Saturday, 4 August 2012

A significant day.

Tomorrow is a big date in my life. 

I'm not sure what August the 5th means to you, perhaps nothing, but for me, there are three key things that happened on this day. 

First, a long long time ago (!) my Granny was born.  It's not far off a century ago, in fact.  (When Mum asked the congregation in church once who the song 'Ancient of Days' was referring to, I piped up 'Granny'!)  My Mum's parents are a key part of my spiritual heritage.  Mum and her brother grew up in a Christian home, Grandad worked in missions and evangelism for much of his working life, and made a number of trips to India as well as working here in England.  Granny stayed at home with the kids.  Between them, they probably clocked up about a zillion hours of praying, especially for those of us in their family!  Granny died a couple of years ago and Grandad still lives near my parents.  Both of them passed the age of 90, and they celebrated their Diamond Wedding as well.  They have provided a foundation of prayer on which my life rests.

Ten years ago, the second significant event took place.  This one far less happy.  My old school in Pakistan was attacked by terrorists.  Although none of the students were harmed, and none of the expatriate teaching staff were killed, 6 people died in the attack.  One was a bystander, two were security guards, and three were Pakistani staff who worked at the school, including people I knew from my time there.

It's difficult to describe the emotions I went through in the following days.  One thing was that I felt violated.  Although I hadn't been at the school for ten years, it was still such an important part of my life.  We'd been back to visit twice, and many of the staff who worked there in my time at the school were still there at the time of the attack.  School had been my home (it's a boarding school!) and really key in my upbringing.  It was a place of security, and the attacks took that security away.  That was a weird feeling, given that I'd left ten years previously.  As it happened, I didn't even find out about the attack on the day it happened.  I was taking a minibus driving test at a Boarding School in Sussex, and even ten years ago, wasn't really into reading the news online.  I found out from my parents at supper at my brother's house.  It was a fairly horrendous time, even being so far removed from it geographically.  It felt like I'd been pretty badly let down by God.  I still can't fully imagine what it felt like, and probably still feels like, for those who were caught up in it. 

And yet, the more the story of the attacks unfolded over the next days and weeks and the more I learned of both the events and the future of my school, the more it seemed that God had been working incredibly through the whole event.  Stories came out of protection by angels.  I'm not talking about the namby-pamby pretend ones that are on a par with a garden fairy.  We're talking about real angels - messengers of God doing His will and His work.  Here's what one of my old teachers wrote a few weeks after the attack, about the experiences of some of the staff that day:

One man was grabbed by the leg and pulled to the ground. As he fell three bullets whizzed over his head. He looked around to see who had grabbed him and saw no one. Another man was helped over the fence by a man in white who urged him to run. As he looked back he could see no one. He tried to find out the next day from his work mates who had helped him - but no one had helped him. Another man was pulled into an outer building and the door locked behind him. He looked around but no one was there. I'll tell you what - I haven't thought much about angels before but I reckon the angels were working overtime all over the school. While we are still very aware of the terrible tragedy of the day with 6 being killed we know that it could have been so much worse.

That part of the story is pretty spine-tingling to be honest - real angels doing real stuff.  A little book was written about the attacks, called 'Angels in the Rafters'.  The name came from the stories of students who were in the school hearing the sound of voices singing above them.  To this day, I can't read the book without crying.
The school closed down pretty much straight away, but the next remarkable chapter was that it moved to Thailand for a year.  The School Board made the decision to relocate the school, and within about a fortnight, 106 people had been given permission to move to Thailand, accommodation had been secured for boarders, places for classes to take place had been found, and 25 staff moved along with children and some parents to maintain the community in another country. 
The event was a terrible tragedy and yet was also a reminder of how God works in and through tragedies.  It reminds me again of the phrase in the Psalms where the Psalmist tells God how tough life is, but finishes the Psalm by saying, 'And yet I will praise you', or something along those lines.  We can turn to God at the hardest times, and praise Him for His faithfulness to us.

And finally, August 5th is significant because tomorrow will mark Little Boy's first birthday.  He's been a great addition to the family :)
He had a much more straightforward entrance into the world than Big Boy did, and has been a pretty chilled out lad ever since.  We're not doing anything particularly grand tomorrow - we'll just have a cake and a sing, and maybe the odd cocktail sausage and party ring...  But still, we're immensely grateful for God's faithfulness to us, both in the good times and the bad.

What about you?

Do you have any significant dates?

Have you had any experiences of God's faithfulness in and through struggles?

Which people are significant in your spiritual history and heritage?

For another perspective on the attack on MCS, read Cecily's post over at:


  1. I remember August 5, 2002 very vividly. My new husband and I returned from our honeymoon to a message on our answering machine from my parents that the school had been attacked. I know exactly how you feel about that place of security no longer being there. My parents were 2 of those staff members who moved to Thailand and have remained there to this day. In a very real way, I feel like I lost my home. That TCK feeling truly reared it's ugly head . . . and has never really settled back down. It used to be that when someone asked me where I was from, I could answer assuredly "Pakistan." Now . . . I don't really have an answer since my parents now live in a place that I've never even visited. Of course, the impact on my life and sense of security is so minimal in comparison to those who lived through the attacks and to the families of those who died. My continued prayer is that the families of those who died may feel the love of God through the local Christians and the missionary community that remains. How true that the faithfulness of God cannot be measured.

    Bethany (Fisher) Carney

  2. Thanks for your comment Bethany. There's a post I wrote a while back about a sense of place and our heritage. I think I've always been helped when I remember that home is not so much about where I am, or where I have been, (though both those are tremendously important to me) but about where I am going. The security that we felt before the attacks is nothing compared to how we will feel when we take our place in our eternal home.

  3. I was up in the library with a dozen or more junior high students in for a study hall when the shots started. I was really scared, of course, but I tried hard to think of what I could do to keep the kids safe. My mind raced through one scenario after another, going "What if....?" and trying to think what I should do to prevent that possibility. Most of the time I realized there was nothing I could do except pray, so after getting everyone out of range of flying glass, in case bullets came through the many windows, pray is what I did, silently at first, and then when I decided the building hadn't been invaded and it was safe to talk, out loud. More kids, a parent and a boarding parent came into the library from surrounding rooms, I ended up with about 20 bodies in the library with me. God sustained us in that terrible time. Because of the strong sense of His presence, I never had a single bad dream about the attack, though it took two weeks of returning every day to the library for several hours a day for me not to hear shooting in my mind. None of us could concentrate at all for days and even weeks, and it took me a year to be able to sit and listen through a whole church service and several years to be able to handle fireworks at New Year's or July 4 without getting stressed. A boarding assistant and I were the last staff to leave MCS, on Sept. 1. We had said goodbye to everyone else, and it was over a year before I could stand to wave goodbye to someone again, it was just horrible going through those daily partings and wondering if you'd ever see those folks again. But God has given all of that back to me. The only lingering effect I am aware of now is that I feel the need to be up on the news every day and be as informed as possible. I was holed up in the library with all those frightened people looking to me for information and answers that I did not have, and it was so hard to not have any idea what was happening while the shooting was going on. I still tend to want to hear news broadcasts at all hours of the day and night, wanting to know what is happening in the world around me. But that also lets me know who needs prayer, so it's not a bad thing.
    Some of us staff had been praying for a revival amongst the students for some time, and God used the attack to do great things. The high school had been in a dreadful spiritual state, you never saw so many kids hungry for the world and rejecting the spiritual riches around them. After the attack, that attitude was just gone: the students who still rejected God didn't come back when the school reopened, and the rest realized that God has plans for them personally, and they were transformed. When the school closed, the senior high kids were sitting in the back rows for church and chapel, not participating beyond their sullen presence, sneaking in newspapers and headphones to keep them from paying any attention to singing or the message. When the school reopened, the senior high was mostly up front, leading in worship and providing the music. I cried for joy in that first church service, so thankful for the changed attitudes and lives. I would go through the attack again for that result, but I pray things never get that bad again.

    1. Nancy, thanks so much for your comment.
      I completely agree with you on the needing-the-news thing. I wonder if perhaps it's worse having the internet, because the news is just a click away (I sound like an advert!). I often have a sense of trepidation when I go online to catch up with the news and I suspect that the MCS attack is largely responsible for that.
      Isn't it amazing what God can do with even the most difficult of circumstances? After I wrote the post, I thought of Joel, where God promises to repay His people for what the locusts had eaten. I know it's slightly taking the passage out of context, but I feel that my Little Boy's birth was, in a sense, a way of 'redeeming' that date for me. It's good to hear that many of the kids at the school saw their faith being brought on, rather than brought down, as a result of God's grace and work through that period.

  4. The attack was certainly not what any of us had dreamed of, but God used it to purge both staff and students. It was so neat to come back in 2004 and see the plywood coming down from the windows and the school coming back to life! And it was such a thrill to see the change in the kids!!! The single 12th grader was a very godly young man who wanted to lead in worship, and the 11th and 10th graders really took their cue from him--and just plain had better attitudes about being at MCS, as well. Those first returning students were all there because they chose to be, families had had to make the choice about whether to be part of MCS or to continue with whatever alternative they'd been using, and they chose MCS. So there was no resentment or bitterness visible, and the staff made it plain that we weren't going to put up with the old behaviors, also. The students were given boundaries, and they did much better that way. It was such a relief to not have to worry about vandalism and book theft in the library any more, and such a joy to have students who wanted to worship the Lord! We had less than 50 students when we reopened, too, so it was possible for my poor brain to assimilate the smaller pool of names and faces, and I got to know the students better, which was also a joy. God brought a lot of good out of the evil of Aug. 5, 2002.

    1. Now that makes me think of Gideon :)
      Having only made it as far as ninth grade myself, I often wonder how people find MCS, particularly in this day an age, as they hit the top half of their teenage years. I hope and pray that they find in it what they need (if not always what they want...) and that it offers a solid spiritual foundation, whilst also preparing them for a life beyond its walls.

  5. Susanna Rasmussen Brown7 August 2012 at 01:13

    I was not in Pakistan on that August 5th, but I had grown up there and attended MCS for almost my whole school life, and there were still staff there from when I was in school (class of '72)!! We also knew several of the families of students there, including my niece. This incident hit us hard, not just for itself, but because the congregation in Islamabad that my husband had pastored for 4 years had also been attacked by a suicide bomber a few months earlier. It was done right in a Sunday morning service, five people lost their lives, and many were injured and sustain the effects to this day. I was just with someone last week whose ears were injured by the blast and she still has much difficulty with her hearing because of it.

    But, honestly, I do not think that people in the west have ANY idea of how terrifying guns and bombs really are. I watch my share (well, once or twice weekly, maybe) of TV or movies that have gun or bomb violence. But whenever I see weapons in real life, I just cringe and as someone said, "my spine crawls." This happened a few days ago on our street when our dog notified us of a dog outside, and it was a police dog and officer. We live on what looks like a quiet and neat street. The homes are either condos or duplexes (town houses?) But, for many reasons, a good proportion of the units are rented to low income, racially diverse people. We love it for that, but every once in awhile we find that people we would rather not have around move in. In ten years, we have had more than a couple of drug busts, some gang activity, and more than the average number of "domestic incidents" including a double murder, a knifing, and other violence. Also, a number of break ins. Usually, these are handled very well by our police officers, and while I know they had their weapons drawn as warnings in a huge fight one time, we have never seen them drawn. Well, that changed the evening we saw the K-nine unit. My daughter went out to see if they were just strolling by, and right then a big van discharged a several officers in riot gear. We could hear nothing, but by the time I got out with her, another van rolled up with several dudes in camouflage uniforms, half of whom had sniper rifles. They promptly kneeled and pointed the rifles right at a duplex. Well, my spine crawled. I knew that with that amount of fire power, they must be expecting weapons on the scene, and right across the street where the snipers were a HUGE crowd was gathering, mostly young children. I stood there wondering why I was so upset, and right away I thought of the MCS and Islamabad attacks. We have not been told "officially" yet, what was going on, but there was no shooting, thankfully.

    And, then yesterday, on Aug. 5th, there was a shooting in a Sikh Temple about 60 miles from us, and just a few miles from where several friends live. Six were killed,the shooter then shot himself, and three injured were seriously. The thought is that the shooter thought the Sikhs were actually Muslim because of dress, turbans, etc. It is being called "domestic terrorism." Along with the incident across the street last week, I am just frozen by this shooting. Like you all, it will be something built into the fabric of my life. I do not understand the attitude of more than half the people of the USA about guns. I mean, having a gun in order to protect yourself is not going to help anything. In fact, I have never heard of someone who staved off a gun attack by someone by having a "concealed" weapon on their person! This is a whole new topic, so I will not go further.

    Thanks Nick for your insightful thoughts. Oh--I always cry when I read "Angels..." too. We also just picked up Simon's book at the Pakistan Reunion last week, and look forward to reading it.
    God bless!
    Susanna Rasmussen Brown

    1. Thanks so much for your comment Susanna.
      For me, the PIC attack didn't have quite the same effect as the MCS attack. It had been our church for some years, but latterly we had been at St. T's, which I remember far more clearly. Having said that, it's a very odd feeling to see pictures of your old primary (elementary) school teacher being visited by the US Secretary of State (I think that's who it was, anyway).
      We don't have the same gun culture as you guys in the States (for which I'm grateful, having just joined the Police as a Special (voluntary) Constable). I find it so weird that people are so vociferous about being allowed permanently to carry lethal weapons. When you take a step back from it, it just seems such a crazy concept.
      I remember playing a computer game not long after the attack, which involved running around the streets shooting people (GTA3, I think) and ending up slightly sickened by the concept that this was entertainment. Such a far cry from what we should be doing.

  6. I remember I was at work and saw the news about MCS on the website and realized with a shock that where it was they were talking about. Such a surreal moment. For me, I felt so far removed from it that it didn't mark me in the same way as it did you Nick, but I find myself grieving for the MCS that used to exist pre-attack. I have seen photos and chatted to people have been back since and I can't quite believe that the freedom we had as kids when we were there is gone forever, that the buildings are no longer the same and that people are changed. The memories I have are such good ones, such strong ones, that I can't imagine that that no longer exists.

    1. I'm a big fan of lyrics - here's a little something from Michael W Smith that seems apt:
      Painted on our tapestry
      We see the way it has to be
      Weaving thru' the laughter and the tears
      But love will be the tie that binds us
      To the time we leave behind us
      Memories will be our souvenirs
      And I know that thru' it all
      The hardest part of love is letting go
      But there's a greater love that holds us

      I particularly love that line, 'memories will be our souvenirs'.
      I remember someone saying to me that they wouldn't want to go back to MCS, because it was like Alcatraz now. Something about that comment didn't seem right, and I realised when I thought about it that I saw MCS as being more like Fort Knox than Alcatraz. Fort Knox protects what is precious, and it seemed to me that that was far closer to what MCS was doing with its increased security. I guess, too, it's a spur for us alumni to pray fervently for the current generation :)

  7. Hey Nick, have tagged you for the Liebster Award...