Friday 10th December
‘My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
and my spirit rejoices in you, my Saviour.
For you have looked with favour
upon your lowly servant,
and from this day forward
all generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me, and holy is your Name.’
Luke 1: 46b – 49
Courage and humility are a powerful combination of characteristics. When I consider what it must have taken for Mary to say yes to God’s world-changing invitation, but for her to carry such a prestigious role with no pomp or ceremony, I am the one truly humbled. Most of us seek some kind of significance or recognition, yet the most impressive and inspiring people I’ve met throughout my life have been those quietly getting on with the calling laid before them and changing lives and communities without fanfare or celebration. One such lady is simply known as Auntie Lorna.
As an educated, professional and successful woman living a comfortable life in America, she returned to Jamaica to follow a call to work with young people in the inner city. Her family and friends thought her crazy, to the point that her brother even suggested she seek professional help, but Lorna knew the voice who had spoken to her and was undeterred. Leaving behind the security and prospects of her former life she ploughed all that she had into founding a new school in the heart of Trench Town, focussing on young people who struggled to engage in mainstream education. In the midst of a violent and chaotic environment, with students who wrestled with feeling scared, isolated or inferior, Lorna sought to establish a place of peace and possibility, where those coming through the doors would find love, acceptance and a hope for the future.
She experienced intimidation and heartache, being threatened at gunpoint, as well as having students shot and killed. The stigma of the community made it very difficult to find others who would come and work alongside her, and so she pursued a long and difficult road without much support or encouragement.
But staying the course, keeping faith with the people and true to what God had laid on her heart, began to bear fruit – in more ways than she could have imagined. One young woman had her life radically transformed through Lorna’s program, going from high school drop out to becoming a role model in her community. As a direct result of Lorna’s influence she passed her exams and went on to become a school Principal. On hearing this testimony, Lorna’s brother became convinced of the divine calling upon her life and came to faith himself.
My husband and I met Auntie Lorna a few years ago when we worked in Trench Town for a time. Now well into the age of retirement she no longer runs the school she founded, having passed that mantel on to someone younger, but the community is still very much on her heart. During a peace march around the neighbourhood we had the opportunity to witness something of the impact of her life. Along each street people would call out her name and wave or come over to greet her. Many were adults who she had known since they were young people, and she spoke to them all by name and knew about their families. Local gangsters, bandanas wrapped around their faces, guns tucked inside their jeans, nodded to her with respect. After warmly greeting one man, she shared that he had been one of those who had previously threatened to shoot her, but now they were friends.
It was a privilege to witness the overwhelming evidence of what courage and humility can do when offered in obedience to the Lord. Faithfulness will not often bring a fanfare, but it is surely one of the characteristics most likely to bring lasting change. Lorna Stanley has been faithful to God and has known his faithfulness in return. I believe that for many generations people will call her blessed because the Mighty One has done great things for her and through her – holy is his name.
Tara Devlin is a charity worker in Edinburgh supporting people living with HIV and Hepatitis C. Previously she and her husband Adrian lived in Jamaica doing youth and community work in the inner city community of Trench Town. A native of Northern Ireland, she is a passionate supporter of the Irish rugby team, as well as being a big fan of charity shops, ice cream and The West Wing.