One year ago on this Sunday I was finishing the last leg of The Pilgrims Way Part 1 at Otford in Kent. My feet were killing me but it was amazing to reach that point after 8 days of walking. I remember an unexpected spitfire accompanying me part of the way and another Jane Austen connection. And the joy of my biggest supporter being there to meet me was special.
I have just had a weeks leave with lots of tasks to start with then 2 nights away alongside the Essex Pilgrims Way. This is a picture of the chair where the founder of Pilgrims Hall sits nearly 60 years after establishing the Centre, now in the twilight of her years. The building around her is her legacy.
I am sitting here writing this rather uncomfortably with a catheter inserted and a leg bag. Routine Tests on Friday showed I was retaining large amounts of fluid in my bladder which resulted in a trip to A&E yesterday and the procedure being done. I’m glad I did 60@60 not 61@61! I’ve had an enlarged prostate for a couple of decades but this turn of events was quite unexpected. I’m having to get used to a whole new way of living and hobbling for different reasons! Physically and emotionally it’s quite a difficult adjustment and another adventure even if not a totally welcome one.
Persecution is not totally unexpected, especially for new converts, but when it hits it affects life profoundly. Things change and a new, if unwelcome, way of living ensues. It’s part of the cost of Christian living. I have appreciated messages of support and I know persecuted Christians do so too.
It’s a bit surreal but this day last year I was walking nearly 16 miles between Chawton and Farnham on the Pilgrims Way in Hampshire and Surrey.
Today I am staying in Pilgrims Hall near Brentwood by a much less known Pilgrims Way from Waltham Abbey to Canterbury. The difference is I’m only doing a couple of miles jog on this one!
So what is pilgrimage? I like this quote from a booklet I found on Holy Island last year.
“Pilgrimage encompasses two distinct and yet complementary concepts: the physical journey to a spiritually significant place and the journey of the heart and mind as they move nearer to God”.
A deliberate action with two components. We are always on an inner and outer journey but unless we are purposeful it’s easy to get lost and forget. Looking back a year there are sections of the route to Farnham I remember very well and others I can’t recall at all. How quickly memories fade!
I have been reading a book called “Up from the Ashes” by a Syrian doctor. It is quite harrowing in places (though not graphic). The journey Dr A has gone through has been horrendous. Let’s be thankful for our own journey, even with it’s challenges and support organisations like Open Doors that stand alongside those on really challenging journeys.
Do you journal? I used to keep a diary when I was younger; and have various spiritual notebooks where I write things down. I’m not as disciplined as I used be though. My 60@60 notes, appropriately entitled “Footprints”could definitely be more comprehensive-I went 5 months without writing-there is still quite a bit in there.
Looking back at my late teenage self is an exploration of angst, much of it cyclical, events long forgotten and the weather. My 60@60 diary is full of stories of discouragement-all I could think of was aching feet or no donations-but also ones of lovely things, unexpected breakthroughs and God’s faithfulness. I came across this quote from Brendan Manning which I wrote down in March.
“The reality of naked trust is the life of a pilgrim who leaves behind what is nailed down, obvious and secure and walks into the unknown”
And another from an obscure bloke called Smith:
“Anything worthwhile needs working at and proper preparation. This is often hidden and hard. But necessary for the next stages of the journey to come”
Is there anything that you look back on and see learning in (and sometimes laughter!)
So, do journal-it’s interesting to see what the pattern of your life is.
As ever the reason for doing all of this is to raise awareness and support for the persecuted church. It is dangerous for many there to journal as it could compromise them. But there are still stories to tell….
Today was another chance to talk about 60@60 and why I did on the radio. It was good to be able to meet with and talk to Ruth O’Reilly Smith on UCB2 (she is always worth a listen) though I have to admit to being quite nervous beforehand. Somehow you become aware that communicating accurately is important and you want to get the message about the persecuted church across. Add to that the fact that I don’t particularly like the sound of my own voice and it had it’s own challenges. I’ve attached a link to the recording below in case you’re interested.
I was reflecting today on Psalm 42. It holds a special place in my heart for lots of reasons. Verse 8 talks about God directing his love during the day and his song being with us at night and that He is God of all my days. During the 365 days of 60@60 I experienced good days, bad days, exciting days and stressful ones. Every variety of day. I suspect we all do to varying degrees. But I have never been alone through it even when alone and sometimes feeling alone. So many persecuted Christians, even when in Prison or situations of torture or rejection, can tell stories of God’s faithfulness. That they have hope even when they suffer. I hope you enjoy this song.
What is adventure to you? I looked up the definition and essentially it involves movement; of going beyond where you currently are physically, or mentally, of taking risks. For Frodo in “Lord of the Rings” it meant leaving the safety of the shire to go where he knew not. I really like this quote about adventure by the inspirational Helen Keller who was both blind and death:
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing”
I can’t claim any great explorations or deeds but 60@60 reinforced that it is easy to get into a rut and not try new things. I am by nature a maintainer of the existing rather than a visionary. So 60@60 forced me to dream bigger dreams, try new things and push myself to achieve them. And it also helped to bring out that it’s not all about the destination but enjoying the journey. And it’s never too late to start! Where is the end of (or start of) the rainbow for you?!
Too often as a Christian it’s easy to communicate that following Jesus is all about believing correctly and doing the right things. And right thinking and actions are important. But fundamentally the Christian life has adventure written into it’s DNA. The first disciples were taken on a roller coaster journey by Jesus during his life then after his death and Resurrection the Holy Spirit took them places they never thought they would go. Adventure is written into the DNA of the persecuted church too. I heard a deaf pastor in Central Asia tell of how he took extraordinary risks to get the Bible into hard to access places. And of travelling across roadless wolf covered wilderness to reach and support an isolated blind and deaf woman. I heard an urban, middle aged Vietnamese woman tell of stories of hours on muddy tracks on the back of a motorbike to reach a remote village in the mountains with no facilities and suspicious police where women desperately needed encouragement. As the old song says “it’s an adventure following Jesus”. An adventure with a purpose but definitely not risk free, especially for persecuted Christians. 60@60 is all about supporting brave women and men who step out for their faith.
I got a large black spider out of the bath this morning before my visiting girls were up. Just as well they didn’t see it (and thankfully it didn’t try and squeeze out of the cloth or might have dropped it-phew!)
Fear comes with many faces and manifestations. Sometimes it is there, nagging in your ear for days at a time (or in some cases much more). Or it can leap out at you, catch you by surprise and chuckle “I got you” while you sit in a despondent heap. Fear can be a well known enemy appearing at the worst possible moment or just a minor irritation. It can appear to be rational or be apparently completely irrational (but with a hidden reason). Often it needs us to take a deeper look inside..
What are your fears? Is it a task at work that you don’t feel up to? Feeling inadequate when you have to go and mix and mingle in a social situation? Whatever it is it can make us want to run away and hide or use a coping mechanism that isn’t always the best.
60@60 made me face a number of fears head on. Fear of heights is one I’ve commented on a number of times. That knot in the stomach; the sweaty palms and weak legs; the voice that said “can you do this? But in a sense it wasn’t the actual activities that was the biggest hurdle. Fear of failure was a huge one for me in all sorts of ways-fear of not being able to finish a days walking; fear of not being able to think of enough interesting ideas; fear of not getting anywhere near my target either financially or numerically. In a way 60@60 made me accountable-I couldn’t be paralysed by fear when I’d said I would proceed. I found the only way forward was to do it afraid and to ask God for help. And so often the reality wasn’t half as bad as I feared.
Persecuted Christians have real tangible fears to address. In the middle east the honour of the family is at stake-if I become a Christian I will be rejected and beaten. In North Korea if I am found to be a Christian I will be sent to a prison camp and possibly worked to death. In Nigeria my house may be attacked and burned and I be killed or raped depending on my gender. And in Afghanistan today, if I’m discovered to be a Christian what will the Taliban do to me and what should I do next? What would you do if it was your choice? Very real, tangible dilemmas, especially if you are isolated and alone. Please remember them today.
I am, by nature, very much a creature of habit (boringly so some may say). Pretty much every day I eat exactly the same breakfast and lunch, for example. I rarely vary what I wear very much. It’s comfortable. Maybe it’s because I sometimes find decision making and change challenging emotionally and the predictable comforting. Being out of control can seem scary.
Now habits can be helpful in making sure good things happen, like exercise, and for avoiding chaos. However it can keep us in a self-enforced rut. 60@60 was good in forcing me to be flexible. Covid stopped certain plans; what else could I do? Certain accommodation on Pilgrims Way was shut; where else could I stay? Should I stay on the route or take an interesting diversion? I was really glad I went off the route to see the wall paintings of Chaldon for example..
Comfort zones can be good but they don’t stretch us or grow us (or our faith). To quote the title of a book “If you want to walk on the water, you have to get out of the boat”. Being flexible can be stretching but open up whole new horizons. Aidan, for example, left the familiarity of Iona in the 630’s to set up a monastery of Lindisfarne and help develop understanding of christianity in Northumbria.
For Christian converts in countries where it’s hard to be a Christian, their world of routine is thrown completely upside down. To survive they often need great flexibility. Afghanistan 🇦🇫 is already no.2 on the Open Doors World Watch list; the impending Taliban rule will only make things even harder. Please remember that country. This is a flexibility where your life depends on it. In India 🇮🇳 it’s Independence Day as I write but for many Christians choices can be very difficult. Maybe you can stand with them..
Today has been a busy day. Not only at work but also doing an interview for Premier radio about 60@60. On top of all that a blog has been published on the Open Doors website which gives an overview of the 60@60 year.
A lot of what I’ve done over the year has been about teamwork. While the vast majority of the activities I’ve done have been undertaken alone no-one is an island unto themselves, as the poet John Donne said. I have needed the help of others. Most obviously this comes with donations: if no-one gave I wouldn’t have got very far. Four people accounted for nearly 40% of the gifts received, some with multiple donations to encourage me at key times. But nearly 100 people comprised the other 60% of gifts received. Everyone, however small the gift, has played a part. However little a role you think you have played in this (or in anything else you are giving yourself to), it is a part in the mosaic of success.
I’m also grateful for those who have been there for me all along the way, especially my greatest encourager. During any long term challenge times of discouragement, fear and indeed despair come and it has been so good to have people who support. People who give new ideas and new perspective. Who show an interest in what you are doing; who genuinely care. Those who are like Barnabas in the Bible whose very name means “Son of encouragement”. Are you and I encouragers; cheerleaders for others when they most need it?
For persecuted Christians, knowing that they are part of something much bigger is so important. Left on their own it can be so difficult for an individual to stand strong against the pressures of family and society. This is especially true for new believers in places like the Middle East. New technologies can be especially helpful in reaching people in difficult to reach situations. Equally, for Christians in prison it means such a lot to know that people are praying for them. Brother Andrew, the founder of Open Doors, tells of how important it was to the first believers he met in communist Eastern Europe to know that they were remembered. It is just as important to believers around the world today to know they are part of a team, that they have family supporting them, that they are not forgotten.
How do you look back on major events? It’s said of history that if we don’t learn from it, we are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I’m sure that we can glean much from all the good points too. I will do a series of thoughts over the coming weeks about what has struck me doing 60@60 looking back in retrospect.
One of the main things that I have picked up on from the last year is the need to persevere. I can quite easily live by emotions and what I’m feeling at that particular moment. Discouragement can sometimes hit me hard; fear can raise it’s head like an ogre; malaise can creep in through the door. Sometimes I just don’t feel like doing something (or anything). 60 activities in a year is over one a week and then there is all the planning associated with it. Where there is a challenge within a challenge-like 60 different recipes only counted as one activity-this magnifies the number of things to do and focus on. Sometimes it feels overwhelming.
There was a time on the Pilgrim’s Way in the middle of woods near Guildford when I had very sore feet, a back aching with the load, was really weary and it started to rain. I couldn’t get my cape on despite a number of attempts. I am ashamed to say I jumped around like a pouting toddler and shouted “I hate this”. Not very mature and a reflection of poor handling of resentment when things don’t go the way I want! Then I carried on as there was nowhere else to go…
Romans 15:5 in the Bible talks about God giving us a spirit of endurance and encouragement. Looking back I am really grateful to Him for giving me an ability to endure and encouragement to do so, either directly from Him or through people, at key times. William Carey, the great pioneer missionary, said he wasn’t gifted but he could plod. I suppose that I have learned that plodding-physically and metaphorically-is an an important ability to have, not just for 60@60 but also for life. To follow the way wherever it leads…
Persecuted Christians have to learn perseverance as so many things are against them, whether family, society or state. They need to know that what they experience is worth it both now and eternally. I will talk about the importance of support from others in a subsequent blog but for them the knowledge of a relationship with God is greater than the cost of what they endure. Like the early disciples, many can’t stop talking about what they have seen and heard. For others, like these believers forced to flee by Islamic militants in Mocambique, receiving aid helps them to persevere in the displaced people camp they find themselves in.
Have a good day and week and thanks for your interest.
After 122 posts, 60 activities and 365 days I turn 61 tomorrow (5th). 60@60 has reached its conclusion. Thanks for sticking with me through a year of adventure and challenge; 12 months of roller coaster emotions and God’s blessings. So far you have helped to raise over £6 400 plus gift aid. Amazing! Below are just four of the latest activities.
In scripture it talks about not taking something on until you have assessed all the implications. I can now honestly say that though I had lots of ideas I honestly didn’t have a clue what I was letting myself in for! It’s been so much more in every way than I ever imagined and in so many aspects 60@60 has taken on a life of its own.
I remember early on in the challenge listening to a song called “Waymaker” by a Nigerian singer called Sinach. Quite serendipitous as Nigeria 🇳🇬 is the country with the highest number of Christians killed for their faith. The song talks about God being the waymaker, the promise keeper, light in the darkness. I have found all these to be so true.
There are many highlights and so often I have found that the fear of something is far worse than the reality. And that while you can’t do everything you set your mind to, you can do lots more than you think.
I have had to plod along alone at times taking steps in the dark but I have had some very faithful supporters, especially one. Over 120 of you have sponsored me for which I am incredibly grateful.
As I’ve said before though this isn’t about me but about the people who I am doing it for. They are the heroes that 60@60 has been all about. People who stand firm despite the pressure. Individuals willing to lose it all because they have found what really matters. Believers who are marginalised and beaten but stand strong in the storm and love when despised. I hope that you have learned more about them; seen them as individuals.
If you are able to give a final donation to make a difference to these amazing people that would be so amazing. Just one more person or family assisted would be wonderful.
While this is the formal end of 60@60 I will still post every now and then. Lessons I have learned, new things that come up. In some ways I have only scratched the surface in these blogs. If you have any questions do let me know.