Back Home at Last
- Luis Palau Renowned Evangelist
- 2001 5 Nov
William George Loney, a harsh man who ruled his family with an iron fist as his Irish forefathers had before him, never gave his blessing when his daughter was courted by the eligible young men of Portadown. Nobody will ever be good enough for my Sarah, he thought.
Sarah chafed at the restrictions, but what options did a lass have in the late 1930s, when war clouds were darkening skies over Europe? She and her father had terrible rows, pushing Sarah to search for love in the arms of other men. One of those liaisons resulted in the birth of a daughter, May, when Sarah was twenty years old. May was handed to aunties to rear.
Sarah fell in love with another bloke, and while Nazi Messerschmidts pummeled England in 1940, a son named Jim was born.
Looked upon with abject scorn by the Portadown townspeople, Sarah began working in service walking to peoples houses early in the morning to scrub floors, wash clothes, clean dishes, change beds, and perform other menial tasks. Though Sarah grew up in a Protestant family, a big-hearted Catholic lady offered to look after Jim during the day.
But Sarah could not soldier on. Working her fingers to the bone for a pound note or two and trying to raise a toddler and visit May as often as possible proved too formidable a task. With great sorrow, Sarah decided to give up Jim for adoption.
The Patterson family lived thirty-five miles away in Ballygawley. They knew Sarah and offered to adopt Jim. William and Edith Patterson drove to Portadown and took Jim to their home.
Three-year-old Jim loved his new father and imitated everything he did on the farm, from mucking stalls to milking cows. Twice a year, relatives looked in on him, including Aunt Sally, who walked peculiarly, swaying left and right.
Why does Aunt Sally walk like a penguin? Jim asked one day.
She has rheumatism, his adoptive mother said.
William Patterson died suddenly when Jim was twelve, the cause of death listed as septic poisoning that started with a finger cut. Edith would not allow Jim to see his father at the hospital or attend the funeral. She was angry at God, angry at the world, and angry at Jim, her nearest target. For nearly a year, she stripped Jim and whipped him with a sally rod.
Your mother was nothing but a whore, she screamed, as the rod came down. You are nothing but a little bastard.
As Jim reached his teen years, Edith verbally whipped his tender psyche. I give up! she yelled one afternoon. Your fathers gone, and I cant do anything with you. I should just take you to the police station and let them lock you up.
Jim, seventeen at the time, thought she meant it. He hatched a plan to run away from home and live with one of his adoptive sisters, Mary Barnett, who was living in the Midlands north of London. Jim had never been out of Tyrone County, let alone Ireland. Somehow, he managed to take a train and find his sister.
After working for a time in a biscuit factory, Jim joined the British Army the Royal Engineers Regiment at Aldershot in Hampshire. He met a young woman, fell in love, and became engaged. Then he learned that she had been unfaithful, which stirred up all the old feelings of abandonment and betrayal.
Jim had once read that a man could live forty days without food, eight days without water, and up to six minutes without oxygen but only seconds without hope. He made plans to take his life. Pouring a tall whiskey, he washed down 100 sleeping tablets, and then lay down to die.
Jim awakened the next morning in the Army sick bay. A few days after his suicide attempt, he was nursing a drink at a bar when John, a member of the parachute regiment, took a seat next to him.
They began talking, and Jim poured out his woeful story. Do I have any hope? he asked.
Yes, you do, John said, the hope of Jesus Christ.
John laid out the story of the gospel, and Jim said he wanted to give his life to Christ.
Do you want to pray with me? John asked.
Right here in the bar? Are you kidding?
Okay, said John. I know a church nearby.
At 11 p.m., they walked into an empty Anglican church, and Jim found the hope, peace, and joy he had been searching so long for. Oh, God, if you can heal my broken heart and dry my tears and give me hope, Ill go to the nations of the world to tell them of the hope you have given me.
Life improved in a hurry. Jim met Christine, and they married on August 27, 1960.
During their honeymoon, the couple returned to Northern Ireland to visit relatives, including Jims older adoptive sister, Jean Davidson, who lived in Portadown.
During their visit, Jean asked, Have you ever thought about your real mother?
Yes, I have, Jim answered. But I dont know my mother. I dont know whether she is dead or alive.
Oh, your mum is very much alive, and you know her.
What are you talking about?
Do you remember Aunt Sally? Jean said, as she showed him an old black-and-white photo of the woman who used to visit the farm when he was a boy.
You mean the one who walked like a penguin?
Yes. Thats your mum.
The world stopped for Jim.
She knows youre married, Jean continued. You can see her if you like, but its up to you.
Today at three oclock.
Thats less than an hour! Where is she?
Jean stood and walked over to the large picture window. See the second house just past the corner? Thats where your mum lives.
A few minutes before three, Jim and Christine began their walk down the street. Jim immediately recognized the woman walking toward them her stiff - legged penguin gait gave her away.
They met at a crossroads and fell into each others arms. Sarah Loney was crying hysterically.
Its okay, Mum, Jim said, holding her as tight as he could.
Sarah stepped back and attempted to speak. On this very spot on the road seventeen years ago, I handed you to the Pattersons. I thought I would never see you again, but to be reunited at the very place ... .
Sarah composed herself. I thank God for this day.
Jim learned that his mother had become a Christian and had eventually married, and all that time she was praying that God would save her son and use him in the ministry. Three years after being reunited with his mother, Jim entered seminary.
A decade later, Jim returned to Northern Ireland to pastor a church fifteen miles from Portadown. Today, he is pastor of Elim Church in East Finchley, North London, confident that God had a special plan for his life all along.
And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (Romans 8:28).
Copyright © 2001 by Luis Palau. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Its A God Thing (Doubleday, 2001). Published with permission. To read more God thing stories, visit the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association Web site at www.palau.org/Godthing.