Monthly Archives: June 2015

Old dogs, Old tricks

I bought a bike. It is a bit of an old heap, rust here and there betraying its age and some neglectful ownership. I wouldn’t mind betting it belonged to a teenager who left it out in the rain. Its gears are a bit clanky too. It only has three, but sometimes it slips from one to another of its own volition which can be a bit disconcerting when going up a hill and suddenly you find you are pedalling like mad and getting nowhere!

Its main virtue is that it folds in the middle. There is a little lever which you pull up and a nut to undo, and hey presto! You can fold the bike in half and stow it in the boot of the car! At least that was my desire and plan.

A few weeks ago, I visited my son Ben who lives in Tower Hamlets with his wife and six children. From time to time they will cycle en famille along the tow path of the Regents Canal near their home, down to the Thames and along the Thames Path to Canary Wharf. A spare bike was found for me and we all trundled merrily along, ringing our bells and generally endangering the population.

Wendy by ThamesIt was glorious fun! I had forgotten how much I enjoyed riding a bike! I did draw the line at having a small child strapped on a seat at the back as it drastically altered the balance; after all, we were cycling along a narrow path next to a canal, and I haven’t ridden for at least 20 years. But it is amazing that you get into the saddle and start pedalling and it all comes back…..just like, well riding a bike!

Cycling along on a sunny afternoon through Victoria Park, then on down past Mile End, on to Limehouse Basin and eventually the wide Thames itself you see London in a whole new way. There is a river culture: people sit on their barges patiently waiting at lock gates for the level to rise; wild roses and buttercups grow along the path where cottages once stood; twos and threes enjoy drinks and a fry up on the decks of little cruisers, or lie back listening lazily to Mozart as they chug along slowly in the afternoon sun, behind blocks of flats backing on to the river. Then suddenly you can see the iconic silhouettes of the Shard and the Gherkin and you are on the bank of the Thames itself, wide, majestic, with police launches and barges full of freight and pleasure boats carrying tourists down to Greenwich.

We arrived at a small park on the Isle of Dogs, and unpacked the picnic that had been carried in various panniers. While sausages were cooked on one of those disposable barbecues the kids ran around playing football or played on the slides and swings nearby. It was fabulous!

As we cycled back in the evening, I thought to myself, “I could do this! I could get a bike and cycle along the river.” I live on the other side of London in Kingston, further up river. The Thames path goes for miles! The trouble is, I live in Surbiton which necessitates travelling up a very long hill. The only thing to do is get a bike which I can fold and put in my car. Then I can park at the river, get it out and cycle along the flat path!

I looked in a few shops. They cost a fortune new. Eventually, Paul from Thailand who runs a second hand bike shop found this rather ancient beaten up old thing. However I don’t want anything fancy: just as long as it works. He wanted £45. I offered forty. “And a pump.”  “Done” he said after a proper show of reluctance, which I now strongly suspect hid unholy glee.

I rode it around the quiet streets a few times to get accustomed to it. Then yesterday, Saturday, was the day to try it out by the river! I managed to stuff it in the car eventually. It was harder getting it out; it is heavy as well as ungainly. I unfolded it and tightened the nut, and mounted my steed…oh no! The chain had fallen off! Forlornly I up-ended the bike and poked around getting oil all over my hands. This was the side I had forgotten from my youth: the perpetual problems of tyres, chains and brakes. I had no tools, no memory of how to get the chain back on!

Suddenly a welcome and cheerful voice said, “Everything OK?” A kind man and a lady cycling by came to my rescue and in seconds he had replaced the chain and the lady had given me a tissue to wipe my hands. At last I was on my way!

ThamesIt was everything I had hoped, and I felt very happy as I cycled along the tow path. The river looked beautiful, glinting in the sun. There were boats and locks, and pretty pubs, and neat gardens, and families wandering along, and rowing teams flashing by or pulling their boats out of the water to go and have a pint after an exhausting practice. There were swans and ducks, willow trees and clumps of wild yellow iris, shady banks and wide open spaces, and I felt exhilarated by the sights, the sun, and the speed, and the sound of the tyres swishing along.

So what is the point?  I am an elderly lady riding an elderly bike: nothing new. I am not an old dog learning new tricks, I am an old dog re-learning old tricks! Interesting that at nearly 70 I am enjoying doing what I did at the age of 10! I reflected as I rode back to the car, that its never too late to pick up things once enjoyed, often forgotten or crowded out.

The question I asked myself was: “Are there other things I used to do that have got crowded out for no very good reason?” In Revelation chapter 2, John the apostle reminds the church at Philadelphia that they have forgotten their first love. He doesn’t suggest they do anything new, find a new bandwagon to jump on, a new fad, a new method. He simply says, “Do the things you did at first.” I wonder what things he was referring to? Basic things such as praying, praising, prophesying? Speaking in tongues? Talking to people about Jesus? Keeping a journal? Taking time to give your wife a cuddle? Buying some flowers for your mother? Sending a card to someone to say you haven’t forgotten them? Making a pie for someone who needs cheering up?

These are things any old dog can do, and young ones too! Like riding a bike really.

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Return to Stoneleigh

Catalyst Festival picture

I wandered around in the damp early morning. Clumps of people were scattered around in their campsites, some wending their way in their dressing gowns to the shower blocks, tooth brushes and towels in hand. On the outer edges the trees were beautiful in their tender spring leaves, and the grass was lush and long.

I walked on, reminiscing. Ah yes! That was the building which the South Africans took over one year. It was actually hot that summer, there were lots of water fights. This is the parade ring where church teams played football matches, and here is the grassy area where we pitched some of the children’s tents for their morning activities.

It was all coming back. Great memories. Songs, laughter, kids running all over the place, the sound of teaching booming out from microphoned seminar tents and buildings, little groups under trees eating sandwiches and strumming guitars, huge queues eagerly waiting to rush into the evening meeting and save seats for their friends.

I walk by one of the large concreted areas designated as carparks, and hear again Nigel Ring’s voice, so courteously imploring naughty campers who haven’t yet complied with the regulations to “please take your cars off site to the car park.”

Such a strange nostalgic feeling to be back at what was once known as Stoneleigh Agricultural Showground now called simply Stoneleigh Park. Some of the most important and formative summers in our Newfrontiers History took place here, in the decade of 1991 to 2001. Many people heard God calling them into salvation, into fulltime service, into a deeper walk with him, into sacrificial giving, into relocating to church plant. Some left behind years of rebellion, some repented and returned from backsliding, many were healed, many were set free from various types of bondage.

I mused upon all this as I ambled around. I passed the immense long building which had originally been a cattle shed. This was where we held the main meetings until the last couple of years. We were able to get some 6,000 under one roof! But the main and abiding memory was of the strong smell of ammonia and dung which assailed the senses from the first moment of any Bible week! Somehow we tolerated it, and indeed, its pungency seemed to moderate as the week went by. Now I stood at the back and gazed down its length, remembering how thousands of chairs had to be shipped in, television monitors installed, a platform built and a PA system rigged up. Now it is just a dreary concrete and corrugated iron shell, and used for this weekend as an immense carpark. One plus though: the strong aroma of cow is no more!

I walked purposefully on now as I recognised the spot where Terry and I and our 5 children slept in the early years. A rabbit hopped through the weeds as I approached. Circling around, I chuckled to myself as I saw the familiar sign on the building: “Rare Breeds Survival Unit”.

I think that describes us pretty well really. I hope we don’t appear so tatty and run down though.

Enough nostalgia! I turned toward the big new complex of buildings which Catalyst was using for the third time. It was nearly time for the first meeting of the day. This was the festival weekend of the apostolic group Catalyst, led by David Devenish. Over 5,000 were camping or staying nearby from churches located all over the UK but also from Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Pakistan, and many European nations. Last night I had spoken with dear friends who have been experiencing harrowing circumstances in countries hostile to Christianity and also the hazards of military operations which have endangered lives. I was deeply impressed by their faith, zeal and cheerfulness.

“How did you live?” I asked of one whose family had been forced to flee with two little children and a four week old baby.

“We had a large family car, so we put as many of our possessions in it as we could and lived in it for a while.”

Not only did this family survive, they sought to encourage their church members who had also been forced out of their homes, and took initiatives to help and bless others with the result that people were saved and a church begun.
Terry interview

We were also privileged during the weekend to hear Andy who is leading a church planting team in a major Middle Eastern city. We listened in awe as he spoke of the cost involved in taking a young family on such a venture, and yet with red-hot passion unabated. Andrew Wilson, another speaker, was also as usual provocative and stimulating, colourful and relevant.

It was a joy to see people such as Jules Burt who led worship so ably and passionately, and Philip and Carol Wilthew, who had been mere nippers in those far off days of Stoneleigh Bible weeks! How wonderful to see so many who had been teenagers or kids in those days now mature Christian believers ably leading churches, or serving on church planting teams, or teaching, or taking responsibility in various capacities. Newfrontiers may have devolved into different apostolic spheres, but the same Spirit prevails and the same principles are being worked out; and although there were greater numbers at Stoneleigh when it was the only one of our Bible weeks, now with the proliferation of spheres and Newday there are now nearly as many people attending overall.

In each of the apostolic spheres around the world church planting is vigorously taking place, and in an increasing number of countries, so that Newfrontiers is represented in some 70+ nations. The mood at Catalyst was definitely one of joyful anticipation of more growth and manifestation of the Kingdom of God breaking out.

It’s good to look back sometimes, as long as it is with thankfulness and not through rose-coloured spectacles. The old days were great, but they were not the best: the best is yet to come!

“We’ll praise him for all that is past
And trust him for all that’s to come!”

My reverie was interrupted by the sound of the band striking up; I must hurry to find my place. It seems somehow fitting that the speaker this morning is Terry Virgo. Yes!

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