01 March 2010
There's no such thing as a small contribution
General Director Steve Clifford is struck by the quiet actions of one pensioner...
It was a great evening. Ann and I had been invited to an awards event at a prestigious central London venue. Dressed in our best, we had been welcomed by our hosts with drinks and canapés. We then took our seats. The evening was hosted by a well-known TV presenter, and we were swiftly taken on a whirlwind tour of some amazing initiatives from all over the country. It felt like the Oscars, but the recognition wasn't for films but for social projects working to reduce crime, develop and train young people, and respond to some of the most challenging needs of our society. The evening was dynamic: videos, music, drama together with the handing out of awards and the expressions of thanks.
As the evening was drawing to a conclusion, former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan-Smith came to the platform. The Centre for Social Justice, which he had founded, hosted the evening. He thanked those who had sponsored the event and those who had made it happen. Then he announced a final award, which wasn't in the programme. He asked Maxie Richards to come to the stage.
Somewhat reluctantly, Maxie emerged from the audience. A diminutive 70-year-old lady, we could only just see her above the large lectern. Iain's introduction was short: he had met Maxie some 20 years ago and they'd obviously spoken a number of times since. He had been profoundly affected by this woman's life. Eventually, Maxie was left on-stage, alone with the microphone, to tell her story.
A wonderful story
So unfolded this wonderful account, told in Maxie's Scottish accent, of how 23 years ago she had invited a young woman and her child to move in with her. The woman was an addict with a long history of drug abuse. The mother and child lived with Maxie for almost two years, during which time the mother came off drugs and established a stable life. After she moved out, she quickly was replaced by another drug user with a similar history.
In fact, the house began to fill up to the point that social services warned Maxie that she was in danger of breaking planning regulations for multiple-occupancy (which seems a somewhat strange concern in the light of all that was going on in the house).
"We were all overwhelmed by the power of this silver-haired granny's words"
As she told the story it turned out that over the last 23 years some 1,000 people had been through Maxie's house, all facing up to and working through some major life issues. As she spoke, I became aware that the room had fallen into total silence. We were all overwhelmed by the power of this silver-haired granny's words. She concluded with words I will never forget: "You know," she said, "all these people who've been part of my life, they've contributed far more to me than I have to them." Then there was a long silence and her final words were, "Anyway it wasn't me, it was God who was working through me".
I wanted to stand on my chair and shout and cheer at the end of such an evening. It was a 70 year old, whom we could only just see, who was giving God the glory and recognition that He deserved. And on this glitzy evening, a simple story reflecting one woman's remarkable life of generosity, sacrifice and faith was being recognised among this esteemed audience.
Over the years I've had the privilege of meeting up with so many amazing people quietly getting on and making a difference in the settings and among the people they sense God has called them to. I think of Ben working as a teacher in the same comprehensive school for the last 20 years, doing assemblies and running a club with the Christian faith at the heart of it. Over the years hundreds, if not thousands, of young people have been impacted.
I could introduce you to my friend Jo, a social worker; Steven, a politician; Karen, at work in a local authority; Mark, in the health service; Linda, a mum and school governor; and Gary, a businessman. Each of them is convinced that God has called him or her to make a contribution.
This is the Church at work: being the good news, making a difference through our words and actions, being the salt and the light, bringing transformation into individual lives and communities.
For many the stories will never be told (at least in this age), but I find there is something wonderfully encouraging as I hear these stories. They capture something of peoples' hearts and visions for what they are doing. So whether it's round a kitchen table, in our small group or in a church service, let's keep telling these stories. Let's pray for each other and be encouraged.
Often, as I attend a Sunday morning with my church in West London, my thoughts begin to wander. I find myself tremendously encouraged to reflect on the truth that as we meet to pray, all over the world, in groups small and large, in all kinds of settings and different cultural expressions, the Church of Jesus Christ is meeting, singing songs, reading scripture, praying prayers and responding to preaching.
There are well over a billion of us: we're the family of God from all nations, we're part of God's mission to change our world and we each have a contribution to make. It might seem small and insignificant, but take another look and ask God to help you to see your contribution through His eyes.
- We would love to hear your stories, so that maybe we can share them to encourage others. Write to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org