After nearly six years of “weeping”, there was “joy in the morning” at Rosebank Union Church on Sunday 20 August when Stephen McGown and his wife Catherine stepped to the front of the church.

Stephen was kidnapped by Al Queda in Mali on 25 November 2011 and was held by them in the remote Sahara North until his miraculous release and return to his family a few weeks ago.

Immediately following Stephen’s capture, hundreds of members of RUC began praying for him. Inspired by the American wartime song about tying a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree, one of our members, Frances Cowen, made hundreds of yellow ribbons available at the church. We tied them around trees and shrubs in our gardens and on our gates and doorposts to remind us to pray for Stephen and his family. These faithful yellow ribbons were blown by the wind, bleached by the sun, chilled by the cold, and soaked by the rain. As trees grew over nearly six years, the ribbons bit into their trunks and branches leaving permanent scars as reminders. As we saw our ribbons day by day, we would shoot up arrow prayers for Stephen and his family as well as pray on our knees, in our homes and in our church services. Sometimes there would be more than a year between a proof-of-life video or any news of Stephen and our faith would flag. We wondered whether he would ever be free again. I have to confess that there were times when I began to prepare his funeral sermon in my mind as I despaired of him ever been released.

Then came that glorious day when the news broke: STEPHEN IS HOME! Our private rejoicing found corporate expression at the 10 am service last Sunday when I invited Stephen and Catherine and their family to the front of the church. As one person the congregation stood, and applauded and cheered for a solid three minutes. Weeping had stayed for the long night of nearly six years, but joy came that morning. It was a great Sunday!

When the applause died down I handed the microphone to Stephen who shared is joy at being home and humbly thanked the Rosebank family for our prayers.

Stephen removed the yellow ribbon from the “old oak tree” at the McGown home (see picture) as have many of us, but their need for our prayers remains as they move into the future facing many adjustments.
Stephen’s story is an encouragement to all of us to persevere in prayer for people and situations where we need a miracle. Remember . . .

“Weeping may stay overnight, but there is joy in the morning” Psalm30:5 CSB