Laying your body on the line
Sad news came in just over a week ago about the death of Vicky Phelan at the age of 48.
In 2011, Vicky underwent testing for cervical cancer and was given the all clear. Her smear reading was inaccurate and, in 2014, she was diagnosed with cancer. She began to campaign to find out what had happened and uncovered one of the greatest medical scandals in the history of the Irish state. Vicky took the state to court in 2017 and, in 2018, she took Clinical Pathology Laboratories to court and won a multi-million Euros settlement, but refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement which led to the discovery that hundreds of women had been given erroneous test results and could have benefitted from earlier treatment.
Vicky campaigned with truthfulness and dignity, not just for herself, but for hundreds of women who had been affected by this shameful cover up. She received a state apology, stood up against the system and made Ireland a better place for women.
She provided inspiration for many others who had received a diagnosis of terminal illness, and went away to try pioneering treatment in the United States in the hope of buying more time with her beloved family. It takes enormous courage to take on the might of an unwieldy legal system and the power of a government and expose corruption and misdoing at the highest level in multinational corporations.
The easy option might be to accept a personal settlement, but Vicky, not knowing how much time was left to her, took on her campaign on behalf of the women of Ireland. She waved anonymity to get to the bottom of what had happened and how it affected over 221 other women.
As I reflect on Vicky’s courage, I found myself absorbed by 2 other extraordinary fundraising challenges in the past week. The Radio 2 DJ, Scott Mills, took on the Scott Tread Mills Challenge and has raised over £1 million for Children in Need and the charities it supports. He spent 24 hours on a treadmill in a BBC studio and was joined by different radio presenters doing their show, by celebrities and by children and parents who were dependent on Children in Need for their support. It was incredibly powerful and moving to see this man put himself through incredible pain as he persevered and encouraged the public to support the charity. He was inspired, particularly, by the children and parents who dealt with really tough things on a daily basis, but used his profile and platform to raise awareness and did something extraordinary.
In the same week, Rugby league legend, Kevin Sinfield, took on seven Ultra marathons in seven days running 350 miles from Edinburgh to Manchester, calling at various sporting grounds along the way, to raise funds for MND awareness and the search for a cure. One of his former team mates and best friends, Rob Burrow, suffers from the disease, as does Rugby Union legend, Doddie Weir and former footballer, Stephen Darby, and Kevin has raised over £2 Million pounds to date through this superhuman effort.
When interviewed at the finish he said ‘he was just going for a run for a mate!’ He spoke about friendship and the power of love and, in a world full of bad news, these people and their efforts remind us of something more noble and powerful.
I think of three remarkable individuals today and the way they all laid their bodies on the line in a bid to help others. They were prepared to go through pain and anguish in the full glare of the public in order to heighten awareness, to raise funds, to somehow make this world a brighter, more hope filled place.
In thinking about them and saluting their courage and achievements, my thoughts as a person of faith turn to Jesus of Nazareth. He put his body on the line so that you and I might know forgiveness and peace with God. He gave up everything He had even when we were far from Him and even though he knew many would reject what he was trying to do for them. When people tortured him and mocked him and drove nails through his hands and feet, even though he had the power to vaporise them, he chose instead to love them and to pray for their forgiveness.
He chose to do that for you and for me and, as he lays His life on the line in that way and willingly gave it away that we might live, how are we going to respond? We can turn our back and walk away, or we can look at what He did for us in amazement and gratitude. We can continue in our own self contained little bubble, or we can say here is my heart, here is my life, please come in and live within me and through me so that others might know love and forgiveness and hope beyond this life.
Can I put a few reminders in your diary? On Sunday 27th November, Advent Sunday, we begin the season of preparing for the birth of Jesus at Christmas. There will be special services at 9am and 11am; and our Advent Carol service at 7pm helping us to reflect.
On Thursday 1st December there will be the first of 3 Thursday midweek Advent services at 7.30pm looking at the ‘Generosity of God’ and our response.
On Tuesday 6th December we look forward to welcoming our friend, Dr. Stephen Rodgers, pastor from Kingsway church in Dunmurry and a GP with a particular interest in mental health to speak about managing stress from a pastoral and personal perspective at 7.30pm in the church hall. It would be a great event to invite friends and neighbours to.
On Thursday 24th November we are holding a special congregational meeting at 7.30pm to discuss plans in the church about accessibility and proposals of some building work we are considering within the church. The meeting will be in the church building and people will have the opportunity to share their thoughts as the scheme is explained and considered. We hope you can come.
Look forward to speaking again soon.
Much love to everyone,
Listen to the latest episode of ‘Bitesize Chunks of Faith’