Embarrassing Altar Calls
Although I appreciate the sentiment and know deep down in my heart that all prayer is efficacious I still get very embarrassed; called to the altar to be prayed over by any congregation. My embarrassment is especially acute when I feel the object of people's prayers is already a great blessing to me. This was the case when I was employed by an aid agency to travel overseas to the Lebanon and then South Sudan from April to September 2016. This period of employment saved me from the ignominy of cleaning factory toilets, cups and saucers, desks and carpets tiles in the office, scurrying around and emptying the bins of graduate engineers with 20 years less experience than me.
Life can be cruel at times and then it can perk up unexpectedly. St Ignatius refers to these alternate periods as moments of 'desolation' and 'consolation'. Through both we are called to remain faithful to God, whichever predominates.
Upon my return in September 2016 I dropped Hannah, my daughter off at university and made myself ready for the next emergency. Haiti as it happened was hammered that month by Hurricane Matthew and so I was compelled to pull out some dusty old French text books to revive my limited knowledge of the language. I also prepared myself for the inevitable altar call and had a short, zappy speech ready. One which would deflect my embarrassment and revert some praise back in the general direction from whence it came. The crux of the matter was - I was very happy to be going. It was a privilege for me to be paid a good salary to travel to exotic locations around the world to be feted in this way for doing nothing more than what I had been trained to do. My biggest fear was to be consigned to a humdrum existence in York earning minimum salary and struggling to survive on peanuts... in the rain! A fate that seemed all too common and left many of my fellow passengers on the number 4 bus looking dejected and despairing of life itself.
Then it happened, or more precisely then it didn't. No call. Just a brief skype conversation with my line manager telling me my services were no longer necessary. No altar call required. It was back to the daily grind - stacking shelves and manning the tills.
"Would you like a bag sir?
"Have you got a nectar card madam?"
"That's ten pound fifty thank you very much!"
"Have a nice day?" if only I could mean it every time I said it!
Six hour shifts with just a twenty minute break to defrost your brain.
I had intended in my speech to praise the resilience, patience and tenacity of those Christians amongst us, struggling with the real biting poverty that is so prevalent in our society these days. Those who just about manage to make ends meet, keeping families together and providing incredible examples to their kids and the rest of us. Those who live on the breadline with no job security; pushed and pulled by those in power with resources to burn. Don't bother praying for me I intended to say. I have it easy; my life is sorted and I have been blessed by God. But here I was back in the rut reaching deep within myself to draw those same characteristics and no one was going to give me an altar call to pray for me now that I was just one of the many. That day I really needed an altar call. How ironic that no one could see my pain nor understand my desperate need for God's grace and help.
Another year on, a random call from yet another agency and here I am sitting captive in our compound in Mogadishu, Somalia. A place with a terrible reputation and indeed there have just been two distinct explosions somewhere in the city. Our life continues more or less the same as usual. Little disturbs my colleagues and I in this gilded cage. Can someone please fix the TV reception. What is the cricket score we want to know. There will be casualties for sure but there is nothing we can do about that. Through all of these issues important and not so important I am still very very grateful to be here. I get paid well, once again to live with the insecurity around us and my faith in God and belief that he has me in his hands grows each day. I really do not understand his purposes for me, at least for now but I'm sure that will become evident one day.
I still pray for, and feel huge admiration for those left behind, struggling with 'ordinary' lives bringing up families under incredibly difficult circumstances. I pray for the church bringing hope to those ordinary folk just getting on with their seemingly mundane lives. Those who bring constant love and kindness to their families and neighbours in the way Jesus taught us to. To those who remain cheerful in the face of adversity and prove that God exists.