Louise Malcolm, 82, was born in Jamaica and raised going to church, but faith did not become real to her until after the death of her young daughter
My older sister came to England from our home in Jamaica in 1955, and I arrived three years later at the age of 18. I joined her in south London…and it was horrible! I cried for months. It took me a while to settle in, but as time went by I learned to cope.
In London I got a temporary Christmas job at first, and then applied to London Transport. I wanted to become a bus conductress. I worked on the London buses for over ten years. My main route was on the 171 bus, which went from Forest Hill to Tottenham – literally across London. I got to know London like the back of my hand.
Difficult family life
I met my ex-husband before I left Jamaica. He followed me to the UK and I ended up getting pregnant. We had two children and eventually married in 1964. I was 24 and he was three years older. Sadly I knew I had made a mistake, but we had children so I committed myself.
We had five children together; Lorna and Michael before we married, then Sonji, Diane and Denise.
My married life was so difficult, and, as I was working on the buses, our children had to be fostered. Lorna was fostered until she was about four, and the others for shorter periods of time. In 1969 I knew I had to leave my husband because he was abusive. I decided to run away with my five children, even though Denise was still a tiny baby. I didn’t know where we were going to sleep, but I knew we had to get out…or someone was going to be killed.
I told my friend, Norma what was happening and she said to me: “Bring the babies.” She had four children of her own; twin girls and two older ones. I don’t think she even asked her husband’s permission, but she looked after the two little ones and I had the older three children.
I sent the oldest to stay with my brother and then the rest of us went to a halfway house until we were given somewhere permanent to live. Once I separated I had to give up my job on the buses to be home with the children. In those four years I re-schooled myself; while they were going to school, I was going to school.
Devasting loss and newfound faith
The most painful part of those years was when our daughter, Diane was killed at five years old in 1973. It was completely devastating. My three youngest were walking together to the library. Somehow, when crossing a road, Diane was knocked down by a lorry.
When Diane died, I wanted to die. A teacher friend, Trudy, who taught my children in infant school was the one who dropped them off from school. When she heard Diane had been killed, she came straight to see me. I sat on the bed and just said I want to die. She said: “If you die, who would look after the others?”
Diane was a lovely child; she only came for a little while, but she brightened up our lives. On the first anniversary of her death, I decided I was going to write to the man who killed her. I wanted to say to him: “Are you aware of the pain that you have caused?”
I was going to buy a wreath and put it at his door because I knew where he lived. As I was passing the bottom of the street where he lived one morning, I suddenly felt God speak to me: “Who are you to question whether she goes today or tomorrow? If I wanted her to live, she could have fallen from an aeroplane and lived.”
I had a sudden realisation: “Who am I to question God?” I had known God growing up, but did not live as a Christian. After Diane died, my whole life with God took an upward turn. I took a decision that I had to see her again, and that was when my Christian life started changing. Jesus became my everything.
Working for the Lord
When I went back to work in 1974, I got a job as a typist with the Ministry of Trade. I worked with them for a while and then decided it wasn’t where I wanted to be, so I applied to go into teaching. Because I had children in the school I was sent to, they would not accept me.
So then I applied to do nursing. Before I finished my training, I was working on an orthopaedic ward and the sister of the ward asked me to go back after training; I didn’t even have to apply for the job. I worked as a nurse for nearly seven years, and then I decided I needed to do something else.
So I trained for three years as a social worker in my 40s. I ended up as a team manager. When I left that job, the boss commented: “Louise is not only a Christian on a Sunday.” In my response, I said: “My task here is to serve. And whatever I do, I do as unto the Lord.”
At Christmas time in 2004 I was in my front room, and felt prompted to ask: “Lord, what do you really want me to do?” The answer came back: “What’s the point of telling you because when I tell you, you don’t do it!”
I knew he was talking about reading the Bible with people. I’m not a theologian, so it would just be reading through the Bible, not a Bible study. But the thought was so pronounced that I got on the phone straightaway, and rang up a few people from both in the church and outside of it and said: “What about us starting to read the Bible together from Genesis to Revelation?”
I started with five or six friends, and it ended up with 16 of us sometimes. We read weekly, going to each other’s houses. In 2011 I went to visit my niece in America. She was part of a group called ‘Women Growing in God’. They looked at Bible stories, so I came back and introduced the same concept to some of the women in and out of my congregation. We’re still going.
A life hidden in Christ
My favourite Bible verse is Colossians 3:3: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” Over the past few months that verse has been a comfort to me. Just before COVID exploded, I went away on a cruise with my friend Annette, but it ended early because of COVID. When I got home I wasn’t feeling well.
When I got to the doctor, he found my oxygen level was too low. He sent me to hospital for tests, and they eventually found out I had a massive clot on my lung. As I was in hospital they could treat me and my life was saved. I should have been on the cruise ship for another week and a half.
So when I say to you that my life is hidden with Christ in God, it might sound simple, but I don’t take it simply at all. I have asked the Lord often: “Why? I’m nobody. I’m just me. What is it about me, Lord, that you have protected, provided for and blessed over these years?”
I was brought up in the church and, even though I walked away for a while, I came back. I hold onto the verse in Proverbs 22:6: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” It is true for me and I believe it for my eight grandchildren too. God has been good to me; alI I can do is just continue to thank him.
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