Have had a wonderful and relaxing end to an amazing Sabbatical. I arrived in Hungary on Wednesday (22nd June). Met by Pastor Zoltan who has very kindly hosted me for the final few days of my trip.
Hungary is a beautiful country of wonderful historic sites and outstanding natural beauty. But once again it was the people I met who made it so memorable.
Zoltan & Eva were wonderful hosts and we shared many long conversations about ministry and mission.
I shared some of the stories of people I’d met through my sabbatical. He was deeply interested and moved by the persecution people faced and their unwavering commitment to the gospel.
He asked me to share some of the stories at two of the churches he leads on Sunday.
This is the church and village which John & Anita Barnes are from and it was by their arrangement that I was able to go. John came out to spend the final weekend with me and showed me the sites of Szekszard & Budapest, including his favourite Vintner and the beautiful Spa Baths in Budapest. It’s been a lovely ending to a remarkable Sabbatical.
Back home now for a few days readjustment before starting Parish work again on Sunday!
I have had a wonderful week in Poland as a guest of Piotr & Christina Zaremba.
Their story is remarkable. Growing up in communist Poland, evangelical Christianity was illegal, as was owning and selling Bibles. Piotr’s grandfather and father were Bible smugglers and used to transport Bibles through Poland to Russia and other communist countries. An old Volvo (which Piotr was having lovingly restored) had been in the family for 34 years and had been used for smuggling Bibles for much of its life. Piotr’s father also used to befriend Russian air force pilots and do a little black market business with them for boots and food… whilst doing this he persuaded some of them to take Russian Bibles back to Russia in their Mig Jet Fighters.
Partly because of this and partly because of his theology professor at college who persuaded Piotr that the source languages were the best for Bible Study, Piotr devoted himself to learning Greek and Hebrew at University. There was no modern translation of the Bible into Polish, so Piotr decided that he would do one. He thought he’d get some help along the way, but none emerged, so for the past 16 years Piotr has translated the whole Bible himself from original languages into modern Polish.
However, for Piotr, it wasn’t just about translating the books of the Bible, but he was passionate about meeting Jesus through the Bible, and he had the heart of an evangelist and pastor. So, during these 16 years he did street evangelism and ministry in Poznan and planted 5 churches (one of which now has over 1000 members). The current church he regularly pastors started 10 years ago and is an international church which now has 300+ members. It meets in a theatre which they rent each week and it was wonderful to be part of for their Sunday worship.
Piotr is extremely disciplined, structured and ordered. But there is a ‘certain something’ (his words, aka Holy Spirit) a person finds in relationship with God, which really excites him, which is unpredictable and unstructured and it’s this which fires his work and ministry. He is constantly hungry for more of God, and somewhat dissatisfied with things as they are because he wants a greater awareness of God in his own life and for others. There is a bright twinkle in his eye. This made a deep impression on me. For most of us ministers we’d be more than happy to have a church of 300+ to pastor. For Piotr, who has planted 5 churches and single handedly translated the whole Bible, he is hungry for more of God.
It was a joy to share a little at their Sunday service and to meet some of the other ‘guests’ in the church that day.
Aaron is a young American missionary who is working with some of the thousands of refugees from Syria in Germany. He’d come to visit his friend, who worked at Piotr’s church, and he shared a little about his work during the service. They minister amongst the refugees (in a temporary village of 2000+ refugees). They are predominantly Muslims, so, as missionaries, their approach is to share the stories about Isa (Jesus). They have done this by teaching gospel stories and parables from the Bible and asking people to consider 2-3 questions in the light of each Bible story. This has resulted in many becoming Christians and then in turn they share their new found love for Jesus with others. The message of the gospel is now spreading throughout the refugees without western missionary input and purely by the witness of converts. There are hundreds turning to Jesus.
For me, it was a lovely week. Not so much bush ministry as in previous weeks, but a chance to reflect on what God has been teaching me through the people I’ve met on this remarkable sabbatical.
My final week with Ken has been in the wonderful country of Ukraine. Quite a cultural contrast from the Far East & Nepal! Historically rich in Orthodox Christianity but greatly affected by years of communist power. Now, with more freedom, the non-denominational church is growing rapidly and it has been wonderful to spend the week here in a number of different churches and Bible schools.
We’ve been hosted by Serge and his family and their lovely church. Serge was a professional drummer and musician and was converted later in life. He said that as he started to listen to the worship in church the music, and musicians, were awful… but … something amazing happened when the people worshipped – the presence of God was felt. And he loved it!
He really didn’t want to become a pastor, but God called him to plant a church in Bolhrad (about an hour north of Izmir). The testimonies of the people who have come to faith are wonderful and humbling.
Daytimes were spent teaching at a daily Bible School which Serge had set up for his own church and other local churches. Then after sharing a lovely meal in the home of a church member we taught in an evening meeting in one of the churches in Izmir. There is a real hunger for God and His word here and it’s been a privilege to hear people’s stories.
Most people we met are not well off. This is a poor region of Ukraine.
We’ve met some amazing people and heard some beautiful stories. None of this would have been possible for us without the amazing Svetna, our wonderful translator, stood next to Ken in the picture below.
Her own story is an incredible testimony to God’s grace. She was saved out of a life of utter spiritual rebellion against Jesus (which is a whole other story). As a university student she gave her life to Jesus and was baptised. When she came home to tell her parents, her father was furious! A committed communist and atheist (and alcoholic) he was utterly opposed to her decision and insisted that she renounce her faith. She wouldn’t, and at times her life was literally in danger at home.
An agreement with her Father was made that she wouldn’t attend a church until her studies were finished (he hoped she’d forget about it all by then). So she agreed. As soon as she left university she found a church and got involved.
By God’s grace her Father has recently had a miraculous conversion. He now loves the Lord Jesus, is completely sober and his wife, who was also utterly opposed to Christianity, has given her life to the Lord. We had a great time with them all!
Every lunch and evening meal we were invited into the homes of Church family members where they served us the most lovely food and made us so very welcome by their hospitality and love.
Their stories were always so moving and humbling. Every story was unique and too many to tell.
One family that made a big impact on both Ken and me was the family in the picture below. Their story is one of sadness and joy intermingled with deep faith and love for Jesus and people.
It was Oxana’s 40th birthday on the day we went for lunch. Her face just beamed with the love of God and her warmth and love was infectious.
She was a very talented child with a real gift for music. But her whole life changed when she was 8 years old and went to have a vaccination. The equipment was not properly sterilized and she contracted hepatitis from the vaccination. This went to her brain very rapidly and she has suffered with Cerebral Palsy ever since. She’s been learning English recently and so she was able to tell us in her own words that it’s ‘only been by the love and presence of Jesus that she hasn’t descended into depression and has been able to keep going’.
Sadly, her father, has recently had a stroke and was severely affected. He lay on the sofa in a different room watching TV and unable move well or join us.
Valla, Oxana’s mum, has brought her up and cared for her. About 10 years ago Valla started to get ill herself. She became paralysed in her legs and was hospitalised for 4 months. The doctors couldn’t locate a cause for the paralysis.
Valla was in despair. Who would look after her daughter if she wasn’t able to? She wasn’t a Christian and knew nothing about Christianity, but in desparation she prayed and cried out to God one night. As she fell asleep she had a dream – it was full of imagery that she later found out was from the Bible. But in the dream she was assured that she would be okay and she would be able to care for her daughter.
When she awoke she began to get some feeling back in her legs. Little by little over the days that followed she got more feeling back into her legs until one day she got up and was able to walk for the first time in months. The doctors couldn’t believe it – and wouldn’t believe that she was really better and told her to stay in bed.
She knew she was getting better and in the end called a friend to come and help her get discharged. She went home to look after Oxana, and made a complete recovery. Still not a Christian at this point she and Oxana were invited one day to hear a visiting evangelist. They knew very little about Christianity but went and at that meeting gave their lives to Jesus.
Life is still very hard. But the love of Jesus shone from Valla and Oxana. It was a real privilege to spend some time with them.
It has been an inspirational week in Ukraine and tomorrow I fly to Poland as Ken flies to Moldova.
Have been having a great week in Malaysia. Catching up with old friends and making some new ones too!
We are staying with Alan & Lai Forng Tan. Their church, Klang Harvest Assembly, which started 20 years ago with 60 people is just about 800 people strong now. It’s exciting to see the ministry and the work going on there.
I also got to catch up with a small group of business men whom I met last time for a lunchtime meeting of the Full Gospel Business men’s fellowship at their offices.
There was a visitor to the group who wanted to take me out after lunch and chat to me. He was particularly interested in the fact we’d been to Cambodia and wanted to talk more. His story is fascinating!
His name is Joshua Lee. After a strong Christian upbringing in the Brethren Assemblies in Malaysia he went in to Bank management and quickly rose to be a senior bank manager and extremely successful. He said that he became very wealthy and worked long hours. But his faith suffered for it. He took less and less interest in God or Church.
When he was about 48 God challenged him and ‘called him’ to leave his job as a bank manager and become a missionary to the poor.
The call was so strong he obeyed and left his job, with no clear missionary work to go in to. His friends and colleagues (and family) thought he was crazy. His church suggested he train and become their pastor to begin with. He started down this line but knew it wasn’t for him – he’d been called to be a missionary to the poor. Eventually God led him by a series of meetings with people to some remote villages in Eastern Cambodia about 10 years ago. These were fairly similar to the villages I’d visited in the North West of Cambodia. No electricity or running water and very basic accommodation. He took food and medical aid into these small villages and people with the specialist skills to help the villagers dig their own wells and develop small businesses. He would plant a small church and then move on to do the same thing, by local invitation, in the next village. He’s been doing this for 10 years, and each time he returns to Malaysia God takes him back to look after the churches in the small villages and then on to a different part of Cambodia to do more work.
He is a remarkable man. Supported by individuals and his local church he’s faithfully taken physical, spiritual and social aid into these remote villages for many years. He’s also spent a number of months going in to the ‘Golden Triangle‘ in Burma, one of the most dangerous places on earth, with the gospel.
He’d come to the meeting on the spur of the moment and found the content of the message that day was especially relevant and gave specific answers to his prayers about the timing and content of his next mission trip.
We had a great couple of hours together and I hope we can stay in touch because I’d love to follow his fascinating ministry. But, keeping ‘tabs’ on him might be quite a challenge!
The same evening I went to a ‘Cell Group’ in a local home. All the groups meet on Friday evenings. They have a meal together and then share testimony, sing and bible study together. The evening started at 7pm. We got home at 11.45pm – and we were the first to leave!
Today (Sunday) I had the great pleasure of going back to ‘Alpha Colours’ Church which I’ve been to the last two times we’ve been to Malaysia over the previous 5 years. So it was great to catch up with people and see how this small, young, church has developed. Virtually everyone was under 35 (bar me and one or two others) and full of energy and love for the Lord. We had a great morning and lunch together. I look forward to catching up with them again in a few years time, God willing, when they will hopefully have moved in to bigger premises to house their growing congregation.
On Friday we flew to Singapore from Thailand. The contrast with where we have been for the past 4 weeks is quite striking. Singapore is one of the most expensive places in the world to live. For example to own a simple car you need to buy a license which at present costs £25, 000 for a 10 year license, after which you have to renew the license and apply to have the car renewed – they may refuse to do this if it’s too old. Cars themselves are ridiculously expensive starting at £30, 000 for a second hand small car and going up to 100s of £1000s for a luxury car.
The shopping mall below has a venetian style canal running through it complete with gondolas you can ride on. All a bit different to Cambodia and Thailand.
We were guests of the lovely Ruth & Anthony Phua and their son Joel (Pictured below giving Ken a hug). Anthony is a bible teacher and Ruth is the senior pastor of a local church where Ken spoke at the weekend. Their niece, Grace, is also staying with them.
I was speaking at a local church which met in an office block on the 9th floor. A small room, perhaps 25′ square which crammed in about 30 people and a full band and sound system – I like loud worship but my bones were rattling during this session!
A lovely treat was to meet up with Enid McFall’s daughter and son-in law Julie & Jon Hall. They recently moved out to Singapore with Jonny’s job and it was lovely to visit them and see where they live.
It was a short but lively visit to Singapore and we flew to Malaysia yesterday (Wednesday 18th May) to begin a week of ministry and catching up with old friends here before going on to Nepal!
On Saturday (7th May) we drove down to Manorom, a town about 3 hours south of Bangkok. We were staying at an old OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship) hospital that had been established about 60 years ago to treat Leprosy in the local area. Their work was successful and over the years Leprosy was been completely eradicated from the area.
So, OMF sold the site to the local Christian Community. In more recent years it has been used as a general clinic for local residents and an International Christian School. This is where we were based and working for the week.
On the Sunday Ken & I preached at the local church. In honour of our friends in Cambodia we wore the shirts they had given us when we left. It turned out to be a smart move as the senior pastor at the church wore a similar design!
It was quite a significant service for one young couple who were in church that day. Ken’s sermon really spoke to them and it was a turning point in their ministry. They had been asked to think about doing missionary work in Northern Thailand but were very unsure about it. The Lord spoke to them during that meeting and Mareeya (from Thailand) and Joshua (from Guildford), on the left in the picture below, will be heading North this week to explore ministry in a remote village, with an American missionary couple.
Our week at the school was a busy mixture of teaching English to various groups of students of all ages, and doing some teaching ministry in the evenings for the staff of the school.
We also got to meet some of the local wildlife!
For two days we were asked to be the main teachers at an ‘English Camp’ for local Thai schoolchildren from the nearby Buddhist School. This was a great opportunity for the school and tremendous fun. The 125 children (16-18) were really motivated and interested in what we we did with them – even if half the time they looked at us blankly when we were trying to explain things. It turned out to be our accents rather than the words which caused confusion. When the Thai teachers said exactly the same words in English they understood immediately!
It was hard work for the two days. Teaching started at 8am and finished at 4pm with a lunch in the middle of the day. Temperatures were high – 45 oC (114 oF) and we were glad there was a sort of air conditioning that cooled things down a bit!
After the English Camp we went on to teach evening classes. The girl on the left below wants to be an air hostess when she grows up so she’s learning English… but apparently she’s too short at the moment so needs to grow up in more ways than age…
This brought to an end our two weeks of very varied and interesting ministry in Thailand. So much to think through and ponder. Lots happening here, but lots still to do. Not least the work with the refugees.
We flew to Singapore yesterday (which is where I’m writing from) and look forward to a week here before going on to Malaysia next Thursday.
It’s been a really interesting week. One of real contrasts.
On Tuesday we took a trip into the centre of Bangkok to visit the main Anglican Church, Christchurch, that’s been there for over 100yrs.
Their ministry has changed a lot in recent years. From a work mainly focussed on ex-pats from Europe and the Americas it’s turned to refugee ministry (see below) both locally and further afield in recent years. On the borders of Myanmar (Burma) are the Karen refugees and the church does a lot to support the work there.
The vicar Tim, and his wife Julie do a lot of ministry there where the church is growing very rapidly with converts from Buddhism. Julie also does a lot of work with the infamous ‘Street Girls’ in Bangkok just down the road from their church.
Tim is very keen for some clergy help. If there are any clergy reading this who would like to come and work in Bangkok for a year – flights paid – accommodation sorted etc. then please let me know!
Whilst at Christchurch we met another Pakistani Christian brother who was a refugee from Peshawar, Pakistan. Three years ago he was in church for their main, busy service, when a Taliban suicide bomber came into the morning service and blew himself up. Many were killed (85+) including the music and worship group and the clergy. You may remember it in the news.
Christchurch, Bangkok is home to about 20 Pakistani refugees from the church in Peshawar awaiting a safe home.
On Thursday we had a lovely trip to catch up with some old friends from St Chad’s. Some of the Chad’s readers will remember Karl & Sarah, Poppy & Harrison Edwards. They moved to Shanghai with Karl’s job 6 years ago and were then transferred to Bangkok 3 years ago. They were doing wonderfully well and it was great to catch up with them and see them in their home.
They will be staying at least one more year before being moved somewhere else – as yet unknown. It was so lovely to see them and hear their news.
On Friday we went out with Pastor Steve (Junior) to visit his congregation. It is a long story, but his congregation is now predominantly Vietnamese refugees.
As we visited family after family and heard their stories it was very humbling, harrowing and thought provoking. We visited about nine families, some of whom had eight children.
Vietnam is a country where the church is growing very rapidly. Ken & I visited two years ago when we went to speak at a Pastors’ conference in the far south. However, the story is very varied. At the same time we were there two years ago churches across the middle of Vietnam and to the North were being persecuted.
The targets of the persecution were the church leaders and their wider families.
Nearly all the families we visited with Steve were the direct families of church leaders. They come from fairly prosperous areas of Vietnam. They are highly educated and many of the wider families work in very skilled jobs, medical, teaching and engineering. One family’s story gives you a picture. He was an elder in the church, an engineer, and had been responsible for helping construct a beautiful church building which housed about 600 Christians (we saw some photographs). Because the church was growing and attracting many members, he was targeted and arrested by the police. Word got around very quickly and his family and the Pastor’s family and their wider families were told to flee for their lives. They went to the school and took their children straight from the classroom to a boat which was waiting to take them abroad. No time to collect belongings. They fled to Thailand. The husband who was arrested was beaten and tortured and died in prison. The official cause of death was ‘food poisoning’.
The police started to track down wider family members to try and locate the immediate family, so many more of them had to flee to Thailand.
Every family we met now lives in blocks like the one pictured below. Each family in a single room about 90 sq ft. No furniture, no kitchen, basic sanitation. And most of the families have been here 3-4 years awaiting a safe place to go. Many of them still fear for their lives, but they meet regularly with Steve in their house church to pray, worship, support each other, learn English and get basic work to help them live.
The stories of these families will stay with me for a long time. As will my prayers.