I didn’t know Rev Kenny MacDonald but, somehow, everyone knew him. He was well-kent for the saddest of reasons – because his teenage daughter, Alison, had gone off to Kashmir in 1981 . . . and vanished. But Kenny never gave up his belief that he would see her again.
Sometime in the nineties, a television programme was made. A teenager myself at the time of its broadcast, I cannot forget the unbearably poignant image of Kenny on a hillside in Sonamarg, spelling out her name in large, white stones. What pain, what bravery, what faith. Older now, I still cannot begin to imagine what it must have cost him to leave that place again, without his girl.
And then, the realisation that he was losing his sight. Oh, I remember thinking, how awful if he goes blind before Alison comes back. Then all his assertions that he would see her again will come to nothing. I thought.
Their story had become such a part of Highland and Island consciousness. Now and again, a wee ripple, a rumour that she had been found. These always came to nothing, though. Kenny and his wife, Reta, were always left empty-handed. Everyone willed the story to end happily, for Alison to just turn up – perhaps married, a mother; but just to turn up and give him peace.
As I say, I never met him, but you didn’t actually feel that he lacked peace, as such. Every interview I ever saw or read just showed me again how much faith it was possible for one person to have. And how much love, as a father. He remained convinced that his daughter was alive and, in one of the truest examples of what fatherhood surely ought to be, he never stopped trying to reach her.
I remember that documentary and thinking how incredible it would be if Alison should actually find those stones spelling out her name across the hillside. After nearly twenty years of separation, to know that her father still remembered, and was still looking for her, would surely mean everything.
We cannot know why God permitted any of this: Alison’s disappearance, the long years without answers, or – perhaps most difficult of all – Kenny’s relentless conviction that she was still alive. There were certainly times when it seemed awfully cruel that a man of faith should believe in something he did not see fulfilled.
Of course, other men of faith, even more famous than Kenny MacDonald, have walked that path before. Moses, despite all that he did in faithfully leading the children of Israel, did not himself enter the promised land. He believed in it, he strove for it, and he inspired others to believe in it also but, at the last, he was not to experience it for himself.
Who would say that Moses’ faith was in vain, though? It was because of his faith that so many others would enter the land of promise; it was his steadfast following of God that had enabled him to lead them out of danger so many times.
And Kenny’s faith teaches me something as well. His unswerving belief, and his love for his Lord enabled him to serve Christ while never letting down the burden of fatherhood laid upon him. What we all marvelled at was his devotion; the devotion to his family, to Alison, was part of his devotion to the God who had set him free. For him, I think, it was simple, though it cannot ever have been easy.
God doesn’t promise ease to His people here in this vale of tears. But He does promise an eternity that cannot be described.
Moses reappears in the New Testament, in Matthew 17, standing upon the mount of Transfiguration. Many Biblical scholars say that this mountain was likely to have been in the Promised Land. If so, then Moses did finally stand there, though not in the way he may have thought.
God’s ways and plans are not ours. That much is beyond debate. His timescales are not ours either.
Though Kenny MacDonald has gone to be with his Lord, our hopes that Alison will be restored to her family do not dim.
And because Kenny has gone to be with her Lord, we are certain he will enjoy that reunion with Alison he so desired to see. But it will be much more perfect than the one we all imagined.