Sometimes the unexpected connections formed in travel are so great.
While on the Volunteers In Mission trip to Northern Ireland, I was sitting in the dining room of our hotel typing on a laptop computer. It was my turn to write the daily blog for our Volunteer In Mission group. Mike, one of our leaders, was patiently waiting for me to finish so he could add the pictures.
I wanted to relate how Father Gerry Reynolds had told us he was affected by the visit of "the Queen" to Ireland, as were many others in Ireland. I wasn't sure of the best way to refer to her highness: the Queen of England, the Queen of Britain, or some other phrase. I looked around the room and, besides a few Americans, I saw a few other people present who might be Northern Irish. So I asked in a loud voice, but addressing no one in particular, how I should refer to the Queen. That late at night, the dining room is informal and the guests largely set the mood and ground rules.
A young woman who was sitting by herself spoke up and said in an Irish accent that the Queen's prime post was Queen of England, although she was Queen of all the parts of Britain and the United Kingdom. After I explained why I asked, she teased me by saying I could refer to the Queen as Queen Lizzie. I laughed, but declined, as I didn't want the Queen to think I was a rude American.
The next morning, the young woman came in for breakfast when a few of our group had already been there for awhile. I invited her to join us and during introductions learned her name was Colleen. She told us she was staying at the hotel after having donated one of her kidneys to her 9 year old son almost three weeks earlier. Colleen said her boy was doing great and that the three week recovery time was probably more for her than for him. She said the lack of an adequate kidney in him had held back his health and vigor. He is small for his age and couldn't run as fast as other's his age. Now that he had a full capacity kidney, the nurses say he is all over the place.
The leaders of our group asked Colleen to join us in our morning devotions. One person brings a devotional or thoughts to share with the group, we pray, and we learn our plans for the day from our leaders.
As it happened it was my turn to give the devotional, which due to my lack of attentiveness to the schedule, caught me by surprise. Thankfully, during our bus ride to the Giants Causeway I had done the preparation I needed. I had been reading the Jewish Annotated New Testament which includes both Jewish and scholarly reactions to the New Testament. One chapter discusses the concept of "neighbor" in the commandment to "love your neighbor as yourself". I asked questions about when Jesus was asked "who is my neighbor?" and how he answered with the story of the beaten man on the side of the road saved by a good Samaritan. We also talked about how Jesus said to love your enemies.
After the devotion, the prayer and administrative parts were all done, Colleen was asked if she enjoyed being with us for all that took place. She said she did and she said she thought the devotion teaching of how we are all neighbors in this world, no matter whether we live near or far apart, was meant for her.
Colleen told us her younger son had deficient kidneys too and her husband had donated his kidney to him.
Despite all she's been through, she was cheerful and hopeful.
Collen shared the rest of the mornings with us at our devotionals.
On the final morning we could share in that place, she said she knew her father would greet her, as he has in recent years, with, "Colleen, what denomination are you now?" He says that because as she's gone through these experiences with her son's, she has always reached out and asked for prayer from any group who would pray for her sons. She herself is Catholic but she's had her son's prayed for by multiple denominations. She said no matter how tradition and secondary beliefs have divided us, we're all praying to the same God.
Later that day she went to pick up her son and take him home. She had one more surprise for us – she saw us as the taxi was rolling down the road and she had the driver stop to come over to us at the Forthspring Community Center. In the front parking lot, we meet her oldest son and seeing him with the energy from his new kidney was such a joy!
You can read more about organ donation in Ireland and elsewhere here:
Transplant NI Team , Belfast City Hospital
Strange Boat Donor Foundation , Bothúna, Spiddal, Co. Galway
UK The National Kidney Federation , The Point, Coach Road, Shireoaks, Worksop, Notts S81 8BW
National Kidney Foundation , 30 East 33rd Street, New York, NY 10016
Kidney Health Australia , ABN 37 008 464 426
European Kidney Patients’ Federation (CEAPIR) , Vienna, Austria