Iain C. Macdonald
I live in Bayble, Point, Isle of Lewis with my wife Alice, my son Andrew, and my daughter Joanne.
I feel very privileged when I look back to the upbringing I had. I was brought up in a Christian home. My mother was converted during a revival in Point in the late fifties, shortly after I was born. Like most homes in the district, we had family worship morning and evening. Grace was always said before and after meals. All the family attended church and the children went to Sunday School. Truth and honesty were very much emphasised. My father died when I was six, and looking back, it is clear that her faith helped my mother cope with this devastating loss.
My mother was very devout. She had high Christian standards, which we learned to respect. Sunday observance was very important. As well as church attendance, we were not allowed to do homework on Sundays. This was no great hardship to me, as I did not like doing homework anyway. I remember her Christian witness well. She loved attending the prayer meetings, and would never look for an excuse to stay away, no matter how tired she may have been. Like some others of that generation, when they went to communion services elsewhere, they had faith that the Lord would provide lifts for them to get to their destination.
Even in early adulthood, before I was married, I respected the house rules, and her values. For example, I had to be in before midnight on Saturday, and I attended church. I probably did not attend church every week, and after I got married I continued in the same way, sometimes finding a convenient sore throat or other excuse to stay at home. My mother was amused one time when my son, who was young at the time, said to her, "My daddy is often sick on Sundays".
Through time, however, I found I was not making excuses to stay away from church, and went every Sunday morning. I now know that other people were realising that I was taking an interest in the gospel. I enjoyed being in the company of Christians, and was fortunate in having Christians working with me. I was still making excuses to stay at home on Sunday evenings. The services were too early….or so I said.
My mother died in July 1999. She was admitted to hospital in Stornoway in early June with chronic renal failure. The decision was taken to send her from the Western Isles Hospital to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for dialysis. When my sister saw her on the morning she was due to fly to Inverness, my mother told her, “I won’t be coming back here.” She explained to my sister that the psalm she had read that morning was Psalm 103.
For over it the wind doth pass
And it away is gone
And of the place where once it was,
It shall no more be known.
It is interesting that the verse following this one, which she would also have read, contains a promise:
But unto them that do him fear
God’s mercy never ends
And to their children’s children still
His righteousness extends.
When she died two weeks later in Inverness, and my sister reminded us of the verse she had read in Stornoway, I remember drawing the attention of the rest to the verse with the promise.
My mother’s Christian witness continued right through her final illness. Her Bible was her constant companion. If she had not been able to do her morning reading before being taken to the renal unit for dialysis, she took it with her and read it there – and I am sure she said her prayers as well, regardless of who was watching. It was clear that the nursing staff in the ward she was in were sensitive to her witness. When her illness worsened and she slipped into a coma, she was moved out of the larger ward into a single room. She must have fallen asleep reading her Bible: it was lying open at Psalm 145 on the bed table. The nurses had moved her bed and all her belongings into this side ward, but they had left her Bible as she herself had last used it.
Communion services in our congregation are held in November and in November 2001 I went out for my usual slot on Sunday morning. Reverend Calum Macdonald, Callanish, was preaching, and I enjoyed the service. That afternoon, my sister, who had been converted in December 1999, phoned to ask if I would go with her to the Gaelic service in Knock that evening, so that I would hear Rev Ronald Morrison, Tain, who was the other visiting minister for the Communion services. I agreed to go. She phoned later in the day, having heard that Rev Morrison was going to be preaching in the church in Garrabost, and that Rev Macdonald was going to be in Knock. She was afraid that I would change my mind, as I would not be hearing a different minister. I kept to my decision to go to church, and again enjoyed the service.
At the end of November, the Rev Alex Macdonald, Buccleuch and Greyfriars was invited to our congregation for the annual evangelistic services. On Sunday morning He preached on the depth of the love of God, compared to human love, from Isaiah 49 – “Behold I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” I was so much affected by this that I was compelled to go out in the evening. The objection that the service was too early had disappeared.
After that I continued to go out on Sunday evenings as well as the morning. This coincided with our own minister, Rev James Maciver, starting a study on discipleship. That study continued for some time, and on January 20 2002, the sermon was on Luke 5:5, “Nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.” The content of the previous sermons in the series had impressed themselves on me, but I felt that this was speaking directly to me.
That same evening, the speaker at our monthly congregational fellowship was Bill Macleod from the APC congregation in Stornoway. I felt his testimony was just like hearing a replica of my own life. I went home that night and went on my knees and prayed. After praying, I knew I would have to join the Lord’s people at the prayer meeting on Wednesday. However, obstacles were put in my way and I did not get out until the following Monday, for the monthly prayer meeting. As always, when a new convert comes out to the prayer meeting, I got a tremendous welcome. It was wonderful to be openly on the Lord’s side, and enjoying Christian fellowship.
Our next communion was in April, and the communion services at Back are held the weekend before our own. I went there on the Friday evening, and heard the Rev Kenneth Stewart, Dowanvale Free Church, preach. He made it quite plain who should and should not sit at the Lord’s table, and convinced me that it would be right for me to take the next step – to become a member. I asked the Lord in prayer if I was doing the right thing. When I then opened my Bible, it opened at Psalm 128
Blessed is each one that fears the Lord
And walketh in his ways
For of thy labour thou shalt eat
And happy be always.
This confirmed it for me, and I went to the session on the Friday evening of our own communion services, and took communion for the first time in April 2002.
My wife, Alice, was affected by what she saw going on in my life, and had started attending church regularly with me. She was converted in May 2002, and took communion in November of that year.
Before this, in September 2002, I began to feel symptoms of illness. The nature of the illness was not diagnosed until January 2003. I had been sent to Edinburgh, to the Liver Unit, where my illness was identified as primary and secondary cancer of the liver.
We have been very conscious of the power of prayer during my illness and treatment. There are contacts worldwide who have prayed for us. I will be forever grateful to members of the Free Church in Edinburgh for their support while I was in hospital there, and their continuing contact since I came home. The Christian community in Lewis, from my own church and from other churches, have also been wonderfully supportive.
While in Edinburgh I was put on morphine following a very painful procedure. Although it is powerful for pain, I disliked the effect of it intensely, and told the nursing staff that I was not going to take any more of it. I stopped taking the morphine on Thursday, the day before I was due to come back to the hospital in Stornoway. Stopping the morphine was also extremely unpleasant, and frightening. Every time I closed my eyes I was seeing horrible things – heads with no faces, for example. It was such that I did not want to shut my eyes to pray.
On Saturday morning, before my morning reading, I prayed to God with my eyes open, that he would take away the horrible things I was seeing. I then saw my mother, sitting as she often did with her head bowed in prayer, sitting beside me. She remained there while I prayed. God had given me this vision when I needed it. He also answered my prayer, and I saw no more of the frightening sights caused by the withdrawal of morphine.
The Lord has continued to sustain us a family, through a course of chemotherapy, and up until the present time when I have been told that further treatment is required. We are blessed with the support of the wider family – my sister and brothers and their families and my wife’s family. Friends, both Christian and others, have also been very faithful. I pray that those of them who do not yet know the lord, will be brought to trust their lives to him.
The drafting of this testimony was completed on Saturday 20 September 2003. On 25 September, Iain started his second course of chemotherapy, and became very ill after it. He was admitted to hospital on Sunday 28 September, with acute renal failure, and passed away peacefully on Monday 29 September at 4.55 pm, aged 47 years. In the context of the experience described in his testimony with regard to the withdrawal from morphine, it is interesting to note that he required no pain relief, and was spared the need to take morphine again.
He was keen to share his testimony through the Apples of Gold website, but had not managed to submit the text before his condition deteriorated. It is our wish as a family that his testimony be shared, as he himself wanted.
He was able to testify publicly at fellowship meetings: in June 2003 at the Knock Church of Scotland in Garrabost and in August 2003 at his home church, Knock Free Church of Scotland, Garrabost. He was asked on the latter occasion if he felt bitter about his illness. He replied that he did not, and went on to say that he would not have wanted to change anything, and that he had had many blessings as a result of his illness.
His Christian witness throughout his illness impressed many, as it was clear that he was sustained by the strength of his faith. After his death, a local elder who regularly visited him said that Iain had made him realise what it meant to “grow in grace and the knowledge of God.” I will finish by quoting our own minister, Rev James Maciver, “His all too brief spiritual pilgrimage was bright and enthusiastic for the Lord….He made Jesus very clear to us all in the way he lived for him and committed every development in his life into his hands.”
Catherine Dunn (sister), on behalf of the family.