For former music teacher Linda, a move to Strathclyde House is just the latest in a series of post-retirement adventures
Standing in the queue at the M&S café in Bangor, Northern Ireland, during her first week of retirement, Linda, then 63, found herself praying a silent prayer. “I was surrounded by all these very well-dressed women drinking coffee,” she says, “I prayed, ‘Lord, don’t let me spend the rest of my days as a coffee-drinker.’”
It was a prayer that God has answered resoundingly. Linda’s desire to serve the Lord led her to Belfast Bible College, where she studied from 2007 to 2009. Then, towards the end of the course, Anthea, one of the lecturers, asked Linda if she’d ever thought of going to Peru.
“As a keen hill-walker, I’d actually wanted to go to Peru for a long time to do the Inca Trail. However, the best time of year in terms of climate doesn’t match school holiday dates so I’d never managed it,” says Linda.
But what her lecturer had in mind wasn’t walking but mission work. “I hadn’t ever considered it,” says Linda, “I thought only young people went on short-term mission trips.”
Anthea invited her to a Latin Link conference in Belfast, where she was introduced to Rosemary, a lady in her mid-sixties who had served in Latin America since her twenties. “I was amazed,” says Linda. “Especially when she looked at me and said, ‘Linda, I could really use you over in Peru.’ My first response was, ‘I couldn’t do that. I don’t even know the language.’ But Rosemary assured me that that wouldn’t matter and that I could pick it up.”
A few weeks later, Linda was having trouble sleeping and went downstairs in the early hours to make a cup of tea. A leaflet, sent as a follow-up from the conference, was lying on the piano unopened and she took it back upstairs to read.
“It was actually a thick fold-out leaflet, and on one side was a huge poster of the mountains with a walker looking out over Machu Pichu and the words, ‘Boldly, go.’ I was thinking to myself, ‘I wish I was 20 years younger’.
Then, from the corner of my room in the deepest voice I’ve ever heard, I heard the words, ‘Linda, boldly go.’
“The next morning, I went downstairs and told my daughter, ‘I think God to spoke to me last night.’ I thought she would laugh but she said to me, ‘You’ve been so restless and wanting to do something for ages. You should ring them now.’” It was a Saturday, so Linda thought there was no point calling – the office would be shut. Then the phone rang…
Incredibly, it was Emma from the Latin Link office in Belfast saying that they were looking for an older lady to work in Peru.
A meeting between Linda and Paul and Ruth, mentors for Latin Link, came next. Sitting in the café in Portstewart waiting for Paul and Ruth to arrive, Linda glanced down at a newspaper which featured a short devotional for the day. The verse was Isaiah 30:21, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” It seemed to Linda yet another sign of affirmation.
And so in 2011, at the age of 67, Linda found herself heading to Arequipa, the second largest city in Peru, to work among poor communities. “Arriving, I realised that I was completely on my own. There was no internet, no phone. I didn’t know the language. I had to trust God for everything. But honestly, it was thoroughly the highlight of my life.”
Linda found that God had given her a real heart and a love for the people she found herself living amongst. Many were women whose husbands had gone to work in the silver mines, leaving them at home living in poverty. As Linda got to grips with learning Spanish, she was able to take part in a local women’s meeting at the mission hall, eventually giving talks, and teaching at the Sunday School.
There were also many practical ways in which Linda could help, particularly among older people. During the rainy season, many homes would flood, and so Linda and the team would take a mini-bus up the hill to help brush the water out of older people’s homes and to scrub down the walls.
“I think my age helped me be a witness,” says Linda. “People couldn’t understand why, at my age, I would leave my family to come and live among them. I could tell them, ‘It’s because God loves you and has given me a heart to tell you about Him.’ Without God, these people live a very hard life. They have no hope.”
After living in Peru for over two years, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and so had to return to the UK. Before Linda left, God gave her the chance of finally fulfilling her dream of walking the Inca Trail. “I have a special stamp in my passport to prove it!” she says.
Cecily, a lady who was part for the wider mission team in Peru, had a flat at Strathclyde House in Skelmorlie, Scotland. She suggested that Linda go and stay there for a short time to adjust to life back home. “From the moment I arrived, I felt that there was a lovely atmosphere,” says Linda. “It was a real sense of warmth and comfort. I could feel the Lord’s presence.”
Linda then returned to her home in Bangor, but found she couldn’t settle. When Cecily herself returned to Scotland, she invited Linda to come and stay at Strathclyde House again, this time in one of the guest rooms provided for visitors. Each morning, when Linda read her Bible and prayed, she felt a sense that God was asking her to leave her family and move to Strathclyde. On the last morning of her holiday, she asked if there were any flats available and was shown a newly-decorated upstairs flat with a beautiful view out onto the Clyde.
“As soon as I stepped inside and saw the view I said ‘I want this’,” she says. “After all, I’d left everything behind once before to go to Peru. I could leave everything again now.”
A deposit of £150 was required for the flat. And when she asked Cecily if she could borrow it, Cecily was thrilled – secretly, she’d been praying that Linda would feel moved to come to Strathclyde. Within two days of putting her house on the market in Bangor, it was sold.
Since making the move in 2013, Linda, now 75, has no regrets. “I’m glad I moved when I did. I liked my house in Bangor, but there were steps and stairs, and a coal fire to manage. Here, I step inside and I’m in the warm straight away. I feel so safe and secure. There’s real community spirit. We’re a lovely lot of Christians, all from different parts and backgrounds, but we’re one in Christ.”
Although her good friend Cecily moved away from Strathclyde House in October 2019 – up the road to Dalry where she’s involved with a church – Linda has made lots of new friends.
“During the lockdown especially, it’s been a real blessing to be here. At my house in Bangor I was looking out onto a wall. Here, I have beautiful views of the sea and the mountains, and there are landscaped gardens to walk around. We’ve had milk, egg and cheese delivered to us from the farm just behind Strathclyde House and medicines have been delivered to our door. The restaurant has carried on doing meals, too, and there are always other people around to say ‘hello’ to.”
In the fine weather, the wide terrace has been especial blessing. “Sitting in the sun, staring out at the beautiful water, you could believe you were on an island in Barbados. I’m not kidding. We even have the palm trees!”
Linda says that her daughters are thrilled to hear how happy and settled she is. “They don’t have to worry about me at all,” she says. For anyone considering the move, including those who live in different parts of the country, Linda can’t recommend Strathclyde House highly enough.
“I think when you are older is a good time to move a new place. You meet new people and see new things. I feel like I’m living a second life – a whole new life.”