remembered.  Thank you.

Children with disabilities are like a butterfly with one broken wing.  Beautiful as the other butterflies – they just need a little help to open both wings.  I thank the Lord for Dora and her love for the disabled and orphaned children, also the abandoned babies.  Therapy classes are essential.  It takes time and lots of love and patience.  Ruth Hanna through her knitting will provide ‘treats’ for the children who attend our therapy centre. Sweat Shirts were purchased by Mavis Patterson for those who come on these freezing mornings without a coat. Carol Williamson provided handmaid duvets, playmats all in beautiful colours.  One little boy, Florin, has stolen her heart as he has mine. He and his friends travel many miles to attend our classes, often arriving without a coat. Carol has ensured they will be warm this Christmas.  I smile as I remember ‘My Dora’ who still talks about her ‘Auntie Barbara’. Sisters Margaret (Limavady); Patsy (Lisburn) Sheila (Carryduff) knitting beautiful jumpers etc.   ‘What might have been?’

Christmas is far removed from many young lives; winter is the only season in their hearts.  Life is cold and meaningless for Sabina who has four young children, the youngest only four weeks old.  An unmarried mother with no food and living in freezing conditions.  Vasilica gave birth to a baby girl in September.  The father of the child has gone and she is alone.  Her father is unable to help as he is a widower and cares for his disabled son.  Isabela (14) has been diagnosed with a hole in her heart which is growing larger.  If she does not have immediate surgery there will be complications in her lung area.  She must travel to a specialist hospital in Brasov. Iochebed have paid for the transport but we are asking the Lord to provide the finance for her heart surgery.  Two unexpected telephone calls just now from Limavady and Monkstown areas, enquiring if Georgina has firewood for Christmas and which child needs a toy for Christmas.  This is what love does, it remembers another’s weakness and gives and gives and gives again.

Days of emotion overtake me at times, I feel everything depends on ‘me’.  How wrong am I in my thinking? Jehoshaphat resolved in his heart to seek guidance of the Lord.    I greet 2022 determined to dedicate the remaining years of my life to ‘try’ to accomplish the work I feel called to do.  My prayer as I enter another new year: ‘Lord, ‘If only I may finish my course with joy’.

Shirley, December 15, 2021, 

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