Archive | October, 2016

Caring Concern for Mentally ill individuals

25 Oct

As we approach the end of Mental Health Week we at WAYSIDE  has been sharing some reflection on our work in this field during the early nineties and beyond.

As a small grass roots organisation we are proud of our achievements in standing for what we believed in even though this topic caused persecution and great pain at the time.

We believed God called us to care for people suffering the effects of mental illness. Through this intervention we saw the great suffering experienced by many who were abandoned not only by society but by some friends /relatives as well.

Mental ill health can happen to anyone and is no respecter of persons. Throughout the years we have ministered to professional sufferers as well as the ordinary individual and over a period of time we have seen the impact our love, affection, compassion, and care has made to each person.

Accepting people as they are helps to maintain their dignity,  self confidence, and self worth. It helps them to feel included instead of excluded from society Enabling many to become empowered enough to take hold of their lives again. Looking back at the many letters of thanks received we are grateful to God for what we have accumplished over the years.

Today it’s good to know that there are those churches who are now beginning to educate the wider community on mental health issues. Twenty six years ago when we began this subject was taboo. It was hard to access funding as a Christian organisation and we experienced great hardships.

My book “When God Intervenes” tells of the frustrations, and the hardships endured, and how among it all we persevered to maintain an open door where individuals could come and find friendships and mutual support.

Wayside also help improve the quality of life for older people many of whom have experienced some mental distress.  My passion for sufferers wellbeing remain strong and I thank God for the many conferences /workshops organised by churches that will bring about hope to other sufferers in the future.

The Journey that changed my life

1 Oct

On spring bank holiday, May 1987, as I left home to walk the short distance to catch the coach to Derbyshire: the day seemed like any other day of the year. The neighbourhood was quiet and calm as people were still asleep. On this particular day I was among several members of our church party who were attending the final celebration weekend convention held yearly at Cliff College.

Cliff College was established in 1883 and provides theological and practical training in Christian evangelism, service and ministry for Methodism and the wider Church to students of all denominations and many countries.  The College is situated in Hope Valley in Derbyshire, in the beautiful Peak District National Park

My only knowledge of the place was that one of my church sisters’s, Carole, had studied there for a year and had invited others from our church to attend the various yearly conventions. This particular day trip was organised by one of our Local preachers, Mathilda Small-Biam.  For several years Mrs Small attended the various celebrations held at the college and had often taken groups of young people there. On our way there I felt a sense of happiness to be travelling outside London for the day unaware that this journey would prove to be the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

Our journey started at 7.00am, and was estimated to take three hours but took several hours due to the heavy traffic. We had hoped to arrive in time to attend the first of the seminars held outside on the Terrace, but by the time we arrived this activity was already in progress. As soon as we arrived we were confronted with the view of hundreds of cars, caravans, tents, and numerous coaches. There were those on foot walking from both direction and people seemed to be coming from everywhere.

We were so taken up by the crowds that no one noticed that Mrs Small had mysteriously vanished. We were strangers to the area, so it was with some trepidation that we ventured out of the coach to go in search for our leader.  Some went to the nearest tent, whilst others including myself found the Terrace.

The Terrace was an area located between two main buildings of the College, which evolved from an 18th Century Manor House. Here, the service was conducted in the open air with a make shift rostrum. Situated on the hill above, and overlooking the Terrace was the most beautiful arranged flower gardens I’ve seen. A wall separated the Terrace from the garden, which was accessible by several rows of steps. As we entered we could see that the area was already packed to capacity. People were sitting in every available space possible – the garden walls, and even on the ground among the flowerbeds.

A group of singers led the worship, which was very vibrant. From the expression on the people’s faces you could see they were happy to be there. They were smiling; more over they were very welcoming and made every effort to make space for us to find a spot. Their singing was joyful and boisterous; their entire bodies were caught up in the act of worship. Some raised their hands in adoration, whilst others clasped their hands as if in prayer and occasionally people yelled Hallelujah, Amen, thank you Jesus. This was unusual to me; however I settled down unstirred by the emotions of the people around me and waited for the preacher to be announced.

Soon after the preacher began to speak it was as if he had mysteriously picked me out from among the crowd of people. His message seemed to address me personally and every word spoken made a demand  my life. His voice penetrated into my entire being, which made me feel conscious that the congregation too was aware that his message was directed to me. This preacher was making a demand on my life telling me I had certain duties to perform in the church, and I certainly was not prepared to get involved there. By now I was beginning to feel very angry and had a great urge to escape. I simply switched off and went to a pity party with myself thinking of my own sad state of affair of the heart, the breakdown of my marriage, which was very painful. How was I going to cope? What would become of me? These were a few of my questions. I was not particularly good company and was getting rather critical of this group of people who seemed so full of themselves. Clapping, smiling even looking happy in Church: whatever next? I thought.

The church where I worshiped was quiet in contrast to Cliff College. In fact, all four churches in the circuit were quiet and reserved. Our church in particular could be full on Sundays and yet you’ll be forgiven if you were passing in the street for believing that only a few people worshipped there. The church was made up of mainly older people, although young families worshipped there; also, the structure of the services were more likely to attract the older generation. The singing was soft and it was one of those places where no matter how hard you listen you could not distinguish the voice of the other person standing next to you. Peradventure someone came to church whose voice could be heard above the pitch of the others everyone turned to see who had violated the sacredness of the atmosphere.

This place was certainly different and instead of welcoming that form of worship I rejected it because of its vibrancy.

At the end of the meeting we made our way in search of somewhere to sit and eat. Once outside I was made even more aware of the vast numbers of people who had come to the convention.

The multitude of worshippers filled the park as far as the eye could see. They were coming from the upper tent, the Terrace, the children’s meeting, the big tent, and the lower tent. People were ascending and descending the hill, some were sitting in groups on the grass at the top of the hill others were sitting around their caravans. The beauty of the colours of their attire amid the green grass and the surrounding hills was magnificent to behold. The sound of music mingled with the voices of children at play filled the air, and I could picture a biblical scene with Jesus on the hillside of Galilee and a multitude of people coming there to hear him speak. I had never been in a place as this before. The scene was mesmerising, as I stood and gazed at the beautiful Derbyshire hills I said truly: “God is in this place”.

As we sat down for lunch the feeling of unease came again. There is definitely something spooky about this place I thought. The message about getting involved in the mission of the church was being transmitted in my brain and I was hearing it loud and clear so much so that I felt the urge to escape once more.

On our arrival we had seen several adverts to a carnival in Chesterfield, so I thought I’d go there and get back in time to board the coach back to London. After getting several others interested we went to make enquiries on how to get to Chesterfield, to our disappointment we found that the buses came every hour and that we wouldn’t have enough time to get there and back for our homeward journey. Frustrated, I decided to spend the rest of the evening sitting on the coach. As I pondered over the situation my thoughts went on the bookshop up the hill. I loved reading and thought it would be good to browse around in the shop and see if anything on display caught my fancy. Perhaps I’d find a good book to read whilst I waited for the others to return for the journey home. Feeling more relaxed I began the short walk in search of the shop. On the way to the Terrace I remembered passing a sign that showed the position of the shop, so I went directly there. I was only there a few minutes when Vera, a friend who had arrived to the weekend celebrations ahead of us, approached me.  She was quite happy to meet up with me, but somehow she seemed to be in a hurry and quickly pointed out two books she thought I should read. Together we went to the checkout and paid for the books, the Holy Spirit and you and Nine 0 clock in the Morning.

Taking me by the hand she said we must hurry or we won’t get a seat. We went to the lower tent to hear Rev Colin Urquhart. Vera had heard him speak a few times before as he was one of the main speakers for the weekend event. In her excitement she told me all she knew about him. He was an Anglican Priest previously, but he was now an Evangelist and: “You‘ve got to hear him” she insisted. I had nothing against this man of God, but I was not particularly interested to sit amongst those who instead of sitting quietly and listen to the preacher respond with hallelujah and amen and this Jesus thing. “Why were they saying his name so often?” I came to the conclusion that they were new to church and thought they had to say his name. In my heart I was protesting: “No I’m sorry, but I’m not going.”  but I did not want to let her down.

All my life I‘ve tried to please others; never wanting people to think badly of me, after all Vera was enjoying the conference. She happily told me what I had missed over the past few days. The bible study, Morning Prayer meetings, speakers, walking along the prayer paths, the new friends made etc. I could not tell her how uncomfortable I felt being there so I went along quite unwillingly to the lower tent. I did not know at that time that my life would never be the same.

Up to that period of time my life was a boring one. I was a very sensitive person, who took offence for the simplest of things said about me, kept very much to myself and I did not make good company. This meant I had no friends and was the worst off for being lonely and isolated.

I was brought up in a small country village in the Caribbean in a family that kept very much to themselves, which meant I had a very reserved upbringing. We lived across the road from the Methodist church that my family attended religiously every Sunday. The little chapel was used for Christian worship and sufficed as a school that provided education to children from the age of five to 16. My village and those from other areas also used this chapel/school.

The chapel was a hive of community events, as it provided various social activities organised by missionaries who taught several Irish and English folk songs.

I was a weak child and suffered from some common ailment or other including asthma that plagued me regularly especially in the rainy season. This condition kept me from participating in most of these activities and attending school regularly; and I was absent for several months of the year. However, by living nearby I was able to work from home so in spite of the setbacks I was bright and succeeded in each stage of the school exams.

I was very shy and particularly choosy in my dress sense. Unlike other girls of my age who wore ordinary below the knee dresses I liked mine ankle length. I also felt unable to have my arm, chest and back exposed and people referred to me among other things as being old fashioned, stupid, and why can’t you be as everyone else? I was constantly being criticised and felt very unloved, rejected, and condemned just for being me.

As I grew up these feelings continued and I felt that I would never succeed in life as I had never been given any encouragement. However, deep down I longed to be somebody. After leaving school I was sent to study pitman typing and book keeping. On Arriving Here, in England at the age of 20, I continued my studies in typing and office practice, including several life courses but this fear of rejection continued with me throughout and even though I had acquired several certificates of distinctions I was unable to make a career in any of them through fear of not being good enough.

As a young girl I dreamt of marrying a gentle, loving and kind man but alas this was just a folly of a simple-minded girl who had no exposure to the world at large. People like me from a small village in a small island have no knowledge of places outside the vicinity where she lives, has no real life experiences and could only make believe. So my dreams were unrealistic, and after trying to hold on for the sake of the children the marriage ended after 20 years. So here I was at Cliff College with various emotional feelings. I felt alone, abandoned, rejected and thought that there was definitely no hope for me finding my dreams come true.

Now I was hearing testimonies of people who had similar life experiences. In communicating their life story they told of a loving father who came to their rescue when they called, they spoke of heartaches, pain, rejection, abuse suffered in silence and the bitterness they harboured in their hearts and of the release and freedom found as they invited Jesus into their lives.

I had never been at a place where I’ve heard of wonderful things like these. I felt myself wanting to be free from my pain, and gradually I was opening up but remained sceptical.

These were young people: I was now 43 years old and I still felt rejected, unloved, humiliated, scorned etc. “God, I will like to have a testimony, but why are they talking about Jesus so much.” I thought. Up till then I very rarely heard people calling on the name of Jesus or even asserting that he did something for them. Were these people real? Again, I felt uneasy and wanted to make my exit, as I was about to do so a young man sitting somewhere along the pew decided to get up and beckoned me to his seat. We exchanged places just at the point of introducing the speaker the Rev. Colin Urquhart. Perhaps I’ll stay and listen to him after all. He came from the Church of England they won’t dare express themselves whilst he’s speaking.

He invited people to give their lives to Christ. Even though I was brought up in the church, had attended Sunday school regularly, at the age of 12 attended reception classes, learnt my catechism and made a commitment to follow Christ and was finally received as a member of the Methodist Church this didn’t feel right for me. As I reflected on these things I became aware of a headache that I had all day. I was beginning to feel miserable again, I thought about the difficulties of my life and of my longing to find peace, and happiness. As far as I knew peace could only be acquired in death, right now my life seemed to be of no real value what so ever. In fact, I was fed up of life.

As the minister prayed for people to accept Jesus as Lord of their lives I finally thought I might as well give him my life. I needed his intervention and without any more resistance I closed my eyes and said: “Jesus you can have my life. I don’t want it anymore. Have it. Here, catch.” I threw myself in the hand of Jesus and as he caught hold of me immediately I felt as though a large burden had fallen off my shoulders and I was filled with the most wonderful sense of peace imaginable. From that moment I had no recollection of the people standing there in the tent with me.

The Marquee that contained hundreds of people suddenly seemed to be empty except for the Spirit of God at my side and me. Suddenly I could hear the preacher speaking in tongues, but in English I heard a voice calling me by name (Jean), and telling me what he wanted me to do. I wondered how he knew my name and how did he find me among such a crowd. When at last I was able to open my eyes I found that the people were all there and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that something miraculous had taken place. Even the atmosphere seemed changed; inside me was a hushed silence. My very soul was at peace and from that moment I had no recollection of the rest of the service. I was simply lost in wonder pondering over the mysteries of God.

I’ve heard the phrase born again but I had no idea how this came about now I had experienced a change and I suddenly knew. The person who stood there in the spot where I stood was not the same creature now. A transaction had taken place and I knew I was born again. “Why didn’t I learn about this mystery before?  Did everyone in the tent have the same experience?” I was deep in thought and was not aware of the time until a tap on the shoulder by one of my colleagues made me realise it was time to leave the meeting for the three hour journey home.

On the way people were engaging in conversation on the coach talking about their day. I, however, remained silent still lost in wonder, love and praise. On arriving home that evening I was met by an acquaintance that commented on the glow upon my countenance. “What happen to you she asked? There is a glow on your face.” I found it hard to explain what had happened, but in my own way I said there is something strange about the place (I now know that the something strange was the presence of Jesus) it reminded me of biblical times when Jesus went up on a hill to preach and the vast multitude of people that went from everywhere to hear him and you could see yourself as one of the crowd.

I went in my room and fell on my knees and prayed. As I ponder upon the event of the day the words of two hymns came to me, one was by John Newton:

 Amazing grace how sweet the sound that save a wretch like me

I once was lost but now I’m found was blind but now I see.

Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come

God’s grace has brought me safe thus far

And he will lead me home (John Newton)

 

The other hymn was by Charles Wesley:

And can it be that I should gain

An interest in the Saviour’s blood?

Died he for me, who caused his pain

For me, who him to death pursued

Amazing love how can it be

That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

 

Long my imprisoned spirit lay

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light

My chains fell off, my heart was free

I rose, went forth, and followed thee

 

No condemnation now I dread

Jesus and all in him is mine

Alive in him, my living head

And clothed in righteousness divine

Bold I approach the eternal throne

And claim the crown the through Christ, my own. (Charles Wesley)

I’ve sung those hymns in church since childhood without understanding their true meaning. Now for the first time I understood the hearts of the men who penned those hymns. They too had met with the risen Christ and had left something powerful behind for other people to reflect on the grace of God. I felt free, and was later to comment that before I went to Cliff College I was a sluggish caterpillar with a diet of cabbage leaves, but by the time I left I’d become a butterfly with a totally new diet prepared for me.

The next morning as I set out for work the world seemed to be a different place. Instead of hearing the noisy traffic on the street I was aware of the singing of birds in the trees. I took notice of the flowers in the garden, which seemed to portray the beauty of God in a way that I’d not seen before. In fact the journey that I took to work each day had never seemed as beautiful as it was that morning. I was bubbling up with joy. I called out good morning to everyone I met and said have a good day.

I was so happy I began to sing and I found myself saying praise God, Hallelujah, amen, thank you Jesus. I was behaving just like the people at Cliff College. I was definitely going to be good company from now on.

That night I got out my typewriter and began to write to Ken, my Superintend minister, asking why we don’t rejoice in church. I told him of my experience of worship at Cliff College. The following Sunday he came up to me and asked if he could come to my house to discuss the letter. On arrival he asked what inspired me to write him, and I gave him my testimony. Ken was wonderful and explained the disappearing and reappearing congregation in the meeting to me.

He said: “You had a most wonderful conversion experience and it is usually difficult for the person themselves to communicate meetings with God. You were at one with God that’s why you felt alone in the marquee; you were standing in the very presence of God. What are you going to do now? How about preaching?”

I don’t know the bible” I replied.

He will teach you. Just pray about it.”

A few days after that prayer I was woken up with a voice saying: Read Mark 16:15. Turning to my bible I read:

And he said unto them Go ye into the entire world and preach the gospel to every creature.

This confirmed what Ken suggested and led to my being trained and commissioned as a Methodist Local Preacher in 1989, but things would not go smoothly and I would leave the fellowship of this church for a number of years to come.