Sunday, 26 October 2008

With MRDF in Bangladesh - Day 4

We woke up this morning to torrential rain and it hasn't stopped all day. It has been a completely different experience seeing the work of CSKS on such a rainy windswept day. It makes the plight of the street children even worse, if that's possible, as many of them aren't able to work, they are saturated if they are collecting rubbish or running errands and they have nowhere to return to except under a verhanda or in a shop doorway. So once again we have seen how vital this work is in trying to help some of the street children live in the centres and begin to find a place of safety and security.

Our day has been spent in the Sadarghat area whuich we went to on Friday. We went down by the river and saw the huge boats which bring people from different parts of the country . Some of the children carry the large parcels of passangers on and off these huge ferries to earn some money. We were walking in the rain, with umbrellas and getting very wet. People looked at us in a strange way, especially as we were taking photos of the rain!!

We walked to where the small boats to cross the river were and some children were being gathered by the link workers and then getting into the boats to get to the centre. Some children find their own way to the Sadarghat centre but many still need 'collecting' and taking across the river.

As we walked through the flowing water trying to step on hard core rather than sludge down the side of the huge market we saw a couple of children collecting rubbish. This led us to go into the area where they take the full sacks and we met one of the buyers who explained that they recycle the paper, plastic and bottles. The boys earn 30-40 pence for each full bag of rubbish!

We eventually made our way to the centre where we were greeted with cheers, smiles, waving and lots of thumbs up signs from boys and girls once again seated in rows in the large activity hall. We arrrived just in time for the activity slot of stretching, bending and clapping followed once again by singing. Their theme song is 'We shall overcome' which they sing with all their hearts...and it is a moving moment to understand who is singing about 'we are not alone'...and 'we are not afraid',,,,,,,,,,,,

The 150 children/young people were then told to go into their groups........but for the boys this meant staying in the hall for the President's Cup. When we left on the Friday I had challenged them to a game of cricket: England (we three) vs Bangladesh....but the rest of the English team (Amanda and Audrey) let me down and said they had to do some indepth interviews with the girls!! So in the end we played a 7 a side cricket match of staff (including me) and some of their teenage boys. The wicket was drawn in chalk on the wall, the coin was tosssed, we won and decided to bat. At this point the electricity failed...and for the whole of our innings we had to play with the one light the emergency generator brings on. It made seeing the ball difficult but we managed to score 55 runs - I think I made about 14 and was then cleaned bowled. As we were making inroads into their team would you believe it but the electricity returned....and I think this is the only reason we lost!! The boys enjoyed it and it was a deep pleasure to see how much this simple game brought them to life.

After our sad defeat the boys also went into their classes and I watched rather incredulously as the older boys brought out their woodwork which was a double bed!! They are well on the way to finishing this and it will fetch a good price in the market when it is sold.

I spent a time with a group of children who were colouring/doing art and one older boy was on an old computer practising writing the days of the week. I discovered that this set are those children who are at school. As reported elsewhere in the blog about 35 children from across all the centres are in school and come January they hope to have a further 50 children join them. This is such a wonderful outcome. Street children who have no hope, no life, no acceptance are now in full time education. As they went round the children many of the 8 or 9 in the circle had come in the top 20 out of their class/year of 130. One girl is now in grade 5 so in January she will be the first child from CSKS to go into High School, so long as she gets a high enough pass in the end of primary school exam.

There was a group of boys tailoring trousers and jeans....with others learning the basics. Three of these young men (15-16 years of age) have got jobs with tailors in the market nearby and will soon be moving to independent living...finding accomodation in a hostel and earning a living(?) wage from their tailoring. The girls/young women were making some lovely clothes. About ten of them are in full time employment and still living in the centre for the next stage of their transition into society. At the back of this group were a number of girls learning...I discovered that a number of these had been released from prison by CSKS only last week...this accounted for the vacant, lost, bewildered look we have seen in some of the eyes of the girls both last Friday and today.

Our visit to CSKS would not have been so helpful were it not for the staff. I have been very impressed by the quality of the area managers, the teachers, the link workers, the centre mangers...everyone we have met has been dedicated to this 'ministry amongst the most vulnerable'. It is spearheaded by a man of God, the director, Prince. He is so committed to lifting up the poor and vulnerable. He could have been in a job earning lots of money but has chosen to develop CSKS but this is only possible through the support of his whole family and financially because of a legacy left after his father's death. He invited us back to his home to meet his wife and their lovely 4 year old daughter. We shared a lovely meal together and talked about our families and the things that are important to us.

As we said our goodbyes we embraced each other and I asked God's blessing on him. Whatever faith he may hold I have seen the grace and love of God at work here through this caring organisation. So I thank God for Prince, his staff and all the children we have met. Please pray for them that this wonderful inititive may continue to develop and so transform the lives of many more children in the years ahead.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

With MRDF in Bangladesh - Day 3

Today, Saturday, has been a day of real contrast.

It began with meeting David and Sarah Hall and their two lovely children Rebecca and Rueben. They are a Mission Partner family serving wth the United Church of Bangladesh. As this is a United Church the Methodist Church works jointly with 4 mission agencies - CMS, USPG, CWM and the Church of Scotland. David is working in the Community Development area of the Church and Sarah is involved with the Church Schools. They have recently managed to purchase a car so after three years of travelling to work in rickshaws and on the bus they are elated to have easier access and mobility. We had a good conversation together whilst Rueben, a year old, was running around the room as we shared breakfast together. It was fascinating hearing something of their story and to see the church and country through their eyes. They are very settled in Dhaka and ask us all to continue remembring them in our prayers.

We had been invited out for lunch by the Chairman of CSKS, Abul Mansur. He arrived with Prince, the Director and we were greeted by a vision of loveliness as Amanda and Audrey had bought the outfits they had been looking at last night. We were taken to a very nice restuarant and had a wonderful meal with a very deep conversation on the political situation in the world, the state of religion in Bangladesh and a quick overview of the US elections.

We left, as we arrived, in pouring rain and it has been the same all day. We went to New Market area and were taken to the CSKS centre which took us all by suprise. This centre for 25-30 boys was so small, compared to the others we have visited. There were two small rooms where they did their classes - education and tailoring - as well as eating and sleeping. It is expensive to rent property in this area of Dhaka and they would love to find somewhere with more space. What a contrast to the lovely airy spacious restuarant we had been in an hour earlier! At this New Market centre we met 3 boys who have been able to register and go to the local school. They proudly put on their uniforms for us to see.

We left here and were taken to the main bus station, the largest in the country, where many children sleep and work. It is the first point of entry for children from out of Dhaka and so it is also a very transitory population of street children. The rain was preventing the children from working in the area we had gone to see but as we were driving passed two boys from the Mirpur centre. We stopped to chat to them and they each held half full bag of rubbish - rags, bottles, plastics and paper. They sell the full sack to a man in a shop but I haven't found out what he does with it.....hopefully I will by tomorrow!

We went on to the Mirpur centre and here there are about 50 chilen who have 4 rooms in hchto live, play an learn. The girls sang and danced for Amanda and Audrey whilst I sat with the boys trying to learn Karan - a game where you try to get small discs into corner holes by flicking a large took a while but I think I grasped it....but failed miserably when I played!! They children moved into their vocational training about 6pm. The girls were dress making and learning embroidery whilst the older boys were making ladels, stools and tables. In the other two rooms younger children were learning basic words, numbers, sentences and reading. Here we discovered two of the girls who are going to the local school and as before they went and put their uniforms on and stood proudly before us so we could take some photos.

Our last visit was to return to the bus station where CSKS are allowed to hold one of their 'classrooms under the sky' groups. This means that they have shelter and electricity. There were about 30 children with 2 teachers just begnning to get underway as we arrived. A large crowd gathered when they saw us arrive but they were kept away fom the children by a large rope around the classroom area.

As we looked into the faces of these particular children it was if we could see all human pain and endeavour etched into their faces and bodies, their need for recogniton, their need for touch, the hurt, fear, pain and bewildered look in their eyes, the colouration of their skin....

We sat among them...Amanda caused real bedlam by taking some of their in the end we took one of the whole group - they were excited and we were humbled.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Evesham above water

I had stayed in Evesham last summer for a family party celebrating my father's 80th Birthday.
It was only a few weeks after the floods had hit the town - and we learnt that the lower floor of the Methodist Church had been flooded for the second time and was unusable.

So it was a double pleasure to be shown around by their minister Caroline Homan (pictured with the District Chair Bill Anderson and the President) and to see the way in which the restoration was coming to completion - the rainbow tiles adding colour to the walls.
Preparations were being made for the Junior Missionary Association awards the following morning - a montage of pennies spelling out the letters at the front of the Church.

Here is a Church looking outward - to its community which will well use the newly restored rooms - and to the world, not least through its faithful young JMA collectors.
In addition it prides itself on being the first Methodist Church in Britain to receive an award for being an eco-congregation - to find out how your church can do the same look up 'Eco-congregation' on the Church Life page of the Methodist website.

More from Birmingham and around

The President has already written eloquently about our visit - it was good to share together the evening with students from Queens and our time in Worcester and Evesham.

At the Fresh Expressions Day I met up with the Rev Paul Donnison (pictured with youth workers from his Circuit) ; his brother Geoff came round to see me on my first day at Sheffield University, and invited me round for Student Tea at the Manse - a gracious invitation which had far-reaching effects!

I was hosted by my old (and youthful!) friends Peter and Sue Bates. Peter candidated for the ministry from my home church, though he hails from Wolverhampton, and is now Superintendent of the Moseley and Sparkhill Circuit - and a keen Wolves supporter (now which comes first...?).

The Circuit came together on Sunday morning at Shirley for what I felt was a great celebration with good singing led by a choir and music group, as well as some topical drama entitled 'What is Caesar's?'. Not a nightclub, we discovered.

It led me to wondering whether we ought to have more occasional Circuit gatherings on a Sunday morning rather than the usual Sunday evening?

Certainly I received some warm comments from members of the smaller churches who had been encouraged to be part of a gathering of two or three hundred.

After a Bring and Share lunch we had a good session on why we find it difficult to talk about our work at Church and then in the evening at Quinton we had a similarly focussed discussion on why we find it hard to talk about our faith at Church! I think there may be a theme developing here.....

with MRDF in Bangladesh - Day 2

Our second day in Dhaka (Friday) has been as humbling and exciting as yesterday.

We were taken to Sadarghat which is by the river in the older part of the city. We went by boat which was an experience in itself -

crossing the river along with hundreds of small boats vying for space with ocean container vessels into a small tributary which looked like raw sewage watching some boys in their very small craft trying to spear fish. Getting up the slope from the boat was a real test particularly for Amanda and Audrey wth flip flops on.

We were taken to the Children's centre which CSKS own. It was brought through the gift of a minister in Britain. This centre has four floors and all the children were gathered waiting for us in the hall on the ground floor. There were about 150 of them with the boys wearing their yellow tee-shirt and the girls a beautiful selection of dresses. As we arrived we were greeted with the gift of flowers and then the electricity came back on so they could perform their songs and dances for us.

The singing was led by some of the older girls/young women who are in the semi independent group. This is for those girls who have done well in their schooling and in the dress making and are being prepared to leave the centre to have jobs and live by themselves. As we learn more about the project I am more and more impressed. When the children are learning carpentry, candle making, dress making they earn money as I shared yesterday. So all these girls have money kept by CSKS for when they leave.

We spent an hour and half with the staff from the Sadarghat Centre and found some of them have been wih this charity for over 14 years. Each time we ask the question we are told that they do this work because they are committed to all that CSKS stands for in trying to help the poorest most vulnerable children. Many of them work part-time and earn a living wage elsewhere or have a husband/wife who supports them. We shared today that we /MRDF are working with them because of our Christian faith and our love of God. Athough most of the staff are Muslims with a few Hindu's there is real thanks and appreciation for all the Methodist people are doing for/with thank you from Bangladesh.

We were really privileged to meet with a number of young women who were willing to tell their stories - of how they had been separated from parents, abandoned, lost in an unsafe world.....of the impact CSKS has had upon their life. Two of them who have married (really unheard of for street children to fail so we have fewer pictures and I didn't bring my camera lead.

We took the sweets we had received from the British Airways staff and there seemed enough to go round but some children seemed to get quite a few!

We left the centre and returned on the boat in a little drizzle of rain. As we walk people keep staring at us....not because of my looks or even Amanda but really people are fascinated by Audrey's hair - all her own platted in dreadlock older woman reached out to feel her hair as we passed....and many people are taking photos on their cell phones as they's great to be with such a star!

The three of us went to visit Bishop Michael Baroi. head of the United Church in Bangladesh (Anglican, Methodist, Presybterian, Church of Scotland etc...) and we were so graciously received by him and his wife Mary, their daughter in law and grand daughter. We shared together for over an hour about life in Bangladesh, the Church, their relationship with the Methodist Church in Britain and much more. I asked him what he would ask of the church in Britain and he said that first and foremost it is that we remember the Church in Pakistan in our prayers. We prayed together and for one another.

Today is a holiday in Bangladesh, like our Sunday, so it has been much quieter and so when we returned about 5.00pm we decided to go shopping.....for some of the beautiful Asian dresses - it's been hard stopping both Audrey and Amanda from buying in each shop we went in...but so far we haven't made the recession any worse by extravagant over spending!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

With MRDF in Bangladesh

I am in Bangladesh looking at one of the MRDF projects and have come with Amanda Norman (MRDF supporter relations director) and a late substitute, Audrey Skervin (the new MRDF media officer). Audrey had only 24 hours notice as Matt, a journalist with the Church Times, couldn't get a visa. We had great flight here with BA particularly as the air stewards were so taken with what we were doing that they collected all the sweets, chocolates and children's flight bags they could find and asked us to take them to the children we would be meeting.

CSKS is an organisaton which is working with street children in Dhaka and MRDF have been in partnership with them since about 2000. Initially it was small funding to help the project get a solid base from which to develop and more recently MRDF have helped the project gain somel arger funding from Comic Relief. Some of you may have seen the clip on Sport's Relief featuring Tess Daley breaking down in flood of tears when one of the children she had met was involved in an accident.

The latest estimate is that there are around 1million street children in this the capital city so the work of CSKS is an essential part of seeking to give children a quality of life they deserve.

After a bit of a rest we were taken to the CSKS headquarters where we met with the Chairman, a 70 year old lawyer with a deep passion for all they are doing, and members of the staff. Here we met with a group of dedicated people who are committed to the vision of helping these poor vulnerable children come off the streets and be taught self-worth, be educated and hopefuly find employment.

We were driven through the congested traffic to Karwan Bazar which is one the Catchment areas for initial contact with the children who are otern ound working in te markets and sleein rough every night where they become victims to drugs, sexual prostitution abd a life of little worth. The crowds gathered around us as we chatted to some of the project workers and met some of the children they are working with. They encourage the children to attend the 'class room under the sky' and we estimaed about 700-80 children at each of them.

There are 6 centres where 50 children at ech centre live as part of an extended family. Here they have 3 meals a day, are taught basic education, health care and life skills as well as some vocationl taining in sewing, carpentry or candle making.

We went to the one at Karwan Bazar and had a wonderful; time playing games, having our hair done, watching some girls dance and the boys doing their skills training. On the way home we stopped off at one of the 'class room under the sky' and were deeply impressed by all we saw. We met a few young men who had been in the 'class room under the sky for 7 years nd now had permanent employment. A real succes story but so much need.

We will see much more over the coming three days and I know the three of us will continue to be deeply moved with compasion mixed with a sense of impotence. Yet the good news is that through MRDF change is coming and I'll have more wonderful tsories of transformation in the next few days.

This may include how Audrey improves on her dancing and Amanda has a new hair look!!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The grace of Birmingham!!

These past few days I've been in Birmingham staying with my friend Bill Anderson. We entered Queens College the same year to begin our ministerial training but he was much older than me!! He's wearing well but sadly had been called to Jury service these past two weeks and having already postponed once he wasn't allowed to use even the excuse of the visit of the President of Conference to get out of it.

I was invited to visit the 3 newly created circuits. This began on the Wednesday by spending time with people in the Coventry and Nuneaton circuit. There are some imaginative things going onand I was able to catch a glimpse of the rich diversity this new and large circuits contains. It was good to spend time at the University of warwick with the chaplainStuart Jennings. The ministry through this multi faith chaplaincy centre is of a very high calibre. We must continue to put our resources into these front line areas of mission - we neglect them at our peril!

The following day was with the staff of the new Blackheath & Halesowen circuit. The two ministers, Paul andRichard, showed me around all six of their churches which included parents and toddlers, a Live at Home scheme - where I joined in the line dancing (photos hopefully to follow); popping into a housegroup in the afternoon and sharing in a circuit healing service in the evening.

I was deeply impressed by the vision and courage of the small congregationat Long Lane who have unanimously decided to move from their present site and purchase a shop unit on the main road - these are wonderful premises with a whole host of possibilities for mission and outreach.

The photo shows the minister, richard with the District Mission Enabler, Michelle, who organised a very successful Fresh Expression Day in Worcester on the Saturday.

Bill invites the Methodist students from queens to his manse at the beginning of each year so took the opportunity of having David and I in the District. We had a good time together, especially as we discovered two of the students were celebrating their birthday, and remembered to take a photo only after most of them had left to go home!! I was impressed by the quality of those we met from within our own Conference as well as those who are among us from the wider World Church studying or preparing for ministry in our own Conference.

After the FX day in worcester Bill took David and I to Evesham to visit the church which has twice been affected by the floods these past two years, The church people have quietly got on with repairing and renovating their premises and we were impressed by all they have done. In trhe basement they have rerpaired all the damage and laid a new floor with its own labyrinth built in.

when we gathered with some of the people from across the circuit the Vice-President launched into a Lancashire dialect poem about Noah and the ark.....he had everyone laughing and was clearly enjoying himself

On the Sunday David was in Birmingham and I had an early start to get to Hereford where I shared in the morning worship at St John's. At Breakout in July I had met some of the youth leaders from this circuit and agreed to remain for the evening to see if we could do something a bit different.....we had a packed church with people from all the churches of this newly created circuit....sat in small groups, the young people did a great piece of drama which helped set the scene, as we focused our worship on the weakness and vulnerability of Christ which becomes the power and strength of God's grace.

I saw again and again during these few days signs of God's amazing grace. Thank you to all those who shared this with me.......and I hope Bill doesn't get called to jury service this week and end up as part of a trial that lasts for months....his District need his love and grace!!

A taste of Scotland

I had a great time in Scotland meeting some fascinating people, being fed wherever I went and eating haggis........but never being asked to play the bagpipes!

On my first day I was privileged to be with the Scottish Church Leaders as they met with the First Minister, Alex Salmon. The next day was an opportunity to share with some of the ministers from across the district. Being here for these few days has helped me have a greater understanding of how large the circuits are and the distances people have to travel.
On the Saturday i shared a wonderful day in Aberdeen with people from the North of Scotland Mission. Here I discovered another of Mr Wesley's chairs - one used during his visits and then donated to the church..........and a lovely photo of the new superintendent minister, the Rev Ken Morgan.

There was a lovely moment as I was sharing about our visit to Tonga for the Coronation of the King. I was telling the gathering about the teapot we took as a gift and at that moment a starnger wnadered into church and presented me with a lovely flowery teapot. I thought it was a wind up but as we chatted at the end nobody knew who he was.....a moment of grace?
On the Sunday I was priveleged to share in a special service focusing on climate change at the Central Mission Church in Edinburgh. here the four churches have come together as the City of Edinburgh church. They have much talking and decision making to do as they seek for an effective witness and mission in the capital city. This was followed by David and I sharing in an informal afternoon with people from the Paisley circuit followed by tea and worship. We were joined by some of the members of the recently formed Zimbabwean fellowship who added joy and music to our time together.

Through the whole visit we were lovingly cared for by Lily Twist, the Chair of District, and her husband Colin. If you are looking for a good B&B in Stirling give them a ring

Monday, 20 October 2008

Colours of Scotland

Scotland looked at its most beautiful this weekend!

Travelling up on the 6am train to Glasgow I passed through the gently rolling hills of the Lowlands and later in the day was driven by Lily Twist up to Dunblane - with its Abbey and ecumenical centre (Scottish Churches House).

The beautiful stained glass memorial window was displayed at Woodlands Church in Glasgow where I was welcomed by the minister, Liz Adam and Daniel Finch of the Ghanaian Fellowship (pictured).

After a session at Woodlands on Communicating the Faith I received an equally warm welcome at Netherton Church where I led their Sunday morning service.

This is a coming together of two Methodist Churches in Wishaw, Lanarkshire, and it was clear that the amalgamation

had already had a positive effect on both congregations.

I was able to share in the birthdays of two of the most senior members and was pleased to hear about the activities of strong Girls and Boys Brigade Companies.

Stephen and I were well cared for by Lily and Colin Twist and I came back with a strong impression of the commitment of the members of the Methodist Church in Scotland - who 'punch above their weight' ! - as well as of the natural beauty of the country.

Ethical Business Consultation

At the beginning of my year of office I decided that the ethics of business should be one of my themes for exploration - especially as one of my predecessors, John Bell, had stimulated much interest which I felt ought to be built upon.
Little did I realise how topical this would be! In the wake of the financial crisis which has gripped the global economy mnay questions have been asked about the ethical basis of the wholesale and retail banking systems - and isues of trust, integrity and confidence are high on the agenda.
So it was that a group of involved Methodists gathered together at Luther King House last weekend to consider the questions of what it means to be an ethical business - and an ethical business person.
The lively discussion was stimulated by Joelle Warren - the founder of her own successful recruitment business - and Chris Moorhouse, a former Vice-President of BP and Chair of the Institute of Business Ethics. There is clearly a lot of experience and concern in the Church at large.
I was very grateful to all who took part - and I am confident that there will be some practical outcomes. One already set up is an internet link-up for people who have an interest in these issues and especially the relationship between their faith and their working lives. For more details please log on to and sign up.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Harvest reflections

Almost the first person I met on my visit to London was the caretaker at Wesley's Chapel, tending the church garden. It reminded me of the importance of those who care for creation, whether they be farmers or public park keepers, environmentalists or refuse collectors.

The theme of the all-age worship at Hinde Street Church on their Harvest Sunday morning was Jesus's feeding of the five thousand - how the offering by a young lad of his packed lunch enabled a whole company of people to be fed; we reflected that perhaps the miracle was that his example encouraged others to share what they had brought.

The Service was led by the Rev Sue Keegan von Allmen the newly appointed Superintendant of the West London Mission and some of the younger members shared in a dramatised reading of the gospel; in addition the congregation had brought gifts of food for the day centre to use. Rather dauntingly I discovered that my sermon can be downloaded from the Church's website!

We enjoyed a convivial lunch afterwards prepared by John Hicks' class and then a small group of us discussed some of the ethical dilemmas and other stresses we face in our working lives; this was ably chaired by Rachel Corvill (pictured) one of the Church Stewards.

The President has related some of the other activities of the weekend; on the Saturday the Chairs had arranged a meeting for me with a number of lay leaders from around the London District. This was a frank and helpful discussion and we were able to air some of the concerns both of growing and declining congregations, the challenge of getting people who lead already busy lives to volunteer for office, and the differences in the expectations of congregations and ministers which sometimes lead to conflict or misunderstanding. There were some clear points for action which the District leadership team would take up.

Our visit ended on the Sunday evening in the White Hart pub in Whitechapel. The event was the opening night of a new venture by the drama company 'Applecart'.

The brainchild of Peter Moreton and Phil Summers, the hour long two-man show presented an inventive, entertaining and challenging take on a portion of the gospels. I found it utterly compelling - perhaps more accessible to those who are familiar with the bible stories, but I would recommend anyone and everyone to go along to the next performances and taste and see.

It is really encouraging to see people with natural humour and theological understanding using it to such creative effect - I am glad to be part of a Church where this kind of talent and professional skill is being harvested for the Kingdom.

President takes to the floor at Leytonstone!

The President entered into the spirit of the international celebrations at Leytonstone and we both enjoyed the rich mixture of food, vibrant music, poetry and dance!