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!