Saturday, June 23, 2018

Can brutal deaths ever do any good?

Elim Martyrs' Memorial Church in Mutare (before renovations)
It was on this day, the 23rd June, exactly 40 years ago, that 9 adult Elim missionaries and 4 of their children were massacred in the Vumba, Zimbabwe. This was in 1978 and was part of the long independence struggle in what was then known as Rhodesia. The Elim Pentecostal Church had worked in the eastern part of that land since the early 1950's establishing a hospital, clinics, primary and secondary schools, and planting churches. It was to this area of Zimbabwe that Diane and I went just 12 years afterwards, with our son Matthew. We served there for only 3 years until we were told to leave by the government, but saw so much of the amazing legacy of the wonderful people who laid down their lives there four decades ago today.

Joyce & Roy Lynn
Among them was Joyce Lynn, previously known to me as Joyce Pickering. We had been at Elim Bible College together when Joyce, a trained nurse, prepared to go out to Rhodesia as a medical missionary.  Soon she would meet and marry Roy Lynn, a pastor from Northern Ireland, and they died this night, 40 years ago along with their 3 week-old baby, Pamela Grace. There was nothing out of the ordinary about these two, other than their firm commitment to serve God and others come what may. I happened to be in the Elim missions office in the UK on the day they left for their final term in the Vumba. I asked them both how they felt about returning to such a troubled and violent location. "Ma" Lynn (as we called her in college), simply gave me her shy smile and shrugged her shoulders. They both knew the dangers, but they said they simply wanted to be where they could be of use and serve God.

Each year while we were in Zimbabwe I led a training programme for young evangelists called Project Timothy. At the end of their initial 6-week induction course at the Martyrs' Memorial Church in Mutare I would take the graduates to the nearby cemetery where our precious friends graves lie. There I would challenge these fine young men that they were the outcome of these wonderful people's faith and sacrifice and that they should go out and do what they could not now do, namely evangelise the nation. The boys and I were always deeply moved by this simple ceremony, and many tears flowed. Some quite remarkable things were then achieved by those 'Timothy Boys' going out in twos to proclaim the faith of the martyrs. At the time of their deaths there were around a dozen Elim Churches in Zimbabwe, mainly in the Eastern Province of Manicaland. Today there are more than sixty spread out all over the country and more are being planned. The blood of the martyrs is still the seed of the church, and this must be the very best kind of memorial for these lives well lived and sown in death forty years ago today.

(a special memorial garden is to be opened at Regents Theological College, Malvern, in September this year, bringing together the families of those who died and leaders of the Zimbabwean church. If you would like to know more see the link at click here)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Celebrating tough but amazing times!

Fabulous Hybiscus flowers adorn the plumbing as part of our welcome back to the Seychelles this week! This strange combination of the beautiful and the mundane, if not downright humble, matches our reason for being here at this time. We both wanted to be somewhere glorious today to remember the first anniversary of my life-giving surgery and to celebrate still being alive! The 14th of June 2017 was a terrible date for the UK, as the dreadful fire raged that night in Grenfell Towers, but I knew nothing of that. I was facing my own battle with near-death that day, as Prof. White and his team spent more than 16 long hours labouring over me in theatre. He had told me that the only person in his 60's to have undergone this operation by him had died as a result! When Diane and I said "see you on the other side, my love" to each other one year ago today we did not mean the recovery room. Our faith stretches to higher places than that, and to even more wonderful locations than Seychelles, but we really did hope that our time together on earth might be extended. By the grace of God it was. Thank you for your part in that by prayer and practical support.

This, then, is the chance to relax and enjoy things that have been denied me for over 20 years. Things like freedom from intense pain, from having to take industrial doses of opiates, from watching everything I eat to judge how much pain it might cause, from the fear of an acute attack of pancreatitis putting me back into hospital. And above all this, is the feeling that life really might begin at 65 and that God is not finished with me yet!

To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Friday, June 01, 2018

A Blast from the Past

We had great fun last weekend when an old friend came to stay. Rev Dr Pious Munembe is the General Superintendent of the Elim Churches of Zimbabwe. We became quite close friends when we were working as missionaries in Zimbabwe nearly 25 years ago. He is a real hero of mine, having suffered very much during the struggle for independence in that country during which a large number of Christians lost their lives. It was there, in June 1978, that 9 Elim missionaries and their 4 children were massacred at the Vumba in what became an international outrage and led to the work of Elim and their sacrifice being broadcast around the world. Pious has also trained for the ministry in the UK, and before becoming a full-time pastor, was a school headmaster. He doesn't look any older than we remember him, and he is full of enthusiasm and radiates joy and kindness.

We chatted about how things are in Zimbabwe now, and, as always he was realistic and yet optimistic. He hopes and prays for free and fair elections, now that the rule of Comrade Mugabe is over, although it is still possible that it will be 'business as usual' as the new incumbent used to be the President's right hand man. The work of God is going on well, however, as it is through many parts of the world, especially in Africa, with many churches being planted and the foundations of new premises for a full-time Bible School to train pastors being laid. Elim Hospital and Elim Schools continue to influence many for the kingdom of God, and we pray for real blessing on all they do.

Here in a part of the world where church growth seems unusual and the spread of the faith appears stunted, it is so refreshing to hear the good news that there are parts of the globe where the message and the church are thriving.  Many hundreds of thousands become Christians every day in the developing world, and the rate of growth in places like China is phenomenal, so it won't be long before the majority of world Christians live in these places rather than the once so-called Christian West.

But then, isn't that what our spiritual parents longed for? Are we not just seeing the truth of the proverb 'Send your grain across the seas, and in time, profits will flow back to you.' (Eccles 11:1 New Living Trans). Well, those 'profits' in the form of joy and encouragement certainly flowed back to us last weekend!

Friday, May 25, 2018

A Chance to Live - Pancreatic Removal and Islets Transplant

You may have watched the BBC 2 documentary recently about the wonderful work of the International Transplant Unit at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, and perhaps passed over this scene. The screenshot above is my actual operation now 11 months ago.  You can see Professor White and Miss Logue, the surgeons, working over me, assisted by the anaesthetist on the left and theatre nurses on the right. I am the patient (not smiling I can assure you!). They worked on me for 16.5 hours. They changed my life.

I am so grateful for the technology, skill, commitment, kindness, persistence, pride and professionalism of the whole team that worked on me. I am their poster boy now and am glad to be so! Thankfully, NHS England have recently held a long consultation on offering this surgery to patients like me in England and Wales as part of clinical trials, and I really pray this will come off. Meanwhile, I feel so indebted to those who prayed and supported Diane and me as I underwent this radical new surgery.

This passage in the ancient hymnal of the people of Israel stood out for me recently: "we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance." (Psalm 66:5). For 22 years the fire and water of the most intense agony known to human beings alternately roasted and then sloshed over me, threatening to engulf me again and again, but God has heard my cry for relief and I am grateful.

I also feel so moved for the plight of my fellow-sufferers, and the brave people who are featured in this documentary about heart transplant, some of whom died in the making of it. Thank God that medicine and surgery have advanced so far, but the human condition remains fragile and much more needs to be done. At the end of the day what we see on the screen here is a tribute to compassion and human competence. Standing behind and beyond it is a God who loves to fix and redeem, and where damage is so great that fixing here on earth may not be an option, to redeem and receive us into his eternal, loving care.

We plan to celebrate the anniversary of this great mercy in somewhere very sunny, where the sea is warm and the food is hot! Yippee!

Friday, May 11, 2018

House of Hope on the Camino

A recent television fly-on-the-wall documentary followed several celebrities as they walked part of the renowned Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. It was so interesting to witness the changes that occurred among them and in their individual thinking as they contemplated spiritual realities on this gruelling walk. The Camino comes from a tradition or way of doing church that is very different from mine, but I found it compelling to see the large numbers of people involved, especially young folk. It is also clear from the programme that those who undertake the arduous challenge do so mostly out of a hunger or desire to find God, or to walk more closely with the spiritual side of their nature. In this cynical and secular age that can't be a bad thing.

I have some very close friends who are doing a wonderful work on the Camino, offering love, friendship, spiritual help and Christian witness to pilgrims as they walk part of the way. They have been led to do so over the last couple of years by renting a house they call Hope House, which is now available for purchase. This video, in English, gives an overview of their vision and ministry. Alfonso and Debee (a Guernsey girl) have spent their long ministry with Youth With a Mission in Spain and are endorsed by YWAM in this new project.

This lovely, short video, contains a financial appeal, which if you are not happy to see please don't view the piece. No pressure, of course, but if you are minded to pray for them I know they would value that so much, and - do visit their wonderful home if you are walking the Camino!

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Potato Peel Pie Discarded - Free at Last!

The Guernsey Flag
The movie "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society" is doing well in cinemas around the globe. In UK it is the second most successful box office release in May. It coincides with an important date in Guernsey, May 9th. It is surprising how few people are aware that part of the British Isles were conquered and occupied by the Nazis. 73 years ago this month saw the islands set free at the end of the German Occupation during the Second World War. The final few months of the Nazi presence in Guernsey were the worst, especially after D-Day. According to one eye-witness, Mrs Irene Dunk, who was the wife of Rev Gilbert Dunk, minister of Eldad Elim Church in the island's capital St Peter Port, both the local population and the occupying forces were cut off from outside supplies in a siege situation and starving. Only the occasional arrival of the Red Cross ship the Vega bringing food parcels from Canada and New Zealand for the local people brought any degree of relief. In a small booklet published some years ago, Mrs Dunk, who went on to live until aged 100, tells of surviving for three weeks along with their small child, on a diet of parsnips alone before those vital supplies were received.

Finally, the Allied Force 135 arrived off St Peter Port on May 8th, 1945, but even then, things were tense and frightening. The Commandant, a fervent Nazi named Admiral Huffmeier, had vowed that he would never surrender. There was a real possibility that the Allies might need to fight their way ashore against an opposed landing. Thankfully he was over-ruled by his subordinates and the next day British troops poured into St Peter Port to be mobbed by grateful islanders.

We should thank God for the freedom we enjoy today. When Gilbert Dunk stood cheering in the crowds at North Esplanade that first Liberation Day, a local preacher whom he knew grabbed his shoulder and yelled excitedly “this is the Lord’s doing and it is truly marvellous!”. God had heard their anxious appeals for deliverance and had brought them through great trials to eventual liberty. Through all the long years of deprivation and loss there had remained that hope for freedom, and a heart cry of prayer for its fulfilment. Early in the Occupation an RAF plane had dropped leaflets over Guernsey containing a personal message from King George VIth promising “We will return...”, feeding the hope that would be finally fulfilled.

Christians today face many trials and sometimes great suffering too, but we have a hope that underpins our determination to keep the faith. The King is coming back, and in Christ we are truly free. We should treasure this freedom and share the news of it as widely as we can. Meanwhile here in Guernsey, our home is already decked with flags as we get ready to celebrate our national day.

Friday, April 27, 2018

As two Korean Presidents shake hands and smile warmly for the cameras, I hope that few people in the world will be fooled into believing that the malign regime in North Korea has really changed. Recalling Prime minister Chamberlain waving his useless "Peace in our time" document at the airport upon his return from appeasing Adolf Hitler in 1939, I pray that the coming months will not witness a similar descent into chaos and war. I am by nature an optimist, but I can't help sharing the feeling expressed by the BBC's journalist on today's news who said that we have been here before and that nothing has really changed.

Today's significant events, however, do motivate me to pray for North Korea. I pray for the estimated 300,000 persecuted Christians there. These are the circumstances they have to endure:

"Due to constant indoctrination, neighbours and family members, including children, are highly watchful and report anything suspicious to the authorities. If Christians are discovered, they are deported to labour camps as political criminals or killed on the spot; their families share their fate. Meeting for worship is almost impossible, so is done in utmost secrecy. The churches shown to visitors in Pyongyang serve mere propaganda purposes." (Open Doors Website)

Open Doors estimates that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christian are imprisoned in North Korea's harsh labour camps; most will die there. Some have escaped to tell their stories. I have just finished reading the book A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa (click to view on Amazon) which tells his own story of dreadful living conditions in North Korea and of his own amazing escape. Ishikawa is not a Christian but his book is a depressing exposure of the horrors of life in this rogue state.

Winston Churchill's comment still rings true, that "jaw-jaw is better than war-war" and so we should be grateful that the spotlight is being turned onto the Korean peninsula for talks rather than for threats. Perhaps the Christians in the South, of whom there are many millions, will find ways to link up with their compatriots in the North, or at least to remember them in their desperate need. But I can't help feeling that we have not heard the last of Kim Jong-Un's belligerent posturing. Meanwhile, in the wings, waits the powerful president of the so-called 'free world' due to meet "Rocket man" in May! My goodness, if ever there was a time to pray it's now!