Friday, May 11, 2018

House of Hope on the Camino

A recent television fly-on-the-wall documentary followed several celebrities as they walked part of the renowned Camino de Santiago in northern Spain. It was so interesting to witness the changes that occurred among them and in their individual thinking as they contemplated spiritual realities on this gruelling walk. The Camino comes from a tradition or way of doing church that is very different from mine, but I found it compelling to see the large numbers of people involved, especially young folk. It is also clear from the programme that those who undertake the arduous challenge do so mostly out of a hunger or desire to find God, or to walk more closely with the spiritual side of their nature. In this cynical and secular age that can't be a bad thing.

I have some very close friends who are doing a wonderful work on the Camino, offering love, friendship, spiritual help and Christian witness to pilgrims as they walk part of the way. They have been led to do so over the last couple of years by renting a house they call Hope House, which is now available for purchase. This video, in English, gives an overview of their vision and ministry. Alfonso and Debee (a Guernsey girl) have spent their long ministry with Youth With a Mission in Spain and are endorsed by YWAM in this new project.

This lovely, short video, contains a financial appeal, which if you are not happy to see please don't view the piece. No pressure, of course, but if you are minded to pray for them I know they would value that so much, and - do visit their wonderful home if you are walking the Camino!

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Potato Peel Pie Discarded - Free at Last!

The Guernsey Flag
The movie "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society" is doing well in cinemas around the globe. In UK it is the second most successful box office release in May. It coincides with an important date in Guernsey, May 9th. It is surprising how few people are aware that part of the British Isles were conquered and occupied by the Nazis. 73 years ago this month saw the islands set free at the end of the German Occupation during the Second World War. The final few months of the Nazi presence in Guernsey were the worst, especially after D-Day. According to one eye-witness, Mrs Irene Dunk, who was the wife of Rev Gilbert Dunk, minister of Eldad Elim Church in the island's capital St Peter Port, both the local population and the occupying forces were cut off from outside supplies in a siege situation and starving. Only the occasional arrival of the Red Cross ship the Vega bringing food parcels from Canada and New Zealand for the local people brought any degree of relief. In a small booklet published some years ago, Mrs Dunk, who went on to live until aged 100, tells of surviving for three weeks along with their small child, on a diet of parsnips alone before those vital supplies were received.

Finally, the Allied Force 135 arrived off St Peter Port on May 8th, 1945, but even then, things were tense and frightening. The Commandant, a fervent Nazi named Admiral Huffmeier, had vowed that he would never surrender. There was a real possibility that the Allies might need to fight their way ashore against an opposed landing. Thankfully he was over-ruled by his subordinates and the next day British troops poured into St Peter Port to be mobbed by grateful islanders.

We should thank God for the freedom we enjoy today. When Gilbert Dunk stood cheering in the crowds at North Esplanade that first Liberation Day, a local preacher whom he knew grabbed his shoulder and yelled excitedly “this is the Lord’s doing and it is truly marvellous!”. God had heard their anxious appeals for deliverance and had brought them through great trials to eventual liberty. Through all the long years of deprivation and loss there had remained that hope for freedom, and a heart cry of prayer for its fulfilment. Early in the Occupation an RAF plane had dropped leaflets over Guernsey containing a personal message from King George VIth promising “We will return...”, feeding the hope that would be finally fulfilled.

Christians today face many trials and sometimes great suffering too, but we have a hope that underpins our determination to keep the faith. The King is coming back, and in Christ we are truly free. We should treasure this freedom and share the news of it as widely as we can. Meanwhile here in Guernsey, our home is already decked with flags as we get ready to celebrate our national day.

Friday, April 27, 2018

As two Korean Presidents shake hands and smile warmly for the cameras, I hope that few people in the world will be fooled into believing that the malign regime in North Korea has really changed. Recalling Prime minister Chamberlain waving his useless "Peace in our time" document at the airport upon his return from appeasing Adolf Hitler in 1939, I pray that the coming months will not witness a similar descent into chaos and war. I am by nature an optimist, but I can't help sharing the feeling expressed by the BBC's journalist on today's news who said that we have been here before and that nothing has really changed.

Today's significant events, however, do motivate me to pray for North Korea. I pray for the estimated 300,000 persecuted Christians there. These are the circumstances they have to endure:

"Due to constant indoctrination, neighbours and family members, including children, are highly watchful and report anything suspicious to the authorities. If Christians are discovered, they are deported to labour camps as political criminals or killed on the spot; their families share their fate. Meeting for worship is almost impossible, so is done in utmost secrecy. The churches shown to visitors in Pyongyang serve mere propaganda purposes." (Open Doors Website)

Open Doors estimates that between 50,000 and 70,000 Christian are imprisoned in North Korea's harsh labour camps; most will die there. Some have escaped to tell their stories. I have just finished reading the book A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa (click to view on Amazon) which tells his own story of dreadful living conditions in North Korea and of his own amazing escape. Ishikawa is not a Christian but his book is a depressing exposure of the horrors of life in this rogue state.

Winston Churchill's comment still rings true, that "jaw-jaw is better than war-war" and so we should be grateful that the spotlight is being turned onto the Korean peninsula for talks rather than for threats. Perhaps the Christians in the South, of whom there are many millions, will find ways to link up with their compatriots in the North, or at least to remember them in their desperate need. But I can't help feeling that we have not heard the last of Kim Jong-Un's belligerent posturing. Meanwhile, in the wings, waits the powerful president of the so-called 'free world' due to meet "Rocket man" in May! My goodness, if ever there was a time to pray it's now!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Suicide Capital of Britain?

Is Guernsey set to become the suicide capital of Great Britain? This headline in the UK newspaper the Daily Express, copied by others, has thrown a forthcoming debate in the island's government into the national limelight. In May the States of Guernsey will be asked by its leading minister plus six others, to decide whether Guernsey is in favour of 'assisted dying' for the terminally ill. If they prevail, and there are signs that they may, the island will set up a consultation to find ways and means to implement this momentous step, and may well lead the way in doing so within the British Isles.

One island politician, Deputy Emilie Yerby, in a blog on the issue, said "This is a very personal, emotionally fraught debate. Whatever side of the argument we are on, we need to approach it with compassion, mutual respect and honesty. People will bare their souls and confront some of their deepest fears over the coming weeks. We owe it to our community to create the kind of environment where they feel safe to do so."

Maybe not quite baring my soul, but I want to share my own perspective on this emotive issue. I do so not just as a Christian or church leader, but as a sufferer. In all my 22 years of the most appalling pain requiring around 100 admissions to hospital and over 30 surgeries I have always felt that the medics were on my side. I have often been embarrassed to be causing them so much work, and felt like a real nuisance, but they have always reassured me that they were with me in wanting to overcome this dreadful disease and keep me alive, even when that seemed so unlikely. I really do feel that my relationship with those doctors and nurses would have been changed for the worse if they were asked to become 'killers'.

Also, during the two decades I spent battling this most painful and deadly disease, if I had chosen to take a short-cut, I would have missed the amazing space-age transplant surgery that transformed my life nine months ago in Newcastle. Even now, the NHS in England is only proposing to start clinical trials into this surgery which is still not available anywhere in Europe. Medical research is constantly advancing, and short-cuts would have denied me this opportunity, even if I had wanted to take one.

I feel the utmost sadness and compassion for folk who are suffering appalling pain and life-limiting conditions. I also understand that carers and loved ones must feel desperate in the face of such circumstances and might feel that they would not even treat an animal the way their loved ones might be suffering. But we are not merely animals - we are body mind and spirit - and our lives are precious even when we might feel that all earthly hope is gone.

Please don't let us get agitated and heated over this, as Deputy Yerby advises us, but if you live in Guernsey do please engage with our States' deputies and help them to grapple with what is surely one of the toughest decisions they will have to make for a long while. And if Guernsey is a long way away from you, don't forget the words of the poet John Donne:
No man is an island entire of itself;... any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom 
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A Garden without Easter bunnies?

This is the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, believed by many to be the actual site, or very similar to it, of the grave where Jesus' body lay on the first Easter Saturday.There is a tomb at the centre of the Easter story. A place of cold grief and bitter tears. A real tomb for a really dead man, not just somewhere for a swooned imposter to await rescue by his fellow conspirators. This is God's tomb, where God the Son tasted death for me. This is the devil's best, an attempt to wipe out the catalogue of miracles and mercy that Jesus wrote in Galilee and substitute his own pathetic offering of "always look on the bright side" and "did God really say..?" doubt.

And the view from the tomb of Jesus is magnificent. Its light casts a quick flicker of hope over a place of suffering and pain, Golgotha or Calvary, and slowly expands towards the brilliant dawn that is already starting to change the colours we see only through our tears. Yes, this is God's tomb, but much more than that - it is MY tomb as well. For, in the words of the Apostle Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ" (Galatians 2:20). The old me is dead and buried, and just as Jesus breaks forth from the tomb outside Jerusalem, so I am set free by Christ from self, from having to impress others, even from the fear of death itself.

And here's an offer you won't see in many catalogues - it can be YOUR tomb as well! "Oh thanks Eric" I can hear you say "that's all I need on top of everything else I am suffering". But that's the whole point, this tomb is the place where you can lay your sufferings down, and your achievements, and stop trying to impress God and others. You can be identified with Jesus in His death also, and rise with Him to a completely new life!

I am grateful that God knows what it feels like to suffer and die, and be laid in a tomb by weeping loved ones. I am glad that he understands my pain, and yours, and that he comes to us on our 'silent Saturdays' and dark nights of the soul. But I'm also rejoicing that the tomb is no longer in use as a grave. The Lord of life and glory could not be held by those chains of death. It may be Easter Saturday, but hey - Sunday's coming!

Friday, March 30, 2018

No Greater Sacrifice

 On this Good Friday Christians around the world are recalling the death of Jesus on a Roman cross outside Jerusalem. We are not doing so in some kind of dark or mournful fascination with violent death, but in gratitude for an act which changed our lives forever. Jesus, who committed no sin in his amazing life of compassion and care for others, "became sin for us" according to the Bible's teaching, so that we might receive forgiveness and right standing with God. This substitution of the Son of God for us and in our place means that God's rightful anger against sin and wrongdoing is forever dealt with. Christ paid the price for us to go free. He took the hostage's place and died instead of us.

France mourned this week the death of a national hero. Col. Beltrame attended a terrorist incident in southern France where hostages were being held. The officer's brave actions helped bring an end to the siege in a supermarket in Trèbes by 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim, who had earlier killed a person in nearby Carcassonne. The gunman claimed to be a supporter of the Islamic State group. Sixteen people were also injured, two seriously, in what was the worst jihadist attack under Mr Macron's presidency. The gunman was shot dead by police.

When the French police colonel offered to take the place of a female hostage he would have known he was putting his life on the line. The gunman had already killed and declared his opposition to Western values and all those in authority. Surely compassion must have moved Col Beltrame's heart as he contemplated the fate of the threatened woman. He stepped forward to put himself in the firing line. No greater sacrifice could be asked of a public servant.

Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is the ultimate authority figure, shunned by millions who refuse his love and way, but worshipped by countless millions more. He was sent to us here on earth as a rescue mission. We were hostages held by our passions, selfishness and pride. Then one stepped forward to take our place. "I will go" he said to his heavenly father and moved purposefully towards Jerusalem and the appalling death of crucifixion for us. No greater sacrifice could be asked of a God who loves us.

Yes, it is Good Friday. But hey - Sunday's coming!

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Beast from the East

Cold War shivers are back. The 'Beast from the East' is freezing more than our air temperatures. A whole generation of younger folk have never known the fears and chills of the nuclear arms race with its threats of global extinction. By the grace of God the world did not blow itself up during those decades. There were many nuclear accidents and equipment malfunctions that occurred where disaster was only just averted. On top of that men with huge egos played fast and loose with threats of holocaust that were only turned away at the last moment, like the Cuban missile crisis in the 1960's. We can only presume that it was not yet God's time to wind up this planet in the way described in the prophecy of St Peter:"...the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare". (2 Peter 3:10).

President Putin seeks re-election this weekend. His name is on the lips of nations around the world for recent allegations that may make his popularity rise at home, but increase the possibility of a renewed cold war. He boasted recently of having developed nuclear devices and missiles that cannot be traced or stopped by any defences. He is not alone in his self-aggrandising threats to world peace. The two egoistical and possibly unstable presidents of nuclear armed nations and historic enemies, Trump and Kim Jon Il, will meet sometime this year.  It is to be hoped that their nuclear buttons will be well out of reach as they boast to one another about the size of their respective devices.

How should Christians prepare for the new big freeze? As they always have done, of course, since power-mad Caesars like Nero and Caligula ruled the known world with cruelty and violence. We need a living, passionate, powerful, attractive relationship with Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit that will win people over by the warmth of God's reality, love and kindness. We also need to pray for leaders and their advisors. I felt very keenly this week the need to pray for Mrs May, and we should also intercede for those named above. And above all, we need to remember who is really in charge. We are not at the mercy of 'rocket man', maniacs and 'dotards'. We belong to the living God, and this world will be folded up like a scroll when he says so and not a moment sooner.

We don't need a 'fall-out shelter' (yet!). We do need to 'fall-in' though, with the maker of the universe, and seek his perspective on our crazy mixed-up generation. A shivering world is starving for warmth, affection, love and a higher hand on the tiller. That hand is the healing hand of Jesus.