In August 2012 Leah and I went to Coleraine Congregational Church where Catherine Campbell was launching her most recent book: Broken Works Best. Amongst the invited speakers that night were Pat and Andy Cardy. I was familiar with their story as I had heard them being interviewed on the radio several times. The sound of their voices has always reduced me to tears, their story is so heartbreaking.
On the 12th August 1981 Pat and Andy’s nine year old daughter Jennifer left her home in the quiet countryside to cycle to a friend’s house nearby. Jennifer never reached her friend’s house that day. Her bicycle was later found thrown behind a hedge along the road. A week later Jennifer’s body was found, strangled and drowned, in a dam thirteen miles away.
In 2011, Robert Black, who was one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers, was convicted in Armagh Courthouse of the kidnap, sexual assault and murder of nine-year-old Jennifer. Robert Black, who worked as a delivery driver, abducted and assaulted Jennifer before throwing her body in McKee’s Dam, near Hillsborough. Already serving a life sentence at the time of his trial for her murder, he was sentenced to another 25 years and told that he would be 89 before he would be considered for release.
That night when Leah and I heard Andy Cardy interviewed, he spoke with no trace of bitterness or anger. He described how God had ministered to him and his wife over the intervening years, giving them the grace to cope with their situation. He talked about the then recent six week trial and how he had looked into the face of evil – the last face on earth his darling little girl had seen – and how he had felt no hatred.
It had not always been this way, there had been a time when Andy had been angry, very angry, wanting to murder the person who had done this to his daughter. However over the years Andy had learned that hatred is much too costly – he had learned to let God be the judge. Robert Black had stolen the life of his darling daughter and had also destroyed the lives of many others; Andy had decided that he wouldn’t let this man destroy his life as well.
On our way home, Leah said to me “Mummy, you cried through the whole meeting.” This was true, I was so moved by what everyone had shared, but especially the Cardy’s. I had always imagined that losing a child must be the worst pain imaginable, but losing a child in the circumstances in which they lost Jennifer was to me incomprehensible. Yet, they were testifying to the all sufficient grace of God:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
Mrs Cardy told BBC News NI that she feels no bitterness towards her daughter’s murderer and would have liked to have spoken to him before his death in jail in a bid to change his “wasted” life, that was full of “depravity”.
“As Christians, Robert Black could have had what I have and what Andrew has, and our whole family – that is just the beautiful peace of God,” she said.
“I have actually prayed for Robert Black that he could come to this and therefore, his life that produced no good could now begin to change. I would have loved that for Robert Black.”
Mr Cardy said: “I’ve often said that he stole the life from our daughter but we would not allow him to steal our lives. We were determined to live on and live on for the family that we had, but the hurt is still there.
“We miss Jennifer but we have to move on, we have to keep going.”
To me, those are amazing words. The Cardy’s have allowed God’s grace to work in their hearts to such an extent, that even in the most horrendous of circumstances, they experience the peace that passes all understanding.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)