Patricia St John

The hope of God’s encouragement – nursing in Morocco

Other themes: perseverance, feelings of failure

The Problem

Listen to this. What would you do in this situation?

The letters arrived just before going home time. Sarah opened hers quickly. The words jumped out at her: “I am sorry to tell you that you have failed your Cycling Proficiency Test. The points you failed on are listed – “ But then her eyes prickled with tears and it all went blurred.

Failed? But she…never failed at things. And she needed to pass the test, otherwise she couldn’t ride her bike to school. She jammed her eyes shut to keep the tears hidden.

She could still hear though. Around her the class was in uproar: “Look, I passed” – “Great, so did I” – “Phew, made it”. The noise seemed to be pressing down on her. Suddenly there was a quiet voice right by her ear. “Don’t worry, Sarah, you’re not the only one.” It was her teacher, Mrs Wilson, trying to be nice. “Dan didn’t pass, nor did Tina or Jonathan. And you can always take the test again.”

Yeah, she felt like saying, but they’re used to failing. It’s not the same for me. And as for taking it again, never, not ever. Her father would just have to keep bringing her to school, that was all there was to it.

Then there was another voice. Jackie, her best friend. “Didn’t fail, did you? Aah, hard luck.”

Sarah blinked her eyes open and managed a smile. “Aw, who cares?” But deep inside she felt hurt and sad.

Now think:

Should Sarah put this behind her and concentrate on the things she’s good at, the things she’s bound to succeed at? Or should she try again? Why doesn’t she want to take the test again, do you think?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

Now a true story about someone who faced failure. Her name is Patricia St John.

Patricia guessed it could be the end of her nursing career when she saw the cat. There it sat, pleased to have found a place in the warm, not realising that it was the very place it shouldn’t be – on a trolley spread with medical equipment ready to be used in the hospital. Now it would all have to be sterilised again. What would Matron say about that?

And just because she’d left the door open. Of course, she could make the excuse it was war-time and she was rushed off her feet with all the bomb victims coming in. But it was her fault and she knew it.

So did Matron. “Do you think, Patricia, it might be better if you did something other than nursing? And look at your health record – you’ve been off sick so often. You’ve a good brain, there are other jobs you could do.”

Patricia decided to go for a long walk to make the decision – to keep going or to give up. As she walked she remembered how God had guided her into nursing – it was 1943 and the country needed nurses so much – and how she had felt him helping her during the three months of training.

But, now she was on the wards, it didn’t seem to be working out. The problem was she was so afraid of making mistakes – and of Matron seeing them, so afraid of being a failure. And these fears were making her ill. Really, for her own sake, for other people’s sake, it would be better…

Then she saw it. A huge hoarding outside a railway station with a Bible verse in big black letters: “Jesus said, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’” She knew it was God speaking to her. He was saying, “Do you believe I am able to help you in your work, give you all the help you need, or do you, Patricia, believe I made a mistake when I chose this job for you?”

And then and there, Patricia accepted not only God’s help, but also the fact that the occasional failing at this or that or forgetting this and that was not the end of the world. God could give her the confidence to keep going.

And she went back on the wards with a different attitude – no longer living in fear of Matron, but able to accept that she was still learning, that she wouldn’t, couldn’t get everything right, make everyone better, or stop the war. But she could do what God sent her there to do. And after that day, she had no more time off sick. She felt great.

And she was willing to try new things. When the war was over she became a housemother in a boarding school, and, wanting a suitable book to read to children made unhappy by war, she decided to write it herself. You can still get it today, it’s called The Tanglewoods’ Secret. It’s even been made into a film.

Then her brother, who was in charge of a hospital in Morocco in North Africa, wrote to her: “There’s so much work out here. Can you come and help?”

So she went.

It was hard work though, very hard. It was a new country, a new language, a whole new way of doing things. But Patricia kept at it, communicating at first with just hands and eyebrows, pushing away the feelings of homesickness that threatened to wash over her.

Then she went on to do something even more difficult – to open and run a clinic in a little Moroccan mountain town. It was a lonely job – no one else spoke English and many were suspicious of her: “Who is she?”, “What’s she here for?”

But she kept on doing her best, and bit by bit the townspeople came to accept and love her. They even brought their animals to her – mules with sores on their backs would be squeezed protesting through the door of the tiny clinic. The tricky bit was pushing the mules back out again after treatment!

On particularly hard days there would come the feeling of failure and temptation to give up and go home. Then one day Patricia was walking back from a distant village when she saw a woman hurrying down a hillside calling to her. “The English nurse?” she asked.


The woman uncovered a bundle she held in her arms. It was a baby with infected eyes, its swollen eyelids stuck together. The woman told Patricia, “Last night I had a dream. Someone in white told me to take my baby to the English nurse on the main road at this time.” She did not know Patricia, could not have known she would be passing that spot at that time. Except that God had told her in her dream. For God knew Patricia had just the right treatment for the baby.

And Patricia felt happy, for she knew that she was doing what God had planned for her to do. If she had given up, what would have happened to that baby and the hundreds of other babies and children and adults she treated? Oh – and the mules, mustn’t forget those.

Patricia St John died in 1993, still caring for the poor of the world. And her stories, there are several set in Morocco – are still read and enjoyed today.

Time of Reflection

I’d like you to think what you want to do this year, what you want to achieve. I’m not talking about impossible things, but maybe learning a new skill, or doing better at something, reaching the next level. What if it isn’t so easy, what if it doesn’t seem to be working out straight away – will you give up? Are you willing to fail before you succeed? If you believe in God, what difference will that make?

Just a moment of silence while we think about these things.

Bible Bits

Listen to what the Bible says:

“Be determined and confident! Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“Let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus….He did not give up…” (Hebrews 12:1-2)


Thank you, Father, that you have given me the ability to succeed, not in everything, but in many things. Help me to play my part by working hard and not giving up. And thank you that you will give me extra help if I ask for it and trust in you. May what I learn not just help me but others too. Amen

Variations on a Theme

The main story could be mimed by children as you read. Matron, brother, villagers and woman with baby could be speaking parts using the words in the story.

Quiz Questions

  1. Why was Patricia worried when she saw the cat on the trolley?
  2. What was making Patricia ill?
  3. Why were nurses needed so much at that time?
  4. What did the Bible verse on the hoarding say?
  5. Why did she write The Tanglewoods’ Secret?
  6. Where was her brother working?
  7. Then she went to a mountain town. What for?
  8. Why were mules brought to Patricia?
  9. What message did the woman get in her dream?
  10. Why was meeting the woman such an encouragement to Patricia?

Gavin Peacock / Bernhard Langer / Jonathan Edwards

The hope that life is more than failure or success – football, golf, athletics

Other themes:

coping with disappointment, taking sport too seriously

The Problem

Listen to this and see what you think at the end.

Karen could hear part of the crowd changing her name: “Ka-ren! Ka-ren!” They knew it all depended on her – she knew it too. If she won this final race in the Inter-School Swimming Gala, Compton, her school, would carry away the trophy. It would be tight though: Compton and one of the rival schools, The Laurels, had equal points. It was up to her.

But she was confident. The swimmer for The Laurels looked nervous. Winning shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

And the gun went off. She dived. Good, long, clean strokes, come on!

But on the second lap, she began to feel tired for some reason. Push, Karen told herself, push! She was vaguely aware of the roaring crowd, vaguely aware too that she was not in the lead. Push! Push!

Then it was over. And there was the girl from The Laurels jumping about in the water. She’d won. Karen was, what, fourth, maybe even fifth. She pulled herself out of the pool, trying to keep from crying until she was alone. Behind her as she ran, she heard a teacher saying, “Bad luck, Karen, but stay around, we’re about to take team photos.”

But Karen didn’t stop. Not until she reached the changing room where she buried her head in the towel and let the sobs come. She felt so ashamed. She’d done her best, but she’d let everyone down.

Then she heard a voice, “Karen, the photo, come on…”

Now think:

What should she do? Is she right to be ashamed? What would you say to her?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

Picture the scene. Wembley Stadium. You’re there in the crowd – and it’s the FA Cup Final, 1994, Chelsea versus Manchester United. The teams haven’t come onto the pitch yet, but you can feel the excitement all around you. The atmosphere’s electric.

Ah, here they come, striding onto the turf, Chelsea in blue, Man United in red. They look tiny in the vast stadium, but you know they’re giants of the game. Even so, this is one of the biggest days of their lives, they’ve worked so hard to get here. If you’re excited, how must they feel?

The game begins. The minutes tick by. No score yet. They’re playing their hearts out but the break hasn’t come to either side.

Then it happens. A chance. Gavin Peacock for Chelsea has the ball, outside the box, but there’s not much between him and the goal. He shifts the ball from the right foot to the left, not much time now before the Reds pour down. He kicks. Yes – it looks dead on line for the goal, the ball flying through the air, unstoppable surely. The crowd holds its breath. It’s nearly there…

Oh no! It’s hit the crossbar, bounced out!

If it had gone in, Chelsea would have been in the lead, they’d have been able to put ten men in defence and just hold on to win. Ah, if only…

But how does Gavin Peacock himself feel about it? We’ll hear later.

Let’s change the scene. 1991, a golf course in the United States. Two teams, Europe and the States, playing for the Ryder Cup. A big, big match. And now the result hangs on one short putt. If the German Bernhard Langer knocks it in, Europe wins. If he misses, it’s a win for the States.

The ball’s only lying about two metres from the hole and Langer is very experienced, very cool. He takes a couple of practice strokes and moves to the correct position. He looks at the ball, the hole, back to the ball again. The spectators are like statues.

And, click, the ball begins to roll towards the hole, closer, closer, it’s right at the edge now. But – it doesn’t go in, it just slides round the rim of the hole and comes to rest a short distance away. He’s missed.

The US team jump and dance about. And Bernhard Langer – do you think he does the same?

Yes, how did these sportsmen feel? After that kick did Gavin Peacock mentally give up? After that shot did Langer throw his putter on the ground in rage?

In a word, no. Gavin Peacock knows that was just one kick. He did his best at that moment. All right, it didn’t’ work out. But he can live with it, he can carry on with the game, continue doing his best.

For he knows that one of the most valuable assets in professional football is a level head, whatever comes. He knows that one moment the crowd could be roaring out his name, the next he could be out of the team. Being a Christian helps him cope with failure and success and not get too worked up about either. He knows God’s given him a terrific talent as a striker, but he knows too that God hasn’t promised he’ll get every ball in. He’s just promised to be with him in the good moments and the bad, with him always.

Gavin comes from a footballing family. When he was small, his dad, who was a Charlton player for seventeen years, used to place balls round the garden so Gavin would get in the habit of kicking them. Eventually he went in for the England schoolboy trials, got in the team and played at Wembley when he was fifteen – in fact he played at Wembley on the Saturday and took his Maths GCSE on theMonday.

He became a professional as soon as he left school, playing for Queens Park Rangers and Newcastle before Chelsea. Then he moved back to Queens Park Rangers.

Gavin always prays about which club to join and he feels God guiding him. And he prays for strength too – both in his legs and in his mind when things aren’t going so well. But he knows there’s more to life than football, much more.

Bernhard Langer, the golfer, says the same. Knowing that his talent comes from God, and knowing Jesus as a friend standing by him, even when he misses, helps him a lot. Of course, he was sad to let his team down in that Ryder Cup, but his responsibility is to do his best, not to make every shot, win every tournament. What he says is, “There has only ever been one perfect human being, and we crucified him – I only missed a putt.”

Anyway winning has its problems too. In the World Athletics Championships in Sweden in 1995, Jonathan Edwards broke the world record for the triple jump – 18 metres 16, a fantastic distance. But then he jumped again – and broke the record again – 18 metres 29 this time. He knew he’d done well, but when he realised just how well, he gave one of the biggest grins ever seen on a human face. Then to top that he won the BBC Sports Personality Award for that year.

It must be hard to be modest after that. In fact it must be easy to think you’re the king of the world. But Jonathan doesn’t think that way. He says he’s no more important than the person who measured those jumps. They just have different jobs, different talents.

For, like the others, Jonathan is a Christian and he knows his ability comes from God. But he knows too the danger of making sport the only thing in your life – you can overtrain, get boastful or tense – you can stop enjoying sport if you take it too seriously. In the end he knows there’s got to be something more important than jumping into a sandpit.

So – you won, you’re the champion? You ‘re not the king of the world – don’t act like it.

You lost? So? It’s not the end of the world. God loves you, winner or loser. Doesn’t that have to be the most important thing?

Time of Reflection

Yes, we know winning’s best , but – what do you think? – perhaps we need to experience a bit of both, winning and losing. And I’m not just talking about sport here, but about any competition we go in for. Now we know what we can gain by winning, a medal, a feeling of achievement and so on, but I want you to think what you can gain by losing. Just a moment to think about that…

Well, what did you think of? Perhaps that losing can make you try harder, make you more determined. Perhaps that it can make you more sympathetic, so you can encourage others when they lose.

So perhaps losing can be winning too. We need to learn how to do both.

Bible Bits

Be careful if you win a lot. The Bible says:

“Too much honey is bad for you.” (Proverbs 25:27)

and “Do not think of yourself more highly than you should.” (Romans 12:3)

And if you keep on losing, there’s this verse:

“If we do not give up, the time will come when we will reap the harvest.” (Galatians 6:9)


Lord, help us to be good losers and good winners, to do our best and leave it there whatever the result. You know we’re not Superman or Superwoman, but thank you for the abilities that you have given us. Amen.

Variations on a Theme

Pupils could speak about sports events or other competitions they entered, and, even though they didn’t win, how much they enjoyed them anyway. This would show that the result is not the be-all and end-all and that losing is nothing to be ashamed of.

Quiz Questions

  1. Which teams played in the 1994 FA Cup Final?
  2. What stopped the ball Gavin Peacock kicked from going in?
  3. What was Gavin’s reaction?
  4. How did Gavin’s dad get him in the habit of kicking balls?
  5. What did Gavin do on the Saturday before his Maths GCSE?
  6. Tell me one thing Gavin always prays about?
  7. Which country is Bernhard Langer from?
  8. Name the golfing cup the teams were playing for.
  9. Which event is Jonathan Edwards famous for?
  10. What did he do in Sweden that was so special?