NOTE: This musing was written on Tuesday 3rd December, and scheduled for posting on 10th inst. I’ve brought that forward due to the announcement of Nelson Mandela’s death, and now dedicate it to the memory of a truly remarkable man.


Frozen rivers pose a major problem for swans. However, they are very hardy birds, having almost 25,000 feathers (more than any other bird) which enable their survival in extreme wintry conditions. A few years back I witnessed this couple (see photo below) valiantly attempting to make their way upstream on the icy River Ancholme, near Brigg, where I live.

Initially I thought they were side-by-side, but as I moved closer it became apparent that one was leading, head bowed and working painstakingly (it might be said sacrificially) to break the ice, while the other was gliding, almost effortlessly, in the ‘slipstream’, which stretched far into the distance.


I was greatly moved by the scene, which prompted two strands of reflection …

… In many walks of life – politics, religion, medicine, technology, the arts or sport – there are those who could be designated as ‘breakthrough’ people, who, like this swan, have pioneered the way for others to follow in their wake. They were focused individuals, who bravely and determinedly challenged prevailing conditions, to push through into bigger and better things.

We have so many ‘bravehearts’ from previous generations who refused to give up or back down, and whose titanic struggles have brought unimaginable benefits to humanity – some of my personal ‘favourites’ include: William Wilberforce, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and the irrepressible Nelson Mandela. And in my own sphere of church ministry influences from the past have been innumerable. Springing readily to mind are more personal ‘favourites’: John Wesley, George Whitefield, and none more so than Robert Murray McCheyne (a Scottish Presbyterian minister who worked in Dundee during the 19th century)

I remember also, with deep gratitude, those I’ve known personally, who made a way for me, paying a price so that I could be the person I am today, and enjoy the life I have today. Standing out among these heroic individuals are: my parents & grandparents, numerous school-teachers, and several faithful pastors. They were people who believed in me, when I didn’t believe in myself, and invested so much of their life in me. Added to these, I will never forget those precious friends who came to me as gifts from God, and helped to shape my character and the beliefs that I now fondly cherish.

… Most significantly, in my second train of thought, the image of those swans stands as a visual aid to my personal faith. For there is something analogous here with Jesus Christ – known as the Pioneer of our faith – who left the majesty of heaven, became fully human, and ultimately laid down His life at the cross. In tasting death for mankind, He secured salvation by making a way into the Presence of His Father, God. And since He rose again and lives eternally, it is a new and living way, upon which He accompanies us every step.

Jesus’ investment in humanity is unparalleled in history, and in a dark and hostile world stands out as a beacon of hope – remarkable Good News – which surely calls for a measured response. Most likely such was uppermost in the mind of C T Studd, a former England cricketer and pioneer missionary, when he wrote:

C T StuddIn putting together these two sequences of thought, the following questions began slowly to formulate in my mind:

Is the Spirit of Christ seeking our engagement to become ‘breakthrough’ persons for the sake of others ?

And, by weathering ice-cold spiritual conditions and patiently, with love and humble service, may it be that somehow we prepare a highway on which others may travel to meet Jesus for themselves ?

Worth a moment of time to consider ?