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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 other day I noticed an interesting tweet in my Twitter stream:

Just finishing talk for tomorrow’s Easter Praise. Have taken @thevicarswife Resurrection Eggs & adapted them for under 3s. It will be mayhem

So I got onto Abi, who was responsible for the tweet and asked her if she’d mind writing up the details of her session – I thought it might be a useful resource for all toddler group/Sunday school teachers out there.  She very kindly sent me a write up and a photo of her eggs. And there’s even still time before to use her ideas this Easter. Maybe even if you’re a Vicar struggling for an All Age Easter Sunday talk aswell. So, over to guest blogger, Abi:

Our Parent & Toddler group is a thriving ministry and the leaders are great at taking opportunities each week to share the gospel. Two notable opportunities that are taken are at Christmas and Easter. A short ‘Toddler Praise’ service takes place as part of the normal session in the church. This year I was asked to do the short talk. My natural comfort-zone is Pathfinders (11-14 year olds), but I agreed nonetheless!

I remembered reading about Resurrection Eggs last year, and so took the idea and adapted it for pre-schoolers. I reduced the number of eggs involved down to 6. I also used much larger eggs. My local Hobbycraft had some ‘paint your own’ cardboard eggs, about the size of an average chocolate Easter egg. I painted them in bright colours and numbered them 1-6. The numbering was crucial, if only so that I opened them in the right order! The colours were just for the children. I scattered the eggs about for the children to find at the appropriate time(which they were very eager to do). Although the way I told the story was aimed at getting and keeping the children’s attention, I was aware that parents would be listening, so some of the language is maybe a bit adult for the younger toddlers.

I explained to the children that I was to tell them a true story; that it was all about the first ever Easter and was all about Jesus. I said there were some sad parts, but there were also happy parts. I explained that to help us learn this true story, there are some eggs hidden around the place that have bits of the story inside. At this point some children ran to get the eggs, whilst others sat still pointing to where they were…!

We opened the eggs in number order to see what was in each egg, with me saying something along the following lines:

  1. Donkey – Jesus was going to a town called Jerusalem with his friends. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Some people were very happy to see him, and they welcomed him, shouting ‘Hosanna’ and ‘Jesus is King’. But some of the leaders weren’t very happy to see Jesus. They didn’t like that the people liked Jesus.
  2. Praying hands (just a picture found via google) – Later that week, Jesus went with his friends to pray in a garden. Jesus prayed to his Father God that he was doing the right thing. But while he prayed, soldiers, sent by the leaders came and arrested Jesus.
  3. Cross – The soldiers took Jesus away and made fun of him, and put a heavy wooden cross on his back. He was made to carry it up to a nearby hill. Some people cheered, but some people knew this was very sad, and cried.
  4. Nails – On the top of the hill, Jesus was nailed to the cross. It hurt him a lot. Jesus had never done anything wrong, like we have, but he was treated like he was a criminal by the soldiers. Even though this was the middle of the day, on a Friday, it became really, really dark. In the dark and with the sadness of his friends and family, Jesus died.
  5. Stone – Some of Jesus’ friends gently carried Jesus to a tomb, cut in the rock. A bit like a small cave. A huge stone was put over the tomb so no-one could get in or out. Jesus’ friend were sad, and thought they would never see him again. Three days later, on the Sunday, a woman called Mary Magdalene went to the tomb. She was amazed to see that the huge stone wasn’t blocking the way in, and like our sixth egg, the tomb was:
  6. Empty! – Jesus had risen from the dead. It was such happy news. Our true story has a happy ending.

I went on to explain how it can be a happy ending for us today, because Jesus died and rose from the dead so we could be saved.

I also said: “When we say or do things that are wrong, we must say sorry, don’t we?, to our parents or friends or brothers or sisters. We need to say sorry to God too. We ignore him, we say wrong things, we do naughty things. The Bible calls this sin.

Because of Jesus, who has never done anything wrong, or said anything naughty, and has never ignored God, we can be friends with God. We can be saved. Jesus’ death and rising again means we won’t be enemies with God, if we trust in Jesus and ask God for his forgiveness. We will be safe and we will be forgiven.

Let’s pray.
Dear God, thank you that you sent your Son Jesus to die and rise again, so that by trusting in Jesus and asking for forgiveness we can be friends with God, we can be forgiven and we can be saved. Amen”

Things to note:

>- Make sure an adult is nearby to give the nails to when that egg is opened! With the other items, the Toddlers often picked them up to wander off to show their parent or grandparent.

– We sang a song part-way through to break it up. We also sang one at the start and one at the end. All 3 had actions, and 2 were ones they knew from being incorporated in the usual weekly singing time (a mixture of Christian and other songs/choruses)

– This could be adapted and expanded for an all-age service with Bible readings included in the contents of the eggs to make it helpful to a wider age-range, along with other parts to the service as well of course!

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Tyndale House, the biblical research centre in Cambridge, have produced three short video clips for Easter, with biblical scholars talking about evidence for Jesus’ trial, death and resurrection. One of the clips, where David Instone-Brewer and Peter Williams are looking at the Munich Talmud, was something I’d never heard about before – a very early Jewish manuscript tradition which speaks of the charges that were brought against Jesus. Fascinating.

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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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We were back late last night after a wonderful week away, mainly in Scotland with the Vicar’s family, but also visiting old friends and godchildren en route.  Encouragement, laughter and sunshine has refreshed us; taking the kids to their first Melrose Sevens was a particular highlight.

Coming back is a bit different: the Vicar spent 2 hours on his email inbox this morning and I’ve been spending a similar amount of time with the laundry. Oh joys.

Our week has been tinged with gratitude and sadness as we’ve been remembering Mark Ashton, and mild panic as we realised that Mark’s memorial service (actually there are two, but we’re only going once), which we hope to attend next week, coincides with a particularly busy weekend here in the parish.

So I’d better get back to the laundry and start writing the evangelistic talk I’m committed to giving that weekend or I’ll be in even more of a panic this time next week. Hope you’ve had a good Easter break.

[Edit: I have just come across this article published in this month’s Evangelicals Now, in which Mark speaks about facing terminal cancer as a Christian]

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