Almost every hand went up when the packed church congregation was asked “How many of you have been prayed for by Katie?” A second question: “Who’s had a jar of marmalade as a gift from Katie?” brought a similar response. Katie devoted her life to others and was much loved.
The congregation was celebrating the life of Katie England, who died suddenly last September. Katie had lived an abundantly fruitful life as the love of Jesus flowed through her to touch the lives of everyone she met.
Katie trained as a teacher and, while serving for 21 years as a missionary in Chile, she was part of the team that produced the SEAN study series (Study by Extension for All Nations) to train Christian leaders.
Paul reminds the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 3:6-7) that God takes the ‘seeds’ we plant and water, then makes them grow. The SEAN course Katie worked on is now used in more than 100 countries and 70 languages, and is bearing fruit in thousands of lives.
Katie’s work in Chile was cut short by hepatitis, so she returned to work in England. In the ‘autumn’ of her life, retirement brought a change of location and a new vocation as she moved to be near her parents in Eastbourne, and was ordained as one of the first women deacons in Chichester diocese.
In her later years she was twice married and twice widowed. But Katie’s life was not defined by job titles, qualifications, circumstances or location. A few days before she died, when the hospital nurse asked her religion, Katie’s reply summed up her life in one simple statement: “I love Jesus.” That was the key to her fruitfulness.
For some of us, autumn is a season of endings with darkening nights heralding winter. But however you view the season in nature, it can be an amazing season to celebrate in our spiritual lives.
What are your gifts, abilities, talents and resources? Where has God put you? A family? A workplace? A neighbourhood? A community?
As we bring our lives to God he makes us a promise: “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit…” (John 15:5). Our fruitfulness doesn’t depend on our qualifications or connections. Being rooted in Christ is what counts.
When Jesus told the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), the ‘righteous’ people in the story asked “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?”
Our practical love and care for the people around us flows out of our relationship with Jesus. Often we are making deliberate choices to be involved in projects like foodbanks, night shelters or prison visiting, but sometimes we don’t realise the impact for good we are having on neighbours, colleagues and friends. In each context Jesus is saying to us, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
A fruitful life shows the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). As Mark Greene of LICC says, “Godly character creates better soil for godly testimony; serving others selflessly makes the message of a selfless servant-king much more compelling; doing good work with enthusiasm makes the Gospel invitation to others to join Jesus’ people in working to change the world … much more attractive.”
Alongside godly actions, a fruitful life puts faith into words, praying for those we meet, being ready to give a reason for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15), and trusting God’s Holy Spirit to draw others to follow Jesus too.
The recent Talking Jesus research shows that 67% of non-Christians know a practising Christian, and that person is most likely to be a friend (40%) or family member (34%). More than a third of people say that conversations with a Christian they know was an important part of them coming to faith.
Katie never let an opportunity pass to talk about Jesus and to offer to pray for someone. If you try it, you’ll find people almost never say no. Then the outcome is in God’s hands. And if making marmalade is your gift, that might be a welcome present and a daily breakfast reminder to your neighbour, colleague or friend to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
+ Catherine Butcher is a writer, editor and author and was one of our speakers at our Seasons of the Spirit conference in June 2016.
For details of this year's conference visit: www.brfonline.org.uk/womenofpeace2017 or call: 01865 319700