We don’t often get to see miracles, but Emma, the manager of our Bethany Home in Plymouth saw one unfold over time, thanks to a quiet volunteer who befriended a man who instinctively rejected everyone.
You wouldn’t notice Mike Spry in a crowd, unless you were one of the down-and-outs he’d helped on the streets in Plymouth. When he goes to into town he often hears his name called out and is invited to share the contents of a bottle someone is holding out. Mike is a volunteer with the city’s Shekinah charity and is known to Plymouth’s Adult Social Care Services as someone who can turn a bad situation around, dealing quietly and calmly with drug addicts and alcoholics. Social Services’ Bridget Buckley said that whenever the team puts out a call for help to the charity, if they know Mike is there they know they can hand it over and not worry. But, to his astonishment, it was his work with a particularly ‘grumpy old man’ that won him an award as ‘Volunteer of the Year’ from Plymouth City’s Adult Social Services team. It was presented to him at our Bethany Home in Plymouth on 9th December.
Perhaps Mike met his biggest challenge when he came to the home in 2016 as a pastoral support volunteer through the ‘Churches Together in Plymouth’ programme. He focused on Bill, (name changed) a resident with no friends or family and who struggled to make connections with others. When introduced to Mike, Bill said, “I have no friends.” Mike replied, “if you would like me to, I will be your friend.” Bill was thrilled about this and for days afterwards would say to staff, “did you know I have a friend – have you met my friend Mike?”
But Mike’s weekly visits to Bill were not easy. Conversations could be heavy and challenging, and Bill could be hostile and contrary. Mike remembers there would be times when crossing the street to the home he’d ask himself, is this worth it? ‘I’d be walking over and thinking what’s it going to be like today? I’d say a few prayers on the way and just go for it: I’d made a commitment and I knew that God would honour that and there would be some good coming out of it.’
Where Bill could easily misunderstand others and drive them away, Mike persisted. “Vulnerable people need love and persistence,” he said, “and to know that you are genuinely interested in them. They can tell if you’re not.”
Discovering that Bill’s hobby had been amateur radio, Mike arranged for equipment so he could take it up again. Boxes arrived at the home and Mike was all ready to help Bill get it set up – then Bill changed his mind and asked for it all to be sent back. Plans that Mike had spent so long putting together had to be abandoned, but his sadness was that Bill couldn’t enjoy his old hobby again.
In December 2018 Bill’s health began to fail. He told Mike that he wanted to know where he was going, and they began conversations that led Bill to Jesus Christ and spiritual peace. Staff in the home noticed how peaceful Bill became in the last days of his life.
Emma noted that, “this was a special giving: not obvious and in the limelight. It was a willingness to be faithful in being alongside when seemingly little was given back in return. And the result? A man on the edge of society knew that he was valued, and now has eternal life.”