Tuesday, 29 January 2008

almost home... in Nairobi

From an internet cafe at Nairobi Airport...

Nice last day. Had a taste of a third MRDF partner which helps farmers get high yeilds from crops. Seems to be very effective, and another example of the 'getting a lot for a little' policy so successfully pursued by MRDF.

The kindness and hospitality of Arfricans is incredible. Special thanks to Benedict, Paul (Sharon's favourite driver), Mabel, Lilian, Asuman, Godfrey, Carol, Val, Frederica, Angelica and all the crew for making our short visit so meaningful.

Sharon and Amanda have finally gone insane. They have now taken to playing the role of Maulder and Scully out of X Files who talk into imaginary microphones, in order to 'protect the President'! This was so effective that Sharon got all the way into the airport before she realised she had left all her stuff in the overhead locker!

Back home in the early hours then home for Agent Amanda (who lives in London) and a train to all points North for Agent Sharon and me.

Next visit.... Chester and Stoke on Trent at the weekend. Thanks for reading, and thank you MRDF. You are doing a Great Job.

Monday, 28 January 2008

The stronger sex?

We spent yesterday, Sunday, going to church and then visiting the tomb of the Bugandan kings, followed by a moving visit to the church of the Ugandan martyrs - Ugandan Christians sentenced to death by the then King because their faith was seen to be incompatible with obedience to him - a sort of modern day Daniel in the lions den story.

Martyn was then out of action for the rest of the day, making regular visits to the smallest room in the house (let the readers understand!).

Today has been a great day. We visited Katosi Womens Development Trust, a partner of MRDF for some 5 years who have been working some 'small miracles' among groups of women who, here as in many other parts of the world, the dice seems especially loaded against.

We met Betty, a real entrepreneur if ever there was one. Her husband left her - and 8 children, and since then she says she's never looked back! With the aid of initial loans, all now repaid, she got a cow (she calls Precious), grew mushrooms, a vegetable garden, and now owned the local shop. Like everyone else we met today, she was movingly grateful for the initial monies permitting the beginnings of this enterprise. What hit me again and again, is that the kind of money that had made such a dramatic difference to her life was less than many of us spend per person on a decent meal out. How good MRDF are at making a little go a long way!

Then followed one after another impressive women: the fish farmers; a teacher with a fantastic little garden for vegetables; a bee-keeper eagerly awating her first honey; and several 'zero grazing' cows (i.e. they are in a pen and are fed rather than openly graze - this cuts down the time needed to take them grazing and protect them, and so releases time for other jobs and ventures). One single elderly woman called Ida stroked her cow (she named Revered Elder One - the cow, not Martyn!) and just repeated her thanks again and again. And again and again Amanda kept reminding these lovely folk that we had not personally given the money, but that it came from the good folk of Methodism.

Absolutely so. So let's keep it up is all I can say.

Tonight, after a horrendous drive back in some of the worst smog I can recall, and a luke warm shower, we are reflecting on the day... and the fact that Amanda has not lost, stolen or mislaid anything today. Well, there's time yet!

We return late tomorow night, so the final blog from Uganda may have to wait on our return. Thank you for all your prayers.

Martyn, Amanda and Sharon.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Holocaust Memorial Day

I have just been participating in the marking of Holocaust Memorial Day at Brent Town Hall. It was done really well. After the welcomes, local school children lit memorial candles (one managed to drop the taper onto the table cloth which raised a smile in this solemn moment, fortunately the cloth didn't catch fire) and then members of Brent Youth Council read poems including "It's going to rain" by Valdemar Kalnin and "One person can make a difference" by Gwyneth Lewis. The latter made a particular impact on me and I have attached it at the end of this piece.

A presentation in film and music was made by students from Preston Manor School. Two weeks of intensive workshops had allowed them to research film and image archives, creating from it a silent film which they accompanied by playing specially composed music. It was very powerful and focused on images of Jewish children in Europe during the 2nd world war having fun and then moving to the concentration camps. A number of quotes were shown during this item and one which hit home for me was:
"In the end we will not remember the voices of our enemies but the silence of our friends." Martin Luther King.

We heard the stories of two survivors. One woman spoke of the life of a Holocaust survivor who she knew and then Jean Louis Mazimpka shared his experiences as a Rwandan Survivor. The leaders of the three main parties in Brent came together to make the Holocaust memorial day statement of commitment (http://www.hmd.org.uk/about/statement_of_commitment/) which is being used at such events across Britain. The event was drawn to a close by Rev Anthony Wolfson, chazzan of Wembley United Synagogue who sang a memorial prayer in Hebrew and then spoke it in English. Very moving.

I have found myself reflecting a lot this year on what happens when we try to de-humanise groups of people and treat them somehow as "other", as something less than ourselves, not part of God's family with us. Throughout the event today we were reminded that the theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2008 is "Imagine, remember, reflect, react", challenging us to imagine the unimaginable by focusing on the lives and experiences of victims and survivors of the Holocaust, of Nazi persecution and of other genocides. By doing this we seek to remember the past, reflect on the present and react to create a better future. Amen to that.

One Person Can Make a Difference

The fight for justice starts and ends with me.
Truth is the sound of what I may say.
I can only be well when others are free
And right has a price I’m prepared to pay.

I refuse to be afraid
Of force or hatred.
I will pull their lies like weeds,
Plant gardens of more generous seeds.

If I turn my back and walk away
Who’ll ask for others what I want for me?
I can only be well when others are free
And right has a price I’m prepared to pay.

Gwyneth Lewis

Saturday, 26 January 2008

The girls take over tonight!

As the President is watching the footie Sharon and Amanda have been tasked with the blog tonight. Another dusty day on Uganda's bumpy rural roads for Martyn - or "The Reverend" as he is being called here and he would like this practice to be continued at home.

The highlight of the day was visiting a well under construction - the women and children were carrying the rocks to the 20-foot hole where a young man taking his turn at the digging. The Reverend discovered what hard work it is to haul the mud up from the bottom. He made a great speech about partnership - the generosity of the Methodist people in the UK, MRDF using its expertise along with its local partner, VAD, but also the people of the village doing the hard work!

We visited the home of Thomas and Faith, an elderly couple who had benefitted from a latrine. The community leader had selected them because their son had died of AIDs and they are looking after his two children. Faith told us how ashamed she used to feel when visitors came because they had no toilet. This small thing has clearly improved their quality of life.

The staff and PTA at three primary schools who have received water tanks and/or latrines talked about the challenges they face (one had no classrooms at all) and how these simple things would make such a difference to the students. The parents explained how the children share their knowledge of good hygiene practices at home.

It was here that the Reverend discovered a deep interest in brick-making (honestly). So if things don't work out for him as General Secretary he will have other options...

Fearing the effects of the bumpy ride home Sharon couldn't help but "christen" one of the brand new latrines. Sorted!

PS Amanda has not lost or stolen anything today - yet. Footie has finished so the Reverend has re-appeared and is asking for dinner.

He'll get his own back tomorrow.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Anecdotes with Amanda part 2

Great day on the (incredibly bumpy roads - a bit sore in various parts of the anatomy!) visiting 4 different projects all undertaken by the MRDF partner VAD (Voluntary Action for Development).

We went first to a shallow well. Previous to its arrival folk had drunk water from a half stagnant spring pool, and got malaria etc for their troubles. Not to mention sharing the spring with all the livestock. The lovely new well, with a great water pump (which sharon insisted on trying out) now provides clean water for the whole village. Water still needs to be boiled before drinking, but the villagers readily testified to a dramatic reduction in illnesses, stomach bugs and lots less money spent on hospitals (which they haven't got). In a nutshell, they were delighted.

Then it was to another kind of well, before meeting a delightful old couple just thrilled with a large Water Jar situated outside their modest house. It is supplied by water from their roof and effectively removes a long walk down a hill to get water. They insisted I get up and have a look - I was more nervous of the 'girls' tipping me in than the racketty ladder.

The last visit was to a primary/secondary school where a 10k litre water vat was in situ, reducing the need for water collection from some distance. But it was the latrines we went to see. These had enabled boys and girls to 'pay a call' separately, and increased hygiene considerably. We had a lovely question and answer time with the kids, who were, as always, so welcoming and delightful. It was good to see that there is a PTA and a school council involved in improving all manner of things in this remotish village school. The school mottos was 'Jesus never fails'. Amen to that!

We would have got home a little earlier than we did, but Amanda, fresh from her success of reconnecting with her contact lenses (see yesterday), discovered that she had pinched the room key of the previous night's lodgings. We returned and ate humble pie. This, it needs to be said, after she explicitly reminded me and Sharon to hand our keys in - which WE did.

More tomorrow.
Keep us in your prayers. Martyn, Sharon and Amanda

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Well we've arrived safe. Virtually no sleep and a long journey, and Amandas lost contact lens (apparantly a regular occurrence) - found by yours truly and Amanda thinks its a miracle! - but here we are.

So far we've been ensconced in a nice guest house, had a shower and met the VAD team, a dedicated and friendly group of folk who are anxious to share with us all their good work: clean water sources, sanitation, wells and waterjars, community water projects and school latrine systems etc. . We set off tomorrow to see the projects and we're looking forward to that. But for now something to eat and a good nights sleep. See you tomorrow...
Martyn Amanda and Sharon

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

From Westminster Abbey to Uganda!

Last Friday I went down to London to represent the Methodist Church at the service taking place at Westminster Abbey, celebrating 100years of the week of prayer for Christian Unity.

It was what I call a 'grand affair' and there is always something 'right' about Christians from different traditions worshipping together. In this case the worship, which was rather like an enhanced evensong, was doled out to representatives of different denominations and traditions. Armenians led prayers; the sermon (direct and helpful) was preached by Major Betty Matear of the Salvation Army; intercessions by the 'Religious' of Catholic orders, etc.

'Owned' by CTE, the service included the nice touch of a prayer for incoming General Secretary, David Cornick.

Methodist input was intriguing. Stephen Cooper, advisor to the Methodist Youth Conference and employee in (CofE) Church House, sang beautifully, contributing to the lovely chorale which met us as we entered the Cathedral. A Catholic leader of intercessions quoted extensively from the prayer in the Methodist Covenant Service, as something all Christians should seek and aspire to. And of course we sang a Charles Wesley hymn: O for a thousand tongues to sing, though sadly to the worst tune I have ever heard! Indeed, for me, the weakness of a lovely occasion was the simply dire congregational singing, not helped at all by a curious collection of bland and clearly largely unknown tunes. Never mind, there was the London Community Gospel Choir to cheer us all up!

Ruby has blogged about our visit to Lincoln and Grimsby, so I won't.

Tomorrow I go to Uganda with Amanda Norman of MRDF (Methodist Relief and Development Fund) and long time friend Sharon Fell. (The previous plans to visit Kenya were altered several days ago, in light of the continuing troubles there - we must continue to hold that land in our prayers.) Apparently we are staying in a place in Uganda where the internet is possible, and we hope to keep regular contact through this blogsite. So watch this space, and please continue to pray for us.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Lincoln, Spalding and Bourne

Off to the Lincoln and Grimsby District this weekend to be involved with a programme including District gatherings and leading worship. The photograph shows Martyn and I with David Perry and Jenny Park, the Chair and Deputy Chair of the District at the Spalding gathering. On Saturdsy two of these gatherings were held. In the morning we were at Lincoln High Street where Sara Cliff and Ian Hill led those co-ordinating the proceedings. At each place the sessions opened with worship and then there I spoke and led discussion on "Being a Christian at work" and then Martyn did the same (but different!) on "Resourcing renewal". It was good to meet with so many people and to share with them. One thing I was pleased to learn was the up to date term for "dinner lady" - it's "Mid-day Supervisor". Thanks to a young man called Alex who is one of those supervisors. I was also pleased that we had chaplains inboth sessions who were able to share a little of the contacts they make. An unexpected but interesting conversation came for me when I asked directions after having been abandoned somewhere in Spalding by the President and the District Chair and had to ask directions! The people I asked were a retired couple who had been Salvation Army officers.

After the Spalding meeting I was whisked off to Bourne by the minister there, Colin Martin, and he didn't visibly shake at my driving - a very brave man. Colin and his wife Kath offered me wonderful hospitality and the opportunity for discussion with others who lived locally, particularly Edward and Betty and Fred and Mavis. I am sure Martyn will share what happened to him once I left.

This morning I preached at Bourne Church and we shared great fellowship. The worship band and other musicians were wonderful, particularly as gremlins hit the projection system which meant that we had to change most of the carefully chosen hymns. The technical team were able to get the system to behave to show my short "God is my Shepherd" DVD which the congregation enjoyed. We were honoured by a visit from past Vice President Brian Thornton, which was a great encouragement for me. After a wonderful Sunday lunch and some more conversation I set off down the motorway system in the dark and rain, encouraged once more to have been in the presence of more representatives of the people called Methodist and grateful for the wonderful flowers I brought back with me. Thanks to everyone involved in the weekend.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

roman holiday

Back from a great time in Rome. It is one of my favourite cities anyway, but this time I went to visit the small but winsome Italian Methodist Church.

I arrived very late last Saturday night, having managed to catch the last plane our of Heathrow after the privilege of attending Rob Frost's memorial service (a great write up Ruby, thanks).
On Sunday I preached at Pont Saint Angelo Methodist Service, a lovely time with a congregation made up of English Speaking Italians, Ghanaians, filipinos, and a few 'ex pats'. After the service we had a tasty lunch and some great conversations.

Sunday evening was a special bonus. Colin Ride - who was accompanying me on behalf of the world church office - and I walked to St Peter's, bathed in light as it grew dark, and went round as mass was going on at the far altar, prayerfully taking in the sights, sounds and atmosphere.

Monday was spent meeting representatives of the Waldensian church with whom the Methodist church entered a formal covenant around 30 years ago. Though separate they are now fully integrated, with interchangeable ministries, joint synods etc. There is clearly a feeling among these small protestant denominations that there is some institutional disadvantages of 'not being Catholic', even in respect of their place and role in Italian society. I listened and tried to learn fast.

Tuesday was spent in Naples, after an early morning train ride. We first went to see a small studio, given to the church in return for a church. Apparently the fine Wesleyan church was damaged beyond repair by an earthquake and so the church gave the land to the local authorities. After some 15 years a block of studios and rooms was built and 2 were given to the church. Their plan is to plant some kind of presence ministry in this poor part of Naples. As if to prove the point we could not get in. The flat had been broken into by 'squatters' who had not only broken the lock on the door, but replaced it with their own lock. So we spent 5 minutes trying every key before realising we could not get into our own building!

Then to a Protestant run Hospital, an impressive affair which chooses to provide extensive maternity facilities, though, they said, there is insufficient funding from the government to sustain the service, so the considerable difference is made up from a variety of sources including donations from the churches.

Lastly to a school, again church run, which runs afterschool provision for young children, including some who are the Italian equivalent of 'excluded'. This was followed by a conversation with 20 or so members from the local churches. I tried my best not to be a plonker!

Yesterday was spent at the vatican. We had a short but significant meeting with Cardinal Kasper, and I was able to urge the continuation of the co commissions which have produced the frutiful 2006 report. He agreed. Further conversations with Don Bolens from the Ecumenical Commission and Bishop John Flack of the Anglican Centre in Rome were also encouraging.

And all this interlaced and undergirded with the kind and lavish hospitality of President Massimo Aquilante. So the diet is not going well!

Back home? Well tonight. Tomorrow it is down to London and the weekend will be spent visiting the Lincoln and Grimsby District. I'm looking forward to that and will let you know how it went in due course.

Lastly, wonderfully but not unusually I have returned to a collection of cards and emails from folk assuring me of their prayers and faithful support. I cannot say how much they mean to me. Thank you. More after the weekend.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Parliamentary Covenant Service

This evening I was the Preacher at the Parliamentary Methodist Fellowship Annual Covenant Service and Communion in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster. The service was led by Martin Turner and other staff from Westminster Central Hall and organised by David Wilshire MP who acts as Secretary to the parliamentary Methodist Fellowship. I have to say that I was very nervous as this was a place where I have to go back every day - which contrasts greatly with the "hit and run" approach which I am finding is the way of the Presidency. As well as a number of MPs and Lords there were two past Presidents of the Conference (who are both also Lords) and two past Vice Presidents of the Conference, the General Secretary of the Methodist Church, a Co-ordinating Secretary, one of the co-Chairs of the London District and a number of other clergy - no pressure then! It was a good service and at least the sermon was short! We sang lots of Wesley hymns too.

The Covenant service is one that I find very special. It was very exciting to find a leader in the Guardian yesterday entitled "In praise of the Covenant service" which spoke of the Methodist Church as "this small but hugely influential Church" and went on, in a short piece, to praise the covenant service as being not only about believing but about doing. It would be interesting to know who wrote it. Anyone any idea? Anyone else feel the Covenant service is special?

I am no longer my own but yours. Your will, not mine, be done in all things, wherever you may place me, in all that I do and in all that I may endure;
when there is work for me and when there is none; when I am troubled and when I am at peace. Your will be done when I am valued and when I am disregarded; when I find fulfilment and when it is lacking; when I have all things, and when I have nothing. I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you, as and where you choose.

Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. May it be so for ever. Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven. Amen

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Celebrating the life of Rob Frost

Wow! What a celebration. Around 3 hours of music and dance and drama and tribute celebrating different aspects of Rob Frost's life at Westminster Central Hall yesterday afternoon. After some singing and a welcome from Rob's two sons, Andy and Chris, the celebration began with an opening prayer and introduction from Martyn. As he said, he was there in two capacities - President of the Methodist Conference giving thanks for one of "Mr Wesley's preachers" and friend, there to remember and to take the opportunity to see Rob's life as a challenge to move forward in faith.

Then the programme was split into three key parts - Rob as a Visionary, Rob as a Mobiliser and Rob as a Conversationalist. In each of these sections we heard tributes and testimony of lives touched and changed and were touched again by music from Paul Field, Simeon Wood, a Ghanaian choir and the All Soul's Orchestra and singers, among others. There was drama and dance and poetry - written by Rob and by others. Adrian Plass, the writer, was unable to be present but he had written a piece - Letter to Rob which began - "You are in heaven now so I can be as rude as I like". Another line from that which I particularly remember suggested that what Rob and demented squirrels and Jesus had in common was the expenditure of enormous energy and passion in order to save as many nuts as possible!

These sections were followed by an address (by Martin Turner, Superintendant of Westminster Central Hall) who invited us to ask where we were in our relationship with Jesus and not just in our memories of Rob and to take our faith seriously recommitting ourselves as we celebrated Rob's life. A commissioning of those who will take forward the work of Share Jesus International took place after we heard a word from Rob's father, Ron, who spoke of his own faith commitment and that of his great gandfather, who had been a bare knuckle fighter. Jenny Impey, Co-Chair of the London Methodist District gave the blessing.

I found that it was an amazing opportunity to think of all of the ways that Rob and his work had made an impact on my own life as well as the wider work that he had been involved in. When I was 18 and at college, Ron Frost was my minister and I remember Rob coming to speak as a student minister. Over many years as a youth leader I linked in with Rob's initiatives, putting on musicals such as Daybreak and Breaking Bread, taking groups to Easter People, attending big productions of the musicals such as Hopes and Dreams and considering the missional and financial impact of Rob's work when I was a member of the Connexional Team. Just this last year Rob and I had become "facebook friends" and he wrote to me with sensible advice and concern when I said that facebook was taking over my life.

Rob wasn't tied to sharing his faith in the way he had always done it. He recognised that sometimes things had run their course - like the 20 years of Easter People. He did big things but still had time for individuals. Lots to think about, to give thanks for and to be inspired by.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Mid Term review

We are half way through our term as President and Vice President. As Martyn and I prepared to lead worship at Wesley's Chapel yesterday morning I realised that in exactly six months time we would be handing over the reigns to Stephen and David. I rushed then into work and got home about midnight then set off this morning to Swanwick for the Connexional Leadership Team where a number of people asked how the year was going. Seems I need to stop and think about that!
It has certainly been interesting. But is that enough? When I let my name go forward for the role of Vice President, one reason was because I had been challenged by a non Christian colleague about how they felt treated by the Church and I had responded that with all it's faults I saw it's strengths and would want to contribute to change from within rather than just abandoning the Church. Then I was asked again by a number of people to let my name go forward - and the rest, as they say, is history. One person who knew of this asked me in the Autumn if I felt that I had been given or had taken any opportunities to change or encourage change in the Church and that certainly gave me food for thought!
I've met some fascinating people, tried to encourage and challenge - and been encouraged and challenged myself. Seen some really positive things done in the name of God through members of the Methodist Church and others. Had conversations with those of other faiths and none. But what now?
As I try to be a disciple of Jesus I want to be part of a Church which reflects the love of God for all and makes sense to those I meet. I want us to be seen to serve the present age - whatever that means in the 21st century. In 2008 what is the good news of God and how do we avoid misrepresenting it and actually telling it? How do we ensure that we share the manifesto of Jesus who came to bring good news to the poorand freedom to the prisoner, to set the downtrodden free? And what should be my priorities for the next six months?
Answers on a postcard please - or maybe in the comments box.

Monday, 7 January 2008

new year

Its the disappearing man again!
Lovely Christmas, and a nice new year spent with a few friends in Whitby.

Then to Lee Abbey -an Anglican retreat centre - situated in remote North Devon. No mobile phones worked, so bliss and frustration mixed equally. Had a lovely time with a group of (mainly) Anglican ordinands and their families. What a privilege to have 4 days trying to make the case for a mission minded church!

Today has been spent in London. This morning Ruby and I led the new year service for Connexional Staff members at Wesley's Chapel. Ruby produced the service and came up with some excellent ideas which I hope were helpful. I certainly felt that it was a real honour to lead worship with the Team, especially given the difficult and complicated situation many of them are in. In spite of that they retain grace, humour and friendliness.

Then a long business meeting in London mainly relating to the 'coming job' rather than the one I am undertaking at the moment. Then up to Swanwick for the Connexional Leadership Team meeting. So a busy day but an enjoyable time. Tonight will be the first night in my own bed since 30 december! Lovely!

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

A blessing as you journey into the New Year

May your eyes be opened to the wonder of the daily miracles around you and your sense of mystery be deepened.

May you be aware of the light that shines in the darkness, and that the darkness can never put out.

May you be blessed with companions on the journey, friends who will listen to you and encourage you with their presence.

May you learn to live with what is unsolved in your heart, daring to face the questions and holding them until, one day, they find their answers.

May you find the still, quiet place inside yourself where you can know and experience the peace that passes understanding.

May love flow in you and through you to those who need your care.

May you continue to dream dreams and to reach out into the future with a deeper understanding of God's way for you. Amen

(Lynda Wright in Hay and Stardust)