Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Pull Up a Pew #3 Married to Mary's Meals


Our journey with 'Catholic Mothers' has given us the chance to meet some wonderful women who tirelessly work to live according to the teachings of the Gospel whether in the public eye or in the background.

Often behind the scenes we women have been given a very precious task to carry out, that of serving our family with all of ourselves... Not an easy task, at times, and one that today's world doesn't value or recognize.  

For this reason, we need to be reminded constantly of the importance of the role we have been entrusted and we need to encourage one another in this important God-given vocation.

Today I have the great pleasure of introducing Julie Macfarlane-Barrow, wife of Magnus Macfarlane-Barrow,  founder of  Mary's Meals, and a mother of  7.

Founded in 1992 Mary's Meal, named in honour of Our Lady, is a charity born to provide nutritious daily school meals  to children in some of the poorest parts of the world. 

Julie's love for the Lord, her devotion to her husband and love for her children play a very important role in the life of her family and she is an inspiration especially to the wives of busy husbands. In her interview  she opens a window onto a family whose work is to feed a million children every day.


Tell us a little bit about yourself. What's your Catholic background?

I am blessed with catholic parents who have a great love for Our Lady.  We were that family who was at everything that was going on at church - May devotions, family prayer groups, First Fridays, First Saturdays, the lot. My parents took all four of us to Rome, Lourdes and Medjugorje, and made sure we could attend any and every church youth event we wanted to, including two of my siblings attending World Youth Days. We even used to do all night vigils during Lent!  It was an incredible experience.  As we became older things changed and we all began opting out of the things Mum and Dad were still faithful to.  I think without a life-changing trip to Medjugorje when I had just turned 16 years old I would have a very different life now.

How did you meet your husband? 

I had qualified as a Staff Nurse a year earlier when war broke out in the Former Yugoslavia.  It was 1992.  We were contacted by the MacFarlane-Barrow family, with whom we had previously stayed at their home, Craig Lodge Family House of Prayer.  They had begun a response to the terrible suffering in and around Bosnia and they asked if we could help in any way.  

Some time later, I was woken in the middle of the night by a voice calling my name.  It was a warm, deep voice.  I knew it was God!  In that instant I knew He was calling me to go to the former Yugoslavia.  It was a moment of absolute clarity.  I just didn't know how I would get there!  My first thought was how would I tell my parents, especially my wee Dad, who is the most gentle and loving of souls, and would be terrified at the thought of his daughter going into a war zone.  So I prayed.  The following morning we were at breakfast and my saintly Dad said to me "I think you should go to Bosnia."  I nearly fell off my chair!  I knew that God had placed in his heart the same call He placed in mine.  For me it was clear.  So now I had to find a way to get there. That's when I met Magnus. I literally phoned him and asked for a lift.  And the rest, as they say, is history!  I always say to folks, say Yes to God!  He always has something much greater in mind than you could ever imagine.  Look at what happened to me.  I thought I was going to help some people, thought I would change the world in my own way, but God had something for me beyond my wildest dreams.  He gave me Magnus.


'Behind every successful man there is a great woman'. What is your role in Mary's Meals?

 Well, I think behind all of us is The Greatest Woman ever - Our Lady!  I love to support my husband in his work, of course I do, as do our kids, but I know that it is Our Lady I have to thank for where we are today and no amount of support on my own could have ever helped Magnus reach as many children with Mary's Meals as he has.  How have I helped Mary's Meals?  Firstly, through prayer.  This work really is a fruit of prayer, and I have been blessed with a faith that has shown me the need for prayer and the fruits of those prayers.  I have also been blessed with a real sense of serving my husband.  I love being married!  It is my joy to serve my husband and help him carry out his mission.  I now play a small role in that mission, thanks be to God.  Our youngest is at school and this year I started working a few hours a week for Mary's Meals.  I love it!  I'm part of the admin team based here in Dalmally, in the famous Shed. It's a joy to be part of a team that feeds over 1.2 million children every school day.  It’s a far cry from 25 years ago when it was just me banging out thank you letters on an old, donated manual typewriter.

What is your advice to wives of busy husbands?

  Pray!  Pray, pray, pray!  That's the best advice I can give to anyone.  Trust your marriage as your call to holiness, not just a state in life.  This is our path to salvation.  We were made for this!  And thank God each and every day for your husband.  He was made for you, created for you to lead you closer to God.  He is God's greatest gift to you.  I have been blessed with a deep awareness of God's Love for me.  He made me Magnus!  He created him for me!  That's how chuffed I am to be his wife :)

Has Mary's Meals made you think differently about feeding your own children?

 Yes, absolutely.  We had just had our third child, Martha, when the first Mary's Meals were served.  I had often contemplated the suffering a mother must endure when she has nothing to feed her child.  Magnus had travelled widely over the 10 years before Mary's Meals was born and always spoke of the many hungry children he would encounter through his work.  The desire to feed these kids kept growing until Mary's Meals was born.  The first Mary's Meals were served to around 200 children, way back in 2002.  Now 1,230,171 children will have received Mary's Meals today!  We have calculated that we have served over one billion meals!  One billion!  It's amazing!  But we are more aware than ever of the millions of children still hungry, waiting for Mary's Meals to come to their school, to their country.  As a mother of 7, knowing how much it takes to feed my own gang, I pray every day that we can reach more children.  More than ever, I am painfully aware of children who will know hunger all their lives.  As a mother, how can I not feel for them?   Let us pray and work hard so that we can reach the next child.

Mary's Meals has alleviated physical hunger in the third world, what can we do to satisfy spiritual hunger that is so prevalent closer to home?

Mary's Meals brings both the physical nourishment of the daily meal, and it feeds the soul of the hungry child.  It shows them that they are loved, that people around the world care so much for them that they would do extraordinary things to help them eat and learn at school.  It shows them that there is indeed a Loving and Merciful God who hears their cry.  Mary's Meals feeds our souls too!  We, who have been given so much, have the opportunity to share what is not ours to keep, to help children at the other side of the world know that they are loved, to play a small part in God's plan for salvation.  I think the works of mercy are not just hugely important for us living out our call to holiness, they are often the way someone comes to know the Love of God!  Through each work of mercy - whether that be feeding the hungry child, helping the mother in a crisis pregnancy, visiting in prison, etc - we become more fully aware of our part in God's plan and our souls are fed.  Our desire to help grows, our love grows, and our inclination towards prayer grows.  We see this every day in Mary's Meals.  People can feel God's Love.  They are changed by it and desire more of it.  Prayer is at the heart of all good.  I was raised in a family who prayed the rosary, our own family prayer includes the rosary every day.  Pray, pray, pray.  It's the only way!

Has the success of Mary's Meals affected the family in any unusual ways?

Lots of ways!  There is a lot of love for Mary's Meals in the world.  It seems whereever we go, we will find someone who loves Mary's Meals.  Our kids are growing up knowing their Dad is very loved.  It's incredibly special.  I would also say that Mary's Meals makes us happy.  Very happy!  There are lots of funny stories over the years, special visitors to our house or unusual invitations to wonderful things.  Our eldest two sons, Calum and Ben, have both visited Malawi and spent time working with the Mary's Meals team out there.  We hope, please God, that we will be able to give this experience to each of our children.  There are some very funny stories of Magnus meeting famous people and staying in unusual places. His life is such a mixture of experiences! There was the call that came on a very hectic, family Sunday evening.  You know the sort, getting all the kids bathed and school bags ready, trying to find gym kit and finish homework.  Magnus answered the phone whilst losing a battle with our then toddler Gabriel, who was dripping wet and did not want to be wrapped in a towel.  The voice at the end of the phone said it was the Vatican calling and could Magnus and I come to Rome to meet the newly elected Pope Francis!  Magnus had to hand the still dripping toddler to one of his older siblings and ask the caller to repeat it because he couldn't quite believe his ears!  So yes, there have been many unusual experiences in our family!  One of the funniest though was when we got a call from Time Magazine a couple of years ago to say Magnus had been included in their list of the 100 Most Influential People In The World, 2015 I think, to which he responded, laughing, "I'm not even the most influential person in my own household!"   My son, Ben, has just reminded me of some of the strange and weird experiences Magnus and I had in the very early days of this work, when we were driving lorries full of donated aid to the people of Croatia and Bosnia – me passing the HGV driving test but Magnus failing, being run over by wild dogs as I slept under the stars beside a UN check point somewhere deep in the middle of Bosnia, blagging our way onto a Ukrainian UN helicopter piloted by a barely sober crew pretending the blue UN mail sacks draped over our arms were in fact the required flak jackets (which we didn’t have) for all passengers, whilst a decidedly unsober crew member got out of the helicopter in an attempt to kick the doors closed when the broken, hydraulic system failed to close them properly, and then not knowing if the dramatic side to side flying by our pilot was the intended anti missile style of flying or the result of too much slivovitz before breakfast …. Yes, perhaps I won’t talk much more about that!

What is your favourite family dish? 

 That's an easy one!  Sunday roast dinner when Magnus is home, Calum our eldest is back from university, with Ben and Toby waxing lyrical about their rugby and football games while Martha and Bethany laugh at their tales of sporting prowess, meanwhile little Anna sneaks one more roast potato onto her plate without any of us noticing, and Gabriel swings his growing legs that don't quite yet reach the floor as he leans into his dad and smiles a smile that speaks a thousand words.  Dad is home!  I love it!  



  1. What an amazing idea! So glad I found this post.

  2. Wow, Julie's faith is so apparent throughout this blog post! Thanks for sharing this amazing story and ministry.

  3. Excellent advice for women married to busy husbands!!!

  4. I learned of Mary Meals a few years ago in our parish and we did fundraiser for them. I am always so amazed when we hear the call that God has given us and act on it, how we can help Him with humanity. Thank you for this post. Praying for them.

  5. I have a dear friend Marie, who served at Craig lodge and Mary's meals. I have heard a lot about this beautiful ministry. It's great to take a peek behind the scenes.

  6. What a wonderful way to minister to those who really need it. Thanks for sharing all this amazing information about Mary's Meals.