Small things

In these strange days of enforced separation, the pace of life has become slower for many of us. It had slowed down a fair bit anyway for Terry and me as we are officially retired, although we travel a lot and Terry preaches most weekends. Or has been. But now, marooned in our house in Sussex, we are having to re-evaluate our lives.

I have discovered that one quickly begins to appreciate small things which render our days more pleasant. For example, yesterday I took advantage of the slot designated for the elderly (really? Me?) at our local Tesco store. I was surprised to find that it was very quiet indeed. Very few people were shopping, which made it easier to walk around without having to make efforts to keep the obligatory 2 meters distance from other shoppers. While some items were in short supply, I was able to purchase enough necessities for the foreseeable future. The lady on the checkout was most friendly and chatty. But what really pleased me most of all was that I was presented with a beautiful bunch of pink and white flowers, left over from Mothers’ day. Altogether, it was a successful, and un-stressful, shopping trip!

I am also grateful that the Water Board sent along a cheerful and hardworking team of men to deal with a persistent leak from the water mains. They dug large holes in the lawn, and filled them in again when they couldn’t find the source of the problem. Eventually they surmised it to be under our garage. They assured us that they would be back this week to fix it, and it might involve breaking up the garage floor. We waited apprehensively, wondering if the limitations imposed by Covid 19 would not allow them to continue, and I had visions of the water gurgling away into a swelling lake beneath our house into which we would gradually subside. But on Tuesday morning, the main guy turned up, and hit on a simple solution which he proceeded to put into practice. Then the other two came and efficiently filled in a hole in the driveway, taking pains to make it look almost as good as new. All three were cheerful, polite and diligent. The main topic of any conversation (conducted at a safe distance of course) was not the virus but the leak, which made a nice change.

These things are not groundbreaking— although I suppose fixing the leak was, technically— but I appreciated the thoughtfulness in both events. Added to that, I am extremely glad that we have a garden, that the sun is shining, and that today I saw a robin, and some blue tits and a wren. I planted some seeds having found some forgotten packs in the shed, and used some forgotten compost and planted them in forgotten pots. Amazing what you find when you have time to potter about!

Small things: but they add to the joy and contentment of life in the slow lane. I know many are distressed, worried and frightened, and we are praying constantly for them to look to the God of all comfort to find strength. But I also hope for many to find that, as the things they had thought to be essential to their well being are no longer available, they will find pleasure and joy in small things which up to now they had taken for granted. Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air…..Consider the lilies of the field..” Now we shall have time to do that. It helps!

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Until the devastating event of December 26th 2004 I had never heard the word tsunami.
Following the towering wave that hit huge swathes of East Asia on that Boxing Day, it
became a globally understood word. When the shifting of tectonic plates of the Earth’s crust occurs, it generates earthquakes which in turn causes massive waves in the ocean. As they advance upon the land and crash onshore, huge damage and destruction is left behind.

In 1996 or 1997 Newfrontiers held a leaders’ conference at the Brighton Centre, and the so-called Toronto blessing was still fresh in our minds. One of the speakers, well-known for his prophetic gift, declared that he could see in the Spirit a huge wave gathering out to sea, and rolling toward the beach, where it would fall upon and deluge Brighton and beyond. This was particularly vivid as the room in which we were gathering was upstairs with large windows overlooking the ocean, and one could easily imagine such an event happening. The next day during the conference in another setting, someone else brought an identical prophetic word.

From time to time as we continue to pray for revival we remember these words and bring them to the Lord, calling on him to remember and to pour out such a wave of his Spirit that will wash and cleanse our land.

Yesterday, a small group of us gathered to pray, and the image of a tsunami came strongly to mind as someone brought a tongue, and we recalled the prophecies about the wave. In the decades since Toronto, the decline in our nation seems to have accelerated. More children are born outside of marriage than within it; gender confusion has grown to the point of ludicrousness; knife crime in our cities is nearly an everyday occurrence; some are rushing headlong into hedonism while others are seeking refuge in a more aesthetic lifestyle: “clean eating”, veganism etc. There is the constant threat of financial difficulty, now presented on our high streets as institutions which we had taken for granted were solid and lasting now face closure. And of course a massive crisis of leadership as all the wrangling and disorientation over Brexit continues.

Finally, arts and culture have been hi-jacked I believe by the desire to keep pushing
boundaries of what used to be perceived as decent, and be “real”. But do we actually always need to see “real”? Is it edifying? Informative? Engaging? Instructive?
I ask, because, misled by the high praise and high ratings in several newspapers we went to see a movie, which has also won awards . We should have checked it’s content first. Yes, the camera work was clever, the settings of 18th century grand palaces and gardens were sumptuous. But there appeared to be almost no story, just a threadbare and sordid account of a far-fetched three-sided lesbian relationship between Queen Anne and her maid and a duchess, the latter being rivals for the queen’s attention.

I ask myself some questions: even if this account was true, do I need to know about it? Or at least, do I need to see it in such intimate detail?
Was it entertaining? Was I enriched by the experience? Did I come away a better person for having seen it?
If it wasn’t true, why was it invented? What was the point?


There were scenes where people were vomiting, masturbating, and behaving with crude
lasciviousness. We left halfway through, feeling besmirched.
OK. These things go on in life. But what is so concerning to me is that instead of being
marginalised as a tawdry bottom of the barrel movie, it is applauded and recommended; so that people who would surely prefer not to see such things are lured into the cinema by the expectation of a pleasant and rewarding experience. The main actress gets an award; and so the general feeling is that she has done well to portray such “art”.

I totally understand that much art has to do with the need to expose bad things, to bring
them to public attention so change can happen. So called “kitchen sink” dramas in the 60’s did that. And although much of the movie industry exists for pure entertainment, that is not always the motive, and rightly so. But my gripe about “the Favourite” is that it is pointless as well as revolting.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, what ever is
admirable…think on these things.” (Philippians 4 v8)

I am praying for a tsunami of the Holy Spirit to come and wash us clean. A tsunami is
destructive and terrifying; but it crashes down on what was thought to be unassailable and permanent and breaks it up. It flattens the old and makes way for the new. It changes the landscape.

Come Lord, and make all things new!

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New book by Liz Carter: Catching Contentment.

Liz Carter kindly sent me the manuscript of her new book. Catching Contentment which is due to be published on November 25th. I am very happy to recommend this thoughtful and timely book. I asked Liz what spurred her on to write it and this is her reply:

Why have you written a book about contentment?

We live in a world where pain is sometimes our closest companion, and we want to ask God where he is in it all. It might seem God has left us alone, kept distance from us, seems unwilling to answer the cries of our heart.

And we long to ask, ‘Why?’

Growing up with a chronic progressive lung condition, I often asked these questions of God. As often, though, I felt I shouldn’t express my distress, that instead I should be filled with joy at all times, in the best of health, healed and whole. But my reality didn’t match up to this ideal I’d somehow grasped hold of, this notion of Christian life as a delight-filled, rosy garden. My reality was of sometimes crushing, agonising pain, of words shrieked out to God, of disappointment and sadness. When I heard the word ‘contentment’ I thought that it only applied to people who had everything together in their lives, people who were mended. The broken people like me couldn’t possibly find contentment.

But when I read Paul’s words in Philippians 4, about finding the secret to being content in every situation, my thinking was turned upside down. Paul wasn’t talking about the kind of contentment which resulted from life being simple and perfect, but instead from the raw reality of living in a broken world, where suffering happens and we find courage for the journey in the presence of God.

I think that our culture is always pushing the idea of the pursuit of happiness at us. We see it in every ad, on every social media feed. We must fulfil that need inside us in any way we can. We must get that thing and then experience it, then we’ll be content. And there’s always something more around the corner to make us happier.

Church, too, can push a version of this at us. A version called wholeness. When we’re whole we’ll be content and better able to serve God. We can’t be content until we’ve reached wholeness, because Jesus said that, right? Until our sickness is healed or our depression lifted.

These two versions feed into something common to all of us: the need for something to soothe the deepest parts of us, to fill the gaping void. We are always searching for the thing.

But I think Paul was suggesting a third way. As I dug into Scripture to explore contentment, I found that it wasn’t to do with how I was feeling at any given moment, but that it was something God longs for us to reach out our hands for. I discovered a contentment which burrowed into the depths of my lived pain and gathered it up, a peace which was far beyond my comprehension. And I found that it was in the act of looking away from myself and towards Jesus that I ran headlong into this startling contentment, a ‘holy’ satisfaction. It doesn’t look like the cat who got the cream, or lounging on a beach in sunshine; it sometimes looks like brokenness, instead. It delves into a God who loves so passionately that he is willing to get into our depths with us and for us.

Who might benefit from the book?

My prayer is that the book will speak to many who are living with uncertainty, disappointment, waiting and pain in body, mind or spirit. That it will speak into lives that have been broken in any way at all, and to people who are supporting those who suffer.

‘Take a deep breath
And walk into the journey
Place my shaky hand in yours
Drag my tired feet forwards
Into the wild depths of you.’

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Cynicism: the Spirit of the Age


Last September I was in Brighton at Church of Christ the King to witness the baptism of one of my grandsons. Another blessing that day was to hear my son Joel preach from Proverbs on the theme of “The Scoffer”, or the Mocker. Vividly he drew a verbal picture of one who is perpetually mocking, and disposed to be negative, critical and cynical. The book of Proverbs gives severe warnings against consorting with people like that.

His words have stayed with me and I have reflected that far from being rare, this is fairly typical of many who gain visibility on TV and radio and who write in our newspapers, who are perceived to be sophisticated and clever and who set the tone for the culture of today.  Turn on the TV and you will find shows and discussions pervaded by comments that, while amusing, clever and witty, are often also mocking, disparaging, even savagely cruel and contemptuous. We laugh, but are left with a bitter taste. Worse, we can be left with a smug feeling of superiority as we look down at some poor fool who has been the object of a derisory remark.

Cynicism has become the norm. This endangers constructive criticism and careful evaluation; we have entered a world where it is more important to entertain with witty remarks which provoke laughter. It is easy to stand on the sidelines and mock.

Recently I read a film review that was brutally critical. It was cruelly amusing and effectively demolished the reputation of the movie. Now, the critic is entitled to her opinion; but I found it interesting when I later saw her taking part on a chat show, that a bitingly critical stance appeared to be her default position. Bitter cynicism pervaded all her remarks.

Can such a person ever become a close, loyal friend? Surely such a scoffer must inevitably become isolated and lonely.

I grew up in a family where I was the eldest of four sisters. Every Sunday we attended our local Brethren Assembly and I remember a season when we would come home to lunch on a Sunday and proceed to dissect the morning meeting with savage wit. We were articulate and relished our apparently clever but sarcastic observations; until one day my mother cried, “Enough! If we haven’t got a good word to say for anyone, say nothing!”

We subsided in ashamed silence.

The Bible says, “Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth.” Does that mean then that our conversation must always be bland, endorsing, non-critical? No: for we are also told that our conversation must be seasoned with salt. There is a place for criticism, and humour can be very effective in exposing warped thinking, or simply bringing another viewpoint… The Sword of the Spirit is itself “sharper than a two edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit.” In other words, it is not woolly and vague! But the motive behind it is to build up, not tear down; it is constructive, not destructive.

Years ago, John Hosier, an elder at Christ the King and a hugely gifted theological teacher, was preaching on the first Sunday of a New Year. His theme was Encouragement, and I remember him finishing with a challenge: “Let’s make this a year of encouragement!” His words resonated with me. Positive words that encourage and spur us on must be the antidote to cynicism. The scoffer undermines and diminishes and belittles; the encourager builds up, reassures and confirms. Let’s change the climate!


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Celebration of Sisters


It’s funny, but as children, my sisters and I used to fight like the proverbial cats and dogs. There are four of us and we were born between 1946 and 1951. Do the maths: four of us in five years. So we were very close in age, and our poor mother was permanently exhausted.

Being the eldest, I always felt the pressure of them breathing down my neck, so to speak. I had to work hard to stay out in front. I was the first to ride a bike, roller-skate, get a paper round, go to secondary school, and I was quite competitive, fearing that one of them would creep up on me and bag first place. We were noisy, energetic, often quarrelsome, but also fiercely loyal. When I left home, I missed my sisters like crazy.

By the mid seventies we were all married and beginning to have families of our own. Those were very busy years of course, for all of us, and we lived long distances apart. None of us was well off, so time, distance and resources meant that we rarely saw each other. Literally a couple of years could go by without any of us meeting. But as our children grew and became independent, we became able to make plans to meet more often.

Ten years ago, I resolved that whatever happened, one of the ways I would celebrate my 60th birthday was to have some time with my sisters. Accordingly, we met at my home, (in Hove as it was then) and had such a wonderful uproarious few days together that we decided we must make it a regular occurrence.

This year we decided to meet in a cottage near the Brecon Beacons in South Wales. “March will be lovely,” we thought, envisaging daffodils frothing the roadsides, primroses in the hedgerows, lambs skipping in the fields, while larks sang in the blue sunny skies over head.


Well, as we know, winter has been uncommonly mild, but then bitter wet weather set in. We eventually arrived at the converted barn, which had a high-ceilinged main room with a wood burning stove, which though decorative, did not effectively dispel the chill in the air. Two of us had sat for hours on the M4 as heavy traffic straggled through road works, fog and accidents. However we greeted each other joyously as we emerged from our cars clutching bags of food, bottles of wine and bundles of “swaps”, i.e. books, clothes and jewellery which we put in a heap and pick over like vultures. I usually take a large bagful, but somehow manage to come home with more than I took!

Of course, we talked endlessly, catching up on news of our families: who is having another grandchild,(mine are endlessly arriving, but this year 3 of us are looking forward to more grandkids), what’s happening in the churches we are part of, where we have travelled to, and the state of health of our husbands. We sisters are amazingly healthy, it’s the husbands who get sick!

It was glorious. We ate lots, drank wine and champagne, sang (did I mention there was a piano in this cottage?) and went out for an extremely muddy walk. The hills of South Wales are totally saturated, so that even on high ground we were wading through caking mud. We returned filthy, but happy.

But Thursday was the best day. When we awoke it was to see the sun streaming through the windows! We made a picnic and drove out up to the higher hills. The view was breathtaking over moors and valleys with snow capped mountains not so far away. The wind had dropped to a breeze, and though it was cold it was wonderfully invigorating. We walked for 2 or 3 hours, revelling in the beauty, the sunshine and the song of larks overhead. Later, we drove down to a small picturesque town, and it was warm enough to sit outside and eat our sandwiches in a park by a small ruined castle. Later we had a great meal in a nearby pub, culminating in a hilarious game of darts, which as none of us is exactly expert was also fairly dangerous.

It seemed so natural when we got back to begin singing some of the familiar old hymns which were such an important part of our shared childhood. Jo played the piano, just as our mother would have done 60 years ago: hymns from the Golden Bells hymn book, Hymns of Faith, Redemption Hymnal. But it wasn’t just nostalgia. The truths we sang have sustained us over many years and we sang them with joy and sincerity.

We also sang worship songs from the intervening years: Graham Kendrick, Chris Bowater, Noel Richards, Dave Fellingham. Then nearer to present day Stuart Townend, Tim Hughes, Matt Redman.

Worship became prayer; prayer turned into communion.

As we bowed together before the One who has kept us, sustained and nurtured us through the many and varied experiences of life, love flowed out and filled us with deep love for one another and for Him who has been with us all the time. What joy he has given us, and what a priceless gift of sisterhood.



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Colours and Kindness in London’s East End

Recently I stayed in Bethnal Green with some of my grandchildren while their parents had a few days holiday to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. The estate where they have lived for about five years is nearly all Bangladeshi, and Muslim. It is quite an experience to pick up the kids from their school and see that most of the mothers are in full burqas and hijabs. Some of the little girls also wear veils; all have black hair and brown eyes, and my grandkids’ friends are called Tariq, Hassan, and Mohammed.


I went to shop in Bethnal Green Road on Saturday morning, and joined the stream of motley ethnicity: again many women in long black robes, and men wearing long gowns. Along the side of the street are many market stalls, and saris flutter in the breeze alongside jeans, blouses and T shirts. It reminds me of Linking Road in Mumbai: strong smells of curry, a jostling throng of Asian people and a mix of spoken English and other languages. Added to the Bengali I thought I could identify Polish, maybe Spanish and French.

This is London; this is the famed East End. This is the land of barrow boys, fish and chips, and jellied eels. But where are they? They have given way to kebabs, curry and burgers. Any Fagin-like, light-fingered urchins have been replaced by brown-eyed girls in jeans, and boys on skate boards, clutching mobile phones.

At the bus stop, a bunch of disparate women chatted amiably. One informed me that the 388, which I needed, doesn’t come frequently and I might be in for a long wait. She appeared to be of European extraction, possibly Polish. Her daughter was light haired and blue eyed. The man whom I took to be the father had dreadlocks and another accent which I couldn’t identify. A lady in a sari settled comfortably on the bench with an array of bags, and a small boy looked solemnly at a stout old lady with grey hair, a double chin and twinkly eyes who observed, “I’ve been sitting in that café, been ages waiting! ‘Ere kid, cat got yer tongue then?” and heaved herself up as the bus trundled into view. She was the only one who seemed remotely like a cockney.

I also got up. Forgetting I had bought a bottle of wine as a treat for my son, I set the shopping bag down on the pavement rather sharply while I searched in my handbag for my bus pass. There was an ominous crack and liquid seeped out of the plastic bag, accompanied by a not unpleasant smell of white wine. I struggled on to the bus with the dripping bag. “Hey! You can’t bring that on the bus!” said the be-turbanned driver. I laboriously unpacked the now dripping items of shopping from the winey bag, stuffed them into the other shopping bag I was carrying, and regretfully emptied the wine into the gutter. Everyone waited good-naturedly while I performed this task, murmuring in sympathy. As the bus got into gear and moved off, a large black woman in a vividly patterned dress and wonderful headgear thoughtfully handed me another plastic bag. “Here,” she said, “I always carry an extra one.” Gratefully I took it.

Later, at the gates of Victoria Park, I was with six-year-old Pascal buying an ice cream. We dug out all his carefully-saved pennies and he chose a large cone with a chocolate flake. The brown skinned vendor grinned happily at him and poured on extra chocolate sauce and sprinkles. “And now, how about one for you?” he said turning to me.

“Sorry, no money left,” I replied.

“No matter, have this one on me!” he said, handing me a cone brimming with whipped Mr Softee ice cream. I was stunned.

A few weeks earlier I had been with my sister-in-law in affluent Kingston-on-Thames. She went to an ice cream van and asked for a cone, which was duly handed to her. Then we both discovered we had come out without any money! The vendor was apoplectic with rage. He seemed to think that this was a wicked conspiracy perpetrated by a gang of grannies. In vain I tried to placate him, explaining that this was a simple mistake. When he demanded that I come back the next day with the £2.50 and leave my glasses as security, I decided it was time to walk away, which I did. So to be given a free one in the “deprived” East End was definitely a surprise.

I took Pascalcrowd to the funfair at the Olympic Park, now beautifully landscaped for the enjoyment of the general public. We wandered about among the rides and attractions, managing to spend quite a lot of money on short-lived but enjoyable experiences. At last we came to a stall where for a pound you could throw a ball, and if it went in the net you won a hideous stuffed toy. Naturally we had to have a go. Pascal could barely see over the counter, so his throw was wasted. The black lad in charge lifted him up and gave him a couple of free turns. He didn’t net the ball, but we left feeling Up, not Down because of the lad’s kindness.

I went with three of my grandkids to the East End Church (Newfrontiers), where the congregation was a good mix of black and white. Great worship, plenty of opportunity for participation from the congregation, friendly, passionate for Jesus. Someone had made delicious cupcakes which were consumed with relish after the meeting!

Then later we attended a barbecue in Mile End held at the home of a friend who is a doctor (GP). A fascinating mix of people gathered there, ranging from other medics, to an art teacher who also successfully exhibits her work in the West End, to musicians. I was surrounded by happy and beautiful conversations about how people met with Jesus, church life, use of art in life, speaking French… It was stimulating and fun!

What do I deduce from all this? London is a fascinating city. You can’t pigeon-hole it or pin it down. It is evolving, changing, intriguing. People from other ethnic groups are not necessarily hostile, or even very different. They sympathise with everyday dilemmas. Women relate to women, appreciating normal irritations and frustrations. They have kids, they go shopping, they use buses.

I know this is a simplistic blog, and I don’t understand a lot of the complexities that we all deal with, but I think I understand increasingly that we will all extend sympathy and grace to each other as we interact more. I like the countryside and solitude and simple lifestyles; but I am also learning that I like London, and I like the swirling colours and sounds and smells and languages of a big city. I think I am being enriched; and what is more, I think I am being prepared for an eternity which is infinitely more diverse than I formerly realised. I think God likes it too. It’s a rainbow world.

colourful shoes

Photographs by Mostaque Chowdhury


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Crossing the Pond

US Flag
I am shocked to realise that it is 20 years since our return to England after two years of living in America. Looking back now over these two decades, two years seems just a blip, but before we left it seemed like a life sentence. However, although it was such a short time, it had a huge impact on my life and the life of my family.

They were significant years. The church in Missouri that hosted us for that time was a church in pain after some traumatic disclosures concerning the former pastor, and Terry was helping the church to transition back into health.

They were immensely kind to us. They made a spacious house available to us, furnished with items donated or lent from church members. During our time there we made lasting friendships and although there is little physical contact now, there is happy interaction via Facebook etc. It was a somewhat unique community in that the original core of the church had bought land and put up a building, and then proceeded to build their own homes all around it, resulting in a true Christian community. This was delightful in many ways: there was true sharing of resources, safety in the streets and zero crime. (But it was an evangelist’s nightmare: everyone was saved!)

It is a fallacy that because we share a common language Americans and English cultures are the same. They manifestly are not: and the language has significant differences too! We had visited the USA several times before, but now I learned that visiting a place is very different from living in it.

I quickly found that I had to make a choice: I could jump in and get integrated, or I could remain on the edge, observing but not participating, making comparisons, standing aloof in my Englishness. One of my sons, who was 11 at the time, tried that in his ‘math’ class in school. Chastised for not doing his homework he declared, “They don’t do it our way (ie the right way) so I don’t have to do it.” He thought he had the right to opt out. The alternative was to jump in and submerge, embracing the changes. This seems dangerous because you feel like you are dying to your own identity. You feel insecure, exposed and vulnerable, and even a bit disloyal to your own culture.

This was illustrated to me one of the first times I went grocery shopping. I entered a vast supermarket, list in hand, and optimistically began to work down it. ”Peanut butter.” I found the aisle. As far as the eye could see, shelves were stacked floor to ceiling with every conceivable style, size, and brand of the stuff! Smooth, crunchy, salty, no salt, large, family size, jumbo, giant. No small ones of course. Cheap, basic, luxury. It took ages to select one. Then I had to do it with washing powders, cereals, coffee…it took all morning! And all the time I was converting dollars back into pounds to get an idea of relative values. It was overwhelming.

I was exhausted and realised I couldn’t live like this. So I evolved a rule of thumb: “Think dollars.” This was not just about the currency, it was a metaphor for “Forget English pounds, and English ways: get into American.”

Of course, this takes time and application, and I wasn’t always successful. I made hundreds of blunders. But making that mental switch was crucial for me. Instead of feverishly clinging to my English ways, I began bit by bit to enjoy aspects of American freedom. There were things that irritated, surprised and embarrassed me; but there were things I began to appreciate and even adopt, such as being freer to express emotion, being quicker to make friends, talk to strangers, and generally be more open-hearted. I had always considered myself to be outward and open, but I was surprised to learn that actually I shared the famous English reserve in some respects!

NF Flags 2Our time there coincided with the season now known as The Toronto Outpouring. A sudden powerful move of the Holy Spirit across the churches in Canada and USA swept around the world, resulting in thousands rediscovering their joy in God after decades of dry, regimented church life. Looking back one can see that there were some excesses and silly responses, but there were also lasting developments and changes for the better. One of these was that in the church where we were came a season of humbling and repentance before God and one another, and rediscovering delight in God and joy in Godly fellowship. There was a true mingling of lives where previously suspicion and offence had taken hold. Terry and I found ourselves in the middle of celebration, and church became exciting again!

Personally I felt liberated. Away from my own home and country I was free to be myself, to laugh and cry, sing and dance! They were heady days! I suppose I have always been more extrovert than introvert, but there had also been a fear of too much inner exposure, and pride and competitiveness, and a sense of the necessity of maintaining a defensive wall. The days of outpouring tempered these a lot; but also I think the open American culture encouraged me to stop “putting on a face” and simply be me, warts and all. And there were plenty of warts!

Living in another culture is both a humbling and an enlarging experience. It is humbling because we suddenly realise that ‘our way’, (which we take for granted is the only way) isn’t necessarily the best way. We have to learn to appreciate other ways of seeing, doing and thinking, and respecting them. It’s like starting all over again and it can make you feel a bit stupid and uncertain. But it’s also enlarging because you add to who you are. New ideas open up, new words become familiar, new faces become friends, new places enrich memories.

“Forgetting what lies behind, we press on…” The wonderful thing is that when we are Christians we are all moving on and seeking to become familiar with Kingdom culture. This has not always been understood in the past when English people confused English idealism with Christianity. There are good, enjoyable, colourful and beautiful elements in every culture, and of course there are bad, cruel, inconsistent, and illogical things too. But all need to be measured in the light of the Good News of one kingdom, the Kingdom of God, looked for by prophets and kings in the Old Testament, announced by John the Baptist, and ushered in by Jesus Christ. All cultures fall miserably short by comparison; yet all have vestiges of it for all humanity carries traces of the image of God. “Peace on Earth” sounds impossibly pious and idealistic to our cynical twenty first century ears, yet there lingers in us a longing for cultural harmony: world peace, where there is no more war, greed, subjugation, exploitation, debt, slavery, tyranny, arrogant superiority, and revenge.

This will never happen until, in Isaiah’s words, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains…and all nations shall flow to it and many peoples shall come and say, ’Come, let us go up to the house of the Lord that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’”

As the Newfrontiers churches continue to engage in world mission, we are becoming increasingly aware of our need to be truly cross cultural, especially in the highly international cities. If we are to be true citizens of the Kingdom of God, we have to be willing to drop our ingrained ideas and personal preferences in order to make those vital connections. As Paul taught, “Let us pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding”. (Romans 14:19)

One day there will be a universal acknowledgement that Jesus is Lord, and every knee will bow to him. However, in the meantime, I believe that God delights in cultural diversity and it will be with great joy that he welcomes members of every tribe and nation to his banquet. Somehow, I think that cultural diversity will be maintained but without the flaws. The colours, variety, flavour, creativity, vitality and eccentricities will remain, but redeemed and purified.

I shall enjoy my American friends even more, alongside South Africans, Australians, Chinese, Indians, French, Spanish, Mexicans, Polish, Ukrainians…we shall find out what truly united nations look like! We may be in for some surprises!

cross & flags



Photographs by Mark K. and Konrad Summers


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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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Autumn Mist


I should be in Dubai. Instead I am shuffling through damp leaves in Richmond Park early on a misty autumn morning. The trees are russet and gold; the bracken, which was thick and green a few weeks ago, is limp, bruised and brown. The sky is cloud laden and mist hangs over Pen Ponds. Three stags, majestically antlered, strut across the grassy plain and disappear among the trees. All is still, save for a couple of walkers and their dogs. It is beautiful and peaceful, difficult to believe that this haven of calm is so near the frantic seething roar of London.

Mist. It distorts distance, blurs objects, obscures the sun, brings a slightly sombre ambience to the landscape. But it also adds a touch of mystery and magic. Trees reflected in the lake double their beauty, and the water merges with the sky.

I was supposed to be in Dubai where it is hot, hot , hot. No mist. Blue skies, sharp clearcut high rise towers thrusting up through the shimmering air. Sleek cars; the stream lined tube of the new metro train on its high rail; modern malls, all glass, gloss and glitter. Sand; camels; sea. It would have been fun and I am disappointed not to be there with all my friends from around the world at the Hub conference. But the sudden illness of a close relative changed my plans.

The misty fog of regret dulls my thinking and my mood. But as I walk in the quiet Autumn morning, I begin to appreciate the beauty around me. I notice things: colours of leaves, the rustling of them underfoot; the damp leafy smell; the swoop of geese landing on the lake; the clattering cry of a magpie. ” Live in the present,” I tell myself. “Don’t settle in regret, it robs you of joy.” It’s a choice.

Mist can make things beautiful as well as blurred and uncertain; for a while. It is not permanent. For now, we see through a glass darkly. But the mist will melt away, brightness will come. Then face to face; and we shall know things that right now are obscure. We don’t need to know all the answers , just trust that the One who knows all things is with us in the mist and he can see clearly.

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