The Life Transforming Power of Forgiveness

The story of Ray and Vi Donovan is remarkable. In 2001 their son, Chris, was murdered. Chris and his brother Phil were attacked by a gang of youths. They kicked and stamped on Chris’s head and left him in the middle of a four-lane road. A car came over the hill and ran over Chris, dragging him 40 feet down the road. At the hospital the doctors were unable to save Chris’s life.

Vi’s immediate response was to run out of the door. She was very angry and wanted to find her son’s killers and to “do to them what they had done to Chris.” Ray fell to his knees screaming. Three teenage boys were found guilty of Chris’s murder. During the court case Vi remembers the look of pain and shame etched on the faces of the boys’ parents. She realised that everyone had lost; things would never be the same for any of them.

Several years later, one of the young men contacted Ray and Vi asking to meet them to say sorry. A meeting was not allowed at that time, but Ray and Vi wrote to all three young men telling them that they had forgiven them and that they hoped to meet them one day. In July 2011, after the young man had completed his sentence, a meeting was arranged.

Ray and Vi had many questions including why he had left Chris in the middle of a busy road. He told them he had heard sirens and thought the police were coming so ran away. He said that he had been a fifteen year old coward and now he couldn’t get Chris out of his heart. Ray and Vi hugged him and said he was forgiven. He whispered his thanks. Ray said, “My wife and I left that meeting feeling like a weight had been lifted. Just hearing the words ‘I’m sorry’ is a start to moving forward. For us it was a life changing event.”

Saying “Sorry” is something we all find very difficult, but forgiveness is a very powerful thing. Jesus was a young man who was unjustly executed. When he was nailed to the cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Since that time millions of people, from many nations, have honestly faced up to their sinful lives. As they have come to God through Jesus they have experienced his forgiveness. It is always a life changing event.

God is not far from any one of us

In 1977 NASA launched the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft. They are the longest operating spacecraft in history and now, travelling at 10 miles per second, are both billions of miles from earth. They have passed by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and sent photographs back. In 1990 Voyager 1 took a photograph of earth, from a distance of 3.7 billion miles, which is called the Pale Blue Dot. Each Voyager has only 68 kilobytes of computer memory. The smallest iPod is 100,000 times more powerful. They are still sending signals back to earth, which take 16 hours to arrive. It is anticipated that soon they will leave our solar system and enter interstellar space. One of the men who worked very hard on planning the project, and who is now 76 years old, said, “We’re anxious to get outside and find what’s out there.”

The Voyager missions make it clear just how big the universe is and how small the earth is. Our planet is unique in the billions of miles the Voyager spacecraft have explored. Earth is very special with its abundance of water and teeming life. We human beings are also unique. In half a human life time of travel the Voyager spacecraft have found no evidence of other living beings. As they enter into the unknown darkness of interstellar space it seems unlikely they will find any there either.

The most important thing for us all is not so much to find out what’s out there, but to know who is out there. The Bible tells us about the great Creator God. In the opening verse of the Bible we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The account of creation which follows tells how God created the earth with all its beauty and how he created men and women to experience his love and to enjoy fellowship with him.

God has also sent his Son, Jesus, to this earth to live our life and to die so that we might be forgiven and know God. Finding God does not depend on messages from ancient spacecraft billions of miles away in space. In Jesus God has drawn near to us and shown us what he is like. He is not far from any one of us. The youngest child and the frailest adult can talk to him and he hears, for in him we live and move and have our being.

Omar Hassan – the importance of finishing the race

Paralympics 2012 has been a very special occasion, with many outstanding performances. From the British Team we remember those who won several medals, such as swimmer Ellie Simpson, wheel chair athlete David Weir and cyclist Sarah Storey. London 2012 was a landmark for Paralympic sport which is still developing. Many new world records were set and major television channels will show more interest in covering the Rio games in 2016!

Whilst the focus was, understandably, on winners, the performance of amputee Omar Hassan, who came last in a heat of the 1500 metres T46 category, exemplifies the spirit of the all Paralympics’ athletes. Omar was the first, and only, athlete from the tiny country of Djibouti on the Red Sea to compete in the Paralympics. Omar had trained hard for the greatest race of his life. From the moment the starter’s gun fired he strained his Achilles tendon. Many athletes with such an injury would have stopped running immediately, but Omar continued to run. Despite the great pain he was in he finished the race, finishing nearly 7 minutes behind the other athletes. The crowd gave him a continuous standing ovation and, when he finished, one of the greatest cheers of the whole Paralympics. After the race Omar pointed to his right foot and said it was “very sore.” He went on to say, “I thought of stopping, but I kept going because I wanted to finish.”

Many commentators have said that this Paralympic Games has changed the way we view disabled people. This indicates that the biggest problem is with us, not with them. It is our values that need to change. We make a fuss of the rich and famous and see them as the role models whom we should all seek to follow. Sadly, however, they are sometimes deeply flawed people. The disabled people who have competed at London 2012 have shown us that through the experience of disability they have become more complete people.

The apostle Paul suffered greatly as he faithfully served his Lord, Jesus Christ; he was beaten, imprisoned and shipwrecked. Near the end of his life he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

Inspiration from the Paralympic Games

The Paralympic Games is an inspiring event. It has been a privilege to see the skills and dedication of the athletes, cyclists, swimmers and other competitors. Watching a young Chinese girl, who has no arms, winning the 100 metres race in a new world record time was amazing. The joy of those who have won medals, and of those who have not, has been great to see. Their sheer thrill at just taking part in the Paralympics has been evident for all to see.

The Paralympians are an example to us all as they have overcome serious physical disabilities and injuries. They have faced very big issues in their lives and have shown great courage to come through them as better people. This is an encouragement to us, as we face other kinds of challenges, to believe that we, too, can win through to find meaning and fulfilment.

Many years ago I read the amazing story of Joni Eareckson. On 30 July 1967 Joni, who was then 17, dived into Chesapeake Bay not realising that the water was shallow. She suffered a fracture of her spine and became a quadriplegic, paralysed from the shoulders down. In her autobiography, entitled “Joni, the unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggles against quadriplegia and depression,” she describes her struggle to come to terms with her injuries and the total change in her life and hopes. She was totally dependent on others and confined to a wheelchair. During two years of rehabilitation she experienced anger, depression, suicidal thoughts and struggles with her faith in Jesus.

With God’s help she came through all this. She learned to paint with a brush between her teeth and was able to sell her pictures. She has written more than 40 books, recorded music albums and starred in a film about her life. She has become a great advocate for disabled people. In 1982 she married Ken Tada and has recently come through surgery for breast cancer.

What shines through her life is that following her accident Joni has become a wonderful person. Instead of destroying her, she has grown through it. We wish that the accident had never happened but, in her severely disabled body, a beautiful person has blossomed. She has brought hope to many others facing big problems. Her life has not been easy, but she knows that one day all her struggles will be over and she will be with her Saviour in heaven for ever.