January Jobs in the Garden with God

The Old Testament prophets Isaiah (58:11) and Jeremiah (31:12) both apply the rich imagery of ‘a well watered garden’ to the people of God, and King Solomon in his Song of Songs (6:2) likens his Beloved to ‘a garden of delight’.

If Jesus is the ultimate bridegroom king, and his beloved bride is the church, then perhaps we can learn from the garden gurus some tips on how to tend our souls so that he can enjoy our company.

General Maintenance

Gardeners tells me that January is a good month for ‘general maintenance’. That means taking stock and planning ahead. It’s a time to declutter and clean out the shed. Take these cracked dirty plant pots and broken old tools to the city recycling centre.

I like to take time in January to reflect on my life with God, so that I don’t take bad attitudes, resentments or known sin into a new year. What am I hoarding in my ‘shed’ that needs to go?

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Ps139:23-24).

Pruning

It was January last year that I watched in horror as my husband and daughter pruned the apple tree in her new garden. They were ruthless. The tree hadn’t been pruned for years and the branches were overgrown and crowded, letting in little light. They chopped so much off that I wondered if the poor tree would ever produce apples again. How wrong I was! It recovered well and produced a bumper crop in late summer. January is a good month for pruning.

In John 15 Jesus says God is the gardener who prunes our fruitful branches to make us more fruitful. As we enter a new year it isn’t so much my weaknesses that concern me as my strengths. It’s easy to start to feel I’m good at something and subconsciously rely less on God. I welcome his humbling, though painful, as he reminds me that without him, I can do nothing (John 15:5).

It was the very articulate prophet Isaiah who on meeting with God realised he was ‘a man of unclean lips’ (Isaiah 6:5)!

Mulching

January is the perfect month to mulch, I’m told, and a Christmas tree is perfect material for this! The pine needles keep weeds down and improve the soil by helping it retain moisture. They are slow to break down and don’t get mouldy; they act like a blanket to protect plants from the cold. Last year I walked past a pile of Christmas trees in our local park waiting to be chopped, shredded and recycled as mulch; the pine aroma filling the air was breathtaking.

Christmas is not for one day in the year, but for life! Without it, there would be no Easter, no Ascension, no Pentecost, no hope for the future. So, this January, I plan to keep mulching its glorious truths and wrap them like a blanket of sweetness around my soul. Emmanuel, God with me, is the greatest story ever told; I will never fully plumb its depth. Life, like winter, can be cold and harsh, but Christ in Christmas will keep me warm. He is for me to make me more like himself, fruitful in attitude and action to be his garden of delight.

Where is the Peace? Where is the Joy?

Anyone remember ‘Silent Night’ sung by Simon and Garfunkel? It was the final track on their album, ‘Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme’. The harmonies were beautiful, but then in the background the 7o’clock news was being read, louder and louder outweighing the Christmas message. The year was 1964 and soon reports on the Vietnam war and America’s race riots were threatening the sweetness of the song. Christmas 2022 in the UK would carry news of Ukraine and the cost of living crisis. Two thousand years ago in Bethlehem it would probably have been about the Roman occupation and the paranoid King Herod who killed his wife and three of his sons!

We sing about ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Peace on Earth’ but near and far there seems to be much more sorrow and suffering. As Jesus predicted, wars, famines, earthquakes and pestilence or maybe pandemics will continue till the end of time (Luke 21:10-11). In our current crisis of climate change and environmental degradation Nature seems to be groaning not singing (Romans 8:22).

Good News of Great Joy

Yet, that first Christmas night when the angel came to shepherds on the hillside of Bethlehem he announced Good News of a Great Joy for All the People – a baby, a saviour had been born and the sign was a manger! The Angel Gabriel had told Mary he was the Son of God, yet he was born in an outhouse. He would reign over a kingdom without end, yet he was laid in a feeding trough! You would think something had gone wrong, but according to the angel, the manger was part of the sovereign plan.

God came very low to be our Saviour, and this news was so amazing that Heaven exploded with an army of angels – myriads and myriads praising God!

‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace for those on whom his favour rests.’

God’s rescue mission had begun in a manger, and so it would continue. Later in Luke’s Gospel we read Jesus had nowhere to lay his head (Luke 9:58). He would humble himself to a feeding trough, then taking the form of a servant he would die for our sins, a shameful death on the Cross (Phil 2: 6-8). This is where we find real peace – peace with God. God and sinners reconciled. That’s the real peace on which all other expressions of lasting peace depend.

Almost 50 years ago – I became aware of the holy presence of God and like the shepherds I was afraid. My lostness felt very dark, yet God’s love drew me close. I gave him my ugly secrets and he gave me his peace. It felt like Christmas – Jesus had been born in my heart and I was filled with unspeakable joy. Peace with God, peace with myself and a deep desire to have peace with others.

Global Peace and Joy

There is a global aspect to this peace. We mustn’t stop at chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel! Jesus tells us that wars will continue till the end of time, but then Jesus will return to judge the nations and put everything right. His kingdom will fully come bringing peace on earth, joy to the world and a new creation delivered with us from decay and death.

Make room for him now, join the angels in glorifying God and his favour of peace and joy will fill our hearts as we enter 2023. Join the shepherds in spreading the good news that lasting peace and joy are only found in the Saviour, Christ the Lord!

Christmas Wreath

Of all the decorations at Christmas, my favourite is a wreath. Maybe that’s because my mum used to wrap my plastic hula hoop with holly and ivy and it hung above the fireplace throughout the season. It was big!

We use circles as symbols of eternity with no beginning and no end. Hence, rings are given as tokens of commitment in wedding ceremonies. As I wrap my small hoop with green ivy gathered from our back lane, I celebrate these winter evergreens and meditate on God’s everlasting love, always fresh, creating and sustaining life. From and to eternity, he is love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Crown of Thorns

Christmas must be the best news ever. Jesus, who is Love himself, came down to us. Yes, to us he was born, to us he was given, took on flesh, wrapped tightly in swaddling bands and laid helpless in an animals’ feeding trough. Mary must have wondered how the promised Son of God could be born into such poverty, but how reassuring the visit from shepherds must have been, declaring the manger as the holy sign. God foreknew and was even orchestrating events.

‘And did she see there in the straw

As I twist the pieces of holly around my ring, and invariably prick my fingers till one bleeds, I remember Christ’s suffering on the Cross for me. I ponder with Mary and sing the line from Graham Kendrick’s song,

‘And did she see there in the straw
By His head a thorn
And did she smell myrrh
In the air on that starry night….?’

Jesus, born for us, to live and die for us and for all of creation, bearing the curse, taking that crown of thorns upon himself that one day death and decay would be no more.

Victor’s Crown

In Ancient Rome laurel wreaths were worn around the heads of prize winning athletes at the Games, courageous, military commanders triumphant in battle and, of course, mighty emperors. A wreath was also the honour given for saving a life in battle. Caesar Augustus was credited with saving the whole republic by settling the civil wars in Rome and had a civic crown of oak leaves hung on his doorpost. He was dubbed, ‘Saviour of the World’!

When he ordered that census 2000 years ago, little did he know there was an older, more powerful decree being played out to accomplish the will of God, that the true Saviour and King might be born in the little town of Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).

As I hang my wreath on the door, I think of Christ’s victory through death and resurrection, and resolve again that I want a symbol-rich wreath, not a coffin floral spray at my funeral! I wrap a string of little red lights to declare to a dark, dead world that the Light has overcome! Jesus has conquered sin and sickness and sorrow and death itself.

When Christ returns in glory, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess him as Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). Even now, this Christmas, let’s acknowledge with the hymn writer,

‘All the wreaths of empire meet upon his brow,
And our hearts confess him King of Glory now!’

Word of the Year

Language is alive. It’s fluid – ever changing and adapting at remarkable speed. Words are added, dropped, and meanings revised. In fact, lexicographers add hundreds of new words to English dictionaries every year if they meet certain criteria. They must have relatively widespread use, a widely agreed upon meaning and likely to be used for a long time.

Permacrisis

Collins Dictionary has just announced ‘Permacrisis’ as their new word of 2022, meaning a period of instability and insecurity with no foreseeable ending. It’s true we are experiencing crisis upon crisis – a global pandemic; a war with worldwide effects; and unprecedented climate change bringing droughts, fires and floods. Faced with a growing energy crisis and record greenhouse gas concentrations, COP27 issues stark warnings of impending doom. It’s understandable that many are feeling they’re living in a perpetual state of anxiety, because of permacrisis.

How we need something greater, stronger, more stable, more secure, something permanent to soothe fraying nerves. God’s Love is like that. He calms our fears, tells us not to be anxious and fills our hearts with his peace as we trust him. The apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth stresses the permanent nature of Love. He says, ‘Three things will last forever – faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love’ (1 Corinthians 13:13). This week I’ve been studying this verse and I’ve discovered an interesting fact. Paul, writing in Greek, emphasises the verb and makes it singular. ‘Remains – faith, hope and love….’, declaring these three virtues to be an inseparable unit.

Permalove

My word for this year is ‘Permalove’ with faith and hope intrinsic to it. Perhaps we need to think more about the world to come. Surely it won’t be static, but rather dynamic as we explore a world of love in our eternal state. Though we will walk by sight and not by faith, our trust in our Heavenly Father will not cease but grow even stronger. Our hope in Christ may be realised when Jesus returns, but our joyful expectation of adventure will not end. Faith, hope and love will live forever, but without the wavering that we often experience now.

Love is the greatest, for God is eternally love (1 John 4:8). Before creation there was love within the godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It was Augustine who pointed out that only a triune God can love, because love cannot exist in a vacuum. The consummation of our salvation will be our growing participation ever more fully into that love relationship as we are immersed and perfected in the fullness of God.

Contrary to the common adage, being heavenly minded will not make us of no earthly use. How we see the future really does affect the way we live now. If faith, hope and love are permanent, to be experienced now and forever, then we will view all of life through this lens and shape our lives according to these certainties. We will pray with more faith and expectancy and love sacrificially with greater assurance that all things are working for our ultimate good and for God’s glory.

How Long?

There have been antigovernment protests in Iran before, but this is different. In the past the focus was on reform while now the goal is revolution! The uprising may have begun with the death of a Kurdish Iranian woman arrested for not completely covering her hair, but the cry of protestors, ‘Women, Life, Freedom!’ goes beyond dress code to pleas for social justice and basic human rights, and though initially driven by women and girls, it is uniting people from all ages and walks of life across the country. Government crackdown seems to just increase the anger, grief and defiance. After forty- three years of an oppressive Islamic government, the people of Iran have had enough.

In 1979 on the eve of the return of exiled Ayatollah Khomeini, Julyan and I were at Bible School in Glasgow and prayed through the night that the he wouldn’t bring the Islamic Revolution to Iran. God didn’t appear to hear us, and our fears were realised. Missionaries were forced to leave; churches that worshipped in Farsi and welcomed Muslim background Iranians were closed down; martyrdoms and imprisonments followed, and persecution of Christians continues to this day.

However, God answered our prayers in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Openness to Christ, which began under this oppressive regime, has only gained momentum over the years as underground house churches multiply and networks are established. Interested Muslims access Farsi Scriptures and other materials online. Persecution from the religious police is real and as Iranians flee their country, fellowships of Iranian believers spring up in cities all over the world.

Valley of Weeping

How brave the women and girls who began these current protests, and braver still those demonstrators who are continuing to stand up, refusing to to be silent, despite regime brutality. There are many tears being shed in Iran and among the diaspora around the world as batons and bullets fly, and sad songs gather up grievances, giving voice to the pain in hearts. The Iranian people are passing through a Valley of Weeping (Psalm 84:5-7). Can our prayers turn it to a place of springs and the Iranian people find true freedom in Christ?

Prayer for Iran

Pray for the church in Iran to declare with one voice, louder than ever, that ‘Jesus is Lord’ and that truest freedom is found in him.

Royal Warrant

A new King brings changes – 800 businesses that had a royal warrant to supply her majesty with her choice products lost it on her death, and must reapply. Will King Charles still favour Twinnings Tea, Cadbury’s Chocolate, Heinz Tomato Sauce, Kelloggs cornflakes and Tiptree jam? Perhaps he will be more concerned about how ‘green’ a company’s practices are and a product’s environmental sustainability. So, who will get King Charles’ seal of approval?

Seal of Approval

I’m glad I don’t have to prove my worth in order to win my king’s seal of approval. The King of Kings, Jesus Christ, has sealed me with his Holy Spirit and I did nothing to deserve it. The Apostle Paul says it happened when I heard the gospel message and believed (Ephesians 1:13-14), and this seal of approval is a down payment – a pledge of much more to come. It’s part of my inheritance – eternal life, begun now. How amazing is that? My destiny is secure. I never need to reapply!

The Real Thing

Seals show ownership, authenticity and protect a product from being tampered with. When Coca-Cola boasted they were, ‘The Real Thing’, they were right, because Coca-Cola had a royal warrant and therefore the Queen’s seal of approval. What now for Coca-Cola? Perhaps, like me, King Charles prefers Pepsi-max!

Our Holy Spirit seal marks us as God’s own, shows we are ‘the real thing’ helping us walk the walk and talk the talk, living lives of integrity. We come with a guarantee – the Holy Spirit in our hearts (2 Corinthians 1:22).

Chosen and Appointed

The prestige of a royal warrant is a highly prized sought after privilege. The King of Kings tells us that he has chosen us. We may feel that we chose Christ, but without God drawing us to himself, it would have been impossible (John 6:44). Not only are we chosen, but Jesus has appointed us, given us his royal warrant to supply him with fruit (John 15:16)!

Fruit Bearers

So, what are we bringing to the King? The fruit of love is clearly his desire, obedience to his command to love one another, that all will recognise we follow him. Then there’s the joyful fruit of answered prayer and the making of new followers who also bear fruit for the King.

Much has been made of the Queen’s commitment to service, and the link to her faith in Jesus who came, not to be served, but to serve. We serve and love others because of the love we have received. Our King first loved us (1 John 4:19). And, the royal warrant to bear fruit is not about our prestige, rather it’s for the honour and glory of God as together we supply him with the sweetest of jams!

Call to the Nation

Did you see the rainbows of hope?
Can you hear the call of God?
Do you feel God’s patience, his long suffering, his mercy and love for us.

How fitting that the Queen, such a faithful servant, should be given grace to finish her work of appointing our new Prime Minister before she died.

How fitting that she should die at Balmoral in her beloved Scotland.

How fitting that rain should pour down as our tears flowed in sorrow and mourning.

How wonderful to see rainbows!
Over Windsor!
A double over Buckingham Palace!

Cousin Ruth

Last weekend we were in Devon where Julyan conducted the funeral of his cousin Ruth. Originally she was given just a few months to live, but she had three more years in which time she recorded 2 CDs of her ‘Songs in the Night’ – melodies and Scriptures she believed God gave to sustain her.

She had time to plan her own funeral and chose the hymns and readings, making sure Julyan and his brother would lead the committal and thanksgiving service. The tributes all referred to Ruth’s faith, and as we listened reverently to one of her worship tracks we heard the voice of Jesus calling family and friends to come close, to follow him in a deeper walk with God – to choose life!

Call of God

Our history is steeped in God references – the proclamations, the pageantry, the vows. So many of those being interviewed concerning our Queen are stressing the importance of her faith. She, herself, was often vocal about the strength found in her relationship with her Saviour and Lord.

God is surely with us. The many details of events are showing us his grace and mercy.

In the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s death, he is calling us to reflect on our history and look to him for the future. May the millions who will watch the Queen’s funeral hear the voice of Jesus saying, ‘Come to me!’ as we did as we listened to Cousin Ruth’s ‘song in the night’.

“Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Sweet Peas

Last weekend we visited the New Victoria Gardens – one of the oldest allotment sites in Glasgow. Opened in 1872, Saturday was their 150th anniversary celebration. We entered down a few steps and through a door in a wall to a labyrinth of plots, each with its own small wooden gate. Several holders wore Victorian dress to mark the occasion, and all were eager to show off their produce and offer advice to any would-be gardeners. No two gardens were the same, but all were thriving. What a joy to stroll along the paths and appreciate this oasis of vegetation and floral abundance – a haven for bees and wildlife hidden away amidst the busyness of urban Pollokshields.

Sweet Peas

A large trellis of sweet peas took my attention and reminded me of childhood. Growing up in Kirkcaldy an annual highlight was the Flower Show held in the Adam Smith Hall. It was a wonderful event with breathtaking flower arrangements and huge prize- winning vegetables. Perhaps my favourite section was the miniature gardens. I still remember the intricate shed made from lollipop sticks, rows of tiny cauliflowers and little ducks on a small mirror pond.

One memorable year The Elizabeth Ann School of Dancing gave a display at the end of the show. I was full of nervous excitement as I rehearsed the steps in my head. To me, a child, the Adam Smith Hall seemed huge, and the enormous stage draped on either side with heavy maroon velvet curtains very high up and very grand.

After our performance the leftover flowers were all auctioned off. Amongst them was the most beautiful bunch of white sweet peas with a tag that read in big letters, ‘Swan Lake’. Dressed in my white ballet tutu and pink ballet shoes, my dark hair scraped up into a bun, I felt very much the ballerina. “These flowers are mine!” I thought to myself. “Please, please can I bid for them?” and I was given a shilling. “A shilling,” I called out. Everyone smiled – no-one dared outbid me. The sweet peas smelled heavenly and I’ve loved them ever since.

Memory Trace

Gardens, growing flowers and all things green are good for the environment and ecology, so allotments that once fed the rural poor have become a popular hobby. They are good for us too. Apart from the obvious advantage of producing healthy food, the exercise involved must increase fitness. They also encourage a community spirit and are good for mental, emotional and spiritual health,

Perhaps we enjoy gardens so much, because of a memory trace back to Eden where there was beauty and joy in our relationship with creation and our Creator. In my hippie days in the early 70s I stuck a flower in my hair and sang to Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” Of course in those days we ignored the Fall and completely bypassed personal sin and accountability as we searched for peace and spirituality anywhere but in Christianity.

As Jesus agonised in the Garden of Gethsemane, the final outcome of his sin bearing sacrifice on the Cross would bring us more than Eden restored. What God has purposed is so much better. The new heavens and earth pictured at the end of the Bible are described as a vast city filled with the ‘ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation’ (Revelation 5:9) and this city is set in a garden, yes, mirroring Eden, but each detail more glorious (Revelation 22:1-5).

My Sweet P’s

I’m not very good with plants, unlike some of my green fingered friends who provide me with their delicious rhubarb and kale. This year I attempted sweet peas, but was only moderately successful. I may never have a productive garden or allotment, but I can testify with King David that my allotment from God ‘has fallen in Pleasant Places’ for he is my ‘Portion’ (Psalm 16:5-6). Amazingly, as we look forward to that Promised future garden-city of God, we get to taste its Produce now. Perhaps these are the sweetest P’s of all – Christ’s Pardon, his Presence, his Peace, his Provision and Protection and so many more….

As the loved of the Lord, may our overwhelming Passion for his Praise make us a garden of delights for him (Song of Songs 4:12-16).

God’s Time for Somalis

Yes, I’m still sad for the people of Ukraine ….. and the many other countries in conflict. However, we spent last week in Sweden with Somali Christians living in Europe. Each one was a refugee from civil war at home and through hardship and suffering has put their trust in Jesus. Life is tough, but the praise was vibrant.

Somalis, themselves Sunni Muslims, have always been very strong supporters of Islam. Followers of Christ used to be rare indeed. Things are changing. With all the upheaval in that war-torn land people are moving and more willing to form new alliances.

Shino and Shania, leading members of this European network, have clear testimonies to God’s grace. They had come to Nottingham with their two children leaving their extended families back in Sweden. One day Shania was shocked to open a friend’s email attachment and watch a man being beheaded in Iraq. Horrified by what she saw done in the name of God, she cried out in prayer, but for the first time her prayer was in Somali, her mother tongue, not in Arabic.

“God, is this what you want? Is this what you’re like?”

God was quick to answer and that night she had a dream. A man in brilliant white shining like the sun was coming down from heaven and he was surrounded by throngs of worshippers and Shania, herself, was there among them. When she woke she knew she must find out who this man was, so she prayed again.

The following night she dreamed again. This time her mother was calling her to sit by her and read from the Qur’an. Shania often did this for the family. She opened the book and heard herself read in Somali, not Arabic, “Jesus said, ‘I am the way the truth and the life.’” Everyone was angry, realising these words were not in the Qur’an. Again she heard herself read these unfamiliar words. Just as she was about to be attacked, the figure in white came, scooped her up and she escaped. Now, she knew it was Jesus she must worship. She Googled the verse, bought a Gospel of John, found a church and believed.

Full of enthusiasm she shared with Shino and the family back in Sweden, but for them this was a shameful act. Apostasy means instant divorce for Somalis, and Shania’s mother said Shino must leave her and take the children. He was also angry, but he himself had been raised without a mother and couldn’t bear to see his children suffer likewise. As long as she didn’t make them Christian too, perhaps he could live and let live. It was too late! His son and daughter were already believers and wanted to attend the church Shania had found. They shared with Dad, “Jesus said, ‘If you disown me before men I will disown you before my Father in heaven'” (Matthew 10: 33).

Shino was challenged and secretly began reading John’s Gospel in his taxi between fares. When the threats from Sweden got stronger telling him he must kill his wife, he noticed it’s the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy; Jesus, the Good Shepherd, brings life (John 10:10). Finally, one night he read the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). It seemed similar to Islam, the punishment being stoning…..but the ending was so so different. The one without sin should throw the first stone. From his Muslim background and reading of the Qur’an Shino knew Jesus was sinless and that he, alone, had this right. And yet he didn’t. Deeply moved he read on and found Jesus speaking directly to him. “Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins (John 8:24)!” Shino returned home literally trembling at the Word and was united to his wife in faith.

Now, they are sharing their stories over the internet with Somalis right across the globe. Through their YouTube channel and social media outlets they are helping Somalis understand the gospel, come to faith and grow in the Lord.

Earth Shattering

I heard sad words last week spoken by an Afghan woman in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that shook Paktika province, near the border with Pakistan.

“God is trying to find as many ways possible to kill us.”

With over 1,000 dead and thousands more left injured and homeless, there is mourning in every street.

At last the international community are being welcomed in with humanitarian aid, and the government are allowing them to be in charge of distribution; in the past the the Taliban were guilty of diverting aid to their own supporters. Operation Mercy has been waiting months for permission to do a nutrition programme for women and children. Now, they have a mandate from the Taliban to feed twice as many malnourished infants as had been proposed! The turn around is earth shattering!

Lamentations

Something similar happened in Iran in 2003. A huge earthquake hit the southern city of Bam, and many of the traditional mud brick houses collapsed; out of a town of 100,000, around a third perished in the earthquake. Suddenly the government that had expelled foreigners threw open their doors and 87 NGOs from all over the world were entering Iran, without difficulty, collecting visas at the airport. God answered our prayers to open the country, but not in the way we had imagined. Julyan arrived, representing Operation Mercy, to a scene of utter devastation.

Behind the statistics were countless tales of human tragedy. A woman in the graveyard was screaming and throwing dust over her head in hysterical grief as she mourned the loss of her husband and all five of her children. This childless widow in her destitute state seemed to express the immeasurable pain of the suffering community at a time of national disaster. She resembled the Daughter of Zion, the Old Testament people of God, who experience the calamities of God’s judgement. The prophet Jeremiah laments on their behalf,

‘Look around and see. Is there any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the Lord brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?’ (Lamentations 1:12).

Comfort

The Bible does teach earthquakes are a sign of the last days, when everything that can be shaken will be shaken, in order to reveal that which cannot be shaken. However, Muslims only understand God as Creator and Judge. It is the Christian’s privilege and responsibility to share he is also a gracious, forgiving Father who comes alongside us in our sorrows as a comforter, and who has overcome death in the resurrection of Jesus to give us hope. Those experiencing trauma and hardship, wherever they may be, need Christ’s presence alongside them demonstrating God’s compassion, helping to rebuild shattered lives, offering the true hope of the gospel. The church must be there in the hard shaken places to be both witnesses and advocates for the suffering.

If the inhabitants of Bam in Iran, or Paktika province in Afghanistan, are to find Jesus the Saviour God’s people have to go through the hardship with them. Like Jeremiah, the church must become the eyewitness, helping them to give voice and lament heavenward, acting as an advocate before God and the world. Those suffering mustn’t feel forgotten. Someone needs to speak tenderly and cry out like the prophet Isaiah, “Comfort, comfort my people!”

Footsteps of Blessing

Initially in the city of Bam there was need of relief work, but as the months passed the larger NGOs left. Operation Mercy staff stayed. They stayed through fiercely cold winters and suffocatingly hot summers to establish a rehabilitation centre to help survivors with spinal injuries who couldn’t find work. Sohrab was one who had to be carried to the centre in a blanket. Since breaking his back he had suffered terrible bed sores. Unable to cope, his wife had left him, and Sohrab had given up the will to live. With nursing care, good nutrition and the hope filled atmosphere at the centre, Sohrab’s health improved. He found the strength to persevere with the physiotherapy that enabled him to sit up and use a wheelchair. His wife returned, and he took up wood carving again.

After the earthquake in Iran, a local driver commented,

“The footsteps of the Christians have blessed Bam.”

What did he mean? The blessing was in their coming. It was in their staying, walking with them in their pain. As Paul said, quoting the prophet Isaiah, ‘Beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News’ (Romans 10:14-15).

Website: http://www.mercy.se
Social media: https://www.facebook.com/OpMercyInternational
https://www.instagram.com/opmercyint/