I met my friend Donald in April 2001. I was manager for a mainland company working in Stornoway.
This man chapped my office door: “I’m looking for a summer job, any going?”, he asked.
“What experience do you have?”, I replied.
“None, but I need money to go and find Noah’s Ark.” Looking at him blankly, I thought: “This guy’s on the wind up.” You don’t get that sort of reply every day. “This man’s either winding me up, or here’s a guy that has passion and focus.” Selfishly, I thought: “If this was channelled to work we would have one good worker here.” This was the first day I met the man I named Mujahidin.
It was a friendship which would culminate over nine years, and change my life.
“Okay, we’ll give you a few days work and see how it goes.
Let’s just say he embarrassed a few so-called workers in the months that followed. Donald brought his drive and passion to work as much as his life outside work which I knew very little of.
Donald came and went for a few seasons. I heard he was working away, and was on this quest for an Ark which I still thought was a wind up. My own life on the other hand was slipping into alcoholism culminating in a severe addiction. But every week without fail while Donald was on the island, he would head for Melbost to break up my drinking sessions in the kitchen, and of course – eat me out of food! I could never work out how a man could eat so much. Donald would make a good go of going through it every weekend – successfully! I remember saying to his Mother: “You want to feed that boy of yours.” Now I know it wasn’t about the food, it was Donald’s way of trying to help me. I hope he saw something in me. I now know he did.
I got to know Donald more and more and he told me about his previous life and how his brother Derick had come to see him after a fight, and how this was when he found the Lord. I thought: “hey-hey, this man’s trying to convert me: this is his game.”
But amazingly, he never rammed it down my throat. “What’s going on here?” I thought. Donald had that way of, “You’ll come round when you’re ready, carry on drinking.” And I did. I didn’t think of this at the time. I now wonder how much he had to go through with my incessant ramblings.
But in reality he was in the place where I wanted to be. I was jealous. This guy was at peace with himself and I wasn’t. I remember him coming back after going to look for Noah’s Ark. It must have been his first visit. He was walking down the drive in Melbost and we were drinking. The comment was: “Here’s Mujahidin. All right Donald where have you been?”, as he came into the kitchen.
“Mount Ararat looking for the Ark.”
I remember the silence and the blank faces. He was serious. That was the moment I realised that we were the ones who were off the wall. He had done what he said he would do that first day I met him. The day I replied: “You need this job to look for Noah’s Ark? – pull the other leg!” What had we done? – nothing – we were still drinking and still in the kitchen.
I looked forward to Donald coming back to the island. There was a good chance I would be drunk at the weekend. He would arrive at the kitchen table with the usual smile, as if to say: “Oy-oy, nothing’s changed here then my boy.” And the more we sat round the table, the more I was sure he was off the wall completely – looking for a boat on the other side of the world because he believed.
One day he brought a 16ft boat on a trailer and asked if he could park it up in the drive for a few months until he got it repaired. I couldn’t resist this chance. He sat down. I put on the kettle and said: “So, you found the Ark after all.”
I melted. Donald’s reply was: “Oh ye of little faith.” But I did get a smile.
“What have you been doing? Let me guess – drinking. Tut-tut. You’d better come with me to the church, you need help.”
“I’ll come to church nae bother.”
“Really?” Donald replied. “I’ll be down for you on Sabbath then.”
“Hold on, I’ve not been to church for 30 years.”
“Okay, I’ll go, but I’m keeping a low profile.” Donald agreed.
“Get the first visit under your belt – low profile.” Sunday came, Donald pulled up. I’m dressed like Norman wisdom, hung over, and hadn’t shaved.
“I can’t go like this,” I said.
“You’ll be fine; we’ll sit up at the back; no singing: feel your way in. Okay let’s go.”
“Where do you go?”
“The Free Presbyterian.”
“What? Are you mental? What about somewhere less strict?” We got to the doors. “Come on”, Donald said, “It’s fine.”
What followed is what makes my friend who he is. The bold lad with me in tow marches straight in. He heads for the front middle. There’s nobody around for miles. Every eye in the church is looking at me. I could hear: “Who’s that with Donald?” I’m sure I heard: “Norman Wisdom.” I’m now needing an oxygen bottle and feeling faint. “Donald, don’t sing”, was the last I said before he burst into song with his best Pavarotti impression.
That was my first visit to church with Donald. After that, strangely, my ramblings of trying to prove Donald wrong were now getting less, as I found myself listening more to Donald and about this man Jesus. I became intrigued about what was driving this guy on. The drinking had become so bad it was hard to make rational decisions. But there was something there that was starting to make sense.
For over three years after that, Donald faithfully came to see me and pour my drink down the sink. I was asking him for help. His method was to pour all the drink out and put the kettle on. I think he got a buzz out of that. That was all right until he had gone. I was on my own then, trying to lick the sink at three in the morning.
He kept at me when everybody else was giving up. On returning from trips to London etc., he would call in whether I was drunk or not. Jobless, skint, loaded – and never ask for anything apart from the biscuit tin.
Three years ago this January I received a visitor after a drinking session. Let’s just say a spirit arrived. This ended with me in Hospital for six weeks. Soon after, I met up with Donald. “Coming down?” I said, “So I can tell you what happened.”
I suppose I wanted to find out if this change in my life was real. And Donald could tell me. And that night for the first time since I met Donald I was cooking for him. Sober. All we talked about that night was the visitor who came to see me. Donald kept asking me what happened and I told him. He knew there was a big change. And most importantly – he knew I wasn’t kidding. I wanted to know more, and Donald in his own way told me. Donald was in his element.
Finally, I was listening.
That night I could see the reason for all Donald’s previous visits, no matter how trivial or meaningless they had been. Ten minute or ten hour visits had all joined together and this was his night. He had the stage and me sitting there, listening. Knowing I had been wrong all along.
He had helped to beat the demon in me.
On his next visit I told him I was attending Kenneth Street [Stornoway Free Church]. His reply was: “Not bad. A bit lightweight, but it’s a start.”
You couldn’t make it up. I was looking for the pat on the back. But that’s Donald’s way. He went to London and I started this business.
This summer he phoned and I met him at our yard. What a look on Donald’s face when he saw what we had achieved. It delighted him no end. He had a big smile and you could see the pride bursting out of him.
“How did you do this?”, he asked.
“Amazing what you can do if you believe in something.” I said, and winked at him. “More to the point, when are you starting? There’s work here for you on the island.”
“I’ve got to go and see what the Chinese are claiming to have found on Ararat.”
“Come and work here Donald. Leave Ararat just now – the ark can wait.”
But there was only going to be one winner. Even up to forty-eight hours before, I thought he might change his mind.
“Hold the job for me”, he said, “and I’ll catch up with you in the winter.”
I’m writing this just now knowing that without Donald’s persistence, I wouldn’t be where I am. I’m nowhere near the finished article, and I’m far from perfect. But I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t crossed his path that day nine years ago. Donald Mackenzie started his missionary work not in Turkey, but at home in Stornoway: and I’m witness to that.
I have Donald to thank for being a big part in my sobriety, and also for leading me onto the right path. One day I will cross paths with Mujahidin again, hopefully on this earth. But if not, I now know where I will find him. I hope he will speak up for me when that day arrives.
My friend DONALD MACKENZIE is and will continue to be a truly amazing man.
I believe that Donald is alive, and he will be taking this job offer when I meet him.