Watch out, Stella’s here!” The usual warning ricocheted through the hospital’s outpatient department the minute Stella arrived, armed with her regular string of ailments.
As a result of her many health problems, Stella had almost become an inpatient of the outpatient department, where the staff found that it wasn’t possible to catch Stella on a good day—because she never had one! Most people in town, it seemed, had decided that Stella was one of those difficult people whom it was best to avoid.
My first encounter with Stella, however, was not at the hospital. It happened, rather, when a strange, angry woman burst through my front door like a tornado and blurted out, “You can’t teach me anything religious around here!” Then, still wound up, she continued, “I know the Bible very well! So don’t even try to convert me with any of your weird, crazy stuff!”
In view of such a commotion, I was afraid this woman’s meltdown would bring to an end any caring atmosphere we had hoped to develop in our new morning get-togethers.
These meetings, held in each other’s homes, were arranged to encourage some of the ladies at church who were in need of a little friendship and nurture. Within the comforts of our homes, we hoped the environs would encourage a caring atmosphere with no other distractions.
The effect of the angry woman’s entrance was so startling heads spun in her direction. And although at first the group was shocked by such a self-righteous tirade, they somehow recognised in her outburst a deeper cry for help.
We were also greatly relieved when Lilly, one of our regular church members who was often at our gettogethers, arrived and quickly introduced the angry woman as Stella, her new friend.
It was during one of Stella’s many hospital visits that she got to know Lilly. Lilly, a cleaner at the hospital, had taken every opportunity to reach out to Stella. In those early days even a casual greeting proved difficult, since Stella was suspicious of everyone and trusted no-one.
Lilly, however, after much personal prayer, found out that Stella was a widow who lived alone. Lilly would often pop into Stella’s home after work and run errands to help make her life a little easier.
As Ellen White wrote in her book The Desire of Ages, “The humblest worker, moved by the Holy Spirit, will touch invisible chords, whose vibrations will ring to the ends of the earth, and make melody through eternal ages.”
Back at my home, Stella kept up her rant.
“And what’s more, you’d better get this straight,” she said as she glanced at Lilly. “I’m only here because I want some of what Lilly’s got. She’s always so kind and always has such wonderful peace of mind. I’ve been a very sick woman and Lilly is so kind and understanding.”
Had Stella been aware of Lilly’s home situation, where she was taunted daily for her faith by her non-Christian husband, she would have been amazed by Lilly’s tranquil demeanour.
With the help of two walking sticks, Stella struggled toward a chair. We were amazed she could even manage that.
We quickly discovered that Stella was one of those difficult, angry people who not only was ill but, due to her limited mobility, had become very overweight.
Then, as if an explanation was somehow required, she launched into a blow-by-blow description of her latest operation—a difficult hip replacement.
Stella, who was in her late fifties, was not an educated woman and had definitely become marginalised by the community with her constant moaning about life’s problems. And now, having suffered most of this world’s hurts, she longed for something better than the splintered, broken experience she’d endured thus far. She was badly in need of Lilly’s Jesus and His tender healing love.
As I recall that morning so long ago, Stella was most certainly the last thing we needed and yes, some eyes did roll as we considered her noisy challenge. However, in love, we took Stella on board and our little group’s silent prayers moved swiftly heavenward.
During our weeks of meeting together, we prayed, sang and shared our heartfelt thoughts. Every week, we would read a chapter from Ellen White’s book Steps to Christ, and we would talk about our desire for a closer walk with Jesus. And so, week by week, our faith in Jesus grew and at the same time, we began to notice and marvel at the change in Stella. It was unbelievable how calm and peaceful she became.
Then one morning she said, “I just can’t understand it. How can Jesus love us so much, when we’re all such hopeless people?”
The next week, following our prayer time, Stella spoke of her spiritual needs and subsequent inner pain. “We’re all sinful people,” she began, “and I know we can’t change ourselves. I’ve tried that. We all need the Holy Spirit to do that. Now here, I’ve discovered it isn’t what you know but Who you know that counts.”
At that moment we realised we had witnessed a transformation. The once loud, know-it-all Stella was no more. Her ideas, previously so strong and defensive, had changed because she understood God’s plan for her new life. We watched with joy as Stella gradually surrendered her life to Jesus.
Then one morning we read John 17:20, where Jesus said, “My prayer is not for them [Jesus’ disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”
Through this verse God revealed a vision of His wonderful love to Stella and, deeply moved, she said, “This Bible story clearly describes how Jesus, with His disciples gathered around Him, included me in His prayers that day. And then later on, in the Garden of Gethsemane, even as He knelt there, deep in His own agony of mind, with His cruel death by crucifixion so close, He thought of others.”
When Stella really understood for the first time the Bible account of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, she was quite emotional and with deep sadness she realised how for a few miserable pieces of silver, Judas had sold the best Friend he would ever have.
That day we all witnessed an amazing miracle as Stella spoke of her need to repent, ask the Lord’s forgiveness and make a fresh start in her life.
So impressed was Stella with the book we read every week that she had difficulty finding words to express her feelings. “God really inspired this lady to write such beautiful stuff,” she said. “I’ve never read anything so wonderful in all my life.”
Gradually, in those 13 short chapters of Steps to Christ, Stella discovered just what she’d been seeking: Someone to love, Someone to give light for her life, Someone she hadn’t really known before.
Stella emerged like a lovely new butterfly that had broken free of its old, tight, self-opinionated chrysalis. Gone was her self-pity. Gone was the loud voice, assorted distractions and know-it-all attitude. Now there were tears in her eyes as she spoke about Jesus as her Saviour and the need we all have to fully surrender our lives to Him.