Being inspired by the Invictus Games

The fourth Invictus Games has just been held in Sydney, Australia. The Games is an international event created by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, in which wounded, injured or sick armed personnel and veterans compete in a wide range of sports. Invictus is a Latin word meaning “unconquered” or “undefeated.” The Sydney Games drew 500 competitors and 1000 family and friends from 17 countries and featured 11 sports.

The stories of the competitors are inspiring. Some have suffered terrible life-changing physical injuries in armed combat, others have struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and chronic illness. Invictus has inspired them not to be overcome by their injuries and suffering but to become overcomers and to do it together. There is a wonderful spirit of friendship and mutual encouragement amongst competitors in addition to the loving and persevering support of family and friends. People who thought their lives were over have found new hope and joy.

Davin ‘Bear’ Bretherton was one of the Australian competitors at the Sydney Games. He was seriously injured while serving in the military and had an amputation. He suffered from PTSD and found it difficult to face each day. He hit rock bottom when he attempted suicide. He said, “I was left lying on my shed floor crying and thinking to myself, ‘I need help and I need to do something about it. I need to try to find a way to regain my life.’ The biggest thing that I found on my road to recovery was how tough it was to ask for help. You know, I think that probably the manliest thing I’ve ever done in my life, was to reach out and physically ask someone for help. This is my life, I’ve only got one and I nearly lost it. So, I wish I’d asked for help a lot earlier.”

When bad things happen to us, as they have to ‘Bear’ and other competitors at the Invictus Games, we, too, need to ask for help. Many people have asked God to help them when they have been going through dark times in their lives and he has given them new strength and hope. The Bible says that Jesus “understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same trials we do”, and so we can “come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy and will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

Bear Gryll’s Greatest Adventure

Bear Grylls is well-known as a man who embodies the spirit of adventure and outdoor survival. His love of adventure began when he was growing up on the Isle of Wight. His late father, Sir Michael Grylls, taught him to climb. Bear says, “It brought us close and I loved it. It was never about the climbs but about that closeness.” In his book “To My Sons” he writes, “Aim to live a wild, generous, full, exciting life – blessing those around you and seeing the good in all. Follow your dreams – they are God-given.”

Bear trained in martial arts and perfected many of his skills when he served for 3 years in the British Special Forces as a member of 21 SAS. He has climbed Everest; crossed the North Atlantic on an inflatable boat; navigated the Northwest Passage; survived crocodile-infested swamps in Indonesia; and para-motored over the Himalayas. He says, “It is through faith that we find peace, but that same faith can also give us great boldness to reach out that little bit further than maybe we are comfortable. Everything worthwhile in life comes from reaching beyond that point of comfort; daring to risk it all; following our dreams despite the cost; loving despite the pain; hoping despite the doubts; and living boldly despite the fear. Life is an adventure that it best lived boldly.”

Bear is the youngest-ever Chief Scout and is a role-model to 40 million scouts worldwide. He says, “Scouting is about faith, it’s about friendship, it’s about fun – it’s all part of what we wanted when we grew up.” When it comes to adventure, he says, “The first step is always the hardest. That’s the one that takes the most courage. I’ve learned not to run from that fear and just do it.”

Bear says that finding simple faith to empower his life has been his greatest adventure. “Life is a journey and at times we all need a guide. For me that guide has become my backbone, my helper, my companion and my friend. I always thought that Christianity was about being very sensible and acting all smart and religious. But the more I discovered about Jesus Christ himself, the more I found a man who was as unreligious as you can imagine. It seemed that the very heart of the Christian faith was not about church, pulpits, sermons or Latin verse! It was about a relationship with someone who promises us life in abundance, joy within, peace without and freedom in our soul. Now I was interested!”

Love in action in a Syrian refugee camp

The humanitarian crisis in Syria is massive. Since the outbreak of the war in March 2011 more than 2.5 million refugees, including more than 1 million children, have fled their homes seeking safety. Many are still in Syria; others have crossed into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Britain has agreed to accept a small number of Syrian refugees.

Fear is the main reason why the refugees have fled from Syria. When Kurdish refugees from Syria, now living in a camp in Northern Iraq, were asked why they had fled, 25% feared physical violence; 25% feared being used as a human shield; 24% feared being raped and 22% feared being forced into military service.

A British Christian family living near one of the refugee camps in Northern Iraq have been visiting Syrian Kurd families. The wife explained how they began doing this. “It really has been a matter of befriending just 3 families from that vast multitude. One begging mother came to our gate one day, and I felt drawn to her. We started visiting them in their tent and I was asked to help by being with her at the birth of her son.”

This act of friendship was very important in the crowded maternity ward where there was little compassion for the refugee mother about to give birth. “How do you know this woman?” the doctor asked, standing doing the bare minimum to help a woman in the pains of childbirth, wondering why a foreigner would know this poor refugee. “Oh, we’re friends”, came the reply. “She visits me in my home and I visit her in her home.” The Kurdish family so appreciated the help they were given that they named their child after the husband of their new foreign friend!

One day we shall all stand before the One who sees and knows all things. On that day, Jesus said, he will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

The Love that Gives

As a New Year begins, and most of the news is bad, the story of Manoly Viravong and Veronica Buttigieg is wonderful and so encouraging. Manoly and Veronica met for the first time last summer at a mutual friend’s wedding anniversary party. Manoly, who has 2 teenage children, told Veronica that she had been waiting for a kidney transplant for 5 years. A close relative had said he would donate one of his kidneys, but had changed his mind. Manoly was on dialysis for 8 hours every night and the need was becoming urgent.

When Veronica heard Manoly’s story she said, ”Why don’t you have one of my kidneys!” In July, 2 months later, the operation took place and Manoly is now well on her way to recovery. Veronica said, “I barely knew Manoly but after talking to her, and hearing how desperate she was, I felt it was the right thing to do. We all knew that there was a chance I could die, but I wasn’t worried at all. I am a Christian and I felt that God said it was right. I had real peace about it because I knew it was what God wanted me to do. I felt completely calm.” Manoly says, “I can’t really thank her enough. We are very close now, like sisters. I’m really very grateful to her and I count my blessings every day.”

The story of Manoly and Veronica reminds us of the wonderful love of God. One of the best known verses in the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Many people think that the message of the Bible is about God telling us what we should do. But Christianity is not about what we do, but about what God has done in giving us his Son. The Christian life begins for each of us when we gratefully receive Jesus as our Saviour.

We can never repay God for his amazing love in Jesus, but when we receive him as our Saviour, our hearts are filled with love for him and overflow in love for others. That’s why Veronica gave her kidney to Manoly. She had experienced God’s amazing love for her in Jesus and wanted to show that love to Manoly. This is a love we can all know and show.