One of the benefits is that you get to see the end of some stories which pastors who only dodge into a place for five or six years and then move on would never see. Recently I had just such an experience. Hopefully it will encourage you.
When I first came to the church over 30 years ago there was a lovely young family – a mum and dad plus three children. The younger two children became Christians but the older girl, Eleanor, did not. She was a delightful girl, bright and knowing her own mind, with the strength of character to stand alone as the unbeliever in a believing family. Many were the prayers to God of both individuals and the gathered church for her conversion. But nothing at all seemed to happen.
The years moved on and tragedy struck the family. The father was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Then, after what seemed to be a successful operation, came the onset of Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. I visited him a number of times in the hospital and prayed – he, probably, unconscious of my presence. Sadly he died. The family was devastated. However, the effect was to confirm the Christians in their clinging to Christ and looking to his promise of eternal life, whereas Eleanor seemed confirmed in her scepticism and unbelief. Once again there were many prayers for the family.
Years passed. All the children had grown up and the mother remarried to a good Christian man. By now the two Christian children had married and moved away, but Eleanor remained single. After university she got a good job and had her own home in our town. Some of the church involved in one of the local choirs would see her there. She was friendly, but spiritually there was no change.
Then tragedy struck again. With her new marriage just a few years old, the mother was diagnosed with cancer and later died. Her new husband was heartbroken. Once again the children found themselves bereaved. Once again many prayers were offered by the church and other friends. That was around five years ago. That’s how things were.
But just a few months ago a rumour was whispered. After all these years, over 30 of them, Eleanor had become a Christian. She had a Christian friend at choir from an Anglican church who invited her along to an Alpha Course. There everything had fallen into place for her. We were overjoyed. But was the rumour true? Her stepfather, who had kept very much in touch, went to see her. She had indeed been saved. One of the first things she said to him I found very moving: ‘Do you think my mum and dad know?’.
Woman at peace
Then, this Easter, I was asked to go and preach a short message to an ecumenical walk of witness in the town. As a church we tend to steer clear of ecumenical stuff, but I’ll preach to anyone – so I took up the opportunity. There, as 400 or 500 people gathered on Good Friday morning, among the crowd I spotted Eleanor. I was thrilled. I was able to speak to her briefly. Her conversion was written all over her face. She was a woman at peace – at peace with God and at peace with herself.
Prayers of many years ago, prayers long forgotten, God had answered. Jesus taught his disciples that they should always pray and not give up (Luke 18.1).