Sunday, December 21, 2008

Letter from Zimbabwe

The following letter was posted on the ConservativeHome blog today. Reposted here without permission but I doubt that's too important given the subject matter. At Christmas it's good to remind ourselves that millions of people live in the squalor into which Jesus was born 2000 years ago.


I reckon that these are the last days of TKM and ZPF. The darkest hour is always before dawn.

We are all terrified at what they are going to destroy next........I mean they are actually ploughing down brick and mortar houses and one family with twin boys of 10 had no chance of salvaging anything when 100 riot police came in with AK47's and bulldozers and demolished their beautiful house - 5 bedrooms and pine ceilings - because it was 'too close to the airport', so we are feeling extremely insecure right now.

You know - I am aware that this does not help you sleep at night, but if you do not know - how can you help? Even if you put us in your own mental ring of light and send your guardian angels to be with us - that is a help -but I feel so cut off from you all knowing I cannot tell you what's going on here simply because you will feel uncomfortable. There is no ways we can leave here so that is not an option.

I ask that you all pray for us in the way that you know how, and let me know that you are thinking of us and sending out positive vibes... that's all. You can't just be in denial and pretend/believe it's not going on.

To be frank with you, it's genocide in the making and if you do not believe me, read the Genocide Report by Amnesty International which says we are - IN level 7 - (level 8 is after it's happened and everyone is in denial).

If you don't want me to tell you these things-how bad it is-then it means you have not dealt with your own fear, but it does not help me to think you are turning your back on our situation. We need you, please, to get the news OUT that we are all in a fearfully dangerous situation here. Too many people turn their backs and say - oh well, that's what happens in Africa

This Government has GONE MAD and you need to help us publicize our plight---or how can we be rescued? It's a reality! The petrol queues are a reality, the pall of smoke all around our city is a reality, the thousands of homeless people sleeping outside in 0 Celsius with no food, water, shelter and bedding are a reality. Today a family approached me, brother of the gardener's wife with two small children. Their home was trashed and they will have to sleep outside. We already support 8 adult people and a child on this property, and electricity is going up next month by 250% as is water.

How can I take on another family of 4 -----and yet how can I turn them away to sleep out in the open?

I am not asking you for money or a ticket out of here - I am asking you to FACE the fact that we are in deep and terrible danger and want you please to pass on our news and pictures. So PLEASE don't just press the delete button! Help best in the way that you know how.

Do face the reality of what is going on here and help us SEND OUT THE WORD.. The more people who know about it, the more chance we have of the United Nations coming to our aid. Please don't ignore or deny what's happening. Some would like to be protected from the truth BUT then, if we are eliminated, how would you feel? 'If only we knew how bad it really was we could have helped in some way'.

[I know we chose to stay here and that some feel we deserve what's coming to us]

For now,--- we ourselves have food, shelter, a little fuel and a bit of money for the next meal - but what is going to happen next? Will they start on our houses? All property is going to belong to the State now. I want to send out my Title Deeds to one of you because if they get a hold of those, I can't fight for my rights.

Censorship!----We no longer have SW radio [which told us everything that was happening] because the Government jammed it out of existence
- we don't have any reporters, and no one is allowed to photograph. If we had reporters here, they would have an absolute field day. Even the pro-Government Herald has written that people are shocked, stunned, bewildered and blown mindless by the wanton destruction of many folks homes, which are supposed to be 'illegal' but for which a huge percentage actually do have licenses.

Please! - do have some compassion and HELP by sending out the articles and personal reports so that something can/may be done.

'I am one. I cannot do everything, ---but I can do something.. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do.'

Edward Everett Hale

Please send this on to everyone in your address book. We send jokes out without blinking an eyelid. We don't get told this on the news in South Africa , we only get told what they want us to hear. We all have a chance to do something, even though the something is by pressing forward to as many people as possible. Let's stop talking and let's start doing! There is power in prayer, there is also power in more people knowing about this than you in my address book. This is going to America , Dubai , Australia , France , South Africans all over South Africa , the UK . By forwarding this to all in my address book I have done something. The world needs to know what is going on.

From John Winter in Zimbabwe

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cool Africa

Casablanca, Morocco

It's been a great experience to visit Morocco this week. Actually it's been a range of experiences rather than just one - this is a very varied country and it's difficult to get under its skin and see what the culture is truly like. To that end it's been very helpful to visit with two people who live in the country and have more of an idea of how things work.

We had a good taste of African efficiency on Thursday when we came to leave Chefchaouen and get to Fes. It's a 4 hour bus journey, or about 200kms by road. We got to the bus station at 8am to buy tickets, but were told that all the buses were 'complet' (full) so we'd have to try another way. First some 'helpful' bystanders told us to go to Ouezzane, a town on the main road, then get a bus to Fes from there. So we waited an hour for that bus, only to be told that it too was 'complet'. So the next helpful suggestion was to go back to Tetouan, 2 hours the wrong way, to get on a bus to Fes that wouldn't be full. So that's what we had to do. It was a little dispiriting to pass by the Chefchaouen junction on the main road at about 4:30pm, about 7 hours after last seeing it going the other way. Never mind...

We had a good taste of Moroccan culture when we got to Fes. We'd rung ahead and reserved a triple room in the Grand Hotel de Fes for 600dh per night - 15 pounds each. What a bargain! It turned out to be a fantastic bargain. When we arrived at the bus station it was about 9pm. The bus driver took me aside and explained briefly (in French) where we were in relation to the city centre and how to get there. Top marks for helpfulness - this is what Moroccans are like usually. As we were walking to the taxi rank a hotel tout came up to us, started harassing one of the Aussie girls with us and the two Asian guys. Suffice to say he didn't win us over to staying at his hotel.

In the medina we had the ultimate experience of being 'Fezzed'. My optimism and enthusiasm for seeing it lasted about 20 minutes past the first tour guide offer from a 'faux guide' whose job is to take you to his uncle's carpet shop and hard sell you. We ended up at the tannery, where they make leather goods in an 800-year old environment preserved thanks to UNESCO (apparently; I haven't confirmed it yet). Our guide there said to take our time, look around and reassured us that there would be no hard sell. I picked up a satchel to have a look and then spent 30 minutes in battle with first the salesman - who insulted me, swore at me and eventually QUIT HIS JOB - then the general manager who was very charming and persuasive. I was as slippery as I could be and kept dropping my maximum price to what I actually wanted to pay. After a few close calls I finally walked out with the bag I wanted at a price I could deal with. But the experience was so traumatic I don't think I could do it again!

On Saturday we headed back to Casablanca where my friends live and work. It's a big ugly city for the most part, but seems to be the hub of the country economically. We had dinner at Rick's Cafe on Saturday night: not the original, but recreated to resemble the film version. Today we went to church, and I went to visit the Hassan II Mosque, one of the biggest in the world and quite impressive. Not a patch on St Paul's though.

It's been a bit of a whirlwind tour of Morocco, and there's lots I haven't had time to see. Hopefully there'll be time in the future to come back and experience more of the country. But for now I have a flight to catch to Madrid tomorrow afternoon, and then to London in the evening. Travel blog closed once again.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Cold Africa

Chefchaouen, Morocco

This is my first holiday paid for from a salary and taken from a finite amount of paid leave (albeit a large finite amount). I'm visiting a friend who works for an NGO in Morocco and is on holiday with me, and another of his co-workers, for this week.

I flew into Gibraltar on Sunday afternoon and stayed there one night. On Monday morning I had just enough time to scoot up to the top of the Rock, see some monkeys, and walk back down. Meanwhile Andrew and Sid had been to Mark's and Spencer... one of the advantages of a British territory in Spain! We took the ferry from Algeciras to Tangier on Monday afternoon, which was a very rough crossing. I had to take a hurried visit to the toilet but felt much better afterwards.

This is my first time in Africa and so far it has been not at all what I expected! Tangier is a city much like ones in southern Spain or Italy: quite well organised but slightly chaotic, full of traffic driving to and from the port, and with a naval feel. We found a cheap hotel to stay in - 100 dirhams per person, which is 10 euros or 7 pounds - which promised hot water but did not deliver. On all other counts it was fine, and on Tuesday morning we shipped out to the bus station and caught the bus up here to the mountains.

Chefchaouen means "look at the peaks!" in Arabic, and that is what we've been doing. It is COLD here, dropping to near freezing at night and peaking at 12 degrees or so in the daytime. Moreover, the Moroccans haven't mastered indoor heating so it is COLD inside as well. Blankets and thermal underwear are a must to sleep! To be fair we are paying only 70 dirhams a night here in our hotel, so I can't really complain.

Today my friend and I attempted to hike up one of the peaks overlooking the town. It's a 1600m mountain, meaning about 800 vertical metres of climb. We set off quite early, but got waylaid when we took a wrong turning and had to clamber up, and then down, some rocks that we thought were the path. After wasting an hour on that we headed up, and after rising above the snowline quickly had to slow our pace. Snow was at first in the bushes, then at the side of the path, then on the path, and it got deeper and deeper until eventually we were slogging through about 6 inches of wet snow in jeans and hiking trainers!

We called it a day at 1400m when two Moroccans told us we were still 2 hours from the peak - this was at 1.30pm, and we thought it unlikely we'd make it up and back without any problems. Coming downhill on the snow was wonderful, much easier than even on a hard path, and we got back to town at 4pm and promptly crashed out for a couple of hours. Unfortunately both my pairs of shoes and my only pair of trousers are now wet, and the hostel is too cold for them to dry out! So tomorrow we're off to Fes and will be staying somewhere more expensive but warmer, which seems like a good compromise.

After 2 days in Fes we're off to Casablanca where my friends work, and I fly home on Monday. It's a quick trip (already halfway done) but I'm really enjoying Morocco so far, and seeing it with people who know their way around is very valuable. We've bumped into the backpacker circuit here, and it's reminded me what a bizarre existence it is to be a 'traveller' - always seeing new places but only ever experiencing your own culture, with other people who are exactly like you. Not quite as eye-opening as some people will tell you...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Trouble brewing

Seven years ago on 9/11, spin doctor Jo Moore sent an email around her department saying that it was "a good day to bury bad news". Yesterday seems to have been another episode of the same behaviour by the government.

The brutal attacks in Mumbai have rightly captured the public attention and will no doubt continue to do so. Yesterday was also Sir Ian Blair's last day in office as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in London. He has been in cahoots with the New Labour government for years, backing them on 42 days and the Jean Charles de Menezes killing in 2005.

Yet we are supposed to believe that the government knew nothing of the arrest of an MP - a member of the Shadow Cabinet - until after it happened? An arrest that involved nine anti-terrorist police officers and resulted in Damian Green's offices being searched and him being held for nine hours? An operation that Boris Johnson and David Cameron were informed of but powerless to prevent?

Ian Blair, Jacqui Smith and Gordon Brown are all complicit in this, and it stinks. Damian Green was acting in the public interest by exposing dangerous flaws in government policy, such as the number of illegal immigrants being allowed to work without security clearance in airports and Parliament. For them to have him arrested is a desecration of our democracy and I dearly hope that this is the beginning of the end for the lot of them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Another year, another birthday. Tomorrow I will definitely be in my mid-20s (!) which seems quite old compared to where I've come from. (I suppose it also seems quite young compared to where I'm going.) It's a good chance to reflect on the year that's passed, and also for more years in the past. Here are one or two things that have happened in each of the last 9 years.

15: became a Christian
16: passed GCSEs, got baptised
17: passed driving test, started final year of school
18: passed A Levels, started gap year
19: travelled the world for 4 months, started university
20: finished first year of university, fell in love
21: lived in Canada for a few months, started final year of uni
22: graduated, moved to London
23: got a Master's degree, started my first job
24: ?

Note the upward trend and slightly worrying lack of failure or suffering in that list. Behind it is God's grace and faithfulness: saving me, teaching me about trust, prayer, faith, grace, godliness, evangelism, maturity, leadership, discipleship and teaching. I am thankful for the past year and pray that the next may bring more of the same - spiritual growth, that is. As for worldly success, I could take it or leave it.

I do have one or two things in mind for the near future though... :)

Friday, November 21, 2008

American geopolitics

Given that over a fifth of 18-24 year old Americans are unable to locate the Pacific Ocean on a map, and that only a third of Americans are taught geography in school (!!!) it's easy to question the geographic literacy in Washington. After the complete cock-up of the Iraq war I had been wondering if anyone in the US was aware of the importance of place, culture and nation vs. state. A "political map" of the world in which countries are neatly delineated doesn't reflect the reality of life in a lot of countries: look at this map of Somalia for instance, where the 'government' controls less than 1/3 of the country.

All is not lost! The National Intelligence Council has published a comprehensive, detailed and nuanced document analysing geographic trends to the year 2025. I've been dipping into it this morning and am pleased to note an acknowledgement of the differences between Sunni and Shi'a populations in Iraq, the potential conflict between North and South in India (driven by religion and culture) and the emergence of an Islamic discourse in European politics. Well, I'm not happy to read about that but it's good that it hasn't escaped people's attention anyway.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Change has come

I stayed up to watch the election results on Tuesday night, but I couldn't take Wednesday off work so went to bed at 2:30, after most of the states' votes had started coming in. So I missed the concession of McCain and the acceptance of Obama.

Watching Obama's speech does make you appreciate the qualities of oration and presentation he has. I can't imagine a book of "Obamaisms" being published any time soon! He has echoes of JFK in his vision of America, and I almost expected him to say "ask not what this country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country".

All that remains is to see whether he can actually provide any change. Hopefully he is not Tony Blair in disguise.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Heart in mouth

The report about a Christian aid worker being shot dead in Kabul was very sad news, and a sobering reminder about the real crises in the world which are unconnected to the 'credit crunch' (or recession, as we should really call it). It should drive us to prayer for the family of Gayle Williams, and for the country of Afghanistan which is slipping back into the hands of the Taliban, despite the military and political intervention of the West.

My heart was in my mouth for a while this morning between the initial story being published and Gayle's name being put on the story. A friend from university has just moved to Kabul to work for a similar organisation. She is the least likely person you'd imagine to do such tough missionary work but is committed to serving God wherever that means - even in Afghanistan. She is fine, but it's time to start praying for her...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Equality and inclusion

I went on a full-day course yesterday called "Valuing People through Fairness and Inclusion", which every employee here goes to. Other than an interesting use of 140,000 taxpayer-funded man-hours, it was a good insight into the world of 'personal correctness' (political correctness is very passé).

In the course of the day we looked at a number of case-studies of non-inclusive behaviour, and were asked how we would deal with each. This one caused a particular stir! It was a real event, but obviously names have been changed...

James is an employee who often covers the customer services desk, reception and
telephones. He is a devout Christian and reads from the Bible during quiet times. He often engages staff in discussions about biblical texts.

James has a very fixed and disapproving view of homosexuality and regularly quotes from the bible the passages to demonstrate that such activity is against the
will of God.

There are several gay men on the team and they have learned to avoid such discussions with James. One of the team has suggested to him that he finds these discussions unwelcome and is concerned at the impact on any client who might overhear. He has asked James to stop.

James has said that though he doesn't wish to cause offence at work he cannot deny the will and guidance of God.
I found myself agreeing with both the employee's colleagues, and my colleagues on this course. I am on the lookout for chances to share the gospel at work; but giving the impression to gay people that they are worse sinners than the rest of us is not a great way to go about it. Our witness should be characterised by flawless conduct, love and genuine concern and friendship. That's the way to win an audience.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Time machine

It's Google's 10th birthday this month. Who remembers searching the internet using Yahoo! and Altavista before Google became hegemonic?

Google have found a complete web index from January 2001 and you can search it here. Stare down the telescope of history and read this webpage on Al Qaeda, which was written in a very different age.

Monday, September 29, 2008

And finally...

In the midst of the economic crisis, catastrophes on a local scale are being reported daily. This story is certainly one of them.

A Tyneside pub has called time on one of its regular visitors after the premises were refurbished.

Peggy, a 12-year-old mare, used to enjoy a pint of beer and a packet of crisps alongside her owner at the Alexandra Hotel in Jarrow.

However, she is no longer allowed to prop up the bar following a refit which included new carpets.

The horse still accompanies her owner, Peter Dolan, on his trip to the pub but has to stay tethered outside.

Landlady Jackie Gray said: "Although she is probably cleaner than some of my customers, I had to put my foot down and show her the door."

Mr Dolan, a 62-year-old retired oil rigger, said: "People come into the pub and the first thing they say is 'Where's Peggy?'

"I tell them she's kicked the habit and is teetotal now."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Another day, another bank going bust. The bubble has well and truly burst, hasn't it? I don't pretend to be an economist but I'm amazed that so many people have been living - even working in the financial industry - and not preparing for the inevitable. The Lehman employees who kept their entire wealth in Lehman shares, and have now lost millions, are a classic example. What went wrong? We seem to have massively over-extended ourselves as a (global) society; nothing shows this more than the ridiculous over-valuing of housing in London.

One prediction I read yesterday said that average house prices might fall by 50% in this recession. Ouch! But from a personal point of view... it would be nice if houses were priced at 3-4x salary rather than the current 10x.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

End of an era


This is the last blog post I will ever write as a student! Tomorrow morning I start work for TfL as a transport planner on their graduate scheme. It will be a big change, and one that I haven't really come to terms with yet. I'm actually starting my career - this could be the direction I take for the next 40 years, so it's not an insignificant occasion! It's also one that's been a while in the making; I left school 5 years ago and actually still have one last fling of education before wrapping up my Master's: to edit, print and hand in my dissertation.

Once that's done then it really is onwards and upwards, and I need to avoid the mistake of looking back on my life as a student and thinking that the best has already gone. I'm convinced that greater things are still to come... whether that's as a transport planner or perhaps in a more directly 'Christian' occupation; in London or somewhere further afield.

This has all come quite suddenly, not least because I was away on holiday until Thursday night. 2 weeks in France was a welcome break and if I'm honest it was nice to go abroad without a Christian agenda for a change! Photos here, or more on facebook.

I'd better get an early night. Wish me luck/pray for me...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Token blog post

Chatel, France

My predictions for the Olympics were about as wrong as they could be. Not only was there no disaster (pollution, protests, Tibet, terrorism etc.) but it all passed off very smoothly indeed. I suppose with the number of volunteers and soldiers around you'd expect nothing less, but it was an impressive spectacle nonetheless. GB's haul of 19 gold medals helped, of course, and may have masked any protests that did take place. The media are usually quick to jump on bad news, but maybe our gold-tinted specacles covered that up?

Anyway. On holiday in France at the moment, staying in the very beautiful and sunny Alps (pictured here with a very large fork in Vevey). I don't get back to England until the 4th September, then I start work on the 8th. A real job! How about that.
The day before, the 7th, I'm due to speak at All Souls' 8am service on the Passover from Exodus 12. As a lead-in to taking communion it's a perfect passage. I think I understand the thrust of the passage well enough, but one question is nagging me. Why was the passover lamb roasted, not boiled like other sacrifices once the Law had been given? I doubt this is the crux of the chapter somehow but it would be good to know. Answers on a postcard...

Monday, August 11, 2008


The war between Russia and Georgia is very worrying. It's tempting to write it off as a spat between two countries far away that have no bearing on us. But that would be wrong.

Georgia is one of the most pro-Western of the ex-Soviet states. It has a democratic government, has troops in Iraq, wants to join NATO and sees itself as European, rather than Russian. On the 8th, they moved troops into South Ossetia, a breakaway province that was autonomous under the Soviet Union but made part of Georgia in 1991. Presumably Georgia chose the 8th because they wanted to do it quietly while everyone was watching the Olympics. The South Ossetians want independence and reunification with their brothers in North Ossetia - part of Russia - but Georgia wants them to be part of Georgia.

Why does it matter? When it first kicked off over the weekend it would be easy to say "it doesn't". What's a couple of air-raids between friends? Since then, Russia has air-striked Georgian military facilities and civilian areas, sunk a ship in the Black Sea, landed troops on Georgian soil and reconquered South Ossetia. Obviously, the Georgian military doesn't stand a chance, which is why they've requested help from the West.

The Russians say they're defending Russian citizens in South Ossetia. The Georgians say they were fighting terrorism in South Ossetia. Who's right? Probably both of them, but at this stage that's immaterial.

Will any help come? It should. 1% of the world's oil passes through a pipeline in Georgia (the one featured in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, incidentally). More pressingly, our response to Georgia's request belies our attitude to the whole region. If Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan are thinking about realigning themselves to the west and away from Russia then they'll have to think long and hard about it, if they'll be fighting Russia alone. You shouldn't provoke a bear unless you have either a weapon or a getaway vehicle.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Olympic fun

Well, the Chinese certainly know how to put on a show don't they? 5 or 6 major performances, each with more than 1000 people in and perfectly choreographed. The opening ceremony was absolutely phenomenal. Watching the athletes parade in was fun... for a while. The vexillologist* in me enjoyed working out which country was which before they were announced. I can't imagine it was fun for the first countries to stand around for 2 hours while the rest came in!

The bar has certainly been set high for London in 2012. Somehow I don't think we'll be employing 10,000 people for 2 years just for the opening ceremony. The transformation of the city also seems very impressive: Beijing has spent £20bn on the Games; we're planning on £9bn with rather more modest redevelopment, but hopefully better legacy after the Games are over.

One piece of Olympic trivia for you: Great Britain is the only country to have won a gold medal at every Summer Olympic Games, since their reformation in 1896.

* Today's word of the day on iGoogle. It means a studier of flags!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Today's video

This song has been written and recorded by a couple of friends from my home church. It's packed with great doctrine and has a very singable melody.

Son of God, you left your royal throne,
Where angel voices named you Lord of all
In Bethlehem's bleak stable you were born,
The King of Kings, a baby frail and small.

Son of God rejected by the world
Derided as a madman or a fraud
By those who should have bowed the knee before
The King of Kings, the Sovereign Lord of Lords

Son of God, impaled upon a cross,
In agony I see my Saviour bleed,
Your arms outstretched, ironic thorns your crown,
The King of Kings, your last breath breathed for me

Son of God, within a borrowed tomb,
The slaughtered Prince of Peace in silence lies,
But night could never hold the Morning Star,
The King of Kings, in victory you arise.

Son of God, in splendour you'll return,
Angelic voice cries 'Jesus, Lord of all!'
The skies aflame with Heaven's glorious praise,
The King of Kings, before your throne I'll fall.

Pethick/Widgery 2008

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Quantum of Solace

The next James Bond film comes out in 3 months, and its trailer was released while I was away. It looks fantastic!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Home at last


(Internet access where I was in Russia was very sparse, which is why this post is appearing now. Sorry for any delay.)

The last fortnight has been an incredible experience. The last post came from Moscow when I'd just arrived. The next morning I navigated my way through the Metro again to meet our guide and link, Dima, at Kazan station. He'd travelled 36 hours from Chelyabinsk on the train. Together we then met up with the rest of the Wetfoot team at Sheremetyevo airport outside the city, who were all rather dazed and confused following a night at Heathrow and then 5 hours' flying.

After the world's slowest bus journey (2 hours for about 5 miles) we all made it back to Kazan station in time to catch our 36 hour train to Chelyabinsk. For Dima it was all a bit déja-vu but he took it all in his stride.

The train journey was a good time. I'd done longer journeys in the past, but the Russian trains add a bit of character to any trip, especially in platzkart (3rd class). 54 people slept in each carriage, on open bunks with no compartment walls. There was nothing approaching air-conditioning to take the edge off the 30º heat, but at least there were no chickens running down the corridor, as some had predicted...

What was most interesting was looking out of the window and seeing how incredibly empty Russia is. Even in the western provinces, which are more populated, there were huge tracts of land lying fallow, with the occasional village or road breaking the monotony. A lot of the farming that was going on seemed to be more subsistence than industrial, and many of the buildings were little more than shacks. A few times, the train stopped for 10 minutes, which allowed us to get out and breathe some fresh air for a while. We passed through Samara in a thunderstorm and drenched ourselves with rain to cool off.

Eventually we arrived in the city of Chelyabinsk, and everyone was more than happy to get off the train! After a shower and a rest in Dima's and another's flats, we boarded a bus out to our campsite, 2 hours north of the city. The Friday afternoon rush hour and hot weather meant Ladas were breaking down every 100m, which only made the congestion worse.

The campsite is being used all summer by various camps. We arrived at the tail end of a church camp, attended by 7 different churches around Chelyabinsk. Given the fractured state of the church in Russia it's a big deal to get so many people together - even on holiday. Some of the people there stayed on for our camp as cooks or helpers.

The site is simply stunning in its beauty. It's right by a lake with warm water to swim in, and it's mostly shaded by trees so it doesn't get too hot during the day. Staying there for 9 days was a blessing in itself. The beauty was mitigated by a few little niggles:
  • poisonous snakes have been spotted in the long grass around the campsite
  • the toilet facilities are located in the long grass around the campsite
  • the snakes like to swim in the lake
  • other snakes swim underwater in the lake
  • each of us had our own personal swarm of mosquitoes which thinks DEET tastes like ketchup (I was bitten 50 times on the first day... then wised up)
  • a bout of food poisoning struck 10 of the 12 on our team
  • one member of our team, Alex from Korea/Uzbekistan, was bitten by an underwater snake, struck by food poisoning and hit with allergies all at once, which left him unconscious and struggling to breathe. Fortunately a day in the local hospital sorted him out, but for a while we were not at all sure he'd pull through.
Last but not least...
  • the site is on the edge of the "medium-contamination" zone from some of the 7 nuclear accidents in nearby Mayak, and is 10km from a lake that was used as a nuclear waste dump for decades, before being concreted over. We were there for 1 week, so aren't in danger.
The camp was open to university students from the whole province. Dima and the team from CCX invited 2500 to come; of whom 75 expressed an interest. Of these 75, only 8 actually came, all of whom were girls. So it was quite disappointing for the Russian team and us to have such a low attendance. Conversely, it meant we had more time to spend with those who did come, as well as with the Russian team and ourselves. CCX are working in a really tough field: evangelism in Russia is difficult and slow, as the culture continues to change out of the Soviet era and aftermath.

The theme of the camp was Lord of the Rings, which affected the discussions, games, evening activities and dramas. In the UK it would have been a flop, but the Russians take these things very seriously (as we discovered to our cost when we prepared farcical dramas while they were completely straight-faced) so the camp worked well.

Each day we started with breakfast at 10 (great decision) followed by a discussion of spiritual themes seen in LotR, such as mortality, relationships, sacrifice or evil. After some free time we had lunch at 2, followed by more free time until 5, when the camp's small groups met (and we had our team devotions). After supper at 7, we had evening games which often took the form of wide games or quests, then a campfire at sunset (the sun sets after 10pm) where we were responsible for leading some seminars or giving testimonies. Rinse and repeat for a week and you have a camp!

We had some great input with our evening seminars and were able to preach the gospel clearly and show how it affects everyone's lives. I had the opportunity to speak on the incarnation of God, which was a good reminder of the importance of Jesus' human nature.

The other task we had was more informal: building relationships and having conversations. This was more difficult, especially for those of us who aren't girls and don't speak Russian! Nevertheless, quite a few significant conversations took place and several of our team members really connected with a student or two. A disappointment for me was that I didn't connect in that way, which limited my impact at the camp. As a team, our devotions and prayer meetings were a real encouragement, and the friendships we built there are a significant part of the trip's success.

The camp finished on Sunday, and although I was sorry to leave the natural beauty and lake-swimming behind, it was good to have an opportunity to see the city of Chelyabinsk. We stayed in Dima's and Lyosha's typically Russian 2-room flats again and explored the city with the team and the students on Monday, as a final opportunity to speak with them.

The city is one of the largest in Russia (1 million+) but to be honest has little to recommend it. The air pollution and dust is pretty bad, there's a lot of poverty still around (especially out of the centre) and it feels quite isolated, being 1000 miles east of Moscow. Some of the older buildings in the centre give the place some character though, and the statues of Lenin still standing are a bit retro chic. We saw the city best from the rusty Ferris wheel in the main city park, and had a couple of nice meals in restaurants in the centre. Late on our last evening in Chelyabinsk, Dima took us ice-skating in an enormous and deserted ice rink.

On Tuesday morning we piled into a minibus with bags up to our shoulders to get to the airport. Chelyabinsk airport is not exactly an international hub, and the Aeroflot flight to Moscow was just as expected. At least it didn't crash.

That concluded our official ministry on the trip. All that remained were two days in the Russian capital to wind down, sightsee and say goodbye. As I said in my last post, it's an impressive city with a lot of impressive sights. Standing in Red Square, shopping in GUM, exploring the Kremlin and St Basil's Cathedral (a house of God in the home of communism?) and seeing the incredible wealth that's been concentrated in the city. There are more limos than Ladas in Moscow - and not Zils carrying Party officials either. The famous Metro really does have chandeliers in its stations, and it's only 19 rubles per trip (£0.40).

The prices of many things in the city are eye-watering: on our last night, we met with one of Alex's friends who showed us a traditional Russian restaurant. We shared a bottle of vodka (when in Rome...) and the bottle came to a cool 3000 rubles - £60! Compared to the rest of Russia it's a completely different league, and even London seems cheap for some things in comparison.

Russia had one last sting in its tail yesterday as we flew home. The cheapest flights were with KD Avia through Kaliningrad. Our flight from Moscow arrived 10 minutes late after the pilot botched his approach and had to go around. That left us with only 40 minutes to transfer planes. The enormous queues at immigration didn't fill our hearts with confidence, and when the agent saw my unstamped Russian visa it all kicked off. She spoke no English and my 10 words of Russian weren't helping much.

I tried to explain that because I entered Russia on the train from Belarus there was no stamp, because there's no border control on that frontier. If you work for a corpulent bureaucracy shouldn't you at least know how it works? (OK, I didn't try to explain that). Various people looked at my passport, each expressing the same amazement that I had an unstamped visa. Eventually it was approved, but I ran through the security channel, threw my bag into the x-ray machine and was reunited with our group. The flight was delayed 30 minutes.

So now it's back to London life. I've never enjoyed drinking tap water so much, or being able to understand announcements in train stations. The last 5 weeks have been a very intense period, and transitioning back to life at home will be difficult - especially as my main task is sitting at a computer writing my dissertation. Of course it's all work for God so I have to remember that I'm serving Jesus by crunching numbers in my spreadsheet as much as in camping in Poland or Russia.

If you've read this far then you deserve some kind of reward. I have nothing to offer except a few photos:

Tuesday, July 08, 2008



Just checking in quickly. Moscow is a cool city; I've just seen a glimpse of it today since arriving in the afternoon. I'm staying in an amazing hostel near Red Square for one night, then meeting the rest of the Wetfoot team tomorrow afternoon at the airport.

After that it's another 36 hours on the train... thankfully the last for a while! Train travel is fun but there comes a limit even to my enjoyment of it.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Poland update (2)


It turns out that internet access was sparser at camp than I'd anticipated. I snuck online a few times in the past two weeks, but never for long enough to write anything. Apologies for that...

Since the last post, the young kids stayed around for another 3 days, and then we had a week with teenagers which finished this morning. The first camp finished well, mainly because we were a big enough team to share out the energy needed to give the kids a good time. Our prayer for them is that (1) they saw something of Jesus in our lives and interactions with them, and (2) they'll remember what they learned so that in the future when their English improves, songs like "Jesus loves me, this I know" will make sense.

This time last week, a coachload of teenagers had arrived in the mountains at the hotel where the camps are taking place. Many of them were familiar faces, having been before. Others had heard about the camp through various channels and had come from all over the place. This year we had kids at Camp Arka who live in Warsaw, Bydogoszcz, Denmark and the Netherlands! Some of them were going cross-cultural just to attend camp.

For me, the week was very encouraging. I taught a group of 5 young guys (15-17 years old), all of whom spoke very good English, and all of whom are believers. So after a couple of days I was able to abandon traditional lessons and dive into some Bible study to help them in their Christian walk. Other kids are in need of your prayers, because in the past year or two they've started to slip into rebellion, emulating gang culture and turning away from their parents. The other male native speakers did a great job in starting to mentor them and hopefully it will bear fruit in the months and years to come.

It was fun today to travel up to Warsaw on the train with the 5 kids who live here and came to camp - 2 of whom were in my group and the other 3 sat on the dinner table with David and me. Seeing what the post-camp atmosphere is like for the kids was interesting, and it was great to hear them singing "Mighty to Save" and "Open the Eyes of my Heart" to themselves on the train, which we sang through the week with them.

So now I'm in Warsaw after 12 hours of travelling. I'll be here until Monday afternoon when I board the next train, bound for Moscow.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Poland update (1)

Szklarska Poręba, Poland

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I've now been in Poland for a week, and up here in the mountains since Saturday. Most of the team of native speakers arrived on Wednesday and Thursday so we had some time to meet and orient ourselves before the camps began.

We're staying in actually quite a nice place, which is probably used as a skiing hotel in the winter. The facilities are good and the food is, mercifully, varied and well cooked (not to be taken for granted!). With 60 kids this week we need lots of energy and enthusiasm to keep up with them, and the Polish staff on the camp are doing a good job of keeping them occupied when they're not studying English.

The last time I spent any time with kids was this time last year, so it took me a few days to remember how to relate. I'd also forgotten that kids are really fun! (Some would say that I've found my vocation...)

I'd hoped to preserve my energy right through my time in Poland and into Russia, but as it happened I burned through my initial stock of energy in two days and since then have been reliant on coffee and naps to get through the days.

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The schedule seems to change from day to day, but generally we are responsible for two 30 minute English lessons per day, and some craft activities. Last night we put on the traditional British/American cultural evening, although with 12 Americans and 1 of me it was a bit one-sided!

Still to come this week: a carnival night (basically an excuse to give out lots of prizes), treasure hunt, find the leader, and of course the cricket masterclass. The photos here are of a trip to the local waterfall, and the church in the town.

I'll hopefully update again on Saturday. Cześć until then!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Camp Arka 2008

Wroclaw, Poland

It's time to kick off some summer mission once again. I've come back to Poland to partner with the Christian educational organisation "Arka" in running summer camps for kids and teenagers. As in previous years (this is year 5 for me) I, along with the team of native English speakers, will be teaching conversational English for an hour or two every day of the camps. The aim is to make these lessons not just useful but actually fun, so that they realise the value of learning languages and are motivated to continue their studies the next year.

We haven't come just for English teaching: the aim is to introduce Jesus to the kids through our words, actions and attitudes; which is especially important for the younger kids who won't understand what we say. The challenge is to help them understand that we're not just friendly because we're westerners; we're interested in the kids because Jesus loves them too.

Mission in this context is quite nuanced and contextual, so please pray that we will all have wisdom in our approach, and especially that we won't turn them off through any inadvertent (or deliberate) mistakes.

It's very encouraging, and great fun, to see so many of last year's team of native speakers return. There are about 14 of us here this year, of whom only 5 are new. Unfortunately I am the only British team member in a sea of Americans which brings its own cultural challenges...

Today is an orientation day before we leave for the hills tomorrow. Week 1 is for 7-9s ; week 2 is 13-19s; week 3 (for which I'm not here) is 10-12s. Please pray also for energy and enthusiasm to be maintained throughout the time we're in Poland. Pray also for the Polish staff who have the responsibility of running the camp, and for Rebecca who co-ordinates us as a team of native speakers. We're enormously grateful to God for his provision this year: 176 kids are coming to camp! In a country like Poland that is a huge blessing and one that we definitely don't take for granted.

I should be able to get online fairly frequently during the camps so I will try to give updates on how they're going. For now: peace out.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Battling bureaucracy


On Tuesday evening I'll jump on the Piccadilly Line, and after a few changes of train will end up in Asian Russia. What can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time... before I learnt about the mountain of faff that needs to be climbed in order to make this journey. Seven trains, each of which I've purchased a separate ticket for. Seven countries, most of which are now in the Schengen zone meaning I don't have to show my passport. The other two - Belarus and Russia - deserve to be shown up for the one-eyed bureaucratic monsters that they are.

I've nothing against buying a visa to enter a country; it so happens that I've never needed to until this year. Russia's system is fairly bizarre: receive an invitation from a Russian organisation, fill in an electronic form on the embassy's website which you then print out, go and queue outside in the rain for an hour and a half, hand over £45, and a week later you have a shiny visa in your passport.

Belarus requires a very similar process. Have a read of their form and feel your life draining away. It's two full pages long and requires a photo, work and home addresses, purpose of visit, information on all previous visits to Belarus, blood type and inside leg measurement. All that, and all I'm doing is sitting on a train for 8 hours passing through the country. At night. Not exactly a borderless society - and at £79 for the "express service" an unmitigated rip-off.

I hate faff.

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Friday, May 23, 2008


After locking my bike to a lamppost outside 99 Harley Street, I rang the big brass bell and was immediately let in to the clinic. The receptionist asked me to fill in a health questionnaire while I waited for the doctor and ushered me in to the "waiting room", which wouldn't look out of place in the Times Luxx magazine. Rather than a tatty copy of Hello magazine or yesterday's London Lite, she gave me an artwork catalogue to lean on while I completed the questionnaire.

Where are you travelling to?

How long will you be there?
3 weeks
2 weeks

What is the purpose of your trip?
Teaching English
Discipleship and evangelism

What type of travel is it?

The doctor's office was suitably impressive, and she made a few notes while talking about my trip. And then gave me the first of two TicoVac injections to vaccinate me against tick-borne encephalitis, a disease that is as dangerous as it is hard to say. In southern Russia it's all the rage apparently.

The best part about all of this? For some reason this clinic offers the cheapest TBE vaccinations in London - 30% cheaper than my local clinic in Holloway, which has letters hanging off its sign and safety-glass windows. Unless I need botox treatment it's doubtful I'll be back in Harley Street after the second shot of vaccine in 4 weeks, but in mission one has to learn to take the rough with the smooth...

Saturday, May 03, 2008

I backed Boris

Ken out; Boris in. As predicted by YouGov, backed by the Evening Standard (who were pretty ruthless towards Ken) and voted for by 1.1 million Londoners - including me.

What were we thinking? Isn't Boris just a gaffe-prone buffoon with a line in funny TV appearances? The BBC has an interesting bio this morning, and includes this quote from a friend of Boris's:

"The bumbling quiz-show host isn't the real Boris at all. I suspect he's tired of that clownish persona and wants to show us the real Boris - orator, leader, heavyweight thinker. Those qualities are there in his personality; they just don't come across on telly" - journalist friend Lloyd Evans

It is of course true that Boris might mess up. Given that he's a human being it's inevitable; and as a politician the halcyon glow will not last more than a few months. It does feel good to have backed the winning man in an election, and I look forward to London's success being built on the three core values of economic freedom, justice and comedy for all. Go on Boris!

Boris wins!

Boris Johnson is the Mayor of London.

Let me come back to this in the morning...

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Great news

Bring on the house price crash I say. The average house price in London is £350,000 (11 times the average London salary). Just think: in 3 years or so, I might even be able to get on the housing ladder!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Album review: Come Weary Saints

Sovereign Grace Music have released their latest album, Come Weary Saints. If you're a Christian who never struggles with trusting God in difficult circumstances or develops your deepest knowledge of God through your prosperous sunshine-and-lollipops life, then (a) this album isn't for you; (b) go and read the Bible some more.

For the rest of us, this is a very welcome addition to the pantheon of worship music available to the church. With some notable exceptions (such as "Jesus, draw me ever nearer" by Keith & Kristyn Getty) most of the new music being written and sung is appealing to the concept that joyful = happy, which is of course only true when you're happy.

The album has some cracking songs on it, from the beautiful opening track "Hide Away in the Love of Jesus" to the retuned and chorused "Oh the Deep, Deep Love" to the haunting "Every Day".

I'm sure this album will be flying up my iTunes' "most played" list from now on. It's one to listen to when things are going well; and when your nine MSc exams are coming up in little over a week and your revision feels turgid and purposeless.

Ahem. The best thing is you can download it right now for only $9 (£4.50!) from the Sovereign Grace Music store. Get it now!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Digesting the Word (Alive)

It was a real blessing to go to Wales with 4000 others - including 2000 students - to attend the first New Word Alive conference: a conference founded on the truth of penal substitution at the Cross and distancing itself from previous colleagues at Spring Harvest.

It was apparent while we were there that the effect of the "schism" has been a lot greater than simply tightening the theological drawbridge of evangelicalism. You've probably seen the Political Compass, which plots people according to their economic and authoritarian views. It would be possible to do a similar exercise in the church, with Christians plotted according to their theological views and "stylistic" modernity. Spring Harvest's target audience was drawn from across the theological spectrum but from only one end of the style axis; New Word Alive has re-oriented the audience completely by founding itself on doctrine: it accepts people from all over the Church in terms of style, but only those who accept the truth of penal substitution.

The broad church of style was demonstrated by having Soul Survivor along to lead worship in the student celebrations. They did a rocking job, as did Stuart Townend, Phatfish and the Gettys in the other meetings. So it was very accessible, and helpful in demonstrating different ways of doing church which still focus on Jesus.

The highlight for me was definitely hearing John Piper speak on "Treasuring Christ and the Call to Suffer" over 2 nights. We are to value Christ infinitely and not simply to see him as 'useful' to get us into heaven. Using Romans 8, Piper demonstrated that everyone God called, he justified, and everyone he justified, he will glorify; and that everyone who will be glorified will suffer first. So the question is not "will I suffer?" but "how will I respond to suffering"?

I was given an early opportunity to respond to suffering when I had to spend 17 hours in bed with a stomach virus at the end of the conference. Somehow I doubt that's all God has in store for my future, but tomorrow has enough worries of its own.

John Piper's talks are available to download from the Desiring God website: Part 1 Part 2
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Monday, April 07, 2008

Under the weather


It was rather weird to wake up yesterday morning to see 3 inches of snow on the ground! Last April we were basking in 25ºC sunshine, today it's closer to 25ºF.

It doesn't bode too well for the next week at Word Alive in west Wales, hardly a region famed for its good weather... but quite frankly with DAC Attack, John Piper and Terry Virgo teaching the Word it doesn't really matter. Keith/Kristyn Getty and the Soul Survivor band ought to take care of the music as well I would think.

Edit: looks like I'm right about the weather. Check the forecast!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Reflections on Israel

For about 15 minutes on Tuesday afternoon I wondered whether we'd make it back home at all. Stu and I stood a few metres apart, each being interviewed questioned interrogated by a shaven EL AL security agent who seemed to consider us very much guilty until proven innocent. Where did you stay? How did you get there? What did you do? Do you have a guidebook? Show me where you went in Bethlehem. Did you talk to anyone in Bethlehem? When did you buy the guidebook? But you only booked the flights 3 weeks ago. How are you paying for this trip? Why did you decide to come to Israel? How do you know each other? What does your brother do? Do you know anyone who's been to Israel? What are their names?

After 20 minutes of that, 10 minutes of bag-swabbing and then the check-in queue, we were good and ready to come home.

As the last post may have made clear, Israel is an extraordinary country. If it weren't for the fact that they get attacked quite regularly, the security they - or the Americans, $3bn a year - pay for would be paranoid and ridiculous. You can't enter a bar, shopping centre, museum or bus station without having your bag searched or x-rayed and walking through an x-ray machine. Everyone who does these searches is packing heat - in fact, we saw a young man out for a date with his girlfriend with one arm round her and one round his M16!

Graffiti at Bethlehem
The Palestinians have it rather different, of course. Faced with an 8m high wall through their territory, economic sanctions, limited power and water and even airstrikes, it's perhaps not surprising that they feel aggrieved. In saying this I'm not by any means justifying the jihad posters we saw in Bethlehem. After 6 days I'd hardly consider myself an expert on the Israel-Palestine conflict, but it seems to me that the answer lies in reconciliation, not retribution. Who was that guy who said he was the Prince of Peace...?

Anyway, back to the travelogue. Photos from the trip are here and here.

In the pools at En Gedi
At 6:30 on Easter Day, we joined thousands of other believers at the Garden Tomb to celebrate Jesus' resurrection. That is going to be hard to top until the Second Coming! By 9:00 we'd hired a car for two days and had hit the road to Galilee. We wandered around Capernaum, ate broiled fish in Tiberias, watched the sunset from Mt Tabor and had a drink on Mt Carmel (now part of Haifa). That was one long day, but the next was slightly shorter: hiking around and swimming in the pools of En Gedi, floating in the Dead Sea, and wandering around Herod's fortress at Masada.

On Tuesday we had just enough time to get the bus to Tel Aviv, find the beach and swim in the Mediterranean for an hour or so, before heading to the airport for the ordeal described above.

This has been one of the most interesting trips I've ever taken. Quite apart from the awesome experience of seeing the places where Jesus walked and the Bible was written, experiencing a culture that is a mixture of the Middle East, Western Europe, the USA and the Second Temple Period was a blast. Thankfully not literally.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Holy Land


Who'd have thought that all those Bible stories actually happened? More than that, who'd have imagined that 2000+ years later, Jerusalem is still here, alive and kicking? Stu and I are living it up over here.

On Thursday we visited the Temple - or what's left of it - and saw Jews with phylacteries praying against the Western Wall. Apparently the Shechina glory never left the place, so it's still "a house of prayer for all the nations". Appropriately, there are still people buying and selling souvenirs in the courtyard as well. We went to Caiaphas' house, where Jesus would have been held on the Thursday night; and where Peter and John would have been imprisoned in Acts 4. On Good Friday we walked the Via Dolorosa up to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Golgotha could have been. We walked across the Kidron Valley to Gethsemane, and climbed the Mount of Olives. And we hopped on a bus to Bethlehem to check out the oldest church in the world. Today we saw the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Israel Museum, which include a complete copy of Isaiah from 100AD. Tomorrow morning we'll be at the Garden Tomb at sunrise to celebrate the resurrection. Wow!

There's more to Israel than history of course. Among the more notable cultural sights, we had a Palestinian boy throw stones at us in East Jerusalem, we almost got shot crossing back from the West Bank to Israel (something that 2m Palestinians aren't allowed to do) and had Orthodox Jews rebuke us for carrying a bag on the Sabbath. (They were walking up the street, but never mind.) And who could forget the Palestinian man on the bus back to Jerusalem who was screaming with pain the whole journey - so much so the bus driver took him straight to hospital.

We've had some great chats as well. A Russian Jew called Sergei who's in the army (everyone is, for 3 years) as a bomb disposal expert told us he had to be ready - with his M16 - every second of the day for an attack. A Palestinian boy in Bethlehem called Ahmed who has to sell postcards to tourists to support his family, while also going to school. Not to mention our friend Nathaniel from All Souls who we ran into twice on Friday - once on the Via Dolorosa and once in a restaurant at night.

I think I've forgotten more than I've put down. The internet access here is too expensive and slow to write more or upload photos so more to come later... meanwhile we hope to rent a car tomorrow and Monday to go to Galilee, the Mount of Transfiguration etc. and down to the Dead Sea. Sweet!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

You can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs

Following the "Double Delia" recipe, we made 3 omelettes from the following ingredients:

6 medium potatoes
2 large onions
2 peppers
8 rashers of bacon
1 block of cheddar cheese
1 small chilli
15 eggs

I don't even like eggs, but in the company of such co-ingredients it was a meal to remember.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Holy sites

2008's travel season is set to begin in 2 weeks when a friend, a flatmate and I fly off to Israel for 6 days over Easter! It should be an incredible trip, and I even took the radical step of buying a guidebook to help us. As I read it last night it struck me how bizarre some of the recommendations are.

For Jews, the Western wall (which was part of the foundations of Herod's temple) is a holy site: they started praying there after AD70 because they were afraid of accidentally stepping on the site of the Holy of Holies. Fair enough.

But why is there a long list of sites in Jerusalem and elsewhere, each of which is a "holy place for Christians"? Is that not missing the point ever so slightly...?

1 Peter 2:
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:
"See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
"The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone,"
"A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall."
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Christians are the holiest sites in Christianity. And that's because we have God's Holy Spirit living inside us, not because we go on a pilgrimage to the "Holy Land" (ahem).

Friday, February 22, 2008

Peace talk

I've been thrown in at the deep end and am giving my first ever talk on Sunday morning... at All Souls. Thankfully I'm only speaking for 5 minutes rather than 30 but it's a daunting challenge preparing to speak God's word. The passage I've been given is Romans 5:1-11, which begins "since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Great passage. Hopefully I can do it some sort of justice:

• Everyone’s looking for peace, humans are designed for it and struggle without it
• Peace with family, friends, between nations
True peace
• Our greatest need is peace with God
• Because we’re sinful, we’re under his wrath (Ephesians 2:3)
• We can only be at peace if God turns away his wrath from us – v9
Peace with God through Jesus’ death
• Jesus’ death demonstrated God’s great love for us, v8
• Jesus’ death achieved reconciliation for us, v10
• “Therefore since we have been justified… peace with God”, v1
Peace of God through Jesus’ life
• Inner peace and a certain hope for our future, we’re his children
• God loves you and has forgiven you, no matter what you’ve done
• He will upset your plans and your life to change you for good
Rejoicing always
• v3, we rejoice in our sufferings etc.
• We should always be joyful (Philippians 4:4)
• Joyful doesn’t always mean happy
• If God is blessing you, then rejoice
• Perseverance produces Christ-like character, so rejoice in sufferings
Future hope
• v10, how much more shall we be saved!
• More than peace with God because of Jesus’ death, we have peace about our future because of Jesus’ resurrection
• God raised Jesus in glory and power and he’s waiting for us as his people
• God loves us very dearly
• We have peace with God and the peace of God
• We have a certain future

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

On being evangelised

The global Christian missionary movement has begun to turn on its head in the last 20 years. Whereas Britain was the first modern missionary nation (thanks to the 18th century revival, the vision of William Carey et al., and of course our cultural hegemony), we now send many fewer missionaries abroad than some other countries.

This is, I must remember, a Good Thing. The more international mission-sending becomes, the more mission reflects the church, especially her final reality - when we will be gathered from every tribe, language and nation.

The shift also means that the West's missions have been successful, to an extent. Nigeria has the world's largest Christian student community, from a much smaller university population. There are 50 times more Christians in China than in the UK. Of the five countries with the most Christians, none are in Europe - I believe they are China, the USA, Brazil, Nigeria and Korea.

Today, despite the fact that our nation is leading the charge towards post-Christian society where the mass religion is atheism, my national/cultural/religious pride is challenged when, for example, a group of Canadian students spend $thousands and fly across the ocean to help student evangelism here. What's wrong with the CUs' mission weeks? Can we possibly have anything to learn from foreigners!?

The answer is clearly YES. Thanks for your dedication to mission. Thanks for coming over here. Please keep praying for our nation and your own.

Monday, February 18, 2008


I bought a new world map for my room on Saturday. 48 hours later, Kosovo has finally declared independence, after 9 years of UN administration. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for them and all... but I wonder how long I can hold out before replacing my map!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Internet addiction

UCL computer rooms

Not having an internet connection at home yet makes for one less distraction while I'm there. "Great", I thought. "I'll spend less time online!" I'm coming into university most days to use the internet for an hour or two, which is hardly skimping. Using a public computer also means I can't watch videos, play games... or look at 'unhelpful' websites.

Clearly the internet is a useful medium: it's where I get most of my news, and it's great for keeping in contact with people - especially those I can't easily see or speak to. There are also great resources for Christians on the web that should be promoted, like the new Theology Network (great wallpaper!).

Other sites exist to alleviate boredom. The vacuosity of Facebook really becomes obvious when you log on for the first time in 3 days and see that nothing remotely important has happened.

The truth is that I spend an unhealthy amount of time online, flicking from one site or forum to the next, always with an eye on my inbox: I've turned it from a tool into an idol. Even this blog (not that I spend vast amounts of time writing for it!) has probably outlived its usefulness by about 18 months. I won't be deleting it but perhaps I need to spend more time with real people and be deliberate about spending time online for a defined purpose.

Time to go home and read a book. Or, more likely, play on the Wii!

Friday, February 01, 2008


It's been a pretty busy week what with moving across London and making our "furnished flat" into somewhere to live... highlights include:
  • spending £400 at IKEA with the inevitable flurry of flat-pack construction that follows
  • hassling our new landlord to replace beds that are just a pile of springs inside a cover
  • persuading BT that we do indeed have a phone line (which we're calling them on) and no, we don't want to pay £125 to "activate" it.
Nevertheless, there's light at the end of the tunnel! The TV/Wii combo is set up, and once we get Sky installed it'll be le bachelor pad par excellence.

I changed the name of the blog (again) in honour of its new location.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Plus ça change

As of tomorrow I will be an Englishman in N7, living with two other English guys from All Souls and setting up an awesome flat: the TV's been ordered, the hi-fi is ready to go, the living room is big enough to have people round and we're 5 minutes from the Tube. I'm pretty excited! Should probably start packing at some point today...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A reading chronicle

I started reading the Bible straight through on December 1, and as of today have read 353 chapters, 30% of the total, at a mean rate of 6.7 chapters per day (yes, I made a spreadsheet to keep track of my Bible reading). I'm finding it a very helpful exercise, for several reasons:
  • By reading from start to finish, the overarching narrative of the Bible is more clear - God is good and glorious and always accomplishes His will; humans' obedience is fleeting at best; there is a real groaning for ultimate salvation that doesn't depend on human achievements.
  • There are still portions of Scripture I know I've never read, and probably lots more I've missed - reading the whole Bible means that I know I will have read all of God's word at least once (is this legalistic?).
  • Keeping up a good pace means that I don't get bogged down - obviously this means I'm not doing in-depth study, but for a temporary period it seems to work.
If you do the addition you'll see that I'm currently in 1 Chronicles. To be honest, I've struggled to see the purpose of this book and its sequel. Having read through the Books of Moses and the history of Israel from Johsua to Zedekiah it seems incredible that there should be two books of mostly repetition, especially given the cost of publishing in the Iron Age.

A reliable commentary says that Chronicles was probably written by the same man who wrote Ezra and Nehemiah, aptly known as "the Chronicler". Obviously they date from later than Samuel & Kings, because the historical narrative goes further. If he wrote Chronicles at the end of the exile, there would have been much wooping and cheering by the rivers of Babylon as the remnant returned home. This must be the explanation for the TEN CHAPTERS of genealogy at the start of the book... they really knew how to have fun back then eh!

(Yes, genealogy for the Jews was crucial to their culture, history, politics, religion, geography, anthropology and faith. In all honesty though it's not the most inspiring portion of the Bible.)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

False economy

Two of my flatmates are on a trip to Brussels this weekend. Unfortunately they didn't ask me (or anyone) what would be the best way of travelling there, which meant they left the flat at 3am today to catch a taxi to Baker St, where they'd take a bus to "London" Stansted Airport, over an hour away. After getting there, standing in the security queue and eventually catching a flight of less than an hour, they will have arrived at "Brussels" Charleroi Airport, which is just as far from Brussels as Stansted is from London. Check the map below to see what I mean.

The alternative? Take the Tube to St Pancras station, arrive 30 minutes before the Eurostar's scheduled departure, grab a coffee and enjoy the scenery on the journey, which takes less than 2h and gets you to central Brussels. Once you take into account all the buses, I bet it would work out cheaper as well. Oops!

As of next week, I'll be living literally 10 minutes from St Pancras (and with new flatmates), which will make decisions like this even more of a no-brainer.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Eyewitness accounts

The crash landing at Heathrow airport today was a field day for journalists. BBC News 24 cleared its schedules for over 2 hours to talk about the incident; and the event was even sweeter for them because (a) nobody was killed, so there are no awkward arguments about morbid intrusion, (b) it emerged that British grit and stiff-upper-lip prevailed and resulted in the efficient evacuation of the plane.

What I thought was most interesting was the selection of eyewitness accounts that emerged. Some passengers phoned up the BBC, others were interviewed later, and a page of their descriptions is on the BBC website, here. There is considerable variation in the reports: some say the plane landed on the tarmac, others that it swerved 90 degrees, some that the pilot was clearly struggling, others that it all happened suddenly. Yet despite this variation, the storyline is clear. Everyone is agreed that a plane made a crash landing on Runway 27L at Heathrow and that nobody was seriously hurt. The different angles actually add to the story, especially those inside and outside the plane.

It is reminiscent of another set of eyewitness accounts about a surprising and unexpected event in history, isn't it?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The power of the atom

The UK government has given the "go-ahead" for a new generation of nuclear power plants in Britain. Given that our electricity currently comes from a mix of North Sea oil/gas, oil/gas from Russia and the Middle East, and a number of hamsters running around in wheels connected to 9V batteries, the decision is a good one.

It's especially important given that the North Sea oil is about 95% used up and all of our current nuclear plants will have to shut over the next 30 years. Until nuclear fusion is developed to more than an option in Sim City, we're going to need a reliable, cheap and low-carbon option for a lot of our power. Wind and solar power are fine for micro-generation and supplements, but what happens when it's cloudy and raining? (It does happen occasionally.) Tidal power has potential - and it's certainly reliable - but only for 10% of our power at the most. Or we could reopen the coal mines and get burning, but that's not exactly the most sustainable choice.

You might have noted the inverted commas around "go-ahead" above. The government is excellent at "approving" major projects (Crossrail springs to mind) but doesn't have such a glowing record at actually getting stuff built. The government paper can be downloaded here. Let's hope we see some nuclear power plants online before the brownouts begin.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Vote Boris

Back Boris for a Greater London

Ken Livingstone has done a good job as London mayor - but Boris Johnson will do a much better job. In a traditional political ranking (appearances on Have I Got News For You), Boris beats Ken 7-0. What a result!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Catching up

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

I had my Google account hijacked in mid-December which meant I couldn't access Gmail, Blogger or indeed any of the things I'd just written about. Not sure if that was irony or just providence; but in any case Google gave me back the keys this morning. Normal service has been resumed... ie. a post every two weeks or something equally lame.