This past week a very dear friend, mentor and encourager passed away. Ruth Ussher was a wife, mum, grandma and a very special lady to many. Being so far away, I feel a little lost as to how to express my sadness for Winston and their family, at this time, so here I am writing about it….
We met Winston and Ruth when we started attending Canterbury Gardens Community Church. With our common interest in MAF, they soon invited us round for dinner and so began a journey of them encouraging and mentoring us. As we moved through the process of Jason gaining his CPL and being approved with MAF, advice, meals and encouragement were always forthcoming from the Usshers. As we were accepted to serve with MAF, we spent more time together, in Bible Study and conversations about ministry, family and how to best pack square things into 44 gallon round drums. Samuel learnt to crawl on their lounge room floor. Jason learnt to like cous cous when Ruth made it, despite my best efforts to make him eat my versions of it. They prayed with and for us, advocated for us and were just there for us in so many ways in a time of great change.
I know this isn’t just about Ruth, but part of what made this couple so special was their partnership together. MAF was as much Ruth’s mission as it was Winston’s. Her wisdom from years of hospitality in unexpected circumstances was extensive and she could whip up an amazing dinner with a seemingly empty fridge. As we packed up to leave for northern Australia, Ruth gave us a huge box of her stewed fruit in small jars that she had prepared for us to take. This kept Sam fed for weeks on our journey. She also had collected up a whole box full of treasures for us to put in our drums, special treats for Arnhem Land. Inside were patty pan wrappers, cake decorating things, food dye, and more. We hadn’t realised it at the time but these treasures became very necessary as we arrived in Yirrkala just days before Sam’s first birthday and so we had all we needed for his first ever birthday cake.
We saw Winston and Ruth last year when they were in Cairns. They met us at the airport, had stocked our unit fridge with goodies, had lunch ready to eat and then gave us some big chunks of time in their week to chat, debrief and ask questions, something we really needed after our first nine months in Arnhem Land. They had walked a similar road to us, and knew how to help. Just to have breakfast supplies already there, without needing a supermarket trip after hours of travelling, was such a blessing.
I am sad that I will never get one of Ruth’s strong, warm and soft cuddles again on this earth. I am sad for the hole that is left in our life, but more so in the lives of her adoring husband and family.
But I am also joyful. The Matt Redman song, 10,000 Reasons, that we sang several times last weekend at our MAF conference, has resonated in my mind, voice and spirit a lot this week as I thought about Ruth’s life.
Part of the words say…
“Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name
The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes”
You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore”
I have lots of reasons to praise God for Ruth, but I am not sure I have 10,000 reasons. Winston probably world!
But as I have reflected upon her life, I have been praising God too.
Thanking Him for:
• This woman of warmth who always had time for me.
• A person who had been where I was going to answer my questions
• Her example of what Christian hospitality looked like
• Tears of compassion and understanding
• Practical help in times of need
• Help raising support
• Her encouragement and prayers
• Her words and prayers at our commissioning service
• Her ability to point me back to God
So in my sadness and joy, I have been imagining the thankful prayers of others, all around the world, rising up to God, praising Him for Ruth’s life and the way she has demonstrated Christ to many many people… Maybe 10,000 prayers… maybe even more… Thank you God that you indwell us, change us and love us, and because of that we can love others in ways that dramatically change their world.