‘Cast your bread on the water and it will come back soggy’, is my rather irreverent version of Ecclesiastes 11:1 as translated in the King James’ Bible and more recently in the English Standard Version. The proper version is:
‘Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.’
I confess to being rather disappointed to find that in some other translations of this verse, this lovely metaphor is excluded and replaced with a translation which possibly more closely reflects the meaning, but is much more prosaic in its language.
I’m a great believer in the sentiment of this verse. Sometimes it’s true that we do things or say things without any idea what effect they are ultimately going to have, or if, indeed, they will have any effect at all. Then there are those rare moments, when the bread does come back ‘soggy’, or, to use the proper version, we ‘find it after many days.’ They confirm the promise ‘that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless’. (1 Corinthians 15:58 – New Living Translation). If you are anything like me, by the time the bread returns, you’ve often forgotten that you cast it on the waters in the first place!
I had one such experience this past week. Out of the blue I received an email from a retired medical doctor who attended a Salvation Army corps/church in the area in which I worked before my first ‘retirement’. He lived in the Buckinghamshire area near the network of canals that can be found in that part of the world. The Salvation Army had been asked if they could help the local ecumenical workplace ministry team in establishing a ministry along the waterways. It had come to light that there was a lot of need amongst some of the people who lived there, and they were looking for volunteers to undertake a voluntary chaplaincy role to offer help and support to them. I asked the doctor if he might be willing to consider helping out. This proposal offered the interesting prospect of The Salvation Army returning to a ministry it had had on those same waterways some years before, and later we discovered, to our delight, that there was a sign which the then barge owners would put on their barges which indicated that The Salvation Army would we welcomed on board. But I digress. My doctor colleague accepted my invitation to be part of the ministry and has been involved in that ministry for the past seven years.
He wrote to tell me how the work on the waterways has developed, and it made quite awesome reading! The team of chaplains is now 40 strong, and the Canals and Rivers Trust have appointed a welfare officer too. He reported that when they started some of the people along the waterways were struggling with life and so the chaplains have often supported them in gaining access to the medical care and benefits they need and helped them also access food from the food banks should they require it.
Incredibly, when they began, the professional watermen told them that on that particular stretch of the waterways there were a number of suicides in any one year, but now this number has drastically diminished.
The doctor finished by saying what tremendous support the team have from the boaters and professional watermen, and he says, ‘….it has been an amazing journey and still is. God always takes us where he wants us, and it is there on the towpath that he meets those in need.’
I can’t help thinking that the crumbs I cast on the water have been returned as several large loaves of bread….oh, and by the way, it had not escaped my attention that the metaphor was particularly apposite considering it referred to ministry on water!