Old habits die hard

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After more than a year in Malawi we certainly feel we have settled in and become far more productive as life and social norms in Malawi increasingly feel ‘normal’. However, every now and then something breaks in to shake our complacency and remind us that the underlying cultural ‘world-view’ of many Malawians is very different from ours. Continue reading

Winter – cold but not blue!

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It is now “mid-winter” here in Malawi – and we are wishing we had brought more of our winter clothes from England. When we first moved into our house we were amused to see a fan heater in one of the cupboards – wondering why it was there – this is Africa after all. The windows that did not quite close properly have never been a problem – until June hit. Over the last 6 weeks, here in Blantyre at an altitude of 3400 feet, there have been many cool overcast days, and windy days, and the nights are noticably colder. The fan heater has been used several times, the windows have had to be fixed, and Ruth has been shopping for jumpers and body-warmers! Continue reading

Short and simple

IMG_8934I couldn’t help but obey two of the playground rules when I saw these signs at Mandala House (the posh hangout of ‘azungu’ in Blantyre). First I smiled and then I laughed.

How wonderful that someone has set out such a simple and positive set of rules to help the children enjoy themselves in the playground.

I don’t know about you but I have this terrible habit of getting carried away and making things way too complicated. I hate to think how many more signs I might have added to the tree. Continue reading

Build your house on the rock …

floods-malawiMalawi is one of the most densly populated countries in Africa, seems to have few if any planning laws, has little resources for infrastructure development, and in desperation many are forced to build in places that make them very vulerable. On top of that, rural homes are built from burned-clay bricks formed out of the soil around the house, and sometimes cement isn’t even available for use in the mortar.

It is no surprise therefore that, soon after the delayed rains started, we now hear and see the tragic results of a few weeks of heavy rain falling on such a needy land.
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Whatever you did for one of the least of these …

malawimumIt is the people we meet and the faith stories we hear that make Malawi so very special. Whenever we can, we want to share with our friends and partners the stories we hear …

Within a few days of giving birth, a young woman was issued divorce papers by her husband. For a woman in Malawi, where there is no benefits system, being abandoned like this meant certain hardship. How was she going to support herself and her new-born baby boy? She was desperate, but she had one comfort, her faith in Christ. So she called her son “God-knows”.
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Let the children come unto me

IMG_2354This week Ruth had the exciting opportunity of starting to work alongside Joseph and Elevate of “Children For Christ Ministries” (CFCM).  Their focus is training people across Malawi to lead Bible Clubs and Sunday Schools but this week their emphasis was on re-starting the clubs they run themselves in the Blantyre area. Ruth immediately got a sense of the breadth of their work, the challenges they face, and the privilege that is theirs of being able to run and support weekly Bible Clubs. Continue reading

Blantyre Christmas

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Ruth in her new ‘chitenje’

Thank you for so many messages via email, Facebook, WhatsApp and phone. It ensured we knew that, far away as we are, you were thinking of us on this special day. Rest assured that – while missing you all – we had a great time once we had positively embraced the fact that this was going to be a different Christmas without our family, and we should enjoy it for what it was! Continue reading

Left for dead

GeorgeWe had a great time with the zm supported students as they left for their Christmas holiday at home, but as ever it was their personal testimonies that really stayed with us.

One student spontaneously got up during our meeting; let’s call him ‘George’. Pulling up his trouser leg he showed us scar tissue and eaten muscle from his ankle right up his calf. He told us all how some years ago he had a wound that just would not heal. For over a year this wound got worse and worse, and he got weaker and weaker as infection set in. Eventually he got to the stage where he could not move, could not speak, and felt his breathing getting shallower and shallower. Continue reading

Once again it’s time to say ‘tapita Malawi’

Thursday 24th April 2014

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All too quickly it is time for us to once again say farewell to Malawi.

As we drove up the escarpment from the Shire River to Blantyre this afternoon at the end of our second road trips, I must admit that I found myself disappointed that it would inevitably be some considerable time before we would be back in what now feels like a second home.

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You can’t beat Jesus out of my heart

Thursday 17th April 2014

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Our last meeting in Lilongwe on this busy day was with Pastor Rex Umali, who is the pastor of Area 23 ZEC. It was to be a perfect example of one of the most exciting things about these visits; their complete unpredictability. Your are just never sure what you will find and how God will use it to shape you. This time we were surprised and challenged to hear this faithful pastor’s wonderful testimony.

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Grand Designs

Thursday 17th April 2014

Gulliver Prayer House

Gulliver Prayer House

It reminded us a little of our time in Plano, Texas in the 90’s as we drove through the large flat plots of land on the outskirts of Lilongwe that were filling rapidly with expanding suburbia. And there, incongruously, in the corner of a giant building lot, sat the small “Gulliver Prayer House” of ZEC.

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Who is on the throne?

Thursday 16th April 2014

Disney gets everywhere!

Disney gets everywhere!

Tired after a long day of visits we nevertheless stopped off at Namitete ZEC on our way to our guest house at Mchinji in the very west of Malawi, near the Zambia border. However our weariness quickly evaporated in the face of the cheerful enthusiasm of Pastor Masoamphambe, his wife, his family, and his leadership team.

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Via, Veritas, Vita

Wednesday 16th April 2014

Africa Bible College, Lilongwe

Via, Veritas, Vita (“Way, Truth, Life”) is the motto of Glasgow University where Ruth and I studied in the 1980’s and summarizes Jesus’ amazing assertion in John 14:6 – “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And today we saw three different examples of faithful Christians looking to proclaim this truth in modern Africa.

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The longest day

Tuesday 15th April 2014

Henry and his family

Henry (left) and his family

As we left the Anglican guest house at Chilema little did we know how long a day it was going to be of travel interspersed with interesting visits and conversations before we found our way in the dark to the Roman Catholic guest house in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. Regardless of the state of the truck’s suspension, by then our personal “rear suspension” was painfully sensitive after sitting in the cramped rear bench of our 4×4 truck. Little surprise that the plain quiet comfort of the guest house run by nuns was very welcome indeed!

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A short cut cut short

Monday 14th April 2014

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We were all up early for our drive from the Chilema guest house to the ZEC operated clinic at Nthorowa. Being the end of the rainy season everything is bushy and green but that did not stop Simon and Luckwell directing us down ‘roads’ that looked more like overgrown bridlepaths. I was driving and as we grew in confidence we decided to take a “shorti cut” that turned out to be a “shorti cut” too far.

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The Sound of Music, Malawi style

Palm Sunday, 13th April 2014

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Today we celebrated a very special Palm Sunday with a new group of Malawi brothers and sisters at Malosa Zambezi Evangelical Church. And there was no mistaking it was Palm Sunday either as we spent the 70 mile drive from Blantyre on the Zomba road either dodging long lines of palm branch waving locals on the way to church, or the palm branch selling entrepreneurs desperate to make a quick buck!

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Soldiers of Christ

Saturday 12th April 2014

EBCoM students focussed on their game of bottle top drafts"

EBCoM students focussed on their game of bottle top drafts”

Ruth and I were privileged to be asked to return to the Evangelical Bible College of Malawi (EBCoM) on the student’s only real rest day (Saturday) to be able to meet with them socially over lunch.

It was a great time to see these committed men and women relax together over a game of “bottle-top drafts” or strumming a guitar. But it was even more inspiring to hear their personal testimonies of sacrifice and calling as we chatted through lunch.

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Making partners for pastors

Saturday 12th April 2014

Mrs Mercy Mkwezalamba

Mrs Mercy Mkwezalamba

We were delighted to returned to EBCoM on Saturday to meet with a remarkable lady, Mrs Mercy Mkwezalamba, who some time ago established a course for the wives of the male 3rd year students. In a culture where women so often fail to complete high school this is an innovative step.

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Tapita Malawi

Jacara Malawi

What images will persist, I wonder, for Ruth and I as we leave Malawi and Africa? For sure there will be images of rolling seas of tea bushes, of bright lilac colored jacaranda trees, of vast planes of dusty bush, of proud exotic animals, of litter strewn slums, of mud floors and tin roofs.

However I am convinced that the truly persistent images of Malawi and of Africa will be of the faithful brothers and sisters we leave behind. Compared to our homeland we found friends materially poor, struggling with a lack of education, and adrift for the want of more of Christ’s shepherds. But we also found friends with faces shining with the love of Jesus, humble homes thrown open in wonderful hospitality, and lives where the little they did have was completely dedicated to the growth of God’s kingdom.
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Light of the world

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8th September 2013

In a country where Christian church buildings are so conspicuous, our time in Malawi is giving us a real insight into the ongoing need for the gospel in the country.

As you drive at night through the Malawi countryside you are immediately struck by the physical darkness of the place as so many struggle with the expense of providing lighting for their home, and the government struggles with the expense of lighting the streets. And certainly during our trip we also had to get used to repeated daily power outages that too often plunge everybody into deep black from 6 pm to 6 am.

However when you talk to the people of the countryside you understand – beyond their physical need for light – their far greater need for the spiritual light that only the Holy Spirit can bring.
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Well done good and faithful servants

7th September 2013

Kondwani and Evet Kwerani epitomise what it means to be good and faithful servants of Christ whatever our culture. They live in a small rough brick house in rural Choda, south east of Blantyre, with their three children Hope, Paul, and Kondwani jr.

Kondwani was born in the country and, even with a time studying in the relative comfort of Blantyre, he says he is more able to cope with being back in the simple rural life than his wife who was born in the city.

I say “simple life”, but in an area where the church members are essentially struggling to survive – and although they would never say so themselves – it would be more accurate to talk about a life of material “survival”.
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Kwaheri Kenya

1st September 2013

The last two weeks have passed so very quickly and thanks to the gracious support of our hosts, Silas and Rahab, we have learned so much about Kenya, about its people, and about ourselves.

So it is only fitting that we have spent our last day in Kenya with our amazingly hospitable hosts; back again at their lively church, and then at home with them for a family meal around their big dining table.

It is an example of their open hearted character that “family” included us, a brother, a nephew, a missionary friend, his children, and our driver!
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Baboons for breakfast

27th August 2013

Ruth and I breakfasted in early morning sun with the sound of Thomson’s Falls in the background, baboons searched for food in the lawn outside, and a walk back to our rooms through blooming flowers. It was idyllic.

However, even though most of the guests were holidaying Kenyans, it was difficult not to feel awkward at the comfort we were living in, and difficult not to feel isolated from the real world that lay outside the gates. And certainly, as we passed through the guarded gate on our way to Nyahururu the manicured lawn was replaced by dusty packed earth, the smooth drive for potholed road, and the colonial lodge for wooden shacks.

Today Silas and I were scheduled to train pastors gathered in a Nyahururu church from the 33 churches overseen by Simon in this part of Kenya and from other churches in the region. But just getting to the church was an adventure as our van inched through the crowded marketplace of rough built stalls to a three story building that stood proud in the centre. The church was literally an “upper room” with a pub below and shops on the ground floor.
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A sweet Nairobi Sunday

25th August 2013

Our first Sunday in Kenya started much as our Sundays in England, with church. We had the privilege of attending Kilelesha Covenant Community Church (K3C) which is the suburban home church of our hosts Silas and Rahab. Both the well designed building, the smartly dressed, multi-generation congregation, and the well designed multi-media presentations, would not have been out of place in any major city in the UK and the US.

It was a special youth service and the excellent multi-lingual music ministry of the young praise band, the energy of the guest rap artist, and the culture of clapping God in praise, might have raised a few eyebrows in quiet rural Suffolk. However the clear bible teaching, the obvious love of the church for it’s youth and children, and the church’s dynamic focus on reaching out to make disciples, all made Ruth and I feel very at home. Even the report back from the teenagers about their summer camp showed the same breathless enthusiasm and energy of our own young people.
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Retreat from the street

24th August 2013

Lydia of the bible (Acts 16) was obviously a woman of strong character and good education. A dealer in purple cloth, she became a believer and invited Paul and his fellow travellers into her home. Today Ruth and I met another Lydia of strong character and good education who, on becoming a believer did the unthinkable in Kenya and gave up her safe and secure job with a bank to create a home for some 30 of the orphan street boys she saw every day at the street corners of her town.

It was a long drive north through coffee and tea plantations to reach a height of 6,000 feet and the El Shaddai boys home on the outskirts of Limuru. El Shaddai is an ancient name of God meaning “All Powerful One” or “All Sufficient One”. And as we stepped through the solid metal gates into the small grounds of the home we quickly realised that this home survived day to day only through faith that the God of the bible truly is all sufficient for all our needs.
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New Life in the slums

22nd August 2013

Today we learned that Nairobi has the dubious distinction of having the second largest slum in Africa after Soweto. We learned this as we drove the relatively short distance from the government district, with all its well dressed business folk, to the shanty town of Kawangware.

We were faced with the usual vision of dirt roads, rotting refuse in the streets being picked over by goats, and groups of youths standing aimlessly at corners. But what we were not prepared for was how much we were going to learn about church planting in a little concrete shack sandwiched between two dingy shops, and the joy we were going to have hearing the wonderful stories of young (and not so young) men and women born-again to a new life with Jesus Christ.
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Kenya at last

20th August 2013

We arrived! Ruth and I arrived early this morning in Nairobi without too much hassle – except I dropped and cracked the screen of my iPhone. Nor did we get much sleep on the plane.

But it is amazing how quickly the Kenyans have set up temporary workarounds at the airport, using big tents to get things moving despite the huge fire they had. It was still faster through immigration than Heathrow on a good day – but that is not saying much!
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Abundant Gospel sowing in Transylvania

Daniel and Danny Ispas with family and visitors

Pastors Daniel and Danny Ispas with family and visitors

21-24 June 2013

In June Ruth and I had the privilege of returning to Carand in Western Transylvania in Romania. This time we were joined by our daughter and a young woman from our parent church who has a heart for this lovely country and its people.

Last August I traveled to the global headquarters of One Mission Society (OMS) where I had an eye opening, and life challenging, introduction to their approach to church planting and multiplication. One of the biggest personal impacts came from being trained by an amazing group of humble, faithful, obedient disciples who had decades of real hard-won experience evangelizing and church planting around the world. The other big impact was the wonderful opportunity to meet with so many committed church planters from around the world, including the father/son pastor team of Daniel and Danny Ispas.
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Fellowship in Castlebar

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11th July

It never ceases to amaze me – that instant sense of bonding in the Holy Spirit that comes when true Christians meet for the first time, even across cultures and nationalities. And that was certainly the blessed experience Ruth and I had when we met at the midweek evening meeting of the church in Castlebar that Calvary Mission has recently established.

We met in the house of Stephen and Nikki Childs as their children, Saoorse and Eoin, were just being put to bed. We had a wonderful time talking and praying with Stephen, Nikki, Andrew and Larry about things of the Kingdom, the state of Christ’s church in Ireland, and the work God is doing through them in Castlebar. It was heart warming to witness the commitment and dedication of these disciples to live 100% for their Saviour in this key town in County Mayo.

Stephen and Nikki grew up on the west coast of Ireland and moved a year ago to Castlebar after education and work in Ireland and London; Andrew and his wife are from the US and been in Castlebar from April 2012; while Larry is a native of Mayo. They are looking forward to September when two new families join them, and they hope to start meeting regularly on Sunday mornings in a venue that will make it easier for people to come along.    

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Stepping out with God

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Saturday 6th July

It is 2pm Sat 6th July. Ruth and I are sitting in the sun on the ferry in Fishguard harbour after a drive from the east to the west of mainland Britain on our way to Youghal, County Cork in Ireland.

This is the second part of our great adventure this summer as over the next few months we visit and share with Christian missionaries in Romania, Ireland, Kenya and Malawi. (Our second visit to Belgium has been postponed to October). It’s all part of our quest to understand God’s call for this next phase in our lives.

The first part of our summer adventure was a return visit last week to Daniel and Danny Ispas in Carand, western Transylvania, Romania. Over the coming weeks we will post more about that physical and spiritual journey as time (and internet connection) permits.

Please support and encourage us by following our posts on Facebook and on our new WordPress blog. At both places you can leave your own contributions and comments to help us on our way.

The idea of the blog is to allow our friends to share in our thoughts and experiences as we spend time in so many different places. However, perhaps more importantly, it will give Ruth and I a mechanism with which to reflect on the experience and the lessons learned.

We hope you enjoy sharing in our great adventure this summer as we step out with God.