(November 23, 2021) Maureen McQuillan has a different slant to reaching out…
Not the A Night to Remember movie about the Titanic tragedy, rather an unusual summer evening when Robert had been invited to minister at a European church outside of Melbourne. Maybe I should call this article A Night of Surprises, or… Suffering.
We have great articles this month reminding us to reach out to people, even strangers, and bless them whether they know Jesus or not. And taking opportunities to witness him, the only light in this dark world.
Such reaching out to bless someone closeby – that ‘love thy neighbour’ matter Jesus highlighted (Matthew 22:39) – reminds me of how our Christian neighbours bless us meaningfully. They kindly bring our bins up, even taking them down if see Robert struggling with them.
And I’d like to remind us that reaching out isn’t always about ‘spiritual matters’… it includes being practical and doing so even if it’s inconvenient, embarrassing. So let me share about such an opportunity to bless a stranger… from a different point of view.
That particular Sunday evening was many years ago and coming out our frontdoor, my first surprise was seeing Robert looking down at the patio at a strange, cultic-like object, made of Wicca-type sticks! Who had left them? Robert picked them up carefully and suggested we pray again before setting off.
‘This is weird,’ he said. ‘I feel it’s some kind of threat, trying to hinder us from ministering tonight.’
‘Well, we’ve already prayed,’ I said. ‘And we’re covered by the blood of Jesus.’
Robert prayed against whatever harm the sinister object conveyed, dumped it and off we set. But as you can well imagine, as we journeyed we wondered about that strange object.
Now before going any further, please understand that I do not link what happened to me that night with that strange object… but it served to put us on our guard. Yet… little did I know what I was in for!
Greeting us enthusiastically, the pastor showed us into the large auditorium. We were immediately struck by the huge, magnificent chandeliers. With my decorating background I knew they were expensive and told him I admired them.
This led to surprise number two that evening… I was disappointed when he whispered quietly that though finance flowed in this church he was unpaid and required to earn his living with an external six-day job to provide for his family and ministry expenses.
We were to encounter a few other surprises. Number three was that this church was rather traditional… the service was in their native language with the pastor interpreting for Robert. My husband hadn’t been told this, even though he’d previously enquired. Now he had to quickly rethink his message so that it wasn’t a long sermon due to interpretation included.
So now Robert’s at the front and I’m directed to sit halfway down the other side in the middle of an aisle among ladies whom I discovered couldn’t really converse in English. Still I reached out to greet them with a smile and several well-wishes of ‘God bless.’ (Are you counting these surprises? There’s more!).
I really enjoyed the mother-tongue worship. Then Robert was asked up to read their chosen passage of scripture… with interpretation by the pastor. He was really surprised when everyone stood while he read, inwardly wondering how they went when Psalm 119 was chosen!
Moving on, Robert was into his message and being well received when it happened, the biggest surprise of all.
Aware of something flittering around the back of my head, I heard a quiet buzzing. The ladies around me were noticing it too… but saying nothing. A bee, I wondered? I tried to ignore it but it continued annoying me with no one on either side of me nor behind even whispering to me or doing anything.
Discreetly I turned around and saw a large European wasp! Prudently I tried shaking my head but the wasp stayed around. What do I do, I wondered? Surely a lady behind me will chase it away… but no, no-one did. Get the picture? I’m endeavouring not to interrupt the service by twirling my head and chasing that wasp with my Bible, or getting up, and no one is reaching out to help me, to ‘love their neighbour.’
Suddenly the wasp stung me ever so sharply in the back of my head! It hurt! Somehow I managed not to cry out or jump up in shock – but only by God’s grace. Was I in pain! And soon I was feeling sick.
It was only with the Holy Spirit’s help and peace that I managed to stay seated calmly. But I was in so much pain that I wasn’t sure if I could make it through the service without fainting. Have you ever wished the preacher – even your husband – would finish quickly?
Somehow I held on… suffering in silence, trying to stay alert while recalling consoling Bible verses. But oh my hurting head! Had I been poisoned? What toxic had that wasp sapped me with? Talk about ‘suffering for the kingdom!’
Thankfully, Robert finished his sermon and those who came up for prayer weren’t the numerous line we normally had. I was actually glad that the church wasn’t open to women ministering and I hadn’t been asked to pray for anyone… a good surprise.
Waiting for Robert, I just sat on, grimacing and feeling an awful itchiness and awareness of a swelling. No one bothered with me, asking if I was okay. Surely, I thought, those ladies behind me must have seen that wasp and what happened. Yet no one enquired how I was, not even the ladies who had sat beside me. They just looked at me oddly and moved away.
As soon as we got into our car, I told Robert what had happened. Was he surprised! At first he couldn’t take it in, but seeing the distressed look on my sickly face, he raced us to a major hospital, praying as we went. Quickly he explained to the staff what had happened and the pain I was in and a doctor promptly attended me. An injection followed by a rest and I started to feel better. Given a prescription, it was, however, a few days before I was really on top again and the redness on the top my head settled down.
Where am I going with all this? Just this… reaching out to minister neighbourly sometimes means using commonsense. (But, as I’ve always said, ‘Commonsense isn’t so common!’).
If only one of those ladies behind me had ‘buzzed’ that buzzer away, I probably wouldn’t have been stung and suffered as I did. It would have been an act of kindness, even if no English was spoken. It would have been an incident of loving a really closeby ‘neighbour.’
May I remind readers that Jesus who told us to ‘love thy neighbour’ was a Jew? I wonder if he knew that old Jewish proverb … ‘Do not withhold good from those who deserve it. When it is in your power to act.’
No, I wasn’t annoyed at that church or those ladies around me… after all they were my sisters-in-Christ.
I close with two thoughts… ensure good pastors are church-remunerated, and whether it’s sharing the good news with someone, bringing up a bin, or chasing away a dangerous insect, reach out thoughtfully to ‘your neighbour’ when it’s in your power to act!
Even in awkward moments!