Father’s Day…

Happy Father’s Day to all you dad’s out there! I hope that you have had a good one. I still remember each of my girls being born and being amazed at the miracle of holding one so beautiful (even though it also brought nappies, sleepless nights and teenage angst with it)!

It’s such a huge blessing being a Father and a tremendous challenge too. I loved reading with my girls and going out on walks, etc. However, there are times I know I have messed up, been weak and self-centred. Divorce also has had painful impacts on all affected.

For all of you who have had poor Father’s or didn’t know them, my heart goes out to you. My own Dad was great in many ways but also left scars. Hurt people hurt people. I am glad of my own daughters forgiveness of my mistakes. But it’s great to know that I have a heavenly father who lavishes his love on me despite knowing my failings.

Photo by Kampus Production on Pexels.com

Today is also World Refugee Day. I was struck by this video which reflects the story of so many Fathers.

One of the biggest costs to Father’s who flee persecution is loss of contact with their family. This is often incredibly hard. It also puts great pressure on mothers who have to hold the family together. It is not just the case with refugees but also those who are put into prison for their faith. I’ve heard of Christians who, on release, get home only to find their children scared of this strange man in their home. Chinese Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit has been in prison for his faith for over 10 years and has missed his children grow up. And there are so many fatherless children and orphans in countries like Nigeria where to be without a Father leaves you very vulnerable.

So tough for the families involved. So many individual stories of pain.

Yet there is always hope. Open Doors seeks to support believers in this situation whether it is by letter writing campaigns; providing financial support for the family and counselling where appropriate.

Thanks for your support. I did a generosity challenge today (you can’t ask others to give and not do so yourself) and am progressing well with recipes. Also I may do more greetings cards for those interested though I can’t count that as a new challenge!

As ever your help makes a real difference to Father’s, Mothers and children around the world. Could you be a change maker today?

https://justgiving.com/fundraising/AdrianSmith6060

Inspiring…?

What does it mean to inspire? The dictionary says it means to encourage, to uplift, to motivate among other definitions. I was glad after writing an article about 60@60 for work that a couple of people felt they wanted to do something challenging themselves. Not that I am at all special but what I was doing resonated in some way with them.

What does inspiration mean to you? Who has particularly inspired you recently and what difference has it made? How can you inspire others?

I remember when I visited Iraq 🇮🇶 meeting Father Douglas. He definitely is someone special. He had been a Church Minister in Baghdad where he had been shot through the legs and been kidnapped. Shortly after he arrived in Erbil after moving to Northern Iraq, IS had attacked towns in the Nineveh Plain and a stream of refugees arrived at his church. He quickly made the church grounds available to well over 100 families and rapidly established a library, nursery, work area and play space. He emphasised that it wasn’t a camp; it was a family. And the atmosphere really was good compared to some other sites. Father Douglas and his positivity was the difference.

There isn’t much inspiring to report with respect to activities. I have tried two more recipes since Sunday so only six more to do to reach the 60 mark. This is tonight’s offering….

Thanks for your continued interest in 60@60. I really can’t make a difference for persecuted Christians on my own or without your support. You are part of the journey too!

50 up!

This weekend was my 50th activity of 60@60; another milestone! It was a conference organised by an organisation called Oak Hall at Otford Manor in Kent. It was a mixed weekend of Bible teaching on Hosea, walks and fun.

For me the challenge of such an event is going alone and getting to know a whole group of people that I have never met. I’m pretty bad at remembering names and fear making a fool of myself; of being rejected. But I guess many of us are like that and it is so easy to become self-focussed. But there are always others for whom it was more difficult. There was one chap who was clearly quite high on the autistic spectrum and others who admitted to panic attacks. The people were eclectic but lovely and it was really interesting hearing people’s stories. I was reminded that we are part of a wider family, in this case from all over England and that I do belong.

There was a bit in the book of Hosea about God changing our name, basically from one of rejection to one of hope and acceptance. This morning in time on my own I was reminded sitting by a field that (John 10) Jesus is the gate and calls us each by name. There is acceptance, security and identity in Him when we chose to come to Him-how much we all need those things in our lives.

Last night we had a bonfire with hot chocolate and I was reminded of my worldwide family. The bonfire was on the hillside near a cross and it once again reminded me that the two often go together. Going the way of the cross can bring fiery trials, which many go through. It also took me back to the Pilgrims Way and seeing the plaque in Wye to two men burned for their faith in 1557; looking at the bonfire made me really recoil. And even today some Christians in countries like Nigeria see their houses, schools and churches destroyed by fire, escaping with only their lives and tragically some die too.

Finally, it’s been quite a couple of days for publications about 60@60 with an article on the work website on Friday and a piece for Premier radio that was played tonight. A privilege to be able to do this and I was encouraged by receiving another £180 so now about £4 750. Thanks to you all again for your interest and support.

Everyone matters…

About three years ago I visited Russia and met with some Christians from the “stans” of Central Asia. One of them, Brother B, was a deaf man who told us his story. Disabled people are considered as a punishment on the family in his culture, and a source of shame, so he was hidden then shipped off to an institution at the age of 6 and abandoned there. He was deeply miserable and after leaving the Institution at 18 turned heavily to alcohol and petty crime and was violent to his wife. At his lowest point another deaf person told him about Jesus and that transformed his life. A bear of a man, he made it his mission to bring change to deaf people around his country. He was a dynamic person who has travelled out of his way, sometimes to very dangerous places, to bring the hope of Jesus to deaf people. I found him truly inspirational.

Photo by Polina Kovaleva on Pexels.com

60@60 helps Open Doors support the work of men like Brother B and bring hope to people like Aisha whom society turns their back on.

Saida*, another believer from this area, described the situation of some deaf Christians from a country in Central Asia, when the Covid lockdown was at its peak.

“We had a report from the countryside about some deaf people who had to take the grass in their gardens and eat it because they had no food. They were ignored by the community and did not receive any support or food packages, simply because they are Christians. This does not happen across the entire region, but in many parts, especially in remote areas.

“It’s a really awful situation. Our church partners visited them as soon as they had the smallest opportunity and provided them with some groceries. But before then, they only had grass to eat”.

A deaf woman, named Aisha*, was neglected and did not have access to any food or practical support. She had no contact with other deaf people and was feeling lonely and very depressed. Because this situation went on for so long, she considered committing suicide. She felt completely forgotten and without hope, and did not see a way forward. Nobody visited her, nobody paid any attention to her. And she was very, very hungry.

Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore and decide to end her life. She took a can of gasoline and poured it over herself. She was about to light the match when she saw a person walking towards her house. This person was a deaf believer.

He came into her house and asked what she was doing. She replied that she could not live like this any longer. The deaf believer was standing in her room, with a big food package in his hands. This food package was for her.

The deaf believer shared how he tried to find other deaf people to see how he could help them. He shared about why he was doing this and told her about God’s love and care. After a long conversation she realised that there is a God who sees her struggle, pain, loneliness and hunger. After several hours she accepted Christ as her Saviour, and her stomach was also filled with the food she had received. She was saved twice that day!

The deaf believer connected her with a deaf community of believers. Now Aisha feels part of this community and receives practical help and enough food.

What’s inside the food packages? Oil, sugar, noodles, rice, and some sweets. Saida says the teams have done a lot of distribution work since April 2020 and are still continuing to do so.

Every life matters. Your donations help bring hope in the darkness to people like Aisha. Thank you.

https://justgiving.com/fundraising/AdrianSmith6060

What’s in a story…

This weekend I was up in Leicester to celebrate a close friends 61st birthday with a community BBQ and some delicious food. After 10 years in Azerbaijan he and his wife now work with, among others, asylum seekers. Many of these are from Iran.

Behind every person there is a story. Today I heard the story of someone I will call Lydia. She had to flee Iran because she and her husband were in danger of arrest and imprisonment because of their involvement in a house church. Lydia ended up in Turkey and her husband in Greece with neither knowing each others exact whereabouts, separated for over a year. At her point of greatest despair someone found her crying on a park bench, calling out to God and took her to their home. Thus began the long journey to Leicester and being re-united with her husband. She was in tears telling her story though now those tears are starting to be of hope as well as pain.

Hers was just one story I heard yesterday. All different but with similar themes. Stories of fear and anguished decisions; pain and separation; dangerous journeys and challenging adaptation to a new culture. It is one of many thousands of stories of Christians who suffer for their faith; who lose much and make difficult choices.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com
Photo by mostafa meraji on Pexels.com

We all have stories. Do we take time to hear each others stories? Someone once said we are all like aeroplane black boxes-the information is all stored but often what we see is the external outworkings of peoples reactions rather than the root cause. You have hurts and joys that influence who you are, some of which are very difficult. The 340 million persecuted Christians in the world all have stories to tell. What would you or I do in their situation? Hearing the cry of their hearts is the start of trying to do something about it. Open Doors is seeking to make a real difference; 60@60 to support the work of making a difference. Attached is the longer version of Taher’s story video. Thank you for your continued interest and help.

Volunteering week…

Before I start I mentioned that I went on the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway on Sunday but didn’t include any photos. So here you go..

Peninsular and Orient Line reminds me of faraway places. Faraway places and the many persecuted Christians who live there.

This week is Volunteering Week. The locomotive in the picture was a scrapyard wreck that took volunteers thousands of hours over decades to restore. So many charities rely on people who give their time to do amazing things; to help others and change things. It makes such a difference to the lives of so many people. And volunteers are able to discover their talents and passions. What motivates you and where can you make a difference?

It’s a privilege to be an Open Doors volunteer. There are lots of opportunities for you to get engaged. And I know that it so appreciated by persecuted Christians who are always thankful for all that we do for them.

I’ve attached a video from Open Doors. You make such a difference by supporting people like Taher!

Thanks as ever for your interest and support.

A trip to the Cotswolds…

Well, my car has finally left Essex and had a trip to the Cotswolds. I had a lovely couple of nights in Cheltenham staying with Nick, an old University friend. We also met up with another friend, Wyn, and did part of the Cotswolds Way, climbing to the top of Cleeve Hill. This is the highest point in the Cotswolds at over 1 000ft. We got there and it was in the middle of a golf course-there were easier routes there than our 11 miles of ups and downs! But great views and some lovely Norwegian ponies on the way.

As well as the hill climb I treated myself to a trip on the steam railway between Broadway and Cheltenham Racecourse. A treat for activity no.49.

I have done two interviews about 60@60 on the radio this week. One on UCB2 will be on Bank Holiday Monday morning at 9:20. A link to the interview with Premier Radio is attached below. I also have to do a short piece for Pam Rhodes. This isn’t all about me though; it’s about pointing to why I am doing 60@60 and the people behind it. Just under £1 500 to go….

https://www.premierchristianradio.com/Across-the-UK/The-Midlands/You-re-never-too-old

Hope bringers…

My Church, Friars Baptist in Shoeburyness, has recently started partnering with One Love Southend. This is an organisation that reaches out to the homeless and poor in the town. I went along on Tuesday to help out with the weekly outreach from the church which provides cheap reheatable cooked meals (free for children). There are also very cheap clothes for children, reduced price canned goods and sanitary products.

https://theoneloveproject.co.uk/about-the-project/

It reminded me of how many people there are in our community that are in financial need, something exacerbated by Covid. And people, Christian and otherwise, who are determined to make a difference, often at personal cost. It’s great too that the church can play a part.

In Syria 🇸🇾, Open Doors supports a network of “Centres of Hope” run by local churches. These provide food and other support for those in places like Aleppo who have lost so much in the Civil War there. But also much more, like educational opportunities. Reaching out into their communities, based on need, regardless of background. And this is just one national example of persecuted christians around the world reaching out to their neighbours.

The One Love Project at our church is open for a couple of hours but a whole day’s work and more is involved setting up, preparing and clearing up. A similar amount of effort is involved in the “Centres of Hope”. And after years of doing this, many of the volunteers are very tired but motivated to make a difference. Please remember them.

“Serving Persecuted Christians Worldwide – Hope for the Middle East – Open Doors UK & Ireland” https://www.opendoorsuk.org/act/hope-for-the-middle-east/

This week I’ve done a couple of radio interviews about 60@60. I will be on UCB2 Radio on Monday morning talking to Abi Gregory largely about doing things at 60. I’ve also recorded something for Premier but not sure when that will be aired. I’m grateful to both stations for the opportunity.

This week I’ve been trying to recover from the walk. The feet are fine but despite lots of sleep I’m really really tired at the moment. Wisdom needed! But a couple more activities planned this weekend. Nearly 50 completed!

A quick reminder that I’m just over £1 500 short of the target. If you are able to give anything to support amazing projects like “Centres of Hope” that would be wonderful. Thanks as ever for your support.

https://justgiving.com/fundraising/AdrianSmith6060

Reflections

A day later than promised, I’ve put together some further thoughts on the Pilgrims Way experience.

Firstly, I was struck by historically how many millions must have done this trip in the distant past though now in places it is “the road less travelled” and quite difficult to find unless you pay careful attention to the guidebook (a bit like we need the Bible to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path-Psalm 119:105). Why did the original Pilgrims travel? Various reasons but for many it would be because they hoped to receive something at the end, such as healing. In Pilgrims Progress, the main character sets out to find the Celestial City. The journey had a destination. What keeps many persecuted Christians going in very hard circumstances or seemingly hopeless situations is their future hope. As my first Planning Tutor used to say in a different context “look up”. What is the purpose of your journey in life?

The first part of the Pilgrimage last September was on my own; the second part last week was with Chris. While I am quite used to my own company it was great to do it with someone else; to encourage one another when the going was tough as well as enjoy the the good bits. Many Christians are isolated and long for relationship with other believers but it’s not safe to connect. We need each other.

I was also struck by the phrase “You will not pass this way again”. On the first part of the pilgrimage I was surprised (and happy) to revisit somewhere on the outskirts of Dorking where I had a meet-up prior to doing the Lebanon marathon over 4 years ago. However the vast majority of footpaths walked and places visited I will never go to again. That is true of quite a few things (and people) in life; are we enjoying them; savouring them; being grateful to God for them; even making a positive impact as we walk along lives journey ?

Some things remain constant though, like Jane Austen! Featuring from the first day (she’s buried in Winchester Cathedral) through to the penultimate day at Godsmerstham and Chilham Castle. It felt strange visiting places and churches with a kind of invisible graffiti saying “Jane Austen woz ‘ere!” I felt a strange sense of relationship to her life and all the Pilgrims who walked the way; of those who, though so different, have journeyed along the path before me. But also the familiarity was strangely comforting. We have people in our lives who will go much of our journeys with us and we need to treasure them. I find being part of a worldwide family also comforting, though I may not meet them on this earth, they are my fellow travellers.

There were also many reminders of God’s goodness to me in little ways. Friends who retrieved my left behind walking poles on the first trip; people from Wye Church who ensured we got a stamp for the Pilgrim’s Passport. A couple of guest houses who made small donations; of being undercover when the worst deluge came; rainbows; finding churches open and with “stamps”; spitfires and bursts of sunshine. Of being able to carry on despite painful feet (definitely better this time); toothache and Chris’s dodgy knee. Thanks Lord.

Finally, a song that was on an album I had back in Lesotho in the mid 90’s. There is a joy in the journey despite all the challenges it brings. For persecuted Christians life is often hard but despite that many find a deep joy within it. May my joy, your joy, not be so deep because of daily toils that it never gets out! Thanks for continuing to walk this journey of 60@60 with me and with them.

The Canterbury Tale…

Following in the line of millions of Pilgrims from 1200 or so until the 1530’s, Chris and I finally made it to Canterbury. There we received a welcome and blessing from Canon Andrew on the site of Thomas Beckett original shrine. The end of a walk of nearly 180 miles in total (70 this week), in many weathers, up and down hills all carrying an 8kg rucksack. My single biggest activity of 60@60. Despite some blisters I can still walk though it was a real blessing to be collected by Jo and Lynda!

Today was only 8 miles. We saw loads of apple orchards, navigated an almost impossible path and enjoyed the Kent countryside and wayside flowers. So it was a pleasure in many ways.

I will write more reflections tomorrow but one chapel at the vast Canterbury Cathedral stood out. It is the one to martyrs. Thomas Becket was considered a martyr but there are so many more today, each year, in countries from Nigeria, to India and Indonesia. It is for them that this walk is dedicated; who suffer so much but endure faithfully. It is a privilege to walk with them and through Open Doors, to financially support their families and all who suffer.

Thanks for walking with me through the Pilgrims Way blogs. Any support for them will be gratefully received. I will write more tomorrow.