After the accident, A Rocha created a page on the website where people could write messages. Many of them included memories of Miranda’s hospitality. We’ve chosen the ones we thought you would find most interesting. If you have a story you’d like to share, please send it to us via our contact form.
The book sparked off memories of so many shared meals, sometimes just the four of us, or round the table at Cruzinha, or Czech, or Kenya…I think if I could relive just three meals, one would be breakfast at Fontvieille when John Stott, Rick and I stayed with you for a couple of nights in May 1998 after the French members week. You and I cycled into the village to buy croissants and when we got back, Miranda had laid the table in the garden – with a tablecloth and a vase of roses. She served the coffee in bowls, it was a glorious warm morning, the start of a real scorcher, and we were all pleased and relieved that the week had gone so well. The food was simple, I suppose, but just so good, there was such pleasure in just relaxing together, yet Miranda somehow worked her magic and made an occasion of it that I’ll never forget.”
Miranda, you seem to carry with you an almost tangible presence of God’s grace, love and peace. To me that always meant encouragement and reassurance, and a new desire to keep pursuing God. I’ll never forget the wonderful impression you made on our little daughter Alana when you spent an evening with us in New Zealand, and her excitement in getting a handwritten postcard from you afterwards. Although you must have hundreds of friends around the world, you always made us feel like we were special friends to you.
We have said of Miranda when we describe her to friends that she exemplified hospitality in her very personhood. One favourite memory was very early in our relationship when I arrived late for the Regent course we were leading together and sat down at a desk. I was having a very difficult and painful day. Incredibly, Miranda got up from her seat, quietly made her way around the room to my desk and gave me a hug and a kiss on my cheek. I felt loved and my dampened spirit was lifted. That, indeed, is such a wonderful example of God’s hospitality. Many more such stories followed.
Besides the annual A Rocha International team gatherings and the AR International Forum once in every couple of years, I met the Harrises by travelling with them to Hong Kong a few times and Malaysia once several years back. Throughout these trips, I have observed how Miranda approached and received people passionately and caringly, even under long haul travel fatigues and “strange” cultural settings. She was a very attentive and patient listener, giving much needed time and space to capture what we told her about our well-being, our family and particular situations… This was not just in conversations, brief or prolonged, but in all those small things she demonstrated her deep care for people.
Peter and Miranda did not just co-found the organization called A Rocha, but also shaped the culture and ethos of this now-global family. I was deeply impressed when Miranda recalled a couple of years ago, not verbatim here, that back in the very early days of A Rocha in Cruzinha (the first A Rocha field study centre, still in operation), they were very tight in finance, with scattering supports from time to time. One day they received an amount of 400 British Pounds from a supporter in UK; while they were wondering if they should spend the money on food or equipment, she decided to use half of the amount to purchase a large wooden dining table (which is still in use at Cruzinha today). For her, having meals together either after a long day of field works as a team (staff, volunteers, interns, etc.) or hosting visiting guests should be the key of the A Rocha’s experience and community. This legacy can be seen in many A Rocha’s presence around the world.
I met Miranda about 1981, in Upton, Wirral, when Peter became a curate at St Mary’s Church. She and I were both mums with 3 young children, our number 4s were born later after the Harris family moved to Portugal. Our 4 year old daughters started school together. Miranda was passionate about people and community, and I remember her pushing her big pram up the road and greeting everyone she met with her beautiful smile and genuine, caring interest. She believed in people being real, and not putting on a facade, her home was open to visitors, whether expected or not, and all felt genuinely welcome, despite any piles of washing, toys covering the floor or crying children. Miranda lived her faith and showed the love of Jesus to everyone she met. She and Peter were inspirational in many ways, as seen in the birth and growth of A Rocha International which has at its heart the responsibility of proactively caring for God’s creation outworked through that passion for people and communities. She leaves a wonderful legacy to so many people around the world.
Reaching for our precious letters file we find many of Miranda’s treasured letters – with her unique exquisite handwriting that reminded us instantly of all that she meant to us and the world of friends to whom she wrote. Always they were headed scripture, and the first we find is this: ‘Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall see fully, even as I am fully known.’
Our collective grief at the loss of Miranda is evidence not only of our love for her, but also her love for us. She was (and still IS, even more so!) a woman with the most tremendous capacity for big-hearted love. Colin Jackson, a surrogate son and founder of A Rocha Kenya, nicknamed her “MamaRocha” because of her astounding nurturing instincts that she showered on everyone she met. Like all good mothers she knew how to be particularly present to each person she encountered. To know Miranda was to be welcomed into a space of laughter and vulnerability and sometimes tears thanks to her own laughter and vulnerability and sometimes tears.
The poet David Whyte writes that when we loose a loved one we fall toward something. It’s like falling in love, but it is falling in grief. In our grief, Whyte says, we are actually falling toward the foundation that that loved one held for us. Perhaps it was a foundation we didn’t even realize they were holding for us. For so many of us, Miranda held a foundation of faith in a good and merciful God. She held a foundation of beauty — noticing it, creating it, bringing it out in others. And she held a foundation of spacious hospitality as the surest way to authentic connection.
I vividly remember my first arrival at Cruzinha -being collected from Mexilhoeira station, bumping along the Quinta da Rocha track in the car, with Peter, Miranda and Violinda, the red earth and greenness of Cruzinha garden -and Miranda’s generous words; “welcome, come in and meet everyone”, as we pulled up in front of the house.
From the time Miranda invited me to join a Bible Study in her home, I knew there was something so different about her, her gentle nature, her radiant smile, her Christ-like qualities, making me feel as though I was the most important person in the room, I didn’t know Jesus then and I thank God that Miranda led me to faith and nurtured me in those early days.