Monday, 30 October 2017

MARTIN LUTHER AND THE NEED FOR A NEW REFORMATION

I have been mulling over writing about Martin Luther and the five hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation for quite some time.  In this 500th anniversary year we have had the opportunity to visit the sites in Germany that are most closely linked to Martin Luther.  I was surprised how "un-touristy" it all was.  I liked Wittenberg and enjoyed listening to a Lutheran service in English in the Castle Church that finished up with a rousing rendition of Luther's great hymn of the Reformation, "A mighty fortress is our God." It was stirring and moving.  The painting by Cranach in Luther's local church where he used to preach, was particularly fine.  It visually described some of the basic tenets of Luther's teaching.

On October 31st 1517, Martin Luther had nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.  These 95 statements challenged the Roman Catholic Church of the 16th Century to question what it means to be a Christian and to reexamine what they believed and taught from a Biblical perspective. 
Much has been written about this in the past and especially this year.  As Luther nailed the statements to the door, the hammer blows echoed around Europe and within a very few years Christianity as it had been known was changed.  Tragically the following years were soiled  by division, persecution and appalling treatment by people claiming that their version of Christianity was the only true one. Thousands were burnt at the stake, tortured and hounded into exile.  Many Christians could not live alongside those who did not think the same as them.  The American colonies became initially a safe haven for many but sadly the divisions were reproduced and multiplied in the new lands across the Atlantic.

There clearly was a great need in the 16th Century for a reforming of the church in a more biblically coherent way.  In my mind it raises the question of  is there a need for reformation today?  Every age and every generation has a challenge to look at what it is teaching and what it presents to the world.  For me the Reformation dictum of "sola scritura" - Scripture Alone has always been important.  The Bible gives us a safe bedrock in which to base what we believe.  However it raises the issue of interpretation.  Saying the Bible alone sounds good but it opens up the whole area of how we interpret what it says, or rather who interprets it.  The Roman Catholic church of the 16th Century said it was the Pope alone who could interpret the Bible.  Protestants disagreed and have argued that all are free to interpret the Bible but within Protestantism there have been endless debates and division based on each other's interpretation.  We have made the Bible a book of academic and theological discussion that leaves most people disinterested.  Indeed today the majority rarely open the Bible or give it a second thought.


It saddens me that there are still people who, through the internet, express disapproval of the beliefs those they do not agree with and condemn them with as much enthusiasm as the Spanish Inquisition did in the past.  

One of the big things that I have discovered in recent years is that the writers of the Bible wrote about what they had experienced first and then put it into words.  Today however, with a so called modern rational approach,  people tend to discount experience and retreat into the mind and an academic dead end.  Luther would have been surprised by this as his great discovery was that salvation was by faith alone which was totally experiential.  In his studies of the Letter to the Romans Luther felt himself reborn.  His reformation began with an experience that  changed him and transformed Christianity.

Today we are seeing the beginnings of a new reformation in Christianity that is beginning to impact the world.  It is based on an experience of God as Father who unconditionally loves us and is for us.  This reformation is beginning to change many across the various expressions of Christianity in the world today.  It is rooted in Biblical Christianity but it begins with not an academic discussion but a revelation of being loved by God himself.

I am longing to see this experience-based approach re form the church today.  I don't long for a first century or sixteenth century version of Christianity.  I long for an authentic, twenty first century, biblically based, love filled, and experiential expression of Christianity. I long for a church where people are individually valued and loved, and are enjoying their Christian life to the full.  I long for a church where the focus of our lives is the trinity of a loving Father, a saving faith in his eternal Son Jesus and an overwhelming experience of his love being poured into us by his life giving and holy Spirit.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

HURRICANE IRMA AND THE JUDGEMENT OF GOD


In the last year we have encountered two hurricanes.   The first was Hurricane Matthew which slammed into South Carolina the day last October before we flew in to Atlanta.  It delayed our arrival by a couple of days and disrupted the event we were due to attend not far from Charleston.

This year was more specific as we landed in Florida for a week of rest and holiday and found ourselves caught up in a mass evacuation of over 6 million people.  We joined the interminable lines of cars heading north and eventually after driving for nearly 18 hours found ourselves in the safety of Orange Beach, Alabama rather than St Petersberg Florida.  We sat on the sidelines of the main event which tore through the Florida Keys, made landfall near where we were meant to be staying and ripped a path up the centre of the state causing billions of dollars worth of damage and flooding many coastal communities. Friends suffered damage to their property and most are still without power.

We met nothing but kindness and help from people all along the way from gas stations to the hotel where we finally ended up. There were many stressed and anxious fellow evacuees staying at the same hotel.  We experienced sympathy, concern and classic southern hospitality which was heart warming.  It confirmed my opinion of America and Americans as being kind, gracious and welcoming if at little parochial at times however as some seemed confused by our accents and why we were there!

We watched the weather channel as the drama unfolded.  We followed posts on Facebook and read comments by many 'religious' people offering advice and direction on how to pray in these circumstances.  The suggestions varied widely.  Some of the advice was wise and sensible.  Some was down right crazy and driven by fear and appalling judgement.   The tragedy of this is that often these rather extreme views are taken as to be representative of all Christians. This has always been an issue and is not new.  This spate of hurricanes, Harvey which hit Texas less than two weeks ago and now Irma which has devastated Florida were both Category 4.  Hurricane Jose is swirling around close to the Bermuda and can't seem to decide where to go. They have caused some parts of the Christian community to rise up in prayer to "rebuke the storm", send it way, meaning 'as far from me as possible and not in my back yard.'  One of the more extreme views found its way into the Washington Post this week.  "We pray that Irma divert from its path toward Miami, and go back out to sea.  We pray in these storms that you will send the hosts of heaven to shred the demonic fury that is driving the coming together of these winds." 

I saw a post not long ago on Facebook which triumphantly proclaimed a tornado had been diverted from its path away from the writer's home because of anointed and powerful prayers.  Then a day or two later the same writer was expressing sympathy for the damage and the destruction in the immediate neighbourhood due to the same tornado that had been "prayed away".  

Back to these hurricanes.  I heard of one group who daily stood on a pier at Jacksonville Beach rebuking the storm and sending it out to sea.  It did the opposite sadly and hit the west coast of Florida which sent a huge tidal surge onto the east coast.  I'm sure there was lots of good intention but I imagine there is also a lot of disappointment now as Jacksonville was particularly badly flooded.

Some people are even claiming, “These hurricanes are not the result of global warming; they are the Judgment of God because of the innocent blood crying to Him for vengeance,”  There are numerous other examples that have cropped up this week.  Even in the terminology of some Insurance companies natural disasters are described as Acts of God.

Are natural disasters the judgement of God, or as some have said, a warning from Him to repent, a way of God trying to get out attention? Bolts of lightening are considered in the same way by many not least Martin Luther who over 500 years ago made avow to become a monk after narrowly missing being hit by lightning.  Earthquakes are similarly viewed. The devastating earthquake that struck Haiti a few years ago was widely believed to be God's judgement on the poorest nation on the planet because of their widespread practice of voodoo.

So what do we make of all this?  Is this the Judgement of God on America and Florida or the tiny islands of the Caribbean?  Why them and not North Korea or Walton on Thames?

The root of the confusion comes from a misunderstanding of the nature of God and the nature of the world in which we live. When God is viewed through Adam's fallen eyes, he is then seen as a God who people fear and hide from. He is seen as fickle and impulsive in the way he responds to our fearful prayers. He is cruel and arbitrary in his dealings with people.  Man's fallen view of God creates a caricature of him that is driven by our own brokenness and fear.  We live in a world that has been impacted by our fallenness and experiences countless natural phenomena and disasters daily as a result.  Let us look at lightening for a moment.  In the US there are 25 million cloud-to-ground lightning strikes per year.  1,800 thunderstorms on earth at any given moment, and 100 is the number of times lightning hits earth per second.  Earth is an active place and earthquakes are always happening somewhere.  In fact, the National Earthquake Information Center locates about 12,000-14,000 earthquakes each year!  

As for hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones on average there are about  70 to 110 named tropical cyclones per year across the world, including about 40 to 60 that reach hurricane strength. This range has held remarkably steady within the last 40 years. This is according to University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

So how do we respond to these frequently occurring events? It's not inappropriate to pray but praying within the will of God has always been tricky as often it is our will rather than his that we pray for.  When Jesus' disciple's experienced a potentially life threatening storm on lake Galilee interestingly he was asleep peacefully in the bottom of the boat.  Jesus knew that this was not his time and there was no cause for alarm. However in order to calm the disciple's fears he "rebuked the storm." This is where the rebuking thing comes from.  What does this mean and what happened?  He said, "Stop it!" and it did. It stopped, it didn't divert across the other side of the lake and flood Capernaum, it stopped.  

The apostle Paul got caught up in a horrific Mediterranean storm with hurricane force winds which lasted for two weeks. Paul was not disobeying God, he was living in the will of God for his life but he got caught up in storm. What did he advise? Take all necessary precautions, dump excess baggage, eat a hearty meal to keep strength up, pray, trust God and run before the storm. Seems like good advice.  Finally the boat ran aground on a beach in Malta and every one got saved.  That is a good outcome.

We face daily the challenges of our world. We read in Romans 8 that all of creation is groaning waiting for the appearing of the sons of God. We experience that groaning in many ways not least in storms, floods, hurricanes and disasters.  As increasingly the sons of God rise up and step into our inheritance we will see the impact in the people of this world who need to know that God is a loving Father who cares for us and longs for us to find our home and true identity in him.

When the storm comes we step up to the challenges as sons and daughters of almighty God our Father and reach out to our fellow man with all the compassion and comfort that we have received from him.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

AFRICA UPDATE AUGUST 2017

Having just returned from Uganda I thought it would be a good idea to put some photos up and give a pictorial account of the two week trip. 


As many will know the security situation at Mto Moyoni was serious following a spate of burglaries and the murder of the German next door neighbour by thieves who broke into his house.  This created a huge police presence in the immediate area and lots of anger among the local village community who were complaining about lack of police presence in the area generally.
 
We are pleased to say that on our arrival walking in the gates of Mto Moyoni was like walking into an oasis of calm and peace as always.  The staff where relaxed and trusting and very pleased to greet us.  We led a staff retreat one day and shared about the servant heart of sons. This was a wonderful time and we could see that the staff, made up of gardeners, kitchen staff, office staff and housekeepers totally identified with the vision of Mto Moyoni and were living in the revelation that God is their Father.  It was so good to have been with them.

We then held a pastors conference at the youth centre at Mto. This was another great time with open hearts and men and women deeply drinking of Fathers love.  Maggie, one of the Mto Moyoni staff shared and was able to pray the love of the Father over these people. 

At the middle weekend there was a gathering of about 25 people from across Uganda, African and Muzungu (whites) who we have been privileged to get to know over the last 8 years. It was very open and joyful event with a deepening of revelation and love for Father and one another.



The last week was the Fatherheart Ministries A School which welcomed about 50 people, well over half being deaf pastors and leaders.  The other part of the group were all pastors from the region in Uganda of Karamoja.


The Karamajong are a semi-nomadic tribe very closely related to the Masai of Kenya and Tanzania.  They are pastoralists( Cattle herders) and live in the north east of Uganda.  They are considered very warlike and different from the rest of Uganda so tend to be despised and feared.  Thus we had two very marginalised groups sitting together and experiencing the love of the Father.


 It was an amazing week.  The level of openness was unlike anything I have ever experienced in Africa or indeed anywhere. 

One of the highlights was the time Philip, a Karamajong pastor who we met in 2009 and was part of the team, shared his testimony.    I was deeply touched by his heart and life, a man who has never had a day in school but had been taught by the Holy Spirit to read and speak English. My heart nearly burst for joy when he talked.  When we shared the Father's embrace with everyone I went to Philip to receive and I was very deeply touched.   The sense of the presence of God was incredible.

It was very good to share the whole time with Ingrid Wilts who runs Mto Moyoni and has lived in Uganda for over 25 years. Also Winette Hubregste who whilst being based back in the Netherlands is still an integral part of the ministry in Mto.  Then for the A school we were joined by Gunnar Dehli who leads Deaf Ministries International and has been a key person in bringing the revelation of the Father into the Deaf community.  Maggie from Mto and Philip were also part of the team

During the week the plans for an A School in South Africa next February 2018 were finalised. We are delighted that Philip and hopefully also Maggie will be joining us on team for that School in Pretoria.  We are looking to cover their flights and costs next year through gifts and offerings.  If you want to help with this here is the link.  Donate towards Maggie and Philips fares.

We are so thankful for the support and encouragement received for this trip. Every thing was covered and we were able to bless  all the pastors by subsidising  and sponsoring them.  
 Thank you for your part in helping us and partnering with us to facilitate this time.

Friday, 25 November 2016

A LOOK BACK AT 2016

It hardly seems possible that 2016 is nearly at an end.  I had been meaning to write various blogs this year but that just didn't happen as you will know. The intention was there but not the time or the moment.  

Now the moment has arrived as I am sitting looking back at the year from the perspective of New Zealand.  We are back down under for the Christmas holidays spending time with our Kiwi and Ozzie families.  It gives me time to reflect a little.

Being slightly OCD I have kept account of the number of things as varied as countries visited and ministered in since 2007 - 25;  FHM A Schools and B Schools attended or led since 2007 - 96; birds spotted in Uganda and Tanzania - 170;  beds we have slept in this year - 62,  much fewer now we have our own flat in the UK as a base to land back in.  That says something about me, I know not what though.

We began the year with a brilliant family gathering in Taupo, New Zealand, with all our children and grandchildren spending a few days together with their grandparents. We even had the twins other granny from England and Noah and Lily's other grandad from Auckland there. We recreated a family photo that we took last time we were all together three years ago. Every one had changed! We were all there except Chrissie's husband James who couldn't get time off from work in Australia.  We so value family and as we look at our brood and their broods we feel very very proud and thankful.

The major change for us this year has been the provision of a flat not far from Winchester in the UK.  This was perfect timing and a great kindness by our friends who own the place beside their house in Ropley and are kindly renting it out to us.  It is just what we needed and gives us a place to keep our things and a place to rest and recover between trips.  The timing was perfect as we needed to clear our rooms at the Eden Centre, the ministry base for FHM in New Zealand because of its impending sale.  We couldn't be happier about this.  In the past we have trusted that when we needed it Father would provide the right place and this is it.  Very happy!


 


Mission situations have figured quite highly this year and it was great to return to Uganda to lead a second FHM A School for deaf church leaders at Mto Moyoni in Jinja.  Participants came from 9 different African nations. Our links with DMI, Deaf Ministries International and our friend Gunnar have grown through these schools and in this coming year I am going to S Korea with him for a School there.

The other missions situation was Port au Prince Haiti where we taught an A School.  This was about 2 weeks after the hurricane had hit the country.  I was there at the invitation and with the support of a team from New Day Church, Summerville, S Carolina.  We had just held a B School at New Day in the wake of the same hurricane that had hit Haiti.  A large number of pastors and leaders came to this Haitian School and we are excited about how they were able to received and what the future will bring. At this point it looks like we will be returning in February 2018 for another School. 

Thank you for supporting us in these mission Schools.

In terms of our ministry we continue to speak at conferences and churches and teach and lead FHM A Schools and I am also now quite involved in teaching at B Schools. These have challenged me and brought me great joy and enabled me to dig deeper into the biblical basis and foundation of what we are teaching.

 It has been very encouraging to hear Linda speak at a number of events too.  She has her first event where she will be the main speaker in February 2017 at Northchurch Baptist Church in the UK, where we first began ministry in 1977!  If you are interested in us coming to your church let us know. We try to keep our traveling plans up to date on our "Comings and Goings" page on this website.

I managed to publish another book earlier this year which comes out of my reading, study and teaching of church history.  You can see more about this on the pages of this website also.  Sales have gone very well and I'm encouraged.  If you have bought it and read it and felt like leaving a review on Amazon or Kindle, that would be appreciated.  In the first day it went I hit the best seller list ( for about 2 hours)!   The book "Jesus and his Father " was translated into Dutch and published in the Netherlands in April which was exciting.  With three books out now I wonder if I am done,  but maybe not.  We are looking at another one sometime soon on a topic that has been important and significant for us both. This might be one we write together.  We shall see.

Our health has been pretty good this year apart from the usual selection of coughs and colds.  Linda has had her moments with her old head injury from the previous years fall being an occasional challenge but generally we have been well.  I had my annual mole check this week in Auckland and it seems I have a couple of possibly dodgy cancerous ones on two places.  The Doctor thinks one is a BCC rather than melanoma but this time he wants to cut it out to be sure rather than just treat with cream. The other is a pre-melanoma  So I’m having them done Jan 5th.  He says it will take awhile to heal up as he is going for a large chunk of skin.  Nice - not.  It doesn’t change any travel plans for OZ. But we will be at our daughter's for about two weeks while it heals up and we get the results.  Whatever the outcome I’ll get it referred to the UK if I need any further treatment.  I’m hoping that I might be able to claim it on insurance as he says it needs to be treated immediately as it cannot be left for 3 months till we get back.  This sounds all a bit of a drama and we are not that happy about it but one of the annoying facts of life and aging!

Well that is about it for 2016.  December for us is chilling time with family and then Christmas at sunny Pauanui again thanks to our good friends Murray and Julie.

We end the year celebrating the goodness of God our Father and his faithfulness to us and rejoicing in the birth of his Son, Jesus and the Holy Spirit's abiding presence within us.  Christmas greetings to you especially if you have read this far.

Next year I'll see if I can write some more than this year. No promises. 








Monday, 1 February 2016

A NEW BOOK - FINDING THE FATHER IN THE STORY OF THE CHURCH.


A number of times over the years I have been asked to teach a short course on the story of the church through 2000 years. I have been interested in Church History since my days in college. I had been inspired to study Church History by my tutor, Dr. Raymond Brown, then principal of Spurgeon’s College in London, UK. He loved the subject and it rubbed off. My short course inevitably was superficial and subjective simply because there was so much to include and a large amount to exclude.  Therefore, I tried to paint a big picture rather than a detailed account.  

People started asking me for copies of my notes. I had notes that were not very readable. Also my notes were to be used as prompts and therefore spoken and taught rather than read. They had been collected over the years from all sorts of books and sources and it was very hard to say where I had picked up the information. 

So the idea for this book was born.  However, it was clear I needed to tidy things up and present the material in a more readable format if it was going to become a book. One of my aims when I taught also applies to this book, it was to inspire the reader to dig further and explore the rich wells of the story of the Church. As a result, I have not written an academic scholarly work and by that I mean it is not full of detailed footnotes like a theological or historical treatise. Instead, I have written a story. If you have read any of my other books you will know I like stories.  Where I have referenced something it is primarily to acknowledge the source of a major quotation or a book or author whose influence has been significant to me.

Some people struggle with the very idea of reading history. Famously, Henry Ford the founder of the Ford Motor Company in the USA writing in the Chicago Tribune in 1916 said, “History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinkers damn is the history that we make today.” 

I profoundly disagree with Ford's statement. Christianity is a historical religion. God has revealed himself in and through history. The Old Testament is a historical revelation of God at work through his relationship with his people. God does not reveal himself through doctrinal statements but through his relationship and interactions with his people through the ages. In the Old Testament, he instructed people to tell the stories of his dealings with them to their children and then their children.  

The great Roman orator, Cicero in the first century BC said that to not know what took place before you were born was to remain forever a child. To have no memory of the past is a serious psychiatric or mental condition. We do all we can to help people to recover their memories. A community with no social memory is suffering a serious illness.

What is history? It is a collection of stories, memories, and writings from all sorts of perspectives. Much is a subjective description of past events by people commenting on what they witnessed from their personal perspective. Sometimes what they have recorded was a description of someone they didn’t like or who didn’t think in the same way as they did, effectively their enemy!  Impartiality, as a result, was easily lost. 

Sometimes history is gleaned from objects, inscriptions, paintings and artefacts from the past that need to be interpreted. Historians build a picture of what they think happened in the past by studying these things. We are very dependent on those whose passion is to describe the events from the past, the historians, theologians and writers who have made the study of the past their life’s work. Increasingly, I am seeing that this whole process is very, very subjective. I don’t think this book will be very different.

However, as I looked at the story of the church, I began to see that it was not just a story. It was not just memories. I saw very clearly that the story was one of incredible depth and the unfolding of an amazing revelation.  I began to see that the early church lost touch with its beginnings and the Church evolved into a vast multifaceted worldwide organisation made up of thousands of varying expressions very different from its original form. Specifically, I saw that there was a steady loss of key biblical truth generation after generation over many centuries. Equally, in time there was a restoration of key biblical truth that God has graciously given back to the Church particularly over the last five hundred years. As a result, this book became a charting of this process. My particular interest in this is because in many ways it has reflected my own journey of rediscovery culminating in the amazing awakening within me of knowing the triune God not just as Jesus my saviour, the Holy Spirit my comforter but also as God my Father. 

In short, the purpose of this book is to try to follow how the revelation of the Father that Jesus brought and that is recorded in the New Testament gradually began to be lost by succeeding generations of Christian writers and teachers and was then given back or restored to the church. This loss was slow, but sadly constant from the late first century to the Middle Ages. Then, from the sixteenth century onward, there was equally a steady rediscovery of the three persons of the Trinity: first Jesus, then the Holy Spirit, culminating in the present day revelation of God the Father and our resulting identity as sons.

The book is therefore more about the development historically of theological truth than just church history. However, the two are deeply connected. To understand the development of theological truth, we need to see where this sits within the big picture of history. Many have heard bits and pieces of the story and know about some sections, so what I have tried to do in this book is join the dots. For many, the story of the church is a jumble of isolated events and people who are not connected, rather like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The reality is that there is a flow to the story, a pulsing of the Holy Spirit as he energizes the people of God in every generation to seek for truth even when all around them there is corruption and stagnation in the Church. The puzzle is actually a magnificent picture!

God’s work in history is a secret work, a mystery even. At times, it is an exciting and happy story, full of joy. Other times, it is downright dreadful and humiliating when it is very difficult to see the finger of God in the process. For example, how on earth could Christians read that Jesus told us to “love your enemies” then think it was still okay to burn them at the stake. Beats me.

Sometimes, the story reads in such soiled and earthy terms as to make us question ‘Where was God?’ It’s easy to see him in Athanasius, Francis of Assisi, the Great Awakening, in revivals and Mother Theresa, but more difficult to find him in the Viking onslaught that wiped out the Celtic Church, in the Crusades and in Auschwitz. In the story, while there is great sadness and darkness there were always moments of great light. There were people who held high the light of the gospel of truth and revelation when all around was very dark.

The great tapestry that is the story of the Church is woven with dark threads as well as bright silken threads. This book is not about the ‘whys’ of history, though I have my opinions that will inevitably pop out. Rather, it is about the wheat and the weeds growing up together alongside each other as in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13:24. In the end, the harvest of the wheat is gathered in despite the weeds. We do know how the story ends in so far as it ends for us in the early twenty-first century. Though as C.S. Lewis supposedly said if Jesus does not return in the next two thousand years, they will look back at our era as still being in the Early Church.

So that is what the new book is all about and why I call it Finding the Father in the story of the church. 

The book will be available very soon via Amazon and Kindle and we will have some copies with us too.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

FINDING A PEARL OF GREAT VALUE IN THE PEARL OF AFRICA

We have been coming to Uganda for six years now.  Winston Churchill called Uganda the pearl of Africa.  We have done a number of things including leading Fatherheart Ministries A Schools in Mto Moyoni, Jinja which I have written about before (see blog July 2012).  We are supporting the work of Ingrid Wilts and Winette Hubregtse who have been building at Mto Moyoni over ten years or more.  They have held various weeks and youth schools for the people of Uganda and beyond. 

Almost every time we come here to lead a School there are some people who come from Katwe which is a town in the far west of Uganda close to the Congo border. Over time we have got to know them and seen the group from Katwe grow in this revelation of the Father.  I think of a young man called Benson who could barely look you in the eye when we first met.  Last weekend we travelled to Mbarara in the west and led an A School then held a two day conference.  Again there were 25 from Katwe, a mixture of people young and old, pastors, church leaders, students and young people.  They were smiling and three shared publicly of what Father had done.  Benson spoke for 10 minutes or so about what Father now meant to him and the freedom he now had as a son of God.  It was deeply moving.


I wondered how these people came to be there.  It is at least a 24 hour bus ride from Katwe to Jinja.  I heard a story of a lady from Tonsburg in Norway who was involved in some development work in Katwe. She has visited the place only once apparently.  She attended a FHM A School in Norway a few years ago that changed her life.  She began to sponsor and send people from Katwe to Jinja to Mto Moyoni and Fatherheart events.

Yesterday we went to Katwe, which is three hours beyond Mbarara, in the centre of Queen Eizabeth National Park.  We met Nicholas who worked for local conservation and he guided us for a day.  He had been to Mto for a week.  We stopped for lunch of rice and fresh tilapia caught in Lake Edward.  While we were there his mother came to greet us.  We have met her a number of times. She leads one of the churches in Katwe.  She greeted us with a warm embrace and with tears in her eyes thanked us for what we had been part of in bringing this revelation of Father and sonship to her people and her church and her town.  She said it has changed everything and she will never be the same.  She said all the churches in the town have been impacted.  Over one hundred people from the town have now done Fatherheart Schools in Jinja and Mbarara.  Now they meet monthly to encourage each other on their journey in sonship. There were tears in our eyes as we parted.




Katwe is a very small town, about 2,000 people.  Most of its people live by gathering salt from the saline crater lake on the edge of the town.  It is hard manual labour.  These people are not the wise and learned in the usual sense of the word.  They are poor, they are weak, they are unheard of.  Their churches are not grand and ornate, they are made from brick and mud with tin roofs.  But 5% of the people of this town have a hunger to know God as Father that has taken them across the country and back again many times to get more.  In many ways they are the epitome of what Jesus means when he says these things have been hidden from the wise and learned and revealed to little children.  As Paul said , "Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him." 1 Cor 1:26- 29.

So many of us in western countries tend to more than think twice about coming to Fatherheart Schools,  quibbling over the cost, the fact that it takes a week, and so on.  Just like I did.  We are so rich in opportunities and can feast on a smorgasbord of Christian delights that may in fact hinder us from knowing what heart hunger feels like.  But these people know something we don't. 



These dear people from Katwe have found the pearl of great price and it is transforming their lives and their communities and they will do anything to obtain it.  They have so little of what this world counts valuable and of worth but they have found something so priceless that they will never trade or lose the pearl of great price.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

70 YEARS ON

70 years ago the war in Europe officially came to an end after six years of horrific bloodshed and slaughter that left millions dead and millions more homeless and displaced.  New borders where drawn across Europe, whole communities were up rooted.  Many who had fled westwards to escape the steamrolling victorious army of Russians, thirsting for revenge, were caught up in all the turmoil. 

Russian Cossacks who had ended up in Austria and had fought with the Germans against the Soviets were forcibly sent back to Russia to face annihilation in the Gulag.  Abortions in the occupied zones of Germany rocketed in 1945 and 1946 as Stalin's army of rapists, as he called them, subjected German women of all ages to atrocious brutality and terror. 

The Nazi death camps had all been liberated and the absolute horror of it all had become known.  The numbers of deaths beggars belief.  The mountains of spectacles, suitcases, and extracted gold teeth speak of families destroyed and lives shattered.  70 years ago the ash filled crematoria no longer belched out black human smoke and the gun fire and bombs had finally stopped.  The church bells began to ring again across Europe as they did in the UK this weekend.

Throughout April and May we have been driving east across Europe.  We started by going through Holland, where the bulbs were again blooming that 70 years ago had been eaten by the starving Dutch.  This year we saw hundreds of Dutch people at a Fatherheart conference filled with the love that comes from God embracing their German neighbours and celebrating that they are sons with the same Father.

We drove across Germany having been with German people who have risen above the national shame that defined postwar Germany and rejoiced in the new hope that they have, that their nation has a true Father and their real Fatherland is in their hearts.  

We spent two nights in Berlin.  We saw the ruined Church that stands as a memorial to the destruction of the city by the cascades of American and British bombs that carpeted Berlin and by the onslaught of the Red Army. The city 70 years ago was a colossal pile of rubble and broken lives. Today it is a vibrant capital to a reunited nation. Yet I could not help but think of the awful consequences that ordinary Germans were facing all those years ago in Berlin.

We continued east crossing rivers that I had only heard about from history, the Elbe, the Oder, on into the east, into Poland.  We met Poles whose grandparent's had fought in the courageous but fruitless Warsaw uprising against the Nazi occupiers. We heard how they pleaded for help from the Russian armies across the river Wistulla, to the east of the city, but who heartlessly watched as Warsaw burned and who did nothing to help. We met one young woman whose grandfather survived the uprising only to be captured by the Nazis and sent to one of the death camps.  Warsaw has been beautifully rebuilt and restored but the scars are still in family memories. 

We stayed in a hotel overlooking the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto that had housed 400,000 Jews before they were sent to the camps for the final solution.  The streets are now renewed and filled with cafes and businesses but the trams still roll past where they once stopped to be filled with thousands of people.  Where shattered lives and families were torn apart as they were shipped off in cattle trucks all those years ago.  We had spent a week with 21st Century Poles and Russians who embraced each other and celebrated that they now see that they have the same Father.  They were young representatives of two nations that had so suffered, nations where there is still fear and suspicion but here were a few showing the way forward.  I felt such hope in my heart.

Today we head south through Poland.  We are going to Krakow, where once a German businessman saved over a thousand Jews from annihilation.  Oscar Schindler had a factory there in the 1940s.  Then we head for Slovakia but will stop on the way at perhaps the most notorious place in Europe, a name that speaks of the total depravity of the human heart.  We will stop at Auschwitz.  We will pause to mourn, to remember, to honour and weep no doubt.   But we will also give thanks that as one inmate of Bergen Belsen once said.  "There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still."  Betsie Ten Boom encouraged her sister Corrie with these words amid the horrors of the camp.  Corrie survived to tell her tale in the book she wrote, "The Hiding Place."

As Europe celebrates 70 years on, I wonder what we have learned from the past.  Not a lot, I fear.  Europe has had its ongoing wars in the former Balkans.  Russian rockets rain down on Ukraine and former communist Eastern Europe fears the start of another cold war.  Genocide still blights our world in the Middle East and Africa.  What have we learned?  

I have learned that nationalism can be a deadly disease, that reconciliation is possible, that hearts can change, that forgiveness for the most horrific deeds is possible.  I have seen Russians, Poles, Germans, Dutch and British embrace one another as they discover their true identity as God's sons and their true brotherhood in Christ, filled with his love, building relationships with each other.  This gives me great hope.