Daily Devotional reflections

As we journey through these uncertain times, each day Sean will seek to post a thought or reflection, a Bible verse or a prayer.

Monday 22 June 2020
By Fred Coutts

‘Searching for Joanna’

Joanna gravesdtone old

joanna gravestone now

The gravestone is in a sorry state now, but once it stood tall and proud in the old St Peter’s Kirkyard in Peterhead.  At centre of the cross is the badge of the Salvation Army and there is a Bible, a bonnet and a timbrel.  Who was this 24 year old girl called Joanna Hiesley?  No one among the present members of the Salvation Army in Peterhead knew anything about her. So I started to dig into her story.

Hieseley is not a common name and certainly not a familiar Peterhead one.  It turns out that she was born in Peterhead.  Her family was well known in the town.  Joanna’s grandfather was Matthew Nicol, a sea captain and a fish curer, her grandmother, Charlotte Leask, was a cousin of William Hutchison Leask, sometime Provost of Peterhead.  Joanna’s mother, also called Charlotte entered service and in 1861 was working for a Peterhead couple who were living in the Birkenhead area.  It was then that she met and married William Hiesley a railway porter from Liverpool who was living nearly.

As the years passed William would have different jobs, carter, and gardener to mention but two. William and Charlotte moved about a bit, living in South Shields for a while before returning to Peterhead where sadly their first child, Mary, died after just 37 hours.Two years later Joanna was born.  The family moved back to William’s home territory and settled in the Liverpool area where they remained until William’s death in 1904.
Joanna did not keep in good health.  In about 1886 she probably contracted rheumatic fever.  Her death certificate notes that she had suffered “chorea” for 12 years. This is a neurological condition which causes uncontrolled movements of the body.   It is one of the known aftereffects of rheumatic fever, as is heart disease which was the final cause of her death in 1899.  I have read up a bit about childhood diseases at the time and it all fits.  There is a form of chorea which is associated with rheumatic fever and is most common in girls in the early teenage years.  There were no cures available in those days, and would not be until the discovery of antibiotics.  Scarlet fever could often lead on to rheumatic fever with all its consequences.   The only treatment for these fevers was isolation in “fever hospitals” to try to keep everyone else safe.  Does this scenario sound familiar, a disease with no known treatment other than isolation?

Joanna had 12 years of chronic debilitating illness, but it seems not to have got her down.  She had clearly developed a deep faith as her gravestone testifies.  I have not been able to find any evidence that she was a member of the Salvation Army other than her gravestone, but there are family links with the Army, right to the highest level. 

Joanna’s uncle Alexander Nicol was a newspaper editor and a Methodist local preacher in Peterhead when the Salvation Army arrived in town in the 1882.  He joined and eventually ended up as the editor of the “War Cry” magazine and secretary to the founding General, William Booth, accompanying him on many foreign trips. 

Other members of the extended Nicol family can be found among the ranks of the Salvation Army.   It may be that the Hiesleys too found their spiritual home here.  I know that Alexander Nicol’s sister, Maria was living with the Hiesleys in Liverpool in 1880s and she may have had Salvation Army sympathies because of her brother.   Was the 19 year old Maria an influence on 9 year old Joanna’s spiritual life?

What we do have is the record of Joanna’s last words engraved on her gravestone:

Her last words were
“Mother can you see the angels?  How beautiful.
They are coming for me.  Jesus is not coming yet but he is coming
Until daybreak and the shadows flee away.
Farewell.  A long farewell
Father and mother miss you very sore
Till round the throne of Christ we meet again
To part no more.”

Joanna died in 1899 and was brought home to Peterhead to be buried in the family plot. Her magnificent gravestone is testimony to this young woman’s life of faith.

She lived a short life and would not have been strong enough to do very much.  But her life of faith is remembered and celebrated.  Andrew found a little boy with his picnic and Jesus used it in an extraordinary way. When Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth, he recognised that they were not rich, important or influential people but all were special before God.   Remember that you are special before God and ask him what he wants of you.  

It looks as if Joann’s faith grew and developed through the influence and example of people who were close to her. Take some time to reflect and give thanks for the people who have influenced your faith and think how you might influence others.

Give thanks for the spectacular development of medicine in the last 100 years that has led to new treatments and cures that would have seemed impossible for Joanna and her family.  Just a few days ago we have heard of the discovery that an existing drug can help those who are most ill with Covid-19.  Give thanks for the doctors and the researches who are looking for cures and vaccines. 

As we live through this time of Pandemic and face a disease with no cure, remember those who are caring for those struck down by Covid-19 and for their anxious and grieving families


1 Corinthians 1:26-31
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’

John 6:1-14
Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing those who were ill. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’
Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.
After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’


Remember in your prayers

  • Those who have influenced you in your faith
  • Those that you might influence in their faith
  • Those working at the cutting edge of medical research
  • Those who devote their lives to caring and healing
  • Those who are infected or affected by Covid-19

we trust in Your power,
even when it is often found in weakness,
in your wisdom,
even when it is expressed in seeming foolishness,
in your wholeness,
even when it comes to us amid brokenness.

We do not ask today for dazzling displays of strength,
or exercises of intellectual prowess,
or marvellous manifestations of miracles.
We come simply before you in faith.
Touch us today, ordinary broken people as we are,
For we know that your body, the church is made up of ordinary people like us.
Your church is built not upon our abilities, knowledge, or skill,
but upon you.

The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
you will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power
and the glory are yours
now and forever.


Valued and loved,
known and understood,
forgiven and free,
we go to serve God,
to take up our crosses,
to confront our fears.

Go in peace to serve God in all that you think, do and say.
God’s peace will always be with you.