Little things..

I hope that you have had a good weekend. Yesterday morning I went for my weekly 10k run; really didn’t want to but when I did it was it was a cold but beautifully atmospheric morning…

I know I have produced a calendar but some people have started to ask about books and/or notelets and cards. But they can be expensive to produce so I wonder if there is any broader interest out there? Let me know!

In terms of activities I keep plugging away at various things. Half way through random acts of kindness and was thrilled today to spot two more bird species after biking to a local nature reserve. Only five types of birds to go to hit 60! I already had a heron but this one stood there in a pond for an hour so couldn’t resist a photo. Shame I couldn’t zoom closer…A picture of patience!

This Wednesday at 4pm is the launch of the Open Doors World Watch list 2021. I know I have plugged it before but well worth joining in (and inviting your MP too). This will show where persecution has changed. A reminder that this year the presentation to Parliament is going to be live πŸ˜ƒ on zoom with the opportunity to hear speakers from Syria πŸ‡ΈπŸ‡Ύ and Nigeria πŸ‡³πŸ‡¬. It’s a really good way of picking up what is really happening and what your contributions go to. Do tune in.

https://www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/

Thanks as ever for your interest.

Happy Christmas…..again!

Today is Christmas eve in the orthodox and coptic church. It all goes back to the change of calendars back in 1582 from the Julian to the Gregorian. Ten days were lost at that time…

Today is also the Feast of Epiphany, the date that many Catholics and Protestants traditionally celebrate for when the Magi came to present their gold, frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus.

An epiphany. We use it as a term for when a life changing event or realisation occurs in someone’s life. For the wise men it caused them to travel several hundred miles at great personal risk and cost. Yet the great and good of Jerusalem couldn’t be bothered to trundle 5 miles down the road to Bethlehem to see what was happening! What are you and I missing that is right on our doorstep? Many Christians in places were it comes at a great cost to follow Jesus do so in the belief that they have found something of great value that is worth suffering for.

On a completely different but connected note, reflecting on current events in Washington I was struck by how do we react when things don’t go the way we want? When we can’t control a situation and our goals are blocked? Frankly, I don’t always do as well at this as I would like to and can get frustrated and cross. Or try yet harder to no avail. How do you deal with thwarted goals?

Persecution of Christians in many countries comes through family honour being tarnished; that someone becoming a Christian brings dishonour. So if someone won’t change their mind voluntarily they must be forced to do so…

I would love you to give to 60@60 to help meet the Β£6 000 target but I can’t make you do so. I can do all sorts of activities, some of which may grab your attention, some which won’t. While I may desire it I can’t control it. But I will let you know that the 60 day beard is now nearly a week in…!

May you blessed this week…and Happy Christmas πŸŽ„

Happy New Year…

Well 2020 has finally gong!

The tide has come in on 2021. Happy New Year! I was struck today by the following quote from a chap called Steve Cleary who has put together a digitally animated version of “Pilgrims Progress” that has taken 5 years to complete.

“God can give us a big vision and the road to seeing that through can be filled with trials, struggles and even attacks…When we don’t see the vision coming to fulfilment quickly we can experience doubt and despair. I personally believe many godly visions have been abandoned by those who couldn’t see past “small beginnings”.

What have you got planned for 2021? If it is truly something you believe in, keep persevering. It could even be doing a challenge for Open Doors like me….

https://www.opendoorsuk.org/act/fundraise/

If there is one thing that many persecuted Christians ✝️ teach us is to keep persevering even in very hard situations.

60@60 is now 5 months in. While I am doing well it is a continuing challenge to move towards the Β£6000 target. I still need your help and support and I know I need to persevere, be creative and press on when I can’t see a way forward. But it’s worthwhile to support persecuted believers.

One activity I have tried in the last couple of days and added to my list of things done is Kintsugi. This is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with precious metals. The brokenness is made a feature and beautified. Whatever you feel your weaknesses are they can be made to be beautiful. For me a lovely picture of what God wants to do with our weaknesses and wounds.

Finally a quick reminder about the launch of the 2021 World Watch list of the 50 worst countries to be a Christian. This will be beamed live from Parliament at 4pm on Wednesday 13th and there is still time to invite your MP. Thanks for all your support πŸ™‚ πŸ˜ƒ

https://www.opendoorsuk.org/news/latest-news/world-watch-list-mps/

Goodbye 2020…

My eyesight has not been perfect for many decades but I can at least look back after this strangest of years with 2020 vision! We think we are in control of our lifes, especially in our technological culture, but a microscopic virus has shown us just how tenuous the reality of that supposition actually is.

2020 for me has been many things: the flexibility of an office at home but missing colleagues; enjoying the quiet and walks of the Spring lockdown; remembering to have a mask at all times; VE day celebrations; living a virtual existence; weekly claps for the NHS; looking at the stats then seeing Covid affect people I know. The weariness of the 2nd wave; a WhatsApp Christmas. The good and the bad on parallel lines.

In the middle of all this I was 60. And 60@60 started! A friend I hear from occasionally texted me recently and said that it must have been a really bad year to do this. Well, yes but not really!

While I am very tired, there have been so many good things. The Pilgrims Way was a real adventure that took me to many amazing places and physically stretched me to my limits. And another 50 miles through Kent to complete in Spring. The stay on Holy Island was a real blessing. I took a step of faith with the calendar and people wanted one. And many more activities-guitar lessons; recipes; a half-marathon; bird spotting. Yes, restrictions have made things more difficult but God is good. Most of all you have helped raise Β£2 750 so far for Open Doors, 45% of the Β£6 000 target. And that has helped people around the world who desperately need it. THANK YOU for your generosity, partnership and support in these hard times.

So as we say goodbye to 2020 and enter 2021, on one level things haven’t changed. But as we stand at the gate of the year, despite the difficulties and weariness, there is always hope. May I wish you and your loved ones a very Happy New Year.

Meanwhile, I look forward to bringing you new ideas in 2021 to support our persecuted family. The 60 day beard starts January 1st. With all the grey I shall look my age..!

Taking a risk…Happy Christmas…!

Well, as I write, Christmas is only two sleeps away. As a child that would have been almost unbearably exciting. Have I become too familiar with the story?

Twenty centuries ago the religious leaders of the day were able to tell King Herod with certainty that the promised Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. The inquiring Magi travelled several hundred miles in search of a baby following a star yet the supposed custodians of the faith couldn’t be bothered to walk five miles along a familiar road to find out more…

Shepherds meanwhile, interrupted at work by Angels, risked leaving their flocks, to find a manger in a crowded village. And God through Jesus risked it all to come to a cattle stall because He thought you were worth it.

I don’t like having my routine shaken up. But Christmas is all about people whose lifes were well and truly turned upside down. The original event wasn’t comfortable but was infinitely worthwhile to those who were part of it.

In a number of countries around the world it’s dangerous to celebrate Christmas. It risks aggravating the majority communities and your family. But many are willing to risk so much at this time of year both to celebrate Jesus’s birth or find out more about Him. To use a cliche; it’s less about presents and more about His presence. The risk, they feel, is worthwhile.

Having said that about presents, for over 16 000 children in Vietnam they will receive a special Children’s Bible this Christmas. Having been to Vietnam I know this will mean so much. Many girls and boys have been praying for one for a long time. Your gifts help make this possible.

This year, with so many of us locked down or unable to have our normal Christmas let’s remember those for whom Christmas is special but a risk. The Bangladeshi Christians below won’t be able to meet this year. That is very hard for them as they are isolated for much of the year. This is a unique and difficult Christmas for many of us both in UK and elsewhere. We may feel isolated but nevertheless we are part of something much bigger.

I wish you and your family a wonderful and blessed Christmas from the bottom of my heart. Whatever your circumstances I hope you can rejoice! Jesus considers you are worth the risk of Him coming. John’s gospel 3:16

Tier 4…

Well, last night Southend was placed in Tier 4 of Covid restrictions. A bit of a shock to the system and I felt pretty flat . No trip to see the girls; a “virtual” Christmas looms. But I’m definitely not the only one “home alone” this extraordinary year…

I was struck on the news at lunchtime by a short clip of Palestinian Christians aiming to celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem (amazingly bagpipes play a role…) A minority within a minority, often rejected by their own people and by Israelis, with very few tourists this year to sustain them economically. A tough situation. Please pray for them.

We tend to romanticise Christmas but it was tough for Joseph and Mary all those years ago. Teenagers required by the emperor of the occupying army to travel 70+ miles and unable to find proper accommodation. We are grounded; they were forced to journey. Hardly a promising context for God to enter our world…

But however dark things seem that is not the end of the story. The heavy showers and bright sunshine produced beautiful rainbows yesterday. Yes, there is always hope…

Yesterday, someone sent me a cheque for Β£250 for 60@60. Huge thanks. The biggest single donation I have received by far and a complete surprise. Such a blessing when I was wondering where the next donation was coming from. So often we-I-try and figure things out but often what we’re called to do is simply trust.

Whatever you are facing this Christmas and whatever challenges you face you are never alone. Hope remains. And that’s the same whether we are in UK or Iraq.

Hope..

Watching the news I, like many, have been deliberating on my Christmas plans. What’s the best to do? Brexit is still anyone’s guess. It’s an uncertain and troubled world.

In northern Nigeria over 300 boys have been kidnapped by Boko Haran. How awful for them and their parents. Over 100 of the Chibok girls kidnapped 5 years ago have never been released. Leah Sharibu, kidnapped nearly 3 years ago as a 15 year old and refusing to deny her faith, still remains in captivity. How she, they, need help and hope.

2 000 years ago it was hard for Mary and Joseph. A 70 mile journey they were forced to make by the occupying power. No guest room. A vassal king on the throne with a reputation for terrible acts. It wasn’t a happy time then either.

But a boy was born to bring hope; to shine a light in the darkness. An incredible point in history but revealed only to shepherds at the bottom of the social ladder and foreign astronomers. Do we walk past hope hidden in plain sight? Are we hope bringers to those who need it?

Thanks for your continued support. I reached the 40% figure this week. Your donations bring hope to those who most need it.

Bits and pieces…

Well, it’s hard to pick any outstanding things from this week but I have been making progress on a number of activities. The first set of guitar lessons are now complete (I’m debating doing more). I spotted three more bird species today (up to 52 now) by going to a different set of mud flats and another new recipe is done. And I was really excited one of my free bibles has been taken. So it’s a case of keeping working at these and adding new activities. Do feel free to suggest any.

I do hope all your pre-Christmas preparations are going well. As ever I ran out of Christmas cards so had to go and get more. Written and posted most though.

The new World Watch 2021 list launch in Parliament is in early January. Last year over 100 parliamentarians attended. It makes a huge difference when constituents ask their MP to attend. You can make a difference. If you would like to invite you MP that would be great; please go to https://opendoorsuk.org/advocacy in your web browser to find out more.

Thanks again for your interest and support.

Receiving the gift…

Christmas is all about gifts. The vast majority of us will be giving and receiving presents. It was a delight for me when my youngest daughter was thrilled with what I got her for her birthday recently, even though it wasn’t expensive. But how do you feel if your gift is ignored or rejected?

For me the pain of this has been brought home recently. To aid my attempt to identify 60 different birds (now up to 49) I bought a bird table and feeder. I’ve tried 4 different positions-not a tweet! I have also put out a box with free bibles in it and put it in a prominent position-completely untouched.

I am disappointed. Both these cost me something. But I will keep reaching out. The gift of Jesus at Christmas is often overlooked, rejected and ignored. As a baby Jesus had to escape death by becoming a refugee with his parents. For persecuted Christians around the world this is one of the times of the year where they face the worst antagonism from those around them yet ironically it is when many non-believers find Jesus. The light still shines in the darkness…

More milestones this week as I passed one third of the way through the challenge. All on target at the moment; 20 activities done and 3 underway and thanks to your generosity, giving is on target too. The challenge is to maintain the momentum. I seldom mention 60 acts of kindness as part of 60@60 but that’s going well too.

So, as Christmas card deadlines get closer (I think I have got all my presents) may you enjoy the Christmas build up and not get too stressed. And do remember those for which this is a dangerous time and of course, Jesus, the greatest gift of all.

Of calendars and boxes…

The last calendar was sold today so thank you to all of you who bought one (though there are a couple of you yet to make a donation!) It amazes me how 100 have gone…Again, thank you. And here are a couple of sunrise photos from today as a bonus to the calendar!

Open Doors started out in 1955 when Brother Andrew started smuggling bibles behind the Iron curtain. Even today it is illegal in some countries such as North Korea to have a Bible. I was struck by a church I spoke at last week who had put a box outside their building where people could take a Bible for free. 85 have gone so far. As another 60@60 challenge I have made my own version and put it by the front pavement. Let’s see what happens..

I put up most of my decorations tonight. The Menorah reminds me of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah (which starts next Thursday). It celebrates a time when the lights in the Temple burned for 8 days without oil. I’m reminded that God is able to provide even when things look impossible. And for so many persecuted Christians you are being the hands and feet of God through your giving.

Finally, in my last update I asked if anyone was willing to suggest a song or a carol for inclusion in the blog for a small donation. Thanks to the lovely Jo for putting forward “O little town of Bethlehem”. Here is a new version below. Please feel free to put forward your own suggestions..