20 September 2017

It Is As Simple As A Hug!

raThe Befrienders ministry began in Whitewell Metropolitan Church in Northern Ireland after a visit by Joni Eareckson Tada. Terri Fairfowl, who today directs this special ministry, had been praying for two years for a work to enable disabled people to come to church. In October 1997 that prayer was answered and the vision became a reality.

I first saw May in 1984. At that time she was limping badly and my friend had invited her to a healing service. Such was the impact on me that I decided to pray and fast for this girl. As her multiple sclerosis progressed, so did our friendship.

May gave her heart to the Lord and I sought to encourage her in her faith through the books and songs of Joni Erickson Tada, founder of JAF Ministries. She had to face many dark days and because I loved her, dark days were ahead of me too. I wanted to be a gift from the Lord to May; I wanted to be His hands and feet; I wanted her to know that no matter what was taken from her, she would always have Him to comfort her and that the Lord would see her through.

Gradually May lost the use of her legs, her arms, her sight and her ability to swallow. She lost her husband, her home and her friends. Through His Word, God showed me that I would never be any good to anyone who lived with pain, anguish and despair if I had not tasted it for myself. I had an ache in my heart every time I saw someone with a disability and I needed to know if this longing for a ministry to the disabled was of God.

Joni Erickson Tada came to speak at our church. The church was filled with wheelchairs and people with every type of disability. I asked the Lord to give them all to me. I might not be able to physically meet all their needs, but I knew that I could show them some measure of His love. If I could not bring the Gospel to them I wanted to bring them to hear the Gospel.

The following morning my pastor announced that he wanted to start a ministry for the disabled and he wanted a woman to lead it. I prayed, “Father I know how to love people; sometimes it’s as simple as a hug! If You could promise me that would be enough, I will go and see the pastor.” Next day, a disabled lady came to me and asked, “Terry, would you please give me a hug?” That was the answer I needed and so the Befrienders Ministry began.

Bus Ministry

I needed buses desperately and I started to seek God.

Edward came to church with us. I received a call from his mum to say that the local Gateway Club was closing down and to ask if I could take 22 children who had nowhere else to go. In my heart I wanted to but I had no spare buses to bring them! I visited Edward at his home and parked outside was a very large bus, an Omnibus that his father had purchased. It had originally come from a man in Glasgow – who had more! Four of us set out to Glasgow and I prayed that the Lord would give us buses. This man, whose name I don’t even know, sold us four for the £3000 we had in the bank! He even put £70 of diesel in each bus! I will never forget his kindness.

As we drove home, I thought of the children we could now bring to church. I thought of buses bringing people who cannot make their own way, people with special needs, people whom Jesus loves.

We now bring the disabled out on Sundays, Monday and Wednesday evenings as well as to the monthly Saturday club, where many get to know each other as they paint, read, play football and snooker. We have faithful and caring drivers, all voluntary, and many of them drive 3 or 4 times a week.

Jesus said in Luke 14:12-13, “When you give a supper, do not ask your friends… lest … you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” He also told us to go out into the highways and byways and compel them to come in. Despite the hardships and the difficulties, that is what the Lord has helped us to do. The joy in my heart more than outweighs the difficulties, when I see all gathered to hear God’s word, knowing that the Holy Spirit will store it in their minds for the days of suffering that may lie ahead.

Home Visits

Bringing the disabled out to church and seeing them there is totally different to visiting them in their homes. Some of the people are so disabled or infirm that we cannot get them to church, so we try to bring church to them. We provide a DVD and audio lending library which enables people to listen to tapes of the services and concerts.

Jason was 29 years old. He had worked as a butcher and had a partner and a young son. Now he was paraplegic due to multiple sclerosis and was back living at home with his parents. When I visited, I found him upstairs lying on a mattress on the floor. His mum could barely walk following a stroke. His dad carried him up and down the stairs over his shoulder every time he brought him to church.

Christmas Eve 2002, I got a phone call to say that Jason’s partner and her two-yearold son had been killed in a car crash. Their 7-year-old son was seriously ill in hospital with brain injuries. I immediately went to Jason and his family, prayed with them and made arrangements with Jason’s church driver to take him to the hospital to see his son. Patrick was unconscious. I knew that Jason had enjoyed church, but what a lesson I learned at Patrick’s bedside. Jason started to pray and in his slurred speech he told the Lord He loved him, thanked Him for dying for him at Calvary and thanked Him for his sins forgiven. He asked the Lord to spare the boy’s life; he finished by saying how much he needed Christ’s love and help. A Catholic priest who had attended the accident and had taken the funerals of the mother and son had entered the room. The priest told Jason he had never heard anyone pray like that and never expected anyone in a wheelchair to be able to do it!

I am content!

At the end, May could not speak but she could still move her mouth so I could lip read. A few weeks before she died I asked her if she would like me to arrange for someone to visit her while I was away on holiday. She replied, “No Terry, I’m not lonely, nor sad. I am content. I have the Lord Jesus with me.”

I sang her this chorus:

Something beautiful, something good, all my confusion He understood, all I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife, but He made something beautiful of my life.

Thank you Lord for making even my friend’s multiple sclerosis beautiful – because of her so many have been blessed!

WORDS Terry Fairfowl

Terry wishes to personally thank Jim Bailey, Diane Waide, Cyril Glass, David Wright, Pastor McConnell and church administration for all their help.