The birth of The Befrienders ministry (1997)
The birth of The Befrienders ministry (1997)
Like most anything, it all started with a person, her name was May Carlton. May suffered terribly from a debilitating form of Multiple Sclerosis, her faith in Christ was how she coped with the disability so getting to church was not just important to her, it was her refuge, her joy, her hope.
Despite having four children, a husband and a job! On Sunday mornings I used to get May washed and dressed and somehow still managed to get all of us plus wheelchair into the car an to church on time. This weekly routine went on for a number of years but I began to worry how I would get May to church as she became more and more debilitated. May had lost the use of her arms as well as the use of her legs, her eyesight was also badly affected, along with her Ability to swallow or speak (somehow I was able to lip read). It was around this time that May lost her family life at home when she was moved into a care home. Up until this point she had lived at home with her teenage daughter Julie who had cared for her lovingly. This separation I remember so vividly was heart breaking for May.
May had lost so much I didn't want her to lose her church life. Try and imagine going into that small room in the Care Home, only to find someone you love with all of your heart, crying with no sound coming out! She stops and mouths something to you, reading her lips you understand she is asking you to read john chapter 14 to her, then she asks you to sing a favourite chorus; Something beautiful, something good, all my confusion He understood, All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife! But He made something beautiful of my life! As I would read, sing and minister to May I would watch her tears dry up, the smile lighting up her wee face. Her courage, her love of Christ restoring her peace once again. How do you say the words “May, you can't go to church any more"?
I would have carried May on my back to get her to Church, but she was getting to weak and sore to move. I was so burdened and in such distress for May’s situation at this time I became almost suicidal, my emotions were all over the place as I felt so helpless. I prayed and fasted and cried onto God for help. For two years I had been asking the Lord to send someone to help start a ministry in my church so people with a disability could come, and have something for themselves. I prayed for a Doctor, or a qualified nurse (I was only an auxiliary nurse) or someone with a degree. I had become so worn down with the struggle I tearfully gave the Lord a 6 month ultimatum it began the on 14th August 1997 and was to end 14th of February 1998
One day in October 1997 I discovered that an American girl who's music and testimony I had used many times in the past to encourage May was coming to my church. Joni Ericson is a girl who was left quadriplegic after a driving accident. It was to be the first time the organisers said that every organisation in aid of disability in Northern Ireland was to be under one roof at one time and in one place. As challenging as it was I managed to bring May to see and indeed meet Joni that day, the church was filled with every type of disability. As I sat there I was elated, sad, hopeful and angry all at the same time. Again I reminded the Lord of my prayer, all of these people needed Him. The next morning, Sunday the 5th of October 1997 I was sitting in church when my pastor Dr James McConnell mentioned the disabled people being at church the previous day.
The pastor stood that morning and said "I realise I have neglected the disabled in our community and I want to start a ministry to enable them to come to church, and I want a woman to lead it". That was the answer to years of burden and prayerful fasting. I knew then it was me who God wanted to lead this ministry. I was terrified and so under qualified in my own eyes. I was just a housewife, my parents died when I was 14yrs old, I was married at 18yrs old. How could I start it? What did I do next? Who could help me? How do I get my first bus? I remember praying one Wednesday night "Lord, I know how to love and care for someone. If you promise me than it will never get more than that, if it is as simple as giving someone a hug then I will take it on". The next morning I went as usual on my Thursday day off to do a jumble sale in the local town hall with my sisters in aid of an orphanage.
Whilst there a lady I knew by name only, called Cathleen came in with her sister, she was leaning heavily on a Zimmer. She came straight to me and said terry can I ask you something? “Can you give me a hug?”.
I waited three weeks before phoning the pastor. He was waiting on my call.
When I tried to explain to him the many emotions of the past two years, the confusion I had felt, the fear of my inexperience to start the ministry. The pastor simply said "Terry, you climbed into May’s sickbed in order to minister Christ". At last it all made sense to me! I knew what the will of God was for my life, I was 45 years old and about to go on the greatest adventure of my life.
The rest as they say is history.
I recently handed over the leadership of the Church ministry. This was to enable me to focus all my attention and efforts on the running of the Befrienders for Disability charity, and the work on the ground in Kenya. After almost 18 years, gathering 150 beautiful people with a full range of disabilities, and 12 specialised buses along the way. I handed the reins of the ministry over to Jim Bailie, who has ministered alongside me for many years. I couldn’t have left my wonderful family in better hands.
It seems only right to take this opportunity to publicly thank all the hundreds of carers and all the fantastic drivers, some of whom have been with me from the beginning. For all their faithfulness, loyalty, and great kindnesses to me and all our disabled brothers and sisters. The Lord is not unrighteous to forget your labour of love.
As I sit here writing this brief article, reminiscing over the last 18 years. I think of all the many amazing stories I could tell, how I prayed for two months for transport to enable 22 kids whose club had closed, how to get all of them to church. How I got my convoy of buses from Glasgow, how I met this one and that one, how I brought Walter, ventilator and all, out to hear the choir, the weddings among the disabled and so very often the deaths, but it would take a book to tell of the moving of my God. I can tell you this most assuredly, He kept his promise and is still keeping His promise for Kenya and for all the work of the charity. Love was always enough, it never fails. For me it has always been as simple as a hug.
Terry Fairfowl (Founder)
The Sanctuary for Sick and Disabled Children is born
The Sanctuary for Sick and Disabled Children is born
It was now the year 2004, the BEFRIENDERS ministry was 7 years old with around 150 disabled brothers and sisters being brought out to church and non-church activities 4 times a week, with a fleet of 12 buses and sixty carers.
In June of that year during a meeting with MR Paul Dicken Director of Joni Earickon Tada, the Wheels for the World Organisation. I was ask to go to Africa in a Pastoral role along with a team of Occupational Therapists and Phyiso Therapists to distribute wheelchairs and bibles in a place called NYERI in Kenya. NYERI is famously known as the place where the queen was staying when she heard the news her father had died and she was to be crowned queen of England.
After agreeing to go, I became anxious, Africa is very far away and in my mind a scary place! I was busy doubting, telling myself, “I don't know these people I'm going with. I’m going and I’m not a professional etc etc”. So after I managed to talk myself out of it I phoned and cancelled the trip. However the Lord had other ideas.
Once a month on a Saturday morning I held a club for the BEFRIENDERS (as they became known,) I had gone to a local supermarket to buy the buns, biscuits and bags of crisps etc. Whilst putting the shopping in the boot of the car I managed to close the lid with my bag and keys locked inside!! The only available phone was inside the supermarket. It was linked to a taxi firm, so I phoned. Knowing that the church and help was just a short distance away. The taxi duly turned up, it was a white car with no taxi sign and there was a coloured man driving it. In Belfast this was unusual.
I ask him where he was from, imagine the shock I felt when he told me Kenya then he said NYERI!! The hairs on my very arm stood up, what were the odds? Inside my head I started saying to myself oh no Lord please, I don't want to go there! Once the driver started to passionately tell me of the plight of his people, the poor and the suffering, I surrendered and said, Lord I will go.
How do you put down on paper what confronted me there? I had known many a time in my own childhood what it was like to go to bed hungry, to imagine you could smell food cooking as you tried to sleep. But I had never seen anything like this. For two weeks I watched as people carried their disabled sons and daughters on their backs many of whom were bigger than they were! One boy was brought in on his father’s back but totally dressed in borrowed women's clothing, he possessed nothing, and others crawled in on their hands and knees! Yet there was joy too, the team did a great work, fitting each person to the right wheelchair, and then to see the sheer joy on a child's face as he was mobile for the first time in his life, he could go where HE wanted! Once again that emotional turmoil raged inside me, I felt helpless in the face of such suffering.
It was the last day of the trip we were due to leave in the next hour, I ask a local pastor if he would take me to the slum that we had passed several times. As I stood in that slum absolutely dumbfounded at what I was witnessing a young street boy approached me, he was asking for a dollar. He had a battered plastic bottle filled with glue in his little hand, his name was Martin. His clothes were stuck to him, he had only the soles of his shoes left on his feet. To my distress I had nothing left to give him. So I stood there in that place and prayed a prayer, Father “why should the devil have this place all his own way, on top of hunger and thirst there is drug addiction and so much other evil, could your love not reach this place?”
That heavy burden never left when I returned home. Immediately myself along with numerous other kind, hardworking volunteers set about fundraising to raise the money to go back and help the people of the KEWARA slum. I just had to return to that dark and desolate place to demonstrate the Love of Christ to those poor and helpless people. 10 months after returning home in 2005 thanks to the grace and provision of God we held a food distribution in that slum for 8,0000 people. We also had arranged a medical camp were 2,000 people received treatment, most of whom had never seen a doctor before. When I arrived I was absolutely amazed to find the medical camp was set up in the exact spot I prayed and asked God if his love could reach the place. God is Love, how’s that for an answer to prayer.
The day after the distributions we went on some home visits, all heart breaking, but on the last visit when it was getting dark I was taken to a shack where I saw three small children, Joseph aged7yrs, Ruth 5yrs and baby Samuel 2yrs. Their mother had died some months before on the floor of the shack, I will never forget what I saw! There was a little candle light, the baby who had aids was screaming as young joe tried to spoon in some sort of white water, he was in charge since their father was not around for long, long periods of time. I thought of my sister Sandra, if it had not been for her, who knows what orphanage I and my young brother Michael would have ended up but we would never have ended up in the plight these children were in!
All I could do was cry out to the Lord in prayer as I was so distraught, I believe this is the moment when I knew I would have to do something permanent in Kenya, I couldn't turn my back on these children. All I could do then was get them food and clothes and pay a local lady every month to care for them. So I started to plan, sadly little Samuel died shortly after, Jo and Ruth were sent to boarding school were they are now top of their classes. We built them and their father a new home. There followed a team distribution in 2006 but not Long after I came home the Lord moved yet again .
I had dropped my granddaughter off at nursery school and on the way home I got caught in a traffic jam. As I sat there I realised I was outside my children's old secondary school, I started to reminisce which lead to me praying for my friends daughter who had also gone to school there. My mobile rang and interrupted my prayer, it was the Husband of my friend’s daughter whom I had just been praying for so I answered. I told him of my shock and explained I had just been praying for him and his wife. He was a builder and he told me he had been worrying over building sites all night and couldn't sleep, so he put on the DVD we had done of Kenya to raise awareness and funds. He wanted to know how much I needed!! I couldn't speak I was so shocked that I had just been praying for them. I was embarrassed to mention a sum of money, I mentioned a few hundred pounds, he said he would ring me back after speaking with his father. He told me when he went to speak to his father he was amazed to discover his father had the same DVD on of Kenya. I met him and his brother that night and oh my precious Lord, how amazing you are, the cheque was for £25,000!!!!
God moved again and my church the Metropolitan Tabernacle Whitewell and senior pastor DR James McConnell came on board the Kenyan work. Together with the funds raised and the financial support of the Church we purchased a plot of land and built the Metropolitan Sanctuary for Sick and disabled Children. In February 28th 2007 on my 55th birthday we officially opened the Sanctuary in NYERI Kenya.
In 2010 Jason and Jolene Allen a young married couple with their children moved to live and work as missionary's full time in the sanctuary. The sanctuary has blossomed, Jolene an Occupational Therapist came up with the idea of making cardboard chairs, specially fitted for the disabled child and free of charge. 25,000 children and families were seen at the sanctuary last year alone. Jolene and Jason have really made the difference, Pastor Jason has also carried out building work and we are aiming for funds to complete the tool workshop where we can make more spinal jackets for disabled children, he also opened his first church.
I also want to mention Annabelle Murray, the founder of sanctuary artists who has also made a great contribution to this work. Employing mothers of children who are disabled to work at the sanctuary she is a true blessing. Lorraine Henize, for making & selling everything on the Kenya desk week in week out. The faithful sponsors.
I don’t do this great work on my own, there are my dear team who labour with me in bag packs of which there have been so so so many lol. The same men driving the countryside far and wide to pick up things for the containers, and for stacking the 4 large containers we have sent and emptied on the other side. For those ladies who pack all the things into boxes, what times of fun and fellowship we have. Diane for so much fundraising. Jim for doing the paper work and absolutely everything in between. Last but by no means least Pastor David Murray, without who I could have done absolutely none of it, if I am the heart, he is the head and brains behind the operation, I love you all.
As I end I could tell you of some absolutely wonderful answers to prayer, like hiding behind a shed sobbing because there were 5 disabled boys crawling about in the muck and dirt of their home. No water, no electric, no food and nothing to sit on nor lay on. I was wishing I could have some of the hospital mattress I had brought the previous year from the Belfast City Hospital. My phone rang and it was the wonderful Rab, (who has gotten us most of the hospital stuff we have sent to Kenya thus far). Not knowing I was in Kenya he rang to ask me to send the boys down with the buses, he told me he had 400 hospital mattress for me!! Or how we ended up with over £250,000 worth of TESCO end of season clothes which took 9 months to collect from all the various locations.
Terry Fairfowl (Founder)