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EstherEsther was the daughter of Kathy, who was on the Proclamation Trust Ministers Wives conference with me last week. Esther died of cancer just after Christmas, aged 14. They’d found out that she was ill in August 2011.

This is her testimony from her baptism in September – in her will she said that she wanted as many people to hear it as possible. Kathy read it out to all of us who were at Hothorpe Hall last week. And now I’m sharing it with you.

Before I became a Christian I came to church because I had to, and not because I really wanted to. I’d rather stay at my friend’s house or at home. I was slowly moving away from God and my family – I was never at home. I would ‘bunk off’ school and deceive my parents. It wouldn’t really bother me that I was actually sinning against God and I was gradually moving into becoming not a very nice person.

And then, at the end of August last year, I remember going with Miriam, Olga and Elaine to St Ann’s hospital for an x-ray, because I was getting really bad pain in my right leg, and I wasn’t able to sleep. I was sent straight to North Mid hospital for more scans, and shortly after having a biopsy, was diagnosed with bone cancer (which was really a shock because everyone thought that it was just growing pains). In the past year I’ve been given six different types of chemotherapy, two biopsies, I’ve had two operations to remove tumors, and I’ve got a metal knee. More recently I have had radiotherapy on my leg. So far none of these treatments have worked, and there are now multiple tumors in my leg and the cancer has spread to my lungs. It has been hard when I go to the hospital and keep hearing bad news.

But throughout the ups and downs of the past year, I have never felt angry with God or questioned Him about why I am going through all of this. I feel like God is testing my faith and this illness was supposed to, and has, brought me closer to Him. Over time, as I’ve needed God more and more, it’s made me put Him at the centre of my life, and has made me into a changed person whose view on life (as Mr Mac says) is ‘live one day at a time’. I know that I am in God’s hands and I’m ready for whatever or wherever He wants my life to go – however hard it might be. Obviously I’m really praying that God will heal me, but I have put my trust in Him and I know that He will do what’s best for me, in my life. I have realized that Jesus is my Saviour and I’ve asked Him to forgive me for all of my sins. It’s so AMAZING that someone can wash away all of my sins, so that it’s like I’ve never sinned in the first place. But I know that that doesn’t mean that I can keep on sinning; I have to try not to sin – but I’m still only human, so I will make mistakes, and when I do, saying ‘sorry’ to God; but I’m trying not to, and trying to follow God’s commandments.

Before I got saved I was quite a selfish person, and always did what I wanted to do, even when I hurt someone else’s feelinging, it wouldn’t really bother me because I wasn’t that other person. During this past year I’ve had to put myself in other people’s shoes because I turned into that other person. For example, because of having different operations on my leg, I’ve had to go around in a wheelchair. People look at you differently, and it makes you realize how much other people go through that are in similar situations.

One day, I hope that I can become a chemo nurse, and help people like all of the nurses have helped me. Now I really want God to show me how I can help people who are less fortunate than me, and people who need to know the Truth. I don’t expect God to heal me – He may have other plans for me. But whatever happens, it’s amazing to know where I’m going to end up on judgment day. God has given me so many blessings in my 13 years of life, and even through this last year. I went on a Mediterranean cruise; I’ve been able to spend time in Dorset, and I’ve just got a dog called ‘Hope’.

It may sound crazy but, although this illness has brought me a lot of pain and discomfort, and I can’t do everything that I would like to do, in some ways this illness has changed my life for the better. I mean, I don’t know what I would be like if I hadn’t got ill – I don’t think that I would have got saved or appreciated life, or realized that every day that I live is a blessing from God. I thank the Lord for making me ill if it meant that I realize all of these things, and made me accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.

I’m so grateful that God has given me 13 years of life, loving parents that have supported me, friends and family that have continued praying for me and most importantly His son Jesus Christ who died for me!

Esther Childress 27th Sept 2012

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The Times newspaper has just published an obituary of Mark Ashton, our much-loved former vicar.

Many people have visited this site in the weeks since Mark died, and if you are looking for reflections on Mark’s life and ministry you may like to read mine or see what others had to say – I’ve collected blog posts from around the world, reflecting the way in which Mark touched so many.

You might also wish to order a copy of Mark’s book ‘On My Way to Heaven’ (you can read the text of the book in Evangelicals Now), or read details (with links to audio and video recordings) of the Thanksgiving Service that took place at StAG. The Ashton Thanksgiving Fund was set up in Mark’s memory – do give if you too benefitted from the ministry of this servant of God.

[Edit: Urban Pastor Richard Perkins has also paid tribute to Mark.]

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A week ago the Vicar and I headed cross county to Cambridge to attend the Thanksgiving service for the life of Mark Ashton, who was my Vicar for 8 years. As so many people were expected, the service was repeated, with refreshments in between – just like Sunday mornings at StAG. We attended the first, which was for those attending from out of town.

We arrived early in Cambridge and visited our house, which we rent out and hadn’t seen for a few years, and the Queen’s godmother and her family, who live a little out of the town centre. On our way to meet the Engineer’s godmum for lunch on Christ’s pieces we walked past the church. A sign on the door said ‘Doors Open at 12.45pm’. A few people were already sitting on the steps waiting to get in. On Christ’s Pieces there were some groups of people grabbing a bite, dressed more smartly than normal for a picnic. A few said ‘hello’ – old friends from Cambridge days, all there to thank God for Mark’s life and show their support for Fiona and the family.

Once in church it quickly filled with many more old friends. People who’d been students when we’d been in the church, others who’d been working in Cambridge, many who’d been ordinands at Ridley Hall. I began to lose count of the number of clergy friends. I turned to one and asked if he could guess how many vicars were there. ‘Count the dog collars’ he suggested and we both laughed. Not a single one in sight, apart from the five (I think) bishops who appeared and sat just in front of us with their purple shirts. They included Timothy Dudley-Smith (former Bishop of Thetford) and Anthony Russell, who was Bishop of Ely when the Vicar went forward for ordination.

The church gradually became very full – I would guess that around 800 folk were there – some were sitting on the steps in the balcony. The seating was arranged differently to a normal Sunday morning, with seats filling the centre of the building in a more traditional ‘facing the front’ set-up. At StAG they usually have the downstairs seating more like the House of Commons, with people facing one another.

The service was filled with thankfulness for Mark’s gifts and godliness and his remarkable ministry. Nathan Buttery, the Associate Vicar, led the service. The Ashton children, Chris, Clare and Nick read from 2 Corinthians 4. Addresses were given by Jonathan Fletcher and Christopher Ash and StAG staff members James Poole, Brian Elphick and Kay Dawson led the prayers. The hymns were ‘And Can It Be’, ‘Jesus the Name High Over All’ and ‘Thine Be the Glory’. Emma White sang a solo ‘It is not death to die’, a song you can find on the Come Weary Saints album from Sovereign Grace Music. The whole service as recorded on video and in audio and you can find it on the StAG website.

Moments I remember especially included Jonathan Fletcher speaking about God’s mercy in saving Mark from his privileged background and how Mark was known as ‘Captain of Everything’ at school. Christopher Ash recalled how Mark was humbly able to plant churches out from his congregation with no strings attached, not building an empire around himself. Also mentioned in one of the addresses (I forget which one) was Mark’s response to someone who asked about how God could use someone from a lowly background in his service:

The only way God can use someone from a privileged background is when they have been deeply humbled.

Leaving the service, we were encouraged to take a copy of Mark’s book ‘On My Way to Heaven’ where he wrote about the Christian hope in the face of death.  As we already had some on order we didn’t pick one up. Out of our order of ten we only have five left. We were also able to register our interest in giving to the Ashton Thanksgiving Fund – do have a look at that if you too have benefitted from Mark’s ministry.

I don’t think I’ve met Mike Kendall but he was also at the service and has blogged about it too.

Mark had planned the service before he died, wanting those who attended to be pointed to the Lord he served. His service planning was very effective. I came away challenged and encouraged in my faith in our God who raises the dead and whose glory matters more than anything. I am so thankful to have known this humble and remarkable servant of God.

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Today 10ofthose.com have published a new book by my old vicar, Mark Ashton. As I have already blogged, Mark died on Easter Holy Saturday from gallbladder cancer. He had known that his illness was terminal for over a year.

On My Way to Heaven is subtitled ‘facing death with Christ’ and in it Mark points to the resurrection of Christ as the place to find confidence as death approaches. Mark wrote it to help Christians facing the final stage of their earthly life and to introduce unbelievers to the hope we can have in Christ.

It’s a short book and is priced at only £1.50 or ten for £10. I’ve just ordered mine. I think it will be a useful resource for many. You can read the text in April’s edition of Evangelicals Now.

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A few other folk have been posting their memories of Mark Ashton around the blogosphere:

June’s edition of Evangelicals Now contains a short obituary from Jonathan Fletcher.

Adrian Warnock has posted Jonathan Carswell’s tribute to Mark.

Roger Pearse remembers Mark as ‘one of the best of men’.

Rachel is also grateful for Mark’s ministry.

Thankful American Episcopalian Philip Wainwright remembers Mark’s commitment to parish ministry.

St Stephen’s Church, where Mark led the youth group in the 1980s pay tribute.

Phillip Sweeting owes Mark ‘a huge debt of thanks’.

Ronnie Stevens remembers Mark as a great preacher, ‘one of those rare impressive men who was wholly unimpressed with himself’.

Steve Tilley is grateful for Mark’s contribution to youth work when he was head of CYFA.

Clifford Swartz in New York pays tribute to Mark’s vitality and faith

Phil Ritchie led on a CYFA venture with Mark and remembers him with thankfulness

The Cambridge Evening News have an item

William Black in Kenya remembers the power of Mark’s preaching

Josiah also remembers Mark’s preaching with gratitude

Gavin McGrath remembers Mark’s patience, care and insight.

David Thomson, Bishop of Huntingdon talks about how Mark’s final months have been lived wholeheartedly in gospel witness. [And gives a tribute.]

John Allister posts an extract from Mark’s letter in a recent church magazine where he talks about getting ready for heaven.

John Richardson recalls Mark’s distaste for church politics.

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A dear friend called us this morning with the news that Mark Ashton had died. Mark, the Vicar of St Andrew the Great (StAG) in Cambridge, was my vicar for more than eight years and married me to my husband. His ministry was hugely influential in my life as it was in the lives of countless others. When I looked around the room at the recent clergy wives’ conference I attended, I saw many who I knew had benefitted from Mark’s clear preaching and humble, energetic leadership.

It was so like Mark to die at a time when his congregation would have their minds turned to the resurrection of the dead. To point people to the Lord Jesus and the hope that is found in him. I’ve been thanking God for Mark’s life and praying for Fiona and the children, the congregation of StAG and the many others who loved Mark, knowing that our God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1v3).

I remember very clearly being interviewed by Mark in connection with my leadership of the youth group at the church. I was only 21 at the time, and even more strong-minded than I am now, so you will have to understand that Mark’s word to me went straight to the heart of the matter: ‘You’re proud’ he told me. He was the first person to tell me what I so needed to hear.

A few years later, at my wedding, Mark referred to that interview again. He advised the Vicar that he’d have to be strong to handle me. And he (correctly) told the congregation that at that interview ‘she spent two hours telling me how to run the church’. He knew me well and helped me to know myself and the Lord.

Recently I came across this YouTube clip of Mark talking about his final illness and explaining the gospel, clearly (and loudly) as ever – it makes me smile and helps me to remember why I’m grateful for his ministry:

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