Without excuse

The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service. The greatest form of praise is the sound of consecrated feet seeking out the lost and helpless.’ (Billy Graham)

The pace of the past two weeks filled my heart with an overwhelming emotion.  I abandoned the thoughts troubling me and for a brief moment tried to calm my hungering heart. I sat quietly; the precious words found in the book of Isaiah filled my mind: ‘But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you’.  How precious those moments when you know this is for me, this is exactly what I need for the ‘now’ times.   

And there was more: ‘Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink, even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk, it’s all free’.  ‘It’s all free’.   I thought of the beggar sitting (almost frozen) in the market place; the scantily dressed boy whose whole demeanour spoke of total destitution; the elderly trying to sell their lace, homeless men and women searching through refuse bins with hungry eyes in the hope of finding a morsel of bread, perhaps their first ‘meal’ for many days. ‘It’s all free’, I kept repeating over and over to myself: The hunger of a searching heart can be fed and their thirst assuaged.  

Tears hit the keyboard as I write because I long to echo this invitation to those who are dying, to those living in such extreme poverty, words could not explain, hungry children hoping you abandon your shopping trolley, the 50 cents in the slot will buy one pastry.  And yet there is ‘Living Bread’ available.   One’s first reaction would be ‘Beware’, smile and walk on.  Walk on when you are captivated with someone who just wants to be noticed or to matter.  Wasn’t it William Booth who said: ‘You cannot warm the hearts of people with God’s love if they have an empty stomach and cold feet’.

These days I find myself walking unfamiliar roads, I can only take one step at a time and as I do the Lord points to the signposts I must follow.  Only yesterday visiting ‘Kingdom Kids’ in the Orphanage: Abandoned Babies (beautiful little darlings), Orphans, Down Syndrome and Disabled Children. I met Alex (13) an only child who is mentally and physically disabled. ‘Chow’ I said and I received the most amazing smile – although I think the smile was in the direction of the Quality Street tin in my hand as he disregarded the croissant his father was feeding him.  But this was one of God’s divine appointments.  Alex and his mother Alexandra lived with her parents while the husband went to work in Spain as he was unable to find employment in Romania. When Alex was only eight years old, Alexandra was diagnosed with breast cancer and subsequently died. Following the funeral, the grandparents asked their son-in-law and grandson to move out and they have been trying to survive alone these past five years. Alex attends a special school and has many health issues. He is one of our children at Casa Grace who receive therapy under the direction of my friend Dora. Unable to walk, communicate, he is a happy boy but I am very aware the father urgently required medical items and, in this situation, I need to be an Innkeeper.  

But Innkeepers have helpers, yes? Returning back to Emanuel, I immediately contacted Carol who is the wife of the pastor of Agape Church and also a nurse. I related the story of Alex and the pending need. ‘Shirley I can sort this, no problem’. came the reply.  Alison telephoned later in the evening, I updated her that boxes would be arriving from Carol.  ‘Amazing’,said Alison, ‘I purchased packs of these just to have a stock’.  Alison may have no stock in hand but God knew the need before I did and placed it on the hearts of these two sisters.  This is God’s Divine Appointment and oh the blessing of proving God as we listen, wait and trust.

Driving to Cighid, I was overcome with sadness as I travelled the unkept and unused roads. I found myself thinking of King Solomon with all his riches; he had everything money could buy and yet there was a void within screaming to be quenched.  Wealth can never bring peace of mind, provide the warmth of a home, a mother’s love, friendship.  Driving through the gates of Cighid, a sense of coldness filled me as I watched lone figures walking, aimlessly walking to nowhere.  Monika, Mihai and four students from the Music programme in Emanuel University were not deterred by the howling wind and rain. Our hearts were filled with joy as we anticipated sharing the Christmas story and singing the beautiful carols of this blessed season.  We hurriedly unpacked the dolls, trucks and sweets from the van, trying to avoid the mud and puddles.  The image is engraved on my heart as I encountered the childlike excitement of each adult receiving their gift.  The ladies touching the dolls and gently kissing their foreheads, with laughs almost deafening, the men standing in amazement looking at the trucks; selection boxes from Agherton K & K needed no explanation, always a hit.  ‘A birthday party, thank you very much for the gifts and the lovely sweeties.’   A voice from nowhere resounded across the room and I couldn’t believe someone was actually speaking.   An older lady, unknown, unloved, quietly made her way to her bedroom and placed ‘her baby’ inside her bed and kissed her ‘Goodnight’.  Adults with the mind of a child wanting to be close to you, touch you.  At times it was impossible to breathe, so many squeezing into one small room of one of the three tiny bungalows, wanting to be noticed as they shouted ‘me, me’.  Monika said: ‘Sister Shirley I am glad you are a slim lady’.   We laughed together (breathing deeply) as friends do.  The supervisor who has been with these precious people since infancy told me they have never had a proper doll before. Give me neither poverty or riches, there are blessings money can never buy for me. Today was my blessing.

Another blessing, ‘My Dora’.  I appreciate the heart of so many who pray for Dora every morning.  It is an uphill battle for John who is feeling the process of aging.  I could see Dora was extremely tired but when she heard footsteps she shouted from her little part of heaven in the kitchen ‘I know who is coming, it is you Sister Shirley.’  Auntie Heather and Auntie Barbara sent beautiful warm fleeces and cosy mittens with other little trinkets.  ‘Shirley, Santa seems to have come early; will you ask him to come again on Christmas Eve?’  My precious Dora.  John was thrilled with the items of clothing; he struggles with medical bills, if enough remains they can buy food.  There is so much I would love to do but there is only so much I can do.  Each morning I commit myself to new acts of faith because I know and I have proved especially in personal circumstances, the Lord is my helper.

I have knocked many doors, climbed many stairs, this mission trip only to find families fighting for survival, patients too ill for visits, infant patients slowly dying, elderly patients fighting for dignity to die well.  It is in these days I know the true meaning of: ‘He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength’. The prophet Elijah knew what it was to lack courage and strength, therefore in my days of ‘overload’ instead of becoming burdened,  I need to learn to place every issue at his feet knowing that my own personal relationship with God is the most important priority I possess which is a Hungering Heart After God.  The difficulty of today will then become the strength for tomorrow.  

The Emanuel Hospice Christmas Celebration was special as I met families old and new.  Families I have known since 2012, who have loved and lost and for whom the Christmas candles no longer burn brightly; they walk only a cinder path of pain and a wilderness of heart.  A grandmother running up to me, kissing my cheek as she shared her broken heart; her only son with a promising career in football lost his battle with throat cancer; her grandson taken away, eviction.  Yet as they remember the fallen rose buds, gone with no lasting fragrance, they smile knowing you genuinely care and you do remember them.  I kept watching the entrance doors and finally I saw Simona carrying baby Abraham and her mother in law hand in hand with my little butterfly, Debora.  I made my way quickly to the back where she sat and, wiping a tear, she said ‘Thank you for coming to me, no Baby Alexandra this year’.  Love is real and for all who attended, I could see the gain outweighed the loss; the days of many loved ones have been short. Two hundred children received a special gift from Santa, I wonder how many will be there next year to sit on Sant’s knee?  Remember this precious team, they serve Christmas Day and Boxing Day, no matter the day, the hour, precious souls are nearing eternity.  What a service of opportunity. What a team and these are my friends.

Mist still lingers over the grandmother of little Stefan who died recently. She is lovingly nursing Ianko (younger brother), suffering from the same disease.  The parents want Ianko placed into an Orphanage.   Ianko is one of many terminally ill children where Christmas Day is just another day of pain, treatment, uncertainty. The greatest gift they could receive on Christmas Day is the gift of life.

A life of service is truly a Harvest and I am so thankful to see first-hand evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit.  The patience and diligence of long hours of preparation are displayed with a look of satisfaction as Hamilton makes his way to class.  Lectures lasting four hours followed by teaching in the School of Practical Theology for three hours, speaking on Radio Voice of the Gospel, again, the Masters Programme. Study and excellence are his motto and students are made to feel ‘at home’ as they call to chat about their future plans.  Evenings is our only time to share one with the other as I am on ‘early call’ every day either with Casa or Hospice teams.  And yes, this mission trip we do have a doormat and the key rests there contentedly most days.   I smile as I identify the passion to ensure the students proceed with expectation of achieving God’s best.  To endeavour, as seen in the apostle Paul, to press toward the mark …… Stepping forward together.  ‘Glory in The Cross’ has now been released by Apostolos in London and can be obtained in most Christian Bookshops.  A new publication based on 1st John is well underway with the Pastoral Epistles translated into Romanian now being used as a basis for the Hungarian and Russian translations being released next year. 

Charles Dickens wrote: ‘Remembrance, like a candle, burns brightest at Christmastime’.  

This Christmastime will be special for hundreds of my children and patients; many candles are burning brightly.  Dolls, Trucks; Sweets; 400 Santa & Snowmen Hats filled with goodies; New dresses for the Mums with Santa Bags for the children. Time fails, words fail, one small word with a huge meaning ‘THANKYOU’. Ballycrochan, Coleraine, Millisle and Monkstown Baptist Churches; The Wardrobe, Ballyclare; Agherton, Bethany, Ballycarry Knitting Groups; Londonderry Crafting Circle; Individual donations.

As we close the door on December 2019, I wonder where have I failed, what roads have I not travelled. A year of change, a year where the world seems to be filled with sorrow and evil and I long for the shadows to be lifted from hurting hearts.   Yet 2020 will bring a storehouse of opportunity enabling my hands to reach out and touch lives from different backgrounds.  Let me have patience, let me show love, kindness, tenderness, knowing the Lord will supply every need.  The Sunrise is coming as we embark on a new year, let us go forward together assured that ‘He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep’

Shirley, December 16, 2019

FOOTNOTE: 

Parting is difficult, so many smiles will not welcome me in March.  During 2020, I pledge my support to the works to which the Lord has called me.  Not all emotional roads, I was encouraged at the recent Sewing Class Graduation held in Casa Grace, when seventeen trainees completed stage 1 of the module with another twenty-five on the waiting list.  There are three levels offered in the Vocational Training Room (Beginner Stage; Advanced Stage; Distinction) under the expert leadership of my friend Dana, who gives will all of her heart.  Helen (Londonderry) made forty personal sewing kits for every student and they were thrilled to receive this surprise gift at the ceremony.  ‘There is always garner in the grain’.

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