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.

Friday, 6 March 2015

21ST CENTURY LONDON, MULTICULTURALISM, MISOGYNY AND REAL FAMILY.

I recently spent a week based in Colliers Wood in South West London.  The occasion was a Fatherheart Ministries A School, the first in London.  The event was hosted by Oasis Church which is a large church by British standards. There were about 450 people in attendance at the Sunday morning service.

The meeting was a vibrant life filled service.  I was impressed by the multicultural make up of the congregation.  The Pastor and his wife are Nigerian.  Looking across the crowd during the worship there were people of every shade and ethnic background. There were people from Asia, Africa, South America, Europe and the Pacific Islands.  I asked about the ethnicity and cultural background of people and over 50 nations are represented in the church. They were all sitting together alongside each other with a comfortable ease that spoke of being at home with each other.

At various points in the service participants from diverse backgrounds were involved. There was a moment when members who had lost loved ones in recent days were prayed for by those around them. There was one white English family, a black English family, an Asian family and an African family.  Two recently engaged young couples both of Afro Caribbean origin were introduced and celebrated. Then an elderly Indian couple were applauded on achieving their 40th wedding anniversary.  Finally a family from Pakistan were introduced who were set apart that morning to lead a new Urdu speaking congregation that was going to meet every afternoon as part of the church.  The worship band was made up of whites and blacks.

I found myself weeping for joy at this wonderful celebration of diversity.  More to the point this was London in the 21st Century.  This church was modelling something very remarkable. It was not politically correct multiculturalism but it was the family of God.  People from "every tribe and nation" coming together as a family.  This is what made me weep for joy.  It was family.  There was such an ease about it all.  

The church has for many years taught that God is our true Father and here it was being expressed as these people worshiped, celebrated, laughed, prayed and danced together in God's presence.  There was a palpable sense of his presence among us. I was deeply touched by this.  When I got up to preach I looked out across the rows of muticoloured eager faces that looked expectantly towards me. It was as much as I could do to stop crying. Thankfully Linda opened up with greetings and introductions while I got my self together emotionally.  

As we move around and work in different nations month by month, we are so conscious of the diversity of cultures. We have noticed too that sometimes there are aspects of cultures which are deeply protected but are in fact quite controlling and unhelpful. Sometimes customs practiced by cultures hide all manner of cruel and divisive behaviours that should not be celebrated or encouraged. One such example is the way women are treated in some cultures. The misogyny, the hatred of women, that is at the root of some of these practices cannot be celebrated or protected.

On the FHM A School in the following week. The issue of misogyny was addressed and the men present stood and apologised to the women for the way we have abused and misused women all through history and all over the world.  This had a profound impact on a number of the women present from British to African backgrounds. 

Towards the end of the day two young women from East Africa stood and shared how this had affected them very deeply.  All their lives they had feared men and could not lift up there heads and look men in the eye. They came from a culture where men are domineering and physically abusive of their wives and daughters.  On this day these girls spoke and testified to the sense of freedom that came to them as the men repented.  One said as she spoke that for the first time in her life she could look men in the face without fear.  It was a very special and healing moment. This freedom is rooted in the fact of the loving Father who declares us his sons and daughters.  This was not multiculturalism it was family, the family of God in operation.



Thursday, 22 January 2015

AUSTRALIA DAY, WAITANGI DAY AND NEW DAY

Today is the last day of our summer holiday.  We have been in Queensland, Australia with our daughter and her family for ten days.   We will sadly miss the Australia Day anniversary next Monday which celebrates this country and its culture.  If we lived here I guess we would call it Straya Day and celebrate with a few snags thrown on the barbie on the beach in the arvo!

This morning we stopped by our daughter's place of work at the University of the Sunshine Coast.  How can anyone seriously think about studying and working at a uni with such a beautiful sounding name? While there we saw a group of students relaxing before going to their classes. 

These iconic Australian creatures were everywhere in the campus grounds. The collective noun for a group of kangaroos is a mob, but this sounds more like a group of British soccer supporters to me.  Interestingly, the nick name for the national football team of Australia is the "Socceroos" so maybe mob is a good group name for them.  They are currently doing quite well in the Asian championships.  I have noticed that Australia has some very interesting expressions.  I heard recently a wonderfully quirky Australian saying that describes someone who isn't blessed with a lot of common sense.  It describes them as  "Having a roo loose in the  top paddock."  You just need to see a mob of roos bouncing around a field to visualize this.

The week before last we had some time with our other daughter and her family in Auckland, New Zealand and amongst other things visited the Treaty grounds at Waitangi where we witnessed a Maori cultural show. 
This was a place of great significance in the founding of New Zealand and the desire for partnership between the indigenous peoples and the European settlers. New Zealand's national day in February is called Waitangi Day

All these things were part of the wonderful rest time we have had since Christmas with our family down under. Now we are looking forward to seeing the rest of our family in the UK next month.

So tomorrow we start the journey again as we leave Australia and fly east across the Pacific Ocean to the USA for the first of the Fatherheart Ministries A schools that we will be leading this year. This is just outside Charleston in South Carolina hosted by New Day Church.  The year ahead is going to be busy with a steady flow of Fatherheart Schools and events in 14 different countries.  We eventually return to New Zealand in November.

We have taken time out recently to review the life we lead, the ministry we are involved in and how it unfolds and have felt that we are still walking and living in the grace of God to do this.  One of the clues we have looked for is, does this ministry and way of life bring us joy? Is it fun?  Undoubtedly there are costs emotionally, physically and financially and moments of great challenge, but over all we continue to so enjoy this journey and sense the Father's blessing and hand upon us.  We have received many, many encouragements from friends in all sorts of ways.  There have been expressions of support and love that  have on occasion overwhelm us.  We feel a sense of great privilege as well as joy in this journey as we continue to walk with Jesus depending on our Father as we share his love with this world. 

Thanks for reading my intermittent Blog.   Feel free to follow our journey on the Comings and Goings Pages above and if you want to receive regular news from us send us an email and we will add you to our mailing list.