I was baptised and brought up in the Anglican faith with very little input from my parents. There was no prayer in the family, but my father would often take us to church at Easter and Christmas, and perhaps on three or four Sundays during the year. It was at senior school that I was first introduced to Our Lady and the Catholic faith, and at 17 (following a three-day retreat) I found myself very much wanting to convert to Catholicism. My father, however, felt it was just a fad and insisted that I must wait until I was 21. Leaving school a year later I became very caught up in the joys of the world and sadly my faith became somewhat lukewarm. I would go to Mass on a Sunday if I managed to wake up or didn't have a hangover!
Three years later when we were arranging our wedding in 1969 I let it be known that I would like to be married in the Catholic Church, and to this end I took instruction and was baptized shortly before exchanging marriage vows with a non-Catholic! Three months into our marriage, however, I was introduced to aviation and the possibility of a flying career took over my whole life and once again the Church was relegated to the 'back burner'. For ten years, though I loved my Catholic faith, my attendance at Mass was very infrequent. And then in mid-1981 (just, as it happens, when the apparitions began in Medjugorje) a priest in our parish announced that Confirmation classes would be commencing shortly - and I suddenly realized I had never been Confirmed - and so I began private instruction in June, 1981. I received Confirmation in January, 1982 and once again began to practice my faith with much fervour - but sadly it didn't last for long. It was in May, 1982 that I went to America to collect an executive jet which I flew back to Africa via Greenland, Iceland and Europe. I was on top of the world - a very successful corporate pilot with an amazing career and much attention being given to my success. But in June of the same year I was severely struck down. My back collapsed and I lost the use of my right leg for seven weeks. My career was in jeopardy, my marriage at an all-time low and I was severely depressed and angry with God. I told the nuns in the hospital that it was no use bringing me books and a rosary - just to leave me alone - but after some days one of them asked if a friend of hers in the healing ministry could pray over me. Out of politeness I agreed, though I had no interest in the exercise. After the prayer session I joked with some visitors that it obviously had no effect since I still couldn't sit up or walk, but over the next two days I became aware of a huge spiritual healing that was taking place, and after returning to the sacraments I spent the next three months of recuperation reading the lives of the saints. I vowed never again to read a trash novel, magazine or newspaper, but thankfully a priest/confessor/friend persuaded me to take a subscription to the Catholic Herald to save me becoming a complete bore at dinner parties!
Over the next few months I recovered well, thanks be to God, and returned to full-time flying - once again giving priority to my career; to my 'happiness' in the world - and relegating my faith very much to the background. Looking back it is so clear to see how the Lord called me on four occasions in my early years - and I always responded with much enthusiasm and joy - but sadly I never remained faithful for more than a few months before sadly drifting away. It was only when Our Blessed Mother called me through Medjugorje that I was given the strength to respond and remain faithful for all these years.
It all began one Friday in February 1984. I came home from a flight and read about Medjugorje in that week's copy of the Catholic Herald! The article was very exciting except for the part on fasting … I love my food and at that time couldn't cope with the idea of eating nothing but bread and water for a whole day. So I put the paper in the middle of a huge pile and was very happy to hear that my husband had invited eight people to dinner! We had a wonderful evening with plenty of food and wine and I forgot all about fasting and retired to bed happily replete. But at three o'clock the next morning I woke in a cold sweat and absolutely knew that Our Lady was appearing in Medjugorje and that I had to respond. There and then I scrabbled to find the paper and wrote to the Catholic Herald asking for more information. Two days later I departed for the States to undertake a refresher course on flying jet aircraft and then, when I returned, I found a 14 page letter giving all the details of Medjugorje, together with photographs, from Mary-Anne MacFarlane-Barrow, some kind person in Scotland (whose son, twenty years later, is the founder and executive director of Mary's Meals - our primary school and orphan feeding programme in Malawi!). I began immediately to live all the messages but my husband, David, was furious at this new interest of mine and from 1984 to 1986 I went through a time of terrible darkness and suffering. No priest or religious would have anything to do with me. They refused to listen to me or watch any video, and for two whole years I used to cry every day. David would frequently throw the Crucifix on the floor or hurl my breviary across the room … but I stayed absolutely faithful to the messages of Medjugorje, praying for three hours every day; fasting strictly on bread and water three day s a week (though Our Lady only asked for Wednesdays and Fridays!); going to daily Mass when I was able and making regular confession once a month. And finally towards the end of the two years I found that my heart was being filled with peace and joy.
And then, a break-through! One week-end, David forgot to get any videos to watch during the week-end (we had no TV in those days). 'Ah well' he said 'I had better watch your rubbish from Yugoslavia.'! I was very sensitive and reluctant … and told him that he could watch them only if he kept any negative comments to himself - to which he agreed. He watched the first one through to the end and asked for another, and then another, until he had seen my whole collection! At the end he stood up, gave me a big hug and said, 'You had better go to Medjugorje!' But quietly I was able to explain to him that it was not necessary to go. I pointed out that there were approximately 10 million people in Malawi who would never go, and Our Lady had shown me that if we just live the messages in our homes She can fill our hearts with that great peace and joy for which we are all searching. But he insisted that I still go so that I could tell him all about it!
And so in March 1986 I made my first pilgrimage to Medjugorje, and arriving there felt exactly as though I was returning home. Everything was so familiar, and every evening I was privileged to be in the apparition room with the visionaries. During those ten days I also met Fr. Svetozar who listened to my story; advised me to go home and 'double up on love for my husband'; and then he said, 'Things will change when you go home and people will come to you'. I couldn't quite see this happening, but in fact it is exactly what transpired from the day I returned home. Apparently in my absence David had been to several cocktail parties and when people asked him where I was he would reply in a loud voice: "Oh you won't believe it - she's gone to see the Virgin Mary in Yugoslavia!" And of course everyone would laugh … but when I returned the phone never stopped ringing; requests to watch videos; people wanting talks; people wanting books or information etc. And from 1987 onwards incredible things started to happen and I was instrumental in setting up Medjugorje Centres in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Looking back I get amazed to see how much was achieved, but of course it was all Our Lady's work. Slowly we started to form prayer groups and spread the message of Medjugorje, and we even managed to raise funds to take two large pilgrimages to Medjugorje in 1987 and 1988 and another two in 2003 and 2005. Amongst the pilgrims was one Archbishop, six bishops, 22 priests and around 60 lay people. Also in 1989 we brought Fr. Svet. for a tour of Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and in 1998 I was responsible for organizing the visit of Fr. Slavko and Vicka, one of the six visionaries to Southern Africa. Whilst David supported me in these projects he still harboured much anger and wanted me to give up all my involvement with the Church and the Medjugorje movement. I did my best to keep a happy balance..
It was in the year 2000 that an incredible set of events started to take place which resulted in us getting an exact replica of Krizevac in Malawi, together with a replica of St. James church at the foot of our mountain. Please see the separate story 'Medjugorje in Malawi' attached to this e-mail.
We have been hugely blessed with Medjugorje in Malawi, but what I want to share is that all of these things are trivial compared to the INCREDIBLE change in my heart and in my life. Before Medjugorje I was totally caught up with the joys of this world and took credit for all my success as a pilot. My faith was in the background, a sort of negative faith, more like an insurance policy in case I died! But now I am totally attached to the things of heaven and my faith is the greatest positive joy in my life for which I thank the Lord each and every day, realizing how everything achieved is purely grace and blessing.
Thank you Blessed Mother for being with us all this time.
December, 2010: Since writing this article I have another wonderful story to share. My beloved husband, David, who mocked Medjugorje and my faith for 28 years, asked last year if he could join me when I was going to that village in Bosnia-Hercegovina to attend the Mary's Meals Conference in June, 2009. I said I would be very happy but it must be HIS decision - and he replied that he would really like me to take him there five days ahead of the Conference so that I could show him what had touched me all those years ago. And so we went together and I happily explained the parish programme and took him to all the places of interest. It was during this time that he agreed to join me in climbing Mt. Krizevac at 1.00am one morning. It took us five and a half hours to climb the rugged mountain in the dark and we had it completely to ourselves. In the absolute peace and quiet we stopped at each station where I would quietly explain and meditate the meaning and how it might pertain to our lives at present. When we finally reached the Cross at the summit, just as the sun was rising, David put his arms around me and began to cry. He asked me if he could really dump all his baggage (much related to his most traumatic childhood) and when I assured him that he could he wept uncontrollably in my arms, walking off some distance and sitting quietly alone when he had calmed. A short while later I noticed him go to some nearby bushes and vomit quite violently, and reflecting on this I am convinced it was a spiritual 'spewing'. Some fifteen minutes later we began to go down the mountain and only met the first group of people coming up the mountain at the 7th station. It took me a few moments to appreciate that the radiant joy on David's face was obviously causing a bit of sensation for people who looked at him. I found them making way for him, holding out a hand to help him down, patting him on the back. It was very moving to witness. When we reached the foot of the mountain we went to our house to freshen up and then proceeded to the Church to attend the 10am English Mass. It was at Holy Communion that I found David standing beside me with his hands folded over his chest. He whispered to me: "Do you think the priest will bless me?" I assured him that he would, and sure enough, a lovely priest asked me to hold the ciborium whilst he placed both hands on David's head and prayed a deep blessing. Once again the tears flowed for David and he was obviously deeply moved.
From that time on David's whole demeanour - his whole attitude to life - changed in a very positive way. He so obviously received great blessings of peace and joy, and when we were sitting at Rome airport awaiting our flight home he raised a glass of wine and said: "Best holiday ever - thanks very much!" For me that was the most beautiful gift I could ever have received.
From that time on David's health improved; there was bounce in his step and obvious joy in his heart. Our marriage could not have been more perfect - we were as close as two people ever can be. And when friends came to visit or anyone asked him about our time in Medjugorje he would pick up his Medjugorje Mass book and read to them off the back cover: He was not shy or embarrassed to tell them that he had had an amazing experience. It was thus a tremendous shock when he came home (exactly one year to the day since we had left Medjugorje); gave me a huge hug at the front door and jested: "Is this the house where that lovely man lives with that terrible woman?" "Oh no," I said, "she's a lovely woman and she needs a big hug." And as he was giving me a warm embrace at the front door he quietly said: "Oh God, I'm having a heart attack…" and he died in my arms - he was gone within one minute, gone by the time he hit the floor. Obviously for me it was a horrendous shock and sorrow - but for him: oh what a wonderful ending. He had made his peace with God, he had made up for all those years of anger and mockery.
David was always renowned for his generosity to needy causes and his genuine interest in all the many people he met in his line of work as an Estate Agent. Our home was like a hotel, but he always gave a special welcome to missionaries, charity workers and volunteers from every religion, race and creed. It was thus no surprise when more than 1,000 came to his funeral - representing every religion: Jew, Moslem, Hindu, Sikh, Bahai, mainline Christian, Greek Orthodox, Pentecostal and many more. They all came to give thanks for his amazing life and his amazing witness of God's Love - especially after his experience in Medjugorje.