Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow was a teenage boy when he first came to Medjugorje. He returned to Scotland with strong desire to put Our Lady’s messages into life. When the war broke out in former Yugoslavia in the early 90’s, Magnus began to deliver help to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the course of time, this work turned into Mary’s Meals, organisation that delivers food to 1.677.067 childredn each day in their place of education. Mary’s Meals are active in 19 different countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America, East Europe and Caribbean. Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow likes saying that Mary’s Meals (named after the Blessed Virgin Mary) are fruit of Medjugorje.
His story on how Medjugorje changed his life we bring here fully and you can watch him on YouTube channel Fruits od Medjugorje. For more content, please visit our Facebook page Fruits od Medjugorje, and if you are still unfamiliar with the project ‘Fruits of Medjugorje’, you can do it HERE.
He found himself watching senator George McGovern addressing the Senate and saying: If America decided to provide one meal every day for every child in the developing world in a place of education, it would act like the Marshall Plan that would lift the developing world out of poverty.
And Tony said, when he listened to this speech, he got this inspiration that if somebody took the idea and gave it to Our Lady and called it Mary's Meals, it would actually happen. As soon as he shared that with me, it was like... Sometimes it's very hard to discern what God's saying, I think, but this time it was like... It was like a no-brainer! Everything in our lives from 1983 to meeting Edward a few days before, to that point all made sense. I felt like God had been just getting us ready for this work.
I remember quite clearly the first time I heard about Međugorje, even though it was a long time ago 1983, I was only 15, I was setting up my breakfast table with my family and my older sister was reading a newspaper, a secular newspaper and she suddenly said: There's a report in here that says there are teenagers in Yugoslavia that are having apparitions of the Virgin Mary and we were quite a devout Catholic family. We'd been to Fatima the year before on pilgrimage and we started saying to our mum and dad: If that's even possibly true, surely we should go there and find out, you know, so that was how I first heard about it and to our surprise when we said that to our parents, they said: Well we're busy at the moment but if you guys want to go, you can go and so we did.
I think coming here that first time, part of it was... Part of it was a sense of adventure and discovery. You're going to a country at the other side of Europe, a communist country then. We hadn't even located Međugorje on the map properly, so we had a bit of an adventure finding it and again my vivid memory of arriving here the very first evening was just by chance, we got here just before evening mass and we didn't know anything about where to go, we didn't have anywhere booked to stay so we just went to the church and found it full of people and that was just an amazing experience in itself to see the faith of the people here.
And then at the end of mass it was father Slavko, we didn't know him then, but there was father Slavko who came down and spoke to us. And really, you could see we were strangers. He asked us where we were from and we told him. He was amazed we were from Scotland and then he said: Where are you staying? And we said: We don't, we don't know where we're staying, so he introduced us to his sister and her family and they took us in for the weekend looking after us. And that was just such a bless, we got to know them, we got to know some of the visionaries, they were inviting us to be with them and they were having their apparitions and so we were really kind of spoiled. We were very, very blessed in that first experience.
And all of us went back feeling very changed, you know, went back, yeah, very different than when we'd come. The thing I remember most in that first visit about learning what Our Lady was saying was that very simple invitation to put God in the first place in our lives and our families. And I remember when we went, arrived back home, mom and dad were there and they had some priests that they trusted there. They were kind of interrogating us, they even had tape recorders asking us all these questions trying to figure out if this is real, if this is something they should be encouraging.
And I remember we were talking about that and we just... I think our parents were amazed because before that visit they were always the ones chasing us to say family prayers and we came back saying: You know, we really need to start saying the rosary together every day and we should be trying to fast and so we were, we were trying in our way to put some of those messages into practice in our life and not always succeeding, but trying.
And then mom and dad came quite shortly after that, had a similar experience here and when they returned they felt God was asking them to turn our home, which was a small hotel, into a Catholic retreat center. And, really, that just meant they opened the doors and invited anyone who wanted to come to do so and people began coming and then our Bishop gave us the great blessing of having the Blessed Sacrament in the house and so we turned our biggest room into the chapel and that's what's happened ever since all these years, it's called Craig Lodge Family House of Prayer and people come from all over to spend time and pray there.
So, our family had a huge life change from that point, it became something very different, people from all over suddenly in our home. So, our life changed quite dramatically.
In 1992, by then, I was a young man, I'd been to university, it hadn't worked out for me. I became a fish farmer or salmon farmer working in a very remote part of Scotland and at weekends I would normally meet up with my brother for a pint of beer in our pub and this time, this particular evening we'd watch this news bulletin and it happened that there was a report of what was going on here and this report was about a refugee camp not far from here.
And I think that's why it grabbed our attention and we began saying to each other: You know, could we just try and do something to help the people who are suffering there?
And out of that, without really a proper plan, the next days we began asking people if they would give us food and clothing and just basic things. And to our surprise people started giving very generously and so about three weeks later someone gave us the whole truck, an old Land Rover, we drove that here full of these gifts, delivered them into the camp and I went back home thinking that's done, my good deed. Now back to work as normal and then I discovered God had a very different plan because all those gifts kept on pouring in, we couldn't stop people turning up in their cars full of all these things they wanted to give us, so I prayed about it at that time and gave up my job which wasn't a huge sacrifice, to be honest, and I sold the little house I had.
And I just began driving back and forth and I, unbeknownst to me, set out on this new journey that's become my life's work and many other people's too. From that first delivery of aid here in 1992 for the first ten years we worked under the name Scottish International Relief and not only did we do a lot of work here during the war years, we began working in Romania with children who were HIV - positive, we began working in West Africa and Liberia during their Civil War, a lot of different things, lots of different situations, no real kind of focus and then ten years after that first delivery 2002 this work of Mary's Meals was finally born and that year was a year of terrible famine in southern Africa, many millions of people facing starvation and we were there doing very simple emergency feeding projects taking food into villages.
And while we were doing that, I met this family, exactly the local parish priest I was with asked me if I would like to come with him when he was visiting the sick in his parish.
And before we went and entered the first home, he explained to me that the father of this family had died and that the mother was now dying also and when we went into their home, Emma, the mother was lying on the floor and she had her six children with her and we began talking and she said: You know, there's nothing left for me now except to pray that someone's going to look after my children when I'm gone and then I started talking to her oldest son Edward, he was fourteen years of age and at one point in the conversation I think I was just trying to lighten things a little bit. I said to him: What are your hopes, what's your ambition?
And he said: I want to have enough food to eat and I want to be able to go to school one day. And that was it, that was all of his ambition at 14 years of age. And it was really his word that prompted the birth of Mary's Meals. We'd met lots of children in the years before that, out of school because of hunger, children who are working, begging, you know, just trying to survive and therefore missing school.
But Edward's words really brought that into this sharp focus and Mary's Meals became the simple response to that situation by providing one good meal every day in the place of Education for children like Edward.
So, it's an incredible thing to think that from that beginning in 2002, I think we started feeding 200 children at the beginning, that year in Malawi. Today over 1.5 million children eat Mary's Meals every day, every school day and so they're in 18 different countries.
Our by far the biggest project is still in Malawi. There we feed about 33 percent of the primary school population, but we're in many other countries, so we'd been in, for example, South Sudan in the midst of that terrible war, we're in Kenya in the far north in Turkana where there are horrible rates of child malnutrition.
We're in the slums of Haiti, Cite Soleil, that notorious violent slum. We're in India working with so-called Untouchables, the Dalit communities and God keeps bringing us to new places. Just recently we've begun serving Mary's Meals in Madagascar, a very particular project because there's a population of children in prison.
There are children as young as nine years of age and we're partnering there with another organization trying to provide them with education, but that program wasn't working because the children are simply too hungry, they're chronically malnourished so we've come in serving daily meals and those prisons and through that work it has opened our eyes to a much bigger, wider need in Madagascar.
We've just begun working in Zimbabwe, we're serving meals in Syria, in Aleppo so we have a real call to seek out the places where children are suffering most acutely today. Međugorje continues to be absolutely at the center of this beautiful thing that's growing around the world.
That's not just some historical fact and it's important that now there is a whole lot of different levels, so we have our Information Center here so many pilgrims who come encounter Mary's Meals here. We don't fundraise Međugorje, we just celebrate this fruit, we have a lovely initiative at the moment, we're on Wednesdays and Fridays and we invite pilgrims to come and fast with us. And local people donate bread and so we're also helping people on their journey in their response to Our Lady, but we link that with the fact that there are so many people who are fasting today not out of their own choice.
And so, you know, I mentioned that we are feeding children in 18 different countries and the other side of the movement is in over 16 countries today. We have made Mary's Meals organizations that exist for the purpose of raising awareness and fundraising and most of those organizations have been born through people discovering Mary's Meals here. Lots of ways to respond to Our Lady, our invitation here, you know, and obviously first of all, it's about trying to live those messages, those core things we need to do to experience daily conversion but I think we seem to find so often, when we start out in that path, we become people who love more, who find it harder to ignore the fact that there are millions of children starving today in this world of plenty.
So I think Mary's Meals become this other beautiful opportunity to be apostles of love, Our Lady keeps inviting us to be apostles of love, doesn't she? Here's another opportunity to do that and one of the beautiful things about Mary's Meals is that you don't have to be qualified, you don't have to be wealthy, you don't have to...
Anyone in any situation can be part of this mission and that's one of the things I love so much about Mary's Meals. A whole lot of us with very different lives, very different situations walking together with that same simple goal of seeing that hungry child fed each day.
More we feel like we're just beginning, really, because sadly there are over 60 million children today still out of school because of hunger, so every day, literally, every day we're receiving requests from communities, from schools asking us if we can bring Mary's Meals to them, so really our work has just begun.
I really believe there's no good reason for any child to go a day without food, there's no reason for any school to expect children to come and try and learn all day without eating anything. So I really think this work can go on and grow to reach many, many more of those children.
In terms of time frames we are very reluctant to put time frames and things or set targets because so much of this is out of our control. We want to leave lots of room for the Holy Spirit to guide us and we'll grow in the way God wants us to grow, we just try to be faithful every day to doing this work and to working hard and putting our talents on the table, but we don't pretend to know the future.
A few years ago I decided to try to write a book about this story because it's such an incredible story, it's a story I never could have made up and I noticed over and over again that telling the story has given people such joy and such encouragement, too. And so I thought if I could try and write it in a book form, it would reach more people with that story and it was an interesting process, it was very good for me, I think, because it really made me reflect and what God had done all these years.
I'd been so busy like running and looking forward to the next thing, the book made me just stop and it really made me feel even more grateful and more kind of in awe of what God has done through Mary's Meals, so I enjoyed writing it.
I didn't really necessarily expect many people to read it and it's been amazing and very beautiful as so many people have and it's been translated into so many languages and all the time I'm having people write letters or approach me to say what the book has done in their lives and it's helped, it's helped enormously, Mary's Meals grows well and the way some people have responded to that book, it just makes me feel so small, like really humble. We called it The Shed That Fed Million Children because back in '92 when my brother and I collected the aid to bring here, my dad had a shed outside the house and I said: Dad, can I borrow that for about a week just to store some things and I'll give it back to you?
And I've never given it back to him because the help has never stopped coming, so it became my office and it's still my office today. And its kind of, I think, in a way become a symbol of the simplicity we try to maintain in Mary's Meals, we never lose sight of the fact that people give us donations because they want to feed hungry children, not so that we can build nice big fancy offices or pay ourselves high salaries, so we made a rule for ourselves that we would always spend at least 93 percent of our funding directly on the projects and we've always actually done much better than that and that's really because most of this work around the world is done by volunteers.
In Malawi alone today there are 85,000 volunteers engaged in this mission and that all means that today on average it costs us $19.50 to feed a child for an entire school year and that's really just because of all these little acts of love, all these people contributing without any financial reward.
It seems with this whole thing that God has very much worked not just through me but my family. Even from that very first visit here as young people, that was a group of us as a family and then my mother and father made that amazing response by opening up our home and if they hadn't done that, this could never have happened. It was really through that first network of people that knew us, because of that decision that's how this work began to grow and then my own, my own family today...
I suppose you could almost describe as a fruit of Međugorje. Also I met my wife doing this work when we were driving the trucks here. In fact she became my co-driver, much better truck driver than me and today we have seven children and we're at the stage where the oldest children are now beginning to leave home and they are very involved in Mary's Meals to the two oldest, who in fact have spent the last two summers volunteering here in our Information Center because they love Mary's Meals but they also love Međugorje very much. It was beautiful to to see that.