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For Duncan

I lost one of my best friends this week. Duncan was a dog we rescued not long after we moved to our current house. He was a Saluki crossed with a lurcher and used (not by us!) for hare coursing. He was abandoned, and we agreed to have him overnight nearly eight years ago. He never left. The most affectionate, loving dog I think we have ever owned. Also, the most difficult to manage on a lead – but that is a story for another time.


Grief is a strange thing; we don’t mind everyone knowing how much we miss a departed family member or friend, but it can feel embarrassing to admit how much a deceased pet meant to us. Duncan offered me unconditional love and acceptance and gave me permission to do the same. He was always pleased to see me and would come and sit next to me no matter how late I returned from a meeting or what my mood was like.


I found the following by Karen Swallow Prior, insightful.

“When we mourn [the loss of] lesser creatures, we taste, I think, a bit of God’s sorrow over us in our human frailty. When we love fellow humans, we love as equals. When we love an animal, we bring with that love all the might and grace of one both in and above the world of that creature. It is like the love God has for us, with all the joy and grief we bring him. As human is to divine, so animal is to human. I think perhaps we are no more like God than when we love an animal.”

As this week has progressed, the numbers of those who have lost their lives in Syria and Turkey due to the earthquakes have become so mind-boggling that we can barely comprehend the scale of loss. The danger is with such a scale of loss that, we conclude we cannot do anything, so we end up doing nothing. We are also left with uncomfortable questions about God in all of this. No doubt some will offer a hackneyed response of ‘being a consequence of the fall’, but for me, this raises more questions than it addresses.


Somehow, losing a pet dog seems trivial in comparison, but for me, it has opened my eyes to the sense of grief and loss God must be feeling right now. It has also raised my awareness of the importance of the small things we can do. As many who worship and witness within the rural context are already aware, we can often feel small and insignificant compared to our sisters and brothers worshipping in urban and suburban spaces. We think we have little to contribute and perhaps cannot mobilise a team to join a Christian charity accompanying flown provisions. Please don’t let this be our script; we can make a difference and help. We can, often far quicker, respond financially. When the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 hit, the small church I was leading gave away pretty much all our reserves in a very short meeting at the end of the service. Comparatively, larger churches giving out of their excess took many weeks to respond. They had various meetings, forms to complete, committees and sub-committees before monies were released to ‘the right sort’ of Christian charity. We simply gave ours to the Disasters Emergency Committee.


Duncan taught me that the simple things, such as sitting with and not trying to offer any trite words, can be the most effective. His bringing of an old toy to squeak whenever I readied his food as his way of celebrating spoke to me about rejoicing in the provision of God with more authenticity.


Friends, the God of the Bible isn’t a cruel, distant, absentee father who expects his suffering children to “suck it up” in times of grief. Instead, God gives us precious promises of being close to us, especially when we are heartbroken and tearful (Psalm 34:18).


Perhaps God has been teaching me a lesson through a rescued dog; to not discount the importance of being there, the sitting with. The bringing of a gift at just the right time; the importance of unbounded and non-conditional love. Maybe that is the lesson we need to learn as we respond to the tragedy in Syria and Turkey. Although we are perhaps small and insignificant in the eyes of many, we can still make a difference.


As you pray for the countries impacted by the devastating earthquakes, don’t lose sight of the individual; the tear-stained face of a child, the anguish of a parent, the bewilderment of those whose world has collapsed around them. As you give, hold a generous heart – don’t simply give out of excess. That’s what I learned through eight years with a rescue dog, who God used to capture my heart and show me a better way to respond.



Simon Mattholie

CEO, Rural Ministries

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