I am aware that I have readers of many faiths and none and try to make the blog accessible to all. However, there is an important spiritual addendum to the story of my year in Iraq that completes the picture. Feel free to ignore this bit if it doesn't float your boat!
My faith is a quiet one. I certainly don't experience God speaking to me every day. There have, however, been some notable exceptions where some words in the Bible have seemed to be directed straight at me in my particular circumstances.
The first time this happened I was in Thailand working with Cambodian refugees. In my mind I had a firm career plan: I would stay just one year in Thailand (I had thought about this very much in terms of a late gap year) then return to the UK and take up the place I had been offered to study children's nursing in Edinburgh. Three months into my 'Gap Year' I began to see my plans as self-centred, realising that until then my world view had been so small. I was only just beginning to pick up the Khmer and Thai language and feel in any way useful. I recognised that one year was a short time to effect any change. My contract had an option to extend another year and I began to question myself and my motivation in life. I read a passage in the Bible that literally jumped out at me, from the book of James:
'13 Now listen to me, you that say, "Today or tomorrow we will travel to a certain city, where we will stay a year and go into business and make a lot of money." 14 You don't even know what your life tomorrow will be! You are like a puff of smoke, which appears for a moment and then disappears. 15 What you should say is this: "If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that."
It was as if God was saying 'You had a plan to be here for one year, but how much do you know about life? You need to leave the decision making up to me!' As the year progressed I became more sure that I should stay and volunteered for a second term. At the end of my stay in Thailand my whole career plan had changed: I knew that I would be returning overseas and needed to study midwifery, not children's nursing, to be able to respond to the enormous needs in maternal and newborn health. The midwives I had met in Thailand had so impressed me with their authoritative knowledge and I wanted to be like them.
Some months later, having returned from Thailand I was looking forward to a few years in the UK, rebuilding my energy levels, reconnecting with family and friends and learning the skills I needed for my redirected career plan. Away at a Christian conference, I prayed that I would know Jesus better and experience his power in my life. Again, a passage from the Bible(Philippians 3 verse 10) leapt out of the page and I kept hearing it everywhere I went:
'All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death'.
I felt God saying to me that if I really wanted to know Jesus and to experience his power to help me in my daily life, then I needed to be prepared to also suffer as he had done. I felt confused and a bit miffed. Hadn't I already suffered, giving up my career plan and spending two years living in a remote Thai village, working in a refugee camp? I asked God to show me what he meant, to make it crystal clear, and then to give me the strength to respond. That evening I watched desperate TV footage of Kurdish refugees on the cold mountains and God said 'that's where I need you right now'. I was still dubious. Could God really be asking me to do this? I talked to the leaders of my church and they encouraged me to respond. One woman wrote me a moving letter saying she had been praying about how she could respond to the crisis but had no skills and had family ties - and then I had turned up wondering whether I should volunteer. She wanted to support me financially and wanted me to be her hands in Iraq. I felt humbled. And so I went, and you can read about this in the Blog.
And I did feel in many ways that I had learned what it was to suffer. I suppose I could question why a loving God would want his child to suffer and to experience PTSD. Isn't that cruel? I don't claim to understand the divine purpose. However, I can see with hindsight how my experiences have shaped me into a better human being, aware that I am vulnerable and not invincible, aware of my physical limitations and aware that anyone can experience mental health challenges, however strong they may seem. I have realised that I don't always know what is best for me and I need to be prepared to question myself and seek guidance from others.
Right now I am doing a job that I could never have dreamed of. All of my experiences to date have given me the skills I need to support volunteers, to combine my knowledge and love of midwifery with my overseas experience, to support midwives in three countries where maternal and neonatal mortality is still far too high and to use the language skills I learned in my twenties, my skills as a clinical midwife, a midwife teacher and researcher. Reflecting on the experiences that brought me here, I am grateful to God for His leading and for all of the challenges he has laid in my path.
I'm back in Dhaka (Bangladesh), five weeks after my last visit in July, to help facilitate the first ever online election of executiv...
I'm in Uganda for a month, helping to mentor some midwives who are leading palliative care services in Mbale (Eastern Uganda, near the ...
As well as thoroughly enjoying the recent BBC series 'Call the Midwife' and having read all of Jennifer Worth's books I have rec...
Last year I was part of the local birth centre planning group at the invitation of the local consultant midwife. As chair of the local RCM ...