Today’s guest is Margie. Margie and I have known each other for quite some time, and she has the most incredible stories, so I’m very excited to be able to talk to you today, Margie, and hear your stories. We’ve been actually praying about which of the incredible stories we talk about today!
But we’ll start where we always start, which is: how did you become a Christian?
Well, I was born into a Christian family, and so I was brought up going to Sunday School, going to church, believing there was a God and seeing Him in the things around me, and the people around me. But then, there comes times when it’s like you take another step, another commitment to go deeper, and there were several of those during my life. Different people who have encouraged me, who have challenged me just to take that next step, and to become more and more Christ-centred.
As a teenager I drifted away a bit, but then I came back – I was drawn back. Through Billy Graham on the television, I think. I think that’s what it was. [laughs] Then other steps, by other people – real people sharing their faith with me, and challenging me.
Was there a specific time when you really said ‘Right, line in the sand here – from here on in, I’m with God’?
Not that I can remember, but you see it’s always been there, because when I was – I guess I was only about four, five, six, something around there – I don’t remember this, but my father told me about it. You know when people say ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’ and [you say] ‘I’m going to be a princess’ or ‘I’m going to be a fairy’ or ‘I’m going to be’ goodness knows what – not me. I said ‘I’m going to be a nurse and look after little black children.’
I know I always wanted to be a nurse.
Had you been reading books about famous missionaries?
I don’t know – possibly some missionary people came to church and talked about mission, or something like that. For one of my birthdays I wanted a little doll, and my gran took me to the shop to buy the little doll. We went to Woolies, and there was a black doll there. And she was horrified because I wanted the black doll. ‘It’s your birthday, you can have the black doll if you want the black doll’ – so I had the black doll. So right from early on, there was something in my heart that God had put there, that made me both want to be a nurse and look after little black children.
That’s so lovely. So you just went straight into nursing when you finished school?
With difficulty. We left England – I was born in England – and we came out to Tasmania right at the time when I’d done my school exams back there, and I didn’t do very well. I wasn’t very good at school; I had a rough time at school. When I got here, when I applied to be a nurse, they said ‘We don’t consider this to be an education certificate.’ My mother was horrified.
So they just didn’t recognise your education at all?
Something like that. It was very strange. So I ended up getting in through the back door – I did the government exam, which proved that I did have a brain, and it did work. I knew of the headmaster of our local school, and also an anaesthetist – a doctor who we’d got to know – and they both put in a word for me. And I was simply told ‘Well, you can do it, but the first exam you fail, you’ll be out.’ And I said ‘That’s alright, I won’t fail an exam.’ And I never did. So I got through that; it was hard, but I always wanted to be a nurse.
Why did your family come over here?
Opportunities, I think. My father was in work that was dead-end, in a factory, just piling more responsibility onto him but no more recognition of that extra work. I think dad could see that there were more opportunities elsewhere. We never regretted it. It was hard, very hard at first, but we never regret coming here.
Good. So, did you work for a while as nurse here in Tasmania?
I started off working in a chemist shop and got the sack after a week. I was just sixteen at this stage. I got the sack because I wouldn’t oblige the fifty-something-year-old man with something more than just serving behind a counter. So I got the sack. So that was okay. Then I worked in a dress shop – this was while I was trying to get into nursing, because you can’t get in at sixteen – and eventually I got into nursing. I did my training here, at The Royal [Hobart Hospital], and then I did midwifery in Sydney, and I did child health in Hobart, and then things were open.
So you worked for a while in a normal setting – you didn’t go straight into missions at that point?
No, no no no, I worked in all sorts of things – casualties, and operating theatres, I was in charge of the burns unit, I worked in chest hospitals in England, and all sorts of things.
So how did your faith show in that sort of situation?
It’s hard to tell. I think there were some things like the not obliging the man at the chemist shop. I think those are the sorts of things that come through, but I think at that stage I was not an outgoing Christian. It was very much something in me, for me. And there’s a difference; it’s not until you get to the point where you realise that what you’ve got is precious and it can be everyone else’s that you think, ‘I should be sharing this. I shouldn’t just be holding onto it.’
So how did you get to that point?
Oh my goodness. I don’t know. I guess it’s just taking those steps further when you’re challenged, and realising that it’s not something you hide, it’s something that you share, and it’s something that you need to show every day. It’s not a Sunday thing, it’s not a, ‘Today I’m going to be a Christian,’ or ,‘in this circumstance I’m going to be a Christian, in this one we’ll just let that slide a little bit, it’s not bad.’ I guess it’s just building up – you get to a point that you want to live as a Christian, you want people to see that you’re a Christian, and you want to be bold enough to actually, at times, challenge what they’re saying or doing and why. I think it’s when you get to that point, that’s when you become an active Christian, that’s when you become a sharing, caring Christian. And people know, and they can see where it comes from. Otherwise they just think ‘Oh, she’s a bit of a goody-goody, she doesn’t do this or she doesn’t do that.’ If they don’t know where it comes from, then that’s how they see it. Whereas if they see that it comes from your belief, and from the way you want to live, that’s when it can be useful to them.
So I don’t know at what point I got to that point. I know that in the 1970s I went to Papua New Guinea – I was on a mission field there.
Which missionary organisation was that with?
Well, it was really interesting because I actually went with the Catholic church. I’m Anglican, but I went with the Catholic church – or, to a Catholic base – because they were the ones that were in that area. Papua New Guinea’s divided up – different denominations have different…
Different areas, yes. So you get one whole area which is Catholic, you get one whole area which is Anglican, you get another whole area which is Presbyterian, something like that. I ended up there because I went up there with a doctor, and was offered jobs all the way through, and this was the one that seemed the right one to go to. It was furthest west, furthest north, and about the most primitive I think, of all the ones. So it seemed right.
I was going to ask if you did midwifery there – I’m guessing you did everything there.
Yes, except midwifery – they had their own local midwives, and only came to me when they had troubles, and luckily I didn’t have any too horrific things. But yes, challenging.
So that was your first missions experience, and you’ve been in other missionary organisations as well, so what mission things have you done?
I did go to Afghanistan – not really with a mission, but with Red Cross – so I was in Afghanistan for eight months with the Red Cross. That was a challenge. And then I went to Congo, in Africa, with the Leprosy Mission, and I was there for fifteen years … which was a … challenge. [laughs]
I guess it’s been challenging to come back here after that, as well?
It was extremely difficult. I came back and I couldn’t work out why I couldn’t settle back in, and why I was so … confused, I guess was the word. I went to a retreat, and I was spending time in prayer and reading the Bible and that, and we came together in small groups for prayer. And all of a sudden the Lord made it perfectly plain to me: I was so angry. I was so angry with Australia. The anger that I felt was because in Africa, where I’d been, the people there have nothing and they give the Lord thanks for everything. And here we’ve got everything, and we give the Lord thanks for nothing. That was what was really making me angry.
How did you deal with that?
I just gave it to the Lord and said ‘This isn’t of you.’ I can’t do anything about the whole situation here, but at least by identifying it, I knew where I was standing. ‘Yes, it’s exactly that, so what are you going to do about it? Well, you’d better do something about telling some of the people here who gives them all these good things. Where they come from.’
So how have you done that?
Ooh. Well. I tried getting back into nursing, but it didn’t really work, because by that stage I was starting to get a bit old. It was alright while the girl in charge of the clinics was of my vintage, but when she retired and a young one came along, she really didn’t want any older people working there. So sadly it was some not very nice kind of feelings, that – no. But we get that, because you’ve got the difference between the hospital-trained and the university-trained. So I didn’t go, and as far as I’m concerned it was probably the right thing to do, because I left work then. I was old enough to retire, past retirement age, so I retired. And then I could do what I wanted to do, and what I felt the Lord was showing me to do. And He got me a lot more involved in my local church. I try and do some work with the Leprosy Mission here in Tasmania as well, and all those kinds of things. Relationships. People that I hadn’t had time with a lot of the time I was in Africa, so catching up with them and showing them why I was over there. Even some of my own family, I had to explain to them why I was over there.
That’s fantastic. Do you have stories that you can share with us of your time there?
Oh, so many. So many. So many times when the Lord was so in what was happening you couldn’t miss Him. You really couldn’t. Hmm, some stories… well, there’s a story – I was over there, and while I was over there, there were three wars. I would go through the war, and then they would evacuate me out at the end of it. Which always seemed a bit strange, but that was how it worked. When I went back again – and people would say to me, ‘You’re not going back again, are you?’ and I’d say ‘Well, yes! God took me there, and He hasn’t told me to come home yet, so I’m still there.’ So I went back, and I would talk with the people that I knew, the ones that I’d been working with and those sorts of things, and just ask them, ‘What did God do for you during this time?’ Which has been so hard for them. And the stories were incredible.
When I went back after the first lot of fighting, which was really, really horrible fighting, and I was out for nearly a year, and I went back. And I went through systematically with all the ones I’d worked with and said, ‘What happened?’ And there wasn’t one of them who didn’t tell me what God had done. One of the tricks the rebels used to do was if they found a family walking along the track, they would send the men one way and the women and children the other way, and often the men were not seen again. And they were going along, and this family got up to this thing, and the man said, ‘You’ – to the man, ‘you go that way, and you others you go that way.’ And as clear as anything, a voice was heard saying, ‘No, no, he goes with them.’ And they sort of looked around, but there wasn’t anyone there that they could see at all. And so the rebel just said ‘Oh, well. You’d better go with them then.’ And off he went with the family, and he was safe.
In another instance, the rebels had come into the town, and this family were in their home. Now their homes there are maybe two rooms, with a little kitchen outside. And they were huddled in the room praying for protection, because they could hear the rebels circling right round their house. They’re little mud brick houses with a window, and a door, maybe a second window. They’re there, and they’re praying like mad, and they thought, ‘They haven’t come in.’ And they could hear them saying, ‘Where’s the door? Is the door your side?’ ‘No, the door’s not over this side.’ ‘Well, it’s not over this side.’ And they were going round and round and round this little oblong house, and they couldn’t find the door. Guess who blinded them? Because the door was as obvious as anything.
It’s very Old Testament, isn’t it?
It’s incredible. Another time I was in Rwanda. We’d had to leave because the rebels were coming, and the local soldiers had gone up the hills because they realised if they stayed in the town and there was a big fight, a lot of the people would be hurt, and they didn’t want anyone hurt. So they went up the hills behind, and there was only maybe two thousand of them. And all these rebels come pouring in, you see, and start looking for the soldiers and they can’t find them anywhere. So they just took over the town with no fighting. And I’m sitting across the border in Rwanda, and I hear them say, ‘United Nations went to see where the Congolese army were’, because they knew they were up the hill. And they went to look, and they said, ‘They saw that there was about ten thousand Congolese soldiers who were preparing to come down onto the town.’ And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘No, there’s not ten thousand of them there.’ And no-one could have got there to help, to make ten thousand. There was only one, maybe two thousand. Anyhow, the rebels heard this and took off! They just ran and left. And some of the people from the town actually had to go up and say to the one or two thousand Congolese soldiers, ‘Uh, they’ve left, you can come back now.’ And that reminded me so much of the Old Testament story.
What do you think – and I haven’t given you any notice on this question – what do think it’s going to take for us to have those kinds of stories here in Australia?
Well, first of all, you have to actually expect them. Because, I’m sure many times they happen, but because you’re not expecting God to answer your prayer, or expecting God to act, you don’t see it!
You won’t see the thing as an act of God.
No, you go ‘Ooh, that was a coincidence, wasn’t it? Just as we were doing this, such and such happened.’ No, it doesn’t work like that. If you’re trusting God, then He will do something. And if you’ve got your eyes open, you will see it.
It’s like William Temple (former Archbishop of Canterbury) said, ‘When I pray, I see coincidences happen, and when I don’t pray, I don’t see them happen.’
That’s right. You’ve got to expect them, and when you pray you’ve got to expect God to answer. And it’s usually ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘not now’. In one way or another.
Do you have a story of your own life where God’s answered Yes, No, or Not Now?
I remember when I was about to go overseas, I was very comfortable here. I had a wonderful job that I loved, I was in charge of the burns unit at The Royal, I was doing a lot with children’s accident prevention, I had my own home, my own car… I was fine. And you always have to be careful when you’re fine and comfortable, because that’s when God suddenly says, ‘Now that you’re sitting comfortably and I’ve got your attention, I want you to go overseas.’ And I went, ‘Oh.’ So I madly started looking round: ‘Ooh, it’d be nice to work with children, ooh, what about this organisation, what about that one, they’re nice –‘
Nice comfortable ones, yes. But the doors were all slammed shut. And I thought, ‘Hmm.’ And I can remember very easily praying one day. And I was like, ‘Lord, you’re telling me to go overseas but everywhere I’m trying, the doors are shut.’ The big word there was, ‘I am trying’, you see? Instead of saying, ‘Lord, where do you want me?’ I was looking for myself. And as clear as He was standing behind me, He says, ‘What about the one you’re involved in?’ And I went, ‘Oh! The Leprosy Mission! Now that’s novel.’ And I asked them, and everything flew open. It was so obvious that that’s where He wanted me. He was just waiting for me to ask Him.
So you worked with people who had leprosy, or is it wider than that?
Yes, there was leprosy, there was TB, and because of the TB there was some AIDS work there, and there was a thing called Buruli ulcer, which is a bit akin to tuberculosis.
So there’s quite some risk there for you – did you feel that you were going into a risky situation?
Well, I was going into Congo, so I was already in a risky situation!
Yes, stupid question, sorry. Daft.
Did you just trust God to protect you, or did you get to the point where you say ‘Whatever happens happens’?
I think when He puts you somewhere, then He’s going to look after you. Because He wants you there. He’s put you there, He’s given you the skills to do what He wants you to do, even if He expects you to keep learning just to keep ahead of those you’re supposed to be teaching. Yes, I see it as I’m under His umbrella. He’s got me protected under His umbrella. It’s when I step outside of that and say, ‘No Lord, I’ve had enough of Congo. I’ve been evacuated twice now, that’s enough, I’m not going back’, I’ve stepped out from underneath His umbrella, underneath His protection. That’s when I’m at risk. Not when I’m under His umbrella. When He told me clearly to come home, I came home. And when I came home and had all my medical checks and things, I found I’d got breast cancer. Perfect timing! There was no way it was going to get diagnosed out there. He has our whole life in His hands, not just the edge bits.
So when do you feel close to God?
All the time, in many ways, because I always know He’s there. I’ve always had this vision where He’s just sitting behind my shoulder. And that I can whisper to Him any time, and He can whisper to me any time. He knows exactly what’s going on; in fact, He knows further than I do. So there’s times when you do feel a bit distant, you sort of feel, ‘Ah, what is it? I just don’t feel I’m close to Him at the moment.’ And I always say, ‘Well, guess who moved?’ You just focus again on Him and pray, and ask for forgiveness for what you think you might have done wrong, or stepping away or whatever, and just ask Him to come back and be very close. Because then you’ve got all your guidance you need, and – you hope – control of your tongue, and your actions, and those sorts of things when He’s really close.
What’s one thing about God or Christianity that you wish everyone knew?
Oh, I wish everyone would know that God loves them, and that He’s there for them. Because so many people are so anxious and so looking for the answers for everything, and it’s right there! If only they knew about it, if only they would accept it, but it seems to easy just to accept. It’s not too easy, that’s the way he’s made it, so that by accepting Him, knowing who He is and what He’s done for us, then He’s ours, and we’re His. And together we are His hands, His voice, His feet here on Earth. We’re the ones that are going to tell other people about him, and that sort of thing. So many people just spend their whole lives looking, looking, looking, ‘What have I got to do? I’ve got to do all these things so that I please God’, or, ‘do all these things so He doesn’t get angry with me.’ Whereas if you just accept Him and have a beautiful relationship with Him, like you do with a really special friend, then it’s a beautiful thing. And you don’t have to be anxious all the time.
We’re out of time, but I want to ask – what would you tell the Church? What do you want the Church to know?
Not to get too tied up in rules and regulations and divisions. It doesn’t matter which Christian denomination you are, we’re all one family, and we should just be enjoying that and being together like a family. Families have differences and things like that, but they still are a family.
That’s lovely. Thank you very much for sharing with us. I could talk to you for ages, but I probably should bring it to a close! So thank you so much for sharing with us today. It’s been a blessing.
You’re most welcome.