It is difficult to bring the gospel to a suspicious and sceptical generation. But sometimes we get the opportunity to befriend an unbeliever and build bridges of friendship and trust over which the gospel message can travel. This story shows how a bridge was patiently built even as the providential dealings of God brought the lives of two people together for his purposes of grace.
Cilla Smith (Chatham, Ont.) wasnt surprised to see her sons teacher, Marg Brown, at the door. She often greeted the soft-spoken teacher as she picked up her children at school. This was the last day of school and the children were bouncing with thoughts of summer holidays. But Margs face was sober and she quickly approached Cilla. Instead of saying hello, she drew Cilla into a hug and whispered in her ear. "Ive got a lump in my lung!"
A cold pang wrapped around Cillas thoughts. She squeezed the teacher and the tears flowed as they hid their faces from her boys. Finally she was able to speak. "Ill be praying for you." Her blank mind cried out for something else to say. She thought back to how the teacher had recently complained about her sore arm. "Too much golfing," Marg had explained, "but Im getting it checked." Cilla could hardly drive home as her mind spun. "So thats why she was in pain. I must do something."
She tried to find out where the teacher lived. "Oh, were sorry, the school office explained, "We cant give out a teachers address. Im sure you understand." She looked with dismay at all the "Browns" in the phone-book but about thirty calls later, she finally recognized the teachers quiet hello. "Hi Marg, Ive finally found you.
She took flowers and cinnamon buns to her home three times over the summer as she expressed her care. Marg appreciated seeing her and was quietly receptive as they chatted about things and progressively became good friends.
In early September, Marg called. "Cilla, this will be the first time I have missed the opening day of school in twenty-five years. But I have to keep on with these cancer treatments."
"Well miss seeing you there Marg. And when I take my daily walk Ill be thinking of you each step of the way."
"Do you mind if I walk with you?" Marg inquired. "I think I need it. Itll clear my worried head."
And so they began to walk together daily and afterwards they would visit at one house or the other. Every day Cilla prayed, "Lord, open the door so I can ask her if she is ready to die." Her mind wrestled with ideas as she pondered just how to ask her about eternity, in a tactful way.
All through the fall, they simply became great friends, sharing concerns and laughs as they built a bridge of communication and trust. Margs husband and children also accepted Cilla and began to think of her as part of the family.
In December it finally happened as they traveled in the car. "Cilia, do mind if I ask you something? What do you believe about God and religion?"
"Thank you Lord." Cilla breathed a silent prayer. "Theres a verse in 1 John 5:13 that really expresses my thoughts. It says, "These things I have written to you who believe on the name of the Son of God; that you might know that you have eternal life." She paused and took a breath. "I know I have eternal life. Im saved because the Lord Jesus died for my sins. He paid the debt I could never pay." As Marg questioned her about the verse and its meaning, Cilla realized the religious lady had nothing for eternity.
After the Christmas holidays, gospel meetings began at Chatham. One day as they walked discussing the meetings, Marg asked if she could come. Cillas heart leapt for joy as she realized that God was working.
After listening to Larry Perkins preach from Romans 5:6, (In due time Christ died for the ungodly), Marg admitted that she wasnt ready to meet God. "I dont have peace," she said as the tears rolled down her face. "Im a faithful church member and Sunday School teacher and also the organist. But Im empty for eternity!" She looked anxiously at Cilla. "When we go for our walk tomorrow do you think we could read the Bible afterward? And then, could you pray for me?"
The next day, as they sipped on tea, they read Isaiah 53 and Cilla left her with a list of other verses to look up. It was too cold the next day to walk but they read together John 3. "Cilla, the more I read, the more I know Im not saved. I really want this. Im coming to the gospel meeting Sunday evening to hear more. I keep thinking about the due time. Can it be that God will give me this salvation when I have such a short time left?"
A Debt I Could Not Pay
The phone rang as Cilla sat down at the Sunday dinner table. "Hi Marg." She recognized the teary voice. "Did you say youre paralysed? On your right side? Yes, Ill come over for the afternoon." Her mind struggled with remorse and regret. Had she waited too long to speak to her? Would she be able to comprehend any more gospel?
Marg was a sad sight that day. Some of the family stood around her, their faces grey and wet with tears. Others watched the noisy TV and talked about her sons hockey playoffs. It was difficult to visit but she held Margs hand and prayed quietly. Margs open Bible lay beside her opened at John 3.
The next day, Marg asked her to spend the day with her. Cillas heart leapt for joy at the thought of having a full day to talk about salvation. There were a lot of things to do at Margs house as she tried to care for the deteriorating lady. But still there was time to read John 19. Do you see what He said? It is finished. That means, Paid in full! We have such a great debt of sin that we could never pay it. He paid the sinners debt."
At one point, Cilla nudged her. She seemed to have fallen asleep. But Marg just kept her weak eyes closed and repeated everything she had just heard. She was listening. Before she left, Cilla sang her favorite chorus again.
He paid the debt, He did not
I owed a debt, I could not pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away.
Now I can sing a brand new song
Amazing Grace the whole day long
Christ Jesus paid the debt, that I could never pay.
The next day Marg deteriorated further and there could be no visits for several days. Meanwhile Cilla agonized over whether she had said everything she could. She earnestly prayed that the gospel had come in due time, that it would penetrate the dark mind. Finally she found peace in leaving it with God who was in full control,
A Brand New Song
Finally she was called to visit at the hospital. Now Cilla wondered just what she could say to the friend she had come to love. What condition would she be in? "Please Lord, give me five minutes alone with her. With so much family, this will be a miracle but make it happen."
They spent one hour together alone. Marg asked her to read John 3:16. "Marg, before I read it, I need to know, do you know where you will be if you die?"
A smile broke over her pale face. "Heaven! He paid my debt. And I was a big sinner!" She looked up at the surprised and teary eyes of Cilla. "You know that everybody really looks at me as a saint. But with all my good works I still realize I am just a sinner. And its in due time, isnt it, just in time for me!" The tears of joy flowed for a while and then Marg asked her to sing "He paid the Debt." "And I want you to hang the song on the wall so everyone can see it."
Eventually Marg returned home in weakness and the two friends, and now sisters in the Lord, visited every morning to read and pray together. "Tell me about heaven. What will it be like to see the Lord Jesus? Tell me about Him. Im not afraid to die now. I want my sister to read Romans 5:6 and Ephesians 2:8-9 at my funeral. And you have to sing our little song and tell how I came to appreciate its meaning. Can you do it? And your boys must sing Jesus Loves Me. Please ask them."
She began giving text magnets to her friends and the health care workers who visited her. In her weakness she celebrated the joy of salvation. In late April 1999, at the age of 49, Marg listened to the last words she would hear on earth, "Jesus loves me, He will stay, Close beside me all the way." Then she closed her eyes as she lapsed into a coma. But she was not alone.
At the large funeral a teacher drew Cilla aside. "Marg taught at the previous school for twenty-four years. Nobody could explain why the board transferred her to your sons school for her last year. Frankly, most of us were quite upset. But now we know why it happened - she had to meet you."
A week later, Margs husband gave Cilla a note written earlier by Marg. She expressed her thankfulness and appreciation and signed it, "Good-night, I love you. Marg".
Take my voice, and let me
sing, always only for my King;
Take my lips and let them be filled with messages from Thee.