Anger management

Yesterday I spent the morning with an angry man as we waited in a lengthy queue for him to apply for a new Identity Document. His previous one had been stolen when he was sleeping under a bridge.

He spoke with a quiet rage that emanated from a heart so deeply wounded that it cut me to the core.

Desmond’s earliest memories are of trying to defend his mother, brothers and sisters from the kicks and blows of a drunken father. When his father came roaring and reeling into the house, his brothers and sisters ran to hide. But Desmond tried to defend his mother, fighting with all his six- year old, then seven year old, eight, nine and ten year old strength to ward off the blows directed at his mother and himself.

When he was twelve, his mother became ill and required an operation. After the surgery she developed a clot in her leg. She was sent home with a warning to the family that she should be kept very quiet and not moved too much, for fear that the clot could move to her heart and lungs.

Desmond was with her when his father came home drunk, ready to let fly with fists and boots.

“Come, Mamma. We have to get you to a room where we can lock the door. Get up Mamma, quickly, before Pa comes in.”
He coaxed his mother out of bed and into another room. It seems the clot dislodged and tangled in her heart, for she died that night. Desmond’s father disowned him.

“You killed your mother. You worthless little scum.” His brothers and sisters agreed.

I was not surprised to learn that Desmond followed his father’s footsteps into the bars and brawls of a life in the murky gutters of society. His brother did better and had a good job, a house in an upmarket suburb, and the financial freedom to indulge his passion for parties and motorbikes. As he grew up, he came to a better understanding of Desmond and they became close.

“If something ever happens to me, I want you to have my bikes, my boet (brother). I know you’d enjoy them.”

Perhaps it was premonition that made his brother say that, or maybe it was because he knew that riding big bikes fast carried a risk. Whatever caused the remark, it was hugely significant to Desmond — a rare sign of affection from his family.

Not long after that, his brother was roaring over a bridge when a truck lost control and forced his bike against the guard rails. It threw him off the bridge onto the highway below and killed him, while the bike went hurtling, riderless, along the road.
Desmond grieved with the family, but they would not acknowledge him. Though they knew he was living on the streets, they divided all his brother’s possessions between them, excluding him.

His father took the bikes.

He never hears from his family, though he quit drinking 5 years ago and is trusting Jesus to put his life together again.

As I listened to the liturgy of rejection, belittling, desperation and despair, part of me was crying out to God, “Lord, how does he come out of the tangle of pain and rage?” It felt far too trite to say “You need to forgive.” Yet I knew in my heart that unless he manages that he will never be free.

It was then that the reality of the wisdom of God’s salvation plan came fully into focus. God’s plan involves not only a commitment to Him — entrusting Him with our lives; it involves immersion in His body. It includes a loving, caring, community showing His nature to those in the family who have not seen it in their own blood families, empowering them to think differently (repent). Six weeks ago, Desmond would not have shared his story with anyone. Today he feels confident enough of our love for him that he can confide. Tomorrow he might be ready to release his family to a God of justice and forgive them for his own sake.

There is an alarming number of Christians who are deciding to “go it alone”, with the popular phrase, “I love Jesus, but hate the church.”

The tendency, when one is hurt, is to retreat into isolation, but nothing could be further from God’s way. Jesus warns us that in the last days the hearts of many will grow cold (Matt 24:12). The quickest way to grow cold is to leave the warmth of the body. The old example of a coal that is removed from the fire slowly dying is still valid.

While the church has often failed to show the love and grace that is part of God’s plan, to think that one can go it alone is to bow to the lies of the Deceiver. The church is part of God’s plan and He will present it to Himself purified in His time. In the meantime, let’s use it to learn how to give and receive grace; giving it by extending forgiveness to those who have hurt us, as an example to those like Desmond who so desperately need to see how it’s done, and receiving the grace of others when we ourselves fall.

A Perfect Place for Jesus

There’s tangible despair – if despair is the opposite of hope – as one enters the premises.

As we drive up the narrow road past the women’s dormitories, Mary and Hazel are sunning themselves in white plastic chairs placed in the narrow space between the road and the building. Their faces brighten as I stop and Margie, my wife, alights. Further along, on the steps of a steel shed, Fiona sits motionless, her head bowed.

I drive on alone, up the road to the men’s quarters. I pass Nicholas on the way, but he ignores me. Marcus, further on, gives a curt nod.

I park my car and, armed with some packets of biscuits and a Bible, walk up to greet the men sitting on a broken sofa, a sun-bleached kitchen chair and dilapidated plastic ones. Andrew ducks inside as I approach, but others greet me with enthusiasm.

This is Happy Valley, named by an anonymous humorist with a taste for irony. Situated on the side of a mountain, it is not a valley; neither, to many of its inhabitants, is it particularly happy. Yet this shelter for the homeless is my delight. God has given me the privilege of working with these people, many of whom would describe their lives as an omnishambles.

It’s a place of deep pain and destructive shame; of outbursts of anger and sullen retreat. A place of desperate cries for help, yet, often, refusal to accept it when offered. Many have made bad choices in life, which have left them alienated from their families, robbed of their livelihood and filled with crippling guilt. It is a place of beautiful people whose treasure is buried deep.

What better place for Jesus? What better place to share His love and allow one’s heart to be broken along with His?

Behind each face, eloquent in its suffering, or impassive behind an unyielding wall, is a story of how Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy.

Bruce found his best friend in bed with his wife. In a rage, he beat him up, not knowing that he had a medical condition that flared under the beating and killed him. Eighteen months later, acquitted of murder, Bruce emerged from prison with no wife, no business and a silent, raging heart.

Neil’s paintings hang in Europe’s galleries, but with the 2009 depression, financial difficulties wrecked his marriage. He found solace in the wrong places and lost everything.

Sharon left great work prospects in Johannesburg to follow the man of her dreams — he’d invited her to leave her work and join him in Cape Town. Two weeks later, he tried to murder her. She escaped with her life and the clothes on her back.

The stories vary, but the need is the same. It’s the overarching need of all mankind ripped open and laid bare through unbearable circumstances. It’s the need to forgive and be forgiven. It’s the need to be valued — to count in the greater scheme of things. It’s the need for Jesus.

It’s easy to be discouraged, when entering an open war zone in which the Enemy’s inflicted casualties abound. Hurting people hurt people. Yet God is at work always. Even at Happy Valley, there are people who love Jesus when they arrive, or who learn to love Him while they’re there.

Derek was chased from place to place as he slept on the streets. He started reading a Bible when a priest allowed him to sleep against the churchyard wall and brought him sandwiches and tea in the morning.

Andrew cannot stop talking about Jesus since finding him in a Christian rehab centre.

Pete met Jesus on an Alpha Course we ran at Happy Valley. Jesus set him free from the bondage of an unhealthy relationship with a deranged girl who had dragged him, after his wife divorced him, from an executive post into the gutter.

Shelton is a Zimbabwean, promised a job in Cape Town that did not materialize. He also met Jesus on the Alpha Course. He’s now employed and has left Happy Valley, but comes to support those still there and tell them about Jesus.

*names have been changed

It’s my joy to visit there, with Margie, who goes to the ladies. Together we dig for buried treasure. Lives may be in omnishambles, but Jesus is the omnifixer. There’s no life He cannot mend.

There’s no greater joy than looking for the gold buried in the dirt and seeing Jesus wash it clean and make it shine.

What Was I Thinking!

I’m impressed by the ordinariness of it all.

He was a man, like any other, coming from a rural village. He wasn’t much to look at — not strikingly handsome or tall or muscular. Just… well… ordinary.

If he hadn’t stood out by what he said and did, the chances are no-one would have noticed him. That’s what took so many by surprise. He was so ordinary-looking, and came from such an insignificant place, that it was easy to look askance at his words and deeds.

The Bible puts it this way: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2)

I can’t say I can really blame people for the way they reacted. You see, you’ve got to be prepared to pierce the veil of unspoken expectations of how it should be; to go beyond the hidden prejudices of class that judge a man by his accent (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”). You’ve got to be open enough — lateral thinking enough — to trust a man who says things that go against all you’ve been taught (“Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you”).

Later, many who saw Him die, smacked their hands against their foreheads and uttered, “What have we done?” They looked upon the One they had pierced and mourned for Him as one mourns for an only child, grieving bitterly as one would for a firstborn.(Zech. 12:10)

I’m privy to the Truth, not because I worked it all out, but because I saw I needed a Saviour and, when I called, He broke through my prideful prejudice and revealed Himself to me.

Yet there are times when I’m like Peter, who walked and talked with Him for three years and then estranged Him in His time of greatest need. I too, have my “facepalm moments” — moments I think, How could I have done that? What was I thinking?!”

Like the time I told Penny, my darling wife, that she must realise she came second to my work. Or the time, in my arrogance as Head of Department, I spoke out so vehemently against inadequate treatment that landed a patient in intensive care, that the person responsible was dismissed in 24 hours. (Couldn’t I have just gone to him quietly and pointed out his error in treatment?”)

Or the time, in the apartheid era, when I gladly went to dinner with a Black family, but didn’t invite them back because of what the neighbours might think.

In hindsight, I see my life punctuated by these “facepalm moments” — many of which I only realised much later as I walked more deeply with my Lord and began to understand his heart — and mine — a little better.

There’s a temptation, like Adam and Eve, to hide these times — to cover my nakedness and pretend they never happened. There’s some wisdom in doing this with all and sundry, but not with God. He sees all anyway and I’ve discovered that He has a plan to work it for good.

As I recall those times and inwardly shudder, I’m touched by God’s amazing grace, not only to save a wretch like me, but to keep on saving me, and loving me when I don’t even like myself, let alone love myself. Then I’m like Peter, who came to a fresh understanding of God’s grace as he stood on the shore, the smell of wood smoke and flame-grilled fish in his nostrils. I’m better equipped to show that same grace to others.

I have no doubt Mary Magdalene not only wiped the feet of Jesus with her tears of love. I imagine, walking beside other women of the night, she shed tears of grace and compassion, wiping away their shame. One who has been forgiven much not only loves much, but forgives much. Such a person learns to live, not from episode to episode, forgiving, but with an attitude of forgiveness. Then, as Jesus was at pains to explain, counting how many times one should forgive becomes irrelevant. (Matt 18:21,22)

I’m not proud of my “facepalm moments” — hopefully they’re getting less frequent. Yet, knowing me, I dread to think how arrogant I would be without them. There’s nothing like those times to keep us gratefully kneeling at the foot of the Cross.

Alpha in the UAE, courtesy of God

Going into an Arab region is not just about witnessing to Muslims. Many of the expats have been driven there; some from a relationship gone sour, others from financial hardship.

As well as the local population, many hurting expats need the healing love of Jesus.

Knowing this, I decided to run an Alpha Course there. On returning from vacation, I brought some materials with me. I didn’t want to bring too many resources to arouse suspicion at the airport.
To my delight, 35 people turned up for the Course. But now we were woefully short of workbooks, outreach booklets, such as “Why Jesus?” and discipleship books.

That was not a problem for God, however. He provided the solution in a unique way…..

Soon after the start of the Alpha Course I was called, one night, to the Royal Suite, to see the mother of a royal relative. The Royal Suite, reserved for relatives of the ruling Sheik, had marble floors, gold taps, luxurious carpets and fittings and even its own lift that took a patient directly into one of the operating theatres.

The patient had been in ICU with a chest complaint, being attended by the physicians. She didn’t like it there and insisted on a transfer to the Royal Suite.

That night she was in dire straits. I watched her gasping for air, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water, her eyes wide open focussed on infinity, her chest hardly moving and her lips tinged blue.

I told her female companions that if she did not return to ICU to be put on a ventilator, she would die soon. Not daring to go against her orders, they summoned her son. He put me in touch with the Royal Physician who convinced the son to listen to me, once I had explained the situation to him. The son made a stipulation, however: “My mother must not know that she is going back to ICU. You must sedate her first”

I suggested that I sedate her, put a tube in her throat and take control of her breathing before moving her, but he would not hear of it. “She must not suspect you are doing anything to her. Everything must be done in ICU.”

All Intensivists know the most dangerous thing one can do is to sedate someone who is in respiratory failure. It reduces their ability to breathe even more and can cause unconsciousness and even death. Those, however, were my orders.

Praying hard, I prepared everything in ICU, made sure there was a clear passage to get her as quickly as possible to her ICU bed and summoned the aid of two ICU nurses. Then, with her companions hovering anxiously in their black abeyas, their eyes peering fearfully over the burkas that covered their faces, I walked to her bed in the Royal Suite.

I gave her a tiny dose of a drug that produced minimal sedation, blotting out her memory for everything that happened after the injection. Then we hurried her to ICU while her companions fussed around her like agitated, clucking chickens.

Once on a ventilator, she improved dramatically.
The next day the Minister of Health was there, insisting that we summon the Head of the Brompton Chest Hospital in London, one of the most famous chest hospitals in the world.
He arrived, spent all of Thursday with her and as we do in the West, prepared the family for the worst — she might require a tracheotomy — making a hole in her windpipe.

Whilst preparing one for the worst is a good tactic in the West, in the Middle East it is very bad form to give bad news. I have heard a Middle Eastern neurosurgeon discussing a patient with a head injury with the patient’s relatives. One look at the scrambled CT scan would tell a layman there was no hope of recovery. Yet the neurosurgeon was saying, “Yes, Insh’allah, he’ll wake up tomorrow.” I was shocked, but as I worked there a little longer, I realised he was doing the right thing in their culture. They all knew what he said wasn’t true, but it was a kindness to speak well of his patient. Better a lie spoken in love than the bitter truth, which is alluded to in other, indirect, ways.

As the Consultant explained a tracheotomy, they refused to listen and hurried him out of the ICU for a sumptuous tea at one of their palaces.

On my early round the next day, to my delight, the patient looked so well that I decided to take her off the ventilator. When the Head of the Brompton arrived, he was shocked, predicting to the relatives she would be back on the ventilator before the day was over.

She was not, however and continued to improve. He returned to London. After some days, with no diagnosis of why her lungs had failed, I suggested she be flown to the Brompton Hospital in London for extensive tests. The patient’s son insisted that I accompany her and the next day we settled her in an ICU-equipped Falcon jet aircraft and set off for London.
Once there, the son informed me that he had booked me into the executive suite of a six star hotel in Knightbridge. He wanted to reward me for saving his mother from a tracheostomy.

God had a arranged a luxurious stay for me five minute’s walk from Holy Trinity Brompton Church, where the Alpha Course originated! They, of course, had all the resources that I needed.

Two day’s later I boarded the private jet once more. I landed back in the UAE at the President’s private airstrip, where there were no customs or immigration formalities and no-one to check my case loaded with all the Alpha resource material we needed.

“For with God, nothing is impossible!”

The Wonderful Cape Coloureds

C Coloured 1

C Coloured 2

Seldom can one find a more warm-hearted, cheerful race than the Cape Coloureds. Originally spawned from the white settlers and Malaysian slaves mixing with the local Khoisan and Xhosa people, with some slaves from India thrown into the melting pot, they were marginalised, as were all non-Whites under the apartheid government.

That didn’t stop their irrepressible good humour and sense of fun. They love to laugh and, if they can’t find something to laugh at, they will make something.

Paralleling their sense of humour is their warm compassion and passion for God.

Their language is often hilarious; sometimes deliberately so, at others, quite unconsciously.

We were at a cricket match on a sweltering hot day and a Coloured ice cream vendor was walking up and down between the stands shouting, “Ice cream! Ice cream! You scream, I bring.”

I describe, in my book, God in the ICU, how a Coloured gentleman was brought into the Emergency Room apparently deeply unconscious. It was just a week after the world’s first heart transplant. As the doctors were puzzling about the diagnosis, he startled them by sitting bolt upright, his eyes wide open, put his hand across his chest and said, “Gimmee a new heart, Doc.” before sinking back into the trolley on which he arrived.

They are also famous for their malapropisms. When I was doing my maternity training, the terminology was a little different to now. There was no such thing as the rather euphemistic “termination of pregnancy”. If a woman suffered a spontaneous abortion, it was called a “miscarriage”. An “abortion” implied that it was induced through interference.

The sister in the maternity hospital was taking an obstetric history from a Coloured lady.

“You say this is your fifth pregnancy? So you’ve got four children.”
“No, ma’am, three.” She fixed the sister with the look of a schoolteacher about to explain something to a rather backward scholar. Rolling her rrrrs she continued. “I had thrree childrren and I got prregnant again. But when I was six months, I started getting these contraptions. They rrushed me to the hospital, but it was too late and I missed my carriage!”

Easter Joy

Hi Readers
As we celebrate the time when world history tilted heavenward and God revealed His salvation plan, I thought it would be good to meditate on that amazing verse found in Hebrews 12:2 “(Jesus), for the joy set before Him, endured the Cross, scorning its shame…”

Heart cries to a silent heaven,
Spirit icily alone;
Blood sweat, staining gnarled old olives
Angels witness to the groans.

Faith’s surrender to the Father,
Looking to the joy ahead
Aching at the kiss of Judas
Abandoned by the ones that fled.

—- o —-

I’ll focus on the joy, my Father
See the gladness in Your heart
When John and Mary, Sue and Arthur
Come back home, have a brand new start.

I’ll face the cursing, feel them strip me
Sense the joy beyond the Cross.
I’ll lead the sheep to greener pasture
I’ll be the gate through which they pass.

My face contorts, my back’s on fire
But still I’ll focus on the joy
Though thorns crush through my scalp and forehead
I’ll think of Judy, Mike and Troy

This cross-beam’s heavy and I stagger
“See the joy, the prize above”
I’m trailing blood, the crowd is yelling
Yet they’re the prize, the ones I love.

My head grows faint, I go no further
Falling ‘neath the cross-beam’s weight,
But now a helping hand comes forward,
Respite from the jeers of hate.

I feel the evil deep inside me,
Rape and murder, filth and sludge.
I feel its shame, disgust and anger;
What joy to take it to the Judge.

I’ll let them spit, endure their hatred
And then the anger of our God
To see the joy when they’re forgiven
And receive the Father’s nod

The thud of nails, the spurt of blood
Electric shocks tear through my arms.
I’ll love them, God, unwitting agents
Of Your pure salvation plan.

My God, my God, I feel so lonely
Full of shame and so alone.
Yet for their joy I’ll breathe forgiveness
Sigh my last, their sins atone.

—- o —-

The depth of love that makes it joyful
To take the curse of every man
What human mind can fully fathom?
What heart can fully understand?

If, at a million hits per second
I googled “love” for eternity
Never would I find an equal
To my Saviour’s love at Calvary.

“Who, for the joy set before Him, endured the Cross, scorning its shame.” (Heb. 12:2)

Easter blog post 1

God Responds to Prayer in Amazing Ways

Never underestimate what God can do through prayer, even in a brief encounter. One of the great things about writing my book is the feedback I’ve received from patients with whom I prayed.
I’m sharing this with humility, because I want to shout about the faithfulness of God, even when we do something apparently small. I have described, in God in the ICU, dramatic encounters with Him when we pray. Sometimes, however, we are unaware of just how God is using our prayers.

I remember Cheryl, who wrote the email below, but I was unaware of her experience as recorded here. In this edited extract, please get a glimpse of how God can turn something which may not seem a big deal to you into a changed life which is then lived for His glory.

Dear Dr Walker, it’s been many years since you prayed for me, touched my life, and brought me into a new place of hope. You see, I had a kidney removed in 1980, and, at the time, I believe I caused some concern in theatre when I suddenly became seriously allergic to an anaesthetic drug. You literally prayed me back to life, and ever since, you have never been far from my thoughts and prayers.

What I never told you at the time, is that I met Jesus during that anaesthetic….He held me in His arms, and spoke to me without using words. Yes, I had the whole tunnel experience and the bright white Light, but the best was being held by the King of Kings, and then put back into my body. As He did so, He wrapped my feet in soft gold cloth. I shared this experience with the dear friend I made in the hospital room next door, her name was Faye Pooler. (Faye was a beautiful young lady who witnessed with radiant joy in the midst of a terminal illness – Dave)

I just wanted to write to you and say thank you for journeying with me and playing such an important valuable part in our lives. Without your prayers and care, we would no longer be here.
I left SA to live in the UK in 2004 to answer a call to minister to the homeless. I ran a big homeless project near London for three and a half years before my own health started failing. I took a less responsible job in the community and then met my husband Derek. We married in 2008 in the UK. Together we serve the Lord in the community, near Bedford. Our focus remains with the homeless. I counsel most days, as I believe the Lord has called me to share the knowledge and gifts He gave me, then in the evenings I minister together with my pastor. It is humbling to realise how great God’s love really is. The evenings with my pastor are spent ministering one on one, to those who have been ritually abused. I don’t think I have ever cried so much in my life before….

God used prayer, and an allergic reaction to an anaesthetic, to reveal Himself and bring healing, not only to Cheryl but, through her, to untold homeless and abused people. Such is the power of simple prayers in the hands of a faithful, loving God.