On 25 January, I was able to walk safely to a school and pick up my grandson who had spent the day, as he does most weekdays, learning in school. Calum told me that he had had haggis for school lunch because it was Burns Day. We then travelled by car the few miles to Raigmore Hospital where we were able to visit in a lovely clean safe ward my new grandson and his mother, both well and healthy. Fiona spent a couple of days there getting used to her new son and when she came home on the Friday, I was able to leave knowing that her husband was there to help and that a midwife would call every day, then the district nurse for a few days more. I also know that a health visitor will see them regularly if necessary and that each week Fiona can take her little baby to be weighed and checked, that he will be entitled to health care throughout his life and immunisation from all of the childhood illnesses that kill other children in many parts of the world. I knew when I left that they had plenty of food in the cupboards and in the fridge and that they had enough money to buy more when that ran out. I knew that even if the worst were to happen, my two grandchildren would not be likely to go hungry or be afraid for their lives.
The National Health Service the Education System and all the other benefits that our modern Scottish society provides us with are nothing short of a modern day miracle! The majority of the world is in dire straits. The statistics from Mary’s meals annual report tells me that but then Mary’s Meals itself is a modern day miracle. In 2002 Magnus McFarlane-Barrow, a fish farmer from Argyll, visited Malawi and during his visit he met a mother who was dying of AIDS. He spoke to her son and asked him what his dreams in life were. The boy said, “To have enough food to eat and to go to school one day.” Mary’s Meals was born and so began a small feeding programme in the boy’s region. They began with 200 local children and now they feed and educate across the world in excess of 600,000. That is surely a miracle in a country like our own where one of the favourite national pastimes is shopping!
One of the other things I did on my holidays was to meet up with my grand-daughter on the Sunday afternoon. She was taking part in a basketball tournament. All the players are paraplegic and have limited ability, yet the games are frantic and as exciting (in many ways more so) as any able-bodied sports match. Every person is given a handicap score according to their ability so no one need be left out-I’m sure it’s very complicated working out who has won in the end but Lothian Phoenix Wheelchair Basketball Club is another modern day miracle! Able-bodied sportsmen and women with a little bit of time on their hands have started a club that offers hope and dignity to young men and woman and children who in past times, if indeed they had survived, would have been consigned to institutions or if they were lucky kept coddled at home and out of public view.
When I was a junior nurse of 18, I worked as part of my training in a hospital for people with a mixture of disabilities. The place was packed with poor souls, there was no time for individual attention. In some wards all three courses of the meal were served at the same time in one plate and many of them were locked up all day with no free access to outside space or fresh air. There was rarely the time or the resources to develop any skills the patient might have had. Many had been there from birth, placed there by parents unable to cope without help or ashamed of what society might say of their child. The fact that this no longer happens in this country is yet another modern day miracle. It began when one or two people stood up and were counted… when someone said what many were thinking. “This cannot go on, these people don’t have a voice but I’m going to lend them mine.”
These are miracles, all of them. Think of laser surgery to repair a cataract, keyhole surgery to remove a diseased gallbladder, little neo-natal babies of 25 or 26 weeks gestation not just surviving but growing up into fine healthy children. These are miracles! Okay so you can tell me that these things are a result of the development of our society and our learning of new skills and many years of research and that would be the case but the miracle is that people still care about each other. Why was Magnus moved to help children on the other side of the world? What was it that moved the hearts of those who saw the plight of the forgotten people in institutions across the country? What was it that awakened the senses of those who suddenly were moved to begin to provide sporting opportunities for people with disabilities? Why do people who could earn a fortune in private medicine in other parts of the world stay here and spend their whole lives trying to improve the lot of the elderly or the sick. Why do people leave their own home and comfort to go to places of deprivation and volunteer in difficult and dangerous circumstances to work with AIDS and HIV patients? One doctor, working with the Church of Scotland in Nigeria contracted the disease himself when blood from a delirious patient came into contact with a cut on his hand. He has since died.
To my mind, all of these things prove that Clod the Creator is alive and well and working through us.
“He does not faint or grow weary,” says the prophet Isaiah. We frequently grow weary and want to give up for the task seems so enormous. 300 million plus starving children in the world, there is so much to do. The prophet says “He does not faint or grow weary, he gives power to the faint and to him who has no might, he increases strength.” The eyes of faith see the possibilities as well as the need.
Maybe we just don’t understand the mystery of human suffering and struggle with the concept of a caring God in amongst such need… well don’t worry about that either, don’t waste time in arguing about it! What does the prophet say about God. “His understanding is unsearchable.”
The needy are not interested in theological niceties or our arguments over doctrine; they are just there and their need is apparent for all to see. Many people want to help and wish they could help and worry about it all and discuss the rights and wrongs of corruption and governments who don’t seem to care, others just get on and become God’s hands and feet and hearts in the world.
Of course not everyone who has worked hard to alleviate suffering would profess to being a Christian but our God does not confine his inspiration to those who have signed on the dotted line of any one religion or denomination. If we want to be involved in the modern day miracles that are happening all over the world God will help us to make a difference. Just as Jesus gave Simon’s mother-in-law the strength to rise up and begin to serve there-our God will renew our strength and we will rise up on wings like eagles. We will run and not be weary; we shall walk and not faint. And today is the day to begin, and none of us regardless of our handicap need feel left out of the game.