Thursday, October 9, 2014

Grave 81 Compartment 37

Monday, 30 September 2013

Grave 81 Compartment 37

My mum died in Spring 2007, aged 94.  We held a cremation service at Sheffield's Hutcliffe Wood.  I got the deeds of the family plot in Hull's Chanterlands Avenue Cemetery transferred to my name.  Then we took the ashes over and held a family memorial service in the chapel there.  I arranged for the wording on the headstone to be updated with my father's and mother's details.  Crown Memorials (Hull) did what they'd promised, and sent me a certificate.  But I'd never made the opportunity to go and inspect the finished product.  It was one of those sometime-I-must-get-round-to-it bucket jobs.  My cousin June keeps the plot tidy.

The sequence of events is interesting by which my mum came to spend her last eight years in Sheffield.  In the late 1990's I was driving over to Hull every other Wednesday to take her out shopping, go to the bank and generally make sure she was okay.  And to share fish and chips at Hessle Foreshore, under the Humber Bridge.  She was living in Lees Houses, a substantial leafy-suburbs charitably-based complex of 120 independent flats.  She'd moved there in 1984, three years after my dad died.   Throughout 1999, workmen were stripping out and replacing the asbestos insulation of the Houses' district heating system (an advanced concept for properties built around 1910).   Mum gave anxious accounts of the workmen having helped themselves to margarine from her fridge or having moved things around in the airing cupboard.  It was the classic confabulation by which we produce a 'why' story when slips of memory leave us unable to provide a consistent thread of explanation for events as we find them. 

Visiting in the September, the Warden took Mary and I to one side.  She explained that they'd found my mother in a state of confused distress trying to put some soiled bedsheets through the washing machine.  "I know she's been making up stories..." I offered.  "No," the Warden was firm. "This is the onset of dementia, and you need to plan for it."  She then summarised the stages of denial, distress and accommodation that form the recognised pattern of progression.

For Mum, it also meant she'd lose her tenancy, as her personal decline would carry her into the need for residential care.  "As it happens, she's spoken of possibly moving to Sheffield, because she can see she's become dependent on us, now," I added.  Within twenty minutes, we had a game plan.  The Warden would get Mum properly medically assessed.  I would arrange to take out Enduring Power of Attorney, and we would look for a place in a Residential Home.  Mum, unaware, complied.

Mum was registered blind, having lost the sight in her right eye aged eight through an accident that caused a detached retina.  These days, it would be routine to sort it out.   She suffered the disability all her life, and a bodged cataract operation nearly cost her the residual vision in her 'good' eye.  Over Xmas 1999 she came to stay.  I arranged for her to visit the Royal Sheffield Society for the Blind's Cairn Home residential unit, just over a mile from us.  On enquiry, Hull's equivalent facility had closed down.  She got on famously.  We agreed to put her name on 'the list', while the staff checked her eligibility as an out-of-towner.  "Mind you," they warned, "She's number 17.  And we've only had four vacancies come up in the last ten years."  No matter, it was progress, and we sensed a lot of grace in the whole sequence of events. 

In March 2000, Cairn Home rang.  "This is a long shot.  A place has come up, and we've been turned down by the the first 12 people on our list.  Would Mum be interested?"  Would she!?  We moved her to Sheffield a month later.  Viv came over from York Uni to help, including, I remember, sliding her large wardrobe out through the first floor window.

"I suppose it would be nice to spend a bit of time together..." I'd mused to Mary in August, "Y'know, before I go to India.  We could go to see the grave, and have fish and chips under the Humber Bridge," I added hopefully.  But the only suitable day was a Saturday, and the Cemetery wouldn't be open.  Then last week, Andrzej tracked me down to where I was trying to read some Jesus Centre stuff in quiet.  "I'm trying to arrange for someone to cover Mary's Help Desk slot tomorrow, so you can get some time together."  "Did you know about this?" I asked her shortly after.  I confess, I don't take kindly to folks organising me into 'quality time' scenarios. 

We left at 10.00am next morning.  It was hazy and overcast, and I predicted it would only get worse nearer the East coast, whereas Mary was sure the sun could just break through at any time.  Once on the M18, Mary asked me what had changed me on the Multiply trip.

In Hull, we threaded our way to the Cemetery through road closures and lane resurfacing .  The detour included Westbourne Avenue's cast iron mermaids that I ran into as a novice driver.  The family grave stands in a prime position near the wrought iron entrance gates.  My grandfather had secured it when he worked as a supervisor for the Council Parks Department.  He lost his right hand in WWI, and had a war pension, too.  Everything looked fine. I spotted one headstone that looked like a cherub on a space hopper.  Mary, observing the silver birches afflicted with fungus, announced that she'd like the one in our back garden taken down, because it blocks out too much light. 

We bought some fish and chips from the shop where I used to go 'as a lad'.  As I expected, from the Foreshore carpark we could barely see to the far bank of the estuary.  When Mary's brother Tony rang, she chirped, "The sun's just about to break through." 

After a walk, we headed home.  I was due to go to a business consultation meeting with with Paul Blomfield, our MP.  I'd read an article in Abu Dhabi about the disproportionate effect on GDP of mega cities and city regions.  "Look at this," I'd explained to Mary, "Six years, and between Hull and Sheffield there's been nothing more than a couple of new sheds (meaning warehouse units) and a new roundabout.  And as for airports..."  I fear that Humberside and South Yorkshire's not in the running as a 'top 600 places of global economic influence', despite our Council's glowing rhetoric in their ten-year Strategy Plan.  Mary bore with my comments silently.  I probably need another day off.

Zebedee Three

"You will come, won't you," Kat insisted.  "It'll just be a couple of hours, 2.00 til 4.00."  She'd lined up assorted lovely couples and yummy mummies with their Georges, Alberts and Henrys for Zeb's birthday party.  Age three seems to me to be threshold where a party begins to mean something to the child rather than the sentiment of the parents.  It seemed doable, too, even though I'd had hardly had any time to sort out the 6.30pm meeting with Barrie.  Mary was vague about the exact arrangements, but at least we had a postcode.  Then Kat texted to say the carpark was full.  Jack and Harriet's youngest, Silas, agreed to come with us.  Although there promised to be plenty to eat, he insisted on taking the chunk of bread that was the remnant of his lunch.  AJ met us in the alternative, Dore and Totley railway station, carpark.  We loaded up with folding chairs and carrier bags of pizzas and fruit-juice cartons.  "Last time we came, there was hardly anybody here.  Today it's heaving - sorry."  He apologised inecessarily.  We trekked up a farm track.

Ahead we could see a half-size railway footbridge, four concentric miniature tracks passing through picket-fenced station buildings, and, through the crowd of parents-and-children, several steam engines taking around their passengers.  A yellow board announced 'SMEE' - Sheffield and District Society of Model and Experimental Engineers Ltd (founded 1905).  "Goodness," I thought.  "So this is what Mr and Mrs Average find to do on a Sunday afternoon.  And we've set up a mission focus group to discuss how to connect with them."  "Over on the left," AJ encouraged, as we negotiated the footbridge.  "We didn't bother with the gazebo, and all the picnic tables are taken."

The central field was about an acre in size, swelling with families (and assorted grandparents) under the sunshine and autumnal trees.  Tables sagged under the piles of sandwiches, pop bottles and birthday cakes.  Streamers and bunting announced first, 2nd, 3rd and 4th birthday groups.  The air was pungent with smoke from the locos, and toots and whistles ascended the musical scale as the train rides passed the rail junctions and cross-overs and emerged from tunnels. 

"You could find a new hobby here," Kat burbled.  "It's all run by grandads like you.  Engineers.  All voluntary.  AJ's going to get a fistful of tickets - only £1 each - so we can all have a ride."   It was indeed an interesting set-up.  But I could resist the idea of spending weekends sitting astride a hissing boiler wearing a scruffy jacket spotted with assorted interest-group lapel badges.  I took Silas and Zebedee to peer over a fence and wave at people, while Kat spread out the food on travel rugs.  Mary occupied younger grandson Zane.  Various of AJ's and Kat's friends arrived.

Zeb doesn't like cake, so he had a birthday pizza, with candles, instead.  I tempted Silas away from his chunk of dry bread, and he tucked in to some grapes.  Viv had mentioned that he'd been invited, too, so I texted him some directions.  They proved unnecessary.  When the first ride contingent made their way to the ticket box, I saw his red cross teeshirt across the platform as he was busy with his camera.   Now I was looking after Zane, having rescued him from chewing a polystyrene plate followed by an apple juice carton.  He's at the everything-goes-into-my-mouth stage.  "They're on the red train," I explained to Edward's mum.  We waved excitedly.  And then the next time they came round.  And then two more times.

By 4.00pm the crowd was thinning out, and the queues for rides had shrunk.  AJ's and Kat's friends began to give their goodbyes.  Mary and I brushed the sycamore leaves off the blankets, scooped up arms full of folding picnic chairs and tottered back to our car.  Silas skipped along with a white balloon.  "Thanks for coming," Kat offered for the last time.  "No, it's been fascinating," I could truthfully reply.

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Liverpool Black-E

For the past dozen years we've used a Saturday in September to hold concurrent celebration events at two locations across the UK.  North/South approximately describes it, though East/West has sometimes been geographically more accurate.  Ours (i.e. 'North') was in Belfast last year.  For fairness, we aim to toggle between the respective 'patches' of our apostolic team guys.  This year, we opted to return to Liverpool.  The previous city action day, and evening event at Black-E, had been a great success.

I'd leaned on our household to get over to Liverpool on a Saturday earlier in September, to give a bit of moral support to the local saints' preparatory publicity and prayer walking, etc.  Despite the distance, we are Lighthouse's nearest neighbours.  I returned from the Multiply trip to find an A3 sheet scheduling the transport arrangements already pinned up on the hallway bookcase.  Josh and the guys had been hard at work.  They all chipped off early to do set-up.  I didn't scrutinise the list until Friday evening, when I discovered that Mary and I were due to ferry (older) Ray and three Chinese students.  An interesting mix.  I'd expected that Ray should have had his electric scooter.

Come Saturday morning, it all emerged as a considerable challenge, as Mary was poorly in bed.  I'd single-handedly have to deliver the passengers to the march start/gathering point (Chevasse Park) on the edge of the posh retail zone, and shuttle the car around between start and finish parking spots.  Last time we'd had an extensive trek, having parked on the docks.  We also found ourselves snagged up in the Labour Party conference, by which the minibus was taken through a full-on Police security check.  But that's another story.

I opted to go via the Woodhead Pass.  I couldn't face crawling though Glossop's Saturday shopping traffic.  (Older) Ray remained morosely silent.  I couldn't quite manage sustained conversation with the Richard, Flora and their friend Ray on the back seat.  We pulled into what's left of Burtonwood Services, as I couldn't remember that there were toilets near the shopping centre drop-off point.  (My enduring memory of Burtonwood is driving a swaying broken-down double-decker into the now-defunct West-bound carpark, accompanied by four motorway Police cars.  Three points on my License for a CU30 offense.)  My passengers had spotted Jack, Harriet and family tucking into their lunchtime rolls, so whatever other ideas I'd had for food were highjacked.

Our 'Together' instructions for the day thoughtfully included postcodes for the march start point and for Black-E.  So I cranked up the satnav and sought to follow directions.  As we got to the Waterfront, the satnav stubbornly insisted that I should turn up a one-way bus lane, and I was abandoned to my wits.  I recognised a couple of landmarks, but missed a vital turn just in time to see the Lighthouse minibus emerge from the side road.  Round the loop we went again for another 20 minutes.  "Jump out now!  You wait just beyond that barrier," I urged.  To my relief a Birmingham member had spotted my passengers, as I roared off to Black-E, hoping to park up and walk back in time for the march.

Georgie opened the Black-E stage door, much to my pleasure, and I gave Nate, Neive and Elise the small carved elephant I'd brought from Myanmar.  Neive offered to come on the march with me.  We set off at a pace to find the rest.  There was another mission, too.  Over breakfast, I'd broken my glasses trying to tighten the nose bridge.  Two weeks' of perspiration meant my glasses kept slipping down, annoyingly.  If it hadn't been the third morning that I'd found myself fully awake at 4.15am, I may have had more tolerance.  Because I declared on my driving license renewal that I need glasses, and I haven't got a spare pair with my current prescription, I needed to get them fixed for the journey back to Sheffield.

The march was lively, but somewhat undirected.  Leaders Chris and Loz only had a hand-held megaphone, and couldn't make themselves heard past the first few rows of followers.   Ray was puffing along half a mile behind, supported by Andy and Tracy.  I wondered if we should get medical help, but instead they put him in a taxi to Black-E.  As we all peeled off to our respective evangelism spots, Neive and I went on a hunt for Specsavers.  "No, sorry. It's a discontinued line" the helpful assistant reported.   I fortified Neive with a bottle of cola, and we trekked off in search of another optician.   This time it was Boots.  Same story, "We don't do a frame like this."  And in answer to my next question, "There's a Vision Express round the corner."

The afternoon had hotted up and I felt overdressed, insulated against the UK climate.  The man at Vision Express looked doubtful, but dived off into the 'laboratory'.  Yes, I know the glasses are now well out-of-date (and design).  But I'd fully expected to have to replace them last after my last sight test, only to find the assistant had declared it unnecessary.  The Vision Express man found a spare nose bridge.  Apologising that it wasn't exactly what I needed, he handed it over with a smile.  Back at Black-E, Gav produced a tube of superglue, and all was well.

The evening event cracked off brilliantly.  Elise joined me sitting on stage, as her bit of time with Grandad.  Gav had rung Mary and told her that I was looking lost.   As Viv was leading a song in the kids' spot, "All of God's children...", everyone joined in with enthusiastic whistling.  Only the insistent penetrating squeal wasn't us, but the fire alarm: we all had to vacate the premises.   Flora, Richard and Ray were nowhere to be seen.  I correctly surmised that they'd sneaked out to the inspect the several nearby Chinese restaurants.

I don't know how my passengers found the journey home.  With the twists and turns on the Snake Pass, and my indifferent speed control, I was just grateful to arrive safely.  Mercifully, my satnav proved reliable as I dropped off the three Chinese folks at their respective student digs.  "Mick says we should do this every year," I commented to Mary.  "Not without Ray's scooter," the bedclothes replied.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Multiply India Visit Day Sixteen, 18 Sept

"You look a lot better than you did when you arrived," Hephzi observes over breakfast.  "Hmm, my blog was so pedestrian that I commented that I may be on the point of total collapse," I agree.  "And the hearing-aid that's not been working suddenly decided to start again."  Mizoram and Myanmar were desperately wet, and the climate here in UAE would dry out anything .  The fact remains that I've shied away from conversations because I just couldn't rely on hearing adequately .  Daniel and I talk budgets, expenses and receipts.  "You know Greatheart, when I see how much of this goes into the visit, you really need to get someone to take it over," Steve chides.  Later, at the airport, we have a similar 'what-we'd-do-differently' and 'what-would-work-better' conversation.  It takes in baggage and clothing, gifts for people here, relative priorities in the use of our time, etc.  Maybe we'll get there for the February/March 2014 trip to Africa.  Certainly, I've carted around too many clothes, and a heavy and unnecessary church laptop. 

Daniel and Hephzi talk some more about their future.  I feel like we should have given them more opportunity.  There can't be many friends 'outside the scene' they can refer to.  We pray together and zoom the short drive to the airport.  I see Daniel waving furiously from the car window as we push the trolley towards check-in.  "Ooh, I must get a shot of a 777," Steve enthuses.  And then admits: "I clean forget to take a picture of Daniel and Hephzi".  What have we done to him?  I check the time, 9.30am, and realise Nathan and Sam will just be at Heathrow. 

I find it difficult to rest on the eight-hour trip.  A crammed schedule awaits me, and I won't really 'unpack' until Tuesday next week.  It's no consolation that John Biak was due to fly to the US within two weeks of returning home after leaving Yangon.  The meal offering is very Western, and tasty, too.  As we descend slowly into Manchester, the nose camera view on the video captures Derwent Water.  Yes, we've come right over the Snake Pass.  The lady across the aisle is twisting her hands in agitation.  After ten flights in two weeks, I can't raise any adrenalin about this final touch-down.  "Didn't you offer to pray for her?" Mary asks later. 

I give Sam a quick ring, and he's obviously been asleep.  "Did you get today off work?" I tease him.  "Listen, when can we get together for a debrief?" he counters.   I find out why Mumbai was a nightmare - they landed into Domestic Arrivals, but it's two miles distant from International Departures, then they were stopped by endless security checks.   Manchester beats its reputation for being painfully slow clearing arrivals, and Steve and I are soon at the rail link station.  "I'll probably see you tonight," I explain.  "I've got to travel down anyway, and it makes as much sense to come tonight.  Make sure Dave leaves the door open."
Mary rings me three times as a trundle out of the station in Sheffield: there are too many ways you can miss people arriving here.  I get a lovely reception from Jack and Harriet's kids, and challenge Grace to carry my case upstairs.  Within an hour, I've got another case packed and we leave for cell group.  Barrie will pick me up later, and drive us both to Kings House.  Over our meal, Phil and Donna fill me in about the 'vision review' Agenda that's been in full swing: it seems good progress. 

At Kings, I find Steve's case contents exploded around the room.  He's under his quilt, and sensibly an extra layer, too.  I find an incredibly thick blanket and snuggle under it gratefully.  At 4.15am, I wake up with cramp.  And the Malarone tablet I took (without a drink of water) has catalysed heartburn.  My body clock tells me this is a perfectly fine time to be getting up.   From past experience this will continue for three or four days.  Steve sleeps on.

Multiply India Visit Day Fifteen, 17 Sept

I want to make the most of the cooler early morning, and at 6.00am settle down in the bay-windowed dining area adjacent to our bedroom.  I catch up with some journalling and dip into a Joni Earekson book.  For the trip I'd taken just one paperback: J Oswald Sanders' reminiscences.  He was appointed Director General of Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF - formerly China Inland Mission), and from 1947 criss-crossed Asia visiting their extensive activities.  He also appeared regularly at conferences in the Pacific, and maintained contacts in the States and Europe.  Our mishaps and travels have been child's play compared with his caseload.  I reckoned the book should see me through the two weeks, but time on my hands between Myanmar and UAE meant I'd finished it.

Breakfast was a leisurely affair, bacon, eggs and chipatties.  Daniel explains about the moringa tree growing outside the window.  He's researching the possibilities for sustainable development.  I comment that triffids started off as a too-good-to-be-true horticultural discovery, but Steve scowls at me.  Our 'official' schedule for the day - visiting a home fellowship in Dubai, wasn't going to tie us down until the afternoon.  Steve wanted to doing some shopping, and I needed to check emails and do an account of Butch's expenses for Daniel, now I could get on-line.  I even managed to post two blogs complete with pictures.  However, it was something of a challenge and the tags on the compose page were in Arabic, and the text flowed right to left.  I'd given up on a similar enterprise in Bangkok airport, when the web pages displayed in Thai.  Annoyingly, the connection drops out after I think I've banged off a load of emails, and I have to redo them.  I ring Mary and confirm that I'll be at the Farm early on Thursday, but yes, I'll make it to Phil's and Donna's, too, first.

 I got some time to think about what may be good to share in the evening, as this was clearly not going to be an occasion for a full-on Multiply presentation.  Steve and I were both at war with our tummies.  I simply put it down to irregular eating, and lack of any recent exercise.  Daniel and Hephzi's situation has become somewhat precarious.  They aren't sure of their immigration re-applications next spring, and the other main ministry Daniel's involved in, Cana, is struggling because of reduced flow of funds.  We promised to pray for them (Carmino take note). 

After a late lunch, and celebrating their nephew's birthday, we head of to Dubai, the best part of 100km.  We then head for Sharjah, the Emirate beyond, where we'll spend the evening.  Dennis, the brother Daniel and Steve stayed with in Kochin, is related to our host Jacky, and some of the folks who turn up.  "You'll find Jacky is very 'Brethren'," Daniel explains.  He proves to be more than that; he's outspokenly anti-clerical.  His wife agitates about the meal they want to offer everyone, and ends up sending out for a KFC for Steve and me.  Jacky has been in UAE, trading, for 35 years and remembers Dubai "when it was just one building".  He remarks that the fellowship is seeking ways to draw closer together, and we feel we have something we can impart.  Right on cue, I get my weekly agape 'Covenant love' text message from home. 

Two girls lead us - numbering over twenty - in worship songs: universal Hillsongs.  After I've explained a little how tonight's intention is to relate our experience for the sake of encouragement, Steve talks about brotherhood covenant.  He's just made his first point when an older brother breaks in with a litany on personal relationship[ with Jesus, everyone reading the word for himself, etc.  But Steve has the attention of the young people, and ploughs on.  When we're well past 10.00pm, people get fidgety, and I rapidly wrap up.  The reception has been warm and attentive.  We get instant invitations to visit again next time we're in UAE.  Despite the time, there are some lingering conversations.  I'm amazed that again, in some unsuspected corner of the world, there's a heart to move forward with the Holy Spirit.

Nathan rings from Mumbai airport; "Give us Colney's number, and address, if you've got it.  We have to complete an immigration departure form."  (He and Sam have the details on the insurance risk assessment form that I told them always to carry with them, but no matter.)  "How did it work out there?" I ask, referring to their time in Cuttack.  "Absolutely amazing.  Yesterday we went to a Sony centre (in Bhubaneswar) and got everything (meaning video kit, and supporting laptop).  You should have seen the boys' responses at the orphanage.  Agnes (Colney's eldest daughter) says they won't have slept last night."  That sounds like it's topped off their time well.

The Burj electric gate slides open at quarter to one.  I've managed to doze on the journey home.  The hot air wraps around us as we unpack the car; "Can't believe it, can you?" Steve comments.  Tomorrow's flight is at 10.00am, and we'll have to get moving early.  We've put Daniel and Hephzi to a bit of trouble, but they're indefatigable hosts.  I lay out some fresh and warmer clothes. "Wrap up well, Dad," Ellen has messaged. "We've had to start the heating already."

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Multiply India Visit Day Fourteen, 16 Sept

I can hear Steve somewhere behind me.  He's animatedly chatting with a bunch of Philippino women.  It turns out they're off to UAE for three years, leaving their families with relatives, to earn money for their kids' education.  These are typical of the members of Daniel's congregation, and represent both the opportunity and problem he's got building  a strong scene. 

Steve's become a Boeing 777 fan, and the 2.55am Etihad one to Abu Dhabi is very nicely equipped.  I snort at his unintended jet-setting snobbery.  The two weeks have changed us all, I guess.  Two seats next to me are empty, and I opt for getting some sleep over waiting for the warm corned beef sandwich which is promised on the in-flight menu!

Daybreak has just about arrived when we land, and soon we're travelling in Daniel and Hephzi's air-conditioned car.  Huw and I stayed at their home, Burj al Barakat (Tower of Blessing), in November 2011.  "You'll see why Tim came here for a five-day break on his way home from Australia," I comment to Steve.  The  building work that I remember has extended the new residential development further.  The largest and richest of the seven Emirates, Abu Dhabi intends to stay ahead.  "Oh, my days,"  Steve smiles, as Hephzi puts out three boxes of breakfast cereals.  His  tummy's still playing up, and he reckons it's been the fats used in the fried rice that's been pretty much a staple for the last week-an-a-half. 

We give Daniel something of a flavour of what he's unfortunately missed in Mizoram and Myanmar.  He recommends we catch up on sleep so we can enjoy the afternoon and evening.  We obey without protest.  After Hephzi's shepherds pie lunch, we drive to Yas Island, site of the Formula One track, Viceroy Hotel and the  mind-boggling Ferrari World.   But then, mind-boggling tends easily to become an an overworked adjective here: everything's world class and supersize as standard.  We fill the tank with petrol: 41dirhams - just under £8.  It's also hotter than I remember.  Daniel confirms there's been a recent spell of temperatures running even to 50C.

Daniel's invited some folks round to Burj for an evening get-together.  First to arrive is John and family, the parents of Ricky, who accompanied us around two years ago.  They are all loveable, and arrive with several trays of grilled meats, nans, vegetables, and assorted fruits juices.  More friends from several nations arrive.  Some have only just become Christians, and an evening of fellowship is a much sought-after event even given the long working hours that most of them face each day.

Hephzi engages some of the ladies, and in the main lounge, Daniel gives a brief introduction.  Clearly, informality is the key.  I tell my testimony of a good new birth, baptism in the Holy Spirit, but then the real influence for stability and fruitful service - finding the Body of Christ.  Steve leads us in a couple of worship songs, and by now it's 10.30pm.  An hour later, several are still talking, but I'm yawning.  The two guys who came late are whisked off by Hephzi for some curry and another hour's conversation with Daniel.  This is one-to-one New Testament church building in a heavily circumscribed context, and it stirs us.

Multiply India Visit Day Thirteen, 15 Sept

Rain all night, and at 2.00am I hear Steve bumping around.  "Thought you'd gone to bed," I mutter, without opening my eyes.  "I've been bitten on the leg, and it's driving me mad."  He agitates.  I dig out some Aventis cream, and he's soon sorted.  But I'm not.  I turn over and over, jammed between the rock of an urge to post mortem what the messed up finances may omen for our AMEN relationships, and the hard place of attempting to condense in my mind what I want to share at the Bible College 8.00am meeting so that I don't over-run.  Truth is, I should have taken some time out of the day to get some quiet reflection. 

My phone calendar tells me it's Zebedee's third birthday.  I skip the shower in favour of stoking up with a good breakfast, and John and Mary are already there.  Butch ambles in: I've given him enough money to settle his bill and get his final Manila to Cibu flight, which isn't included on his international ticket.  He's given me a fistful of receipts to pass to Daniel. 

At 7.30am the taxi bumps down a side road to the International Mission and Church Planting (IMCP) Bible College.  Mar Yen, the student rep, is delighted we've come.  John and the principle, Thomas, are old friends.  But there could be a problem if neighbours see foreigners, so John has rung him - away in Chin - to get his okay.  We climb the wooden stairs to to chapel, and find twenty girls on the left and 25 boys on the right, with singing in full swing.  Soon they ask me to share.  I talk about king David, and the four occasions he's tackled by his prophetic 'chaplains'.  Steve follows, and gives his testimony of the time he saw his old football team coach (vehicle, not sports), from a field of vegetables.  Some begin to weep at this cost of his discipleship.  The students will complete a four years here, then wait to see where God creates a calling.  For sure, it won't be to any cosy pre-paid pastorate.

Mar Yen can't leave our side, and Thomas's younger sister, Ruby, is full of questions.  John draws me to one side: the hotel have rung to say that Butch left without paying.  Fortunately I'm carrying enough dollars for him to travel over and sort it out.  Next stop is Lai Baptist Church.  There's a local choir competition featured during the 10.00am service, and the IMCP students are among the four contestants.  The place is packed.  I count 480+ fixed seating places, and there are random other people downstairs and on the stage.  There's a balcony supporting about 70 seats cantilevered out from the back wall, with no balustrade or handrail on the access staircase.  Sit well back you guys; check that out, mums with kids. 

The wooden pews are solid, like the hotel beds, and the four of us spread out where five should fit in.  There's not a word in English, except that I catch one phrase when visitors are welcomed: "especially foreigners".  We do a traditional congregational hymn, and you could be in a Welsh chapel for the vocal harmonies.  The PA allows one note in four to surge forth from the piano before cutting out.  It creates a curious effect of being kept in key rather than being accompanied.   In turn, the choirs perform the identical test piece.  Ahh, I get that time for reflection.   In the sermon, after two offertories,  I identify 'reformation', 'Luther' and 'holistic approach'.  Steve got 'transformation', too: I won't argue.

At 12.30, we finish, and shuffle to the staircase.  The downstairs crush hall was previously scattered with 200 drying umbrellas.  Now, with smooth efficiency, servers are giving everybody a white takeaway box containing a chunk of banana cake, and there's tea on offer.  Sheffield congregation, thou shouldest have seen this hour.  You won't, because at this moment my phone camera decided to die, and Ruby whisks us away promptly.

Back at Thomas's family home, we're reunited with our baggage, which went with Mary in a second taxi.  Across the street is the dormitory house for the Bible College girls.  John takes us off to our first shopping mall for a bite of lunch.  It turns out to be a dutiful affair.  His and Steve's tummies are playing up, and I don't like Sunday lunch.  Back at Thomas's, we have three hours to employ before Steve and I head for the airport.  The conversation grows deeper. 

John shows us photos of his missionaries' work in Ka-chin state, both near Lake Inle and along the border with China.  He's just stated an orphanage for 8- to 10- year-olds whose parents were snatched and used a 'cannon fodder' by the military.  They had fled to the jungle, and their only hope of survival would be to grow opium.  Now they've found Jesus and are able to testify in villages where 'imported' missionaries would be treated with suspicion (or worse).  To encourage the saints, John has to walk three days through the forests and sleep under the stars two nights.  Two year ago he was arrested seven times in one month for holding unofficial church meetings.  The congregation may paddle two hours to the Sunday service, held at remote gathering points to avoid intrusion.  John has just been able to hold a weekend workers' retreat, after three years of seeking the funds and a place of safety.  We relate some incidents of bureaucratic and media persecution in our UK experience, and he feels strengthened to be of the same heart.

We pray and head for the airport.  "Two hours before flying," I quote from the travel docket.  "You will be twenty minutes," John laughs.  He's right.  Past the KBZ Bank counter, which in the end offered the best exchange rate, we stroll through two security checks, and there are no questions at the immigration exit.  "We could have a suitcase full of narcotics," Steve observes.  It's very different from Bangkok, where I had to step into a tardis for an all-over body X-ray, and found the booth wouldn't accommodate my larger-than-your-average-Thai dimensions.

Thai Air must take the prize for the busiest cabin crew of the to-date eight flights.  In just over an hour's journey they offer us newspapers, a drink, a meal, another drink, and duty free.  All smoothly and courteously executed.  But we have to stack for fifteen minutes as heavy rain storms are hitting the city, and flights are affected.  "They'll be a signal and free wifi," I encourage Steve.  We haven't spoken to anyone at home for over a week. 

At the transfer counters it's 10.00pm - six hours ahead of UK - and the seats are all occupied by sleeping bodies. I ring Mary, who gives me an update on the Arena meetings to advance community and mission in Sheffield.  She sounds well.  Then I catch Nathan, who gives me a colourful account of their arrival in Cuttack in the middle of a Hindu festival.   Huw's next, then Kelly, and I hope they'll get the one photo I managed to email onto the screen at Heart.  I thank Gav for responding every time I've sent something, and leave a "happy birthday Zebedee" on Kat's answerphone.  Then I plonk myself down in the one remaining free seat, and Sunday drifts into Monday as I doze off.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Multiply India Visit Day Eleven, 13 Sept

I must explain about our beds.  They are completely solid 2-inch wood (probably teak), with ornate headboards.  Steve tried to move his out of the way of a wall plug, and failed to make any impression.  I manage to sleep okay diagonally.  On our arrival, Steve tells me, behind my back the hotel staff did a hand-waving-way-over-their-head gesture to comment about my height.   And then there's the leak in the roof, which being on the top floor, is just above us.

When we have heavy rain - which seems quite often - the ceiling in the bathroom offers a shower facility directly over the WC pedastal.  Unfortunate, when Steve's one-on/one-ready-to-wear/and-one-in-the-wash policy means he has to have clothes dried in 24 hours, and hangs them on the shower rail.  (This also explains why his loss of drying clothes from the balcony was serious!).

Then there's the aircon: it's been on incessantly.  I reset it to 24C out of concern for global warming in sub-Saharan Africa.  But the room temperature's never got down that far.  Meanwhile it blasts directly onto my bed.  So at night I'm in a three-way fix between the chilled airstream, the room ambient, and the furnace beneath the blanket.  Last night I was almost certain I was getting a fever.

It was raining when we all piled into the taxis to head for the Blind School again.  On the way there were impressive floods.  There's something comical about a Buddhist monk with shaved head, tucked-up robes and a pink unbrella (a favourite colour) wading through knee-deep brown water.  I should mention that a good percentage of the men wear the traditional longgyi.  I guess they're invitingly cool in this climate.
Steve led the morning session on Brotherhood, and Butch was supporting the worship.  My computer told me the School has wifi, so I got permission to use it.  I spent the lunch time happily up-loading blogs - a priority I'd prayed about.  I took the afternoon session on apostolic fathering.  I  felt strongly that some of the many young people (from the Baptist bible college) would plant new churches.  Mar Yen, the student rep, pressed us to say we'd come to their Sunday morning service.  Then it was photo-calls all round, and we headed home. 

John persuaded us to have dinner down town, and added that he's a personal friend of one of the top Chinese restaurant owners.  The journey in took an hour - a reflection of the size of the city and growing traffic congestion.  On the way, John explained to Steve and me that he's the secretary of the country's most prestigious tennis club.  Knowing some 'top brass' members has kept the door open for the gospel where petty officials could have opposed meetings and arrested new believers.

He also explained that business flourished during the Military Regime, though not outside the borders of the country.  A black-market car (via China) could have cost $120,000+; whereas now, with trade growing, the legal price is $14,000.  By contrast, the city centre hotel room he used to book for Colney less that five years ago has gone from $40 to $240 per night.

My Garden restaurant is colourful and buzzing, and lies on the edge of the People's Park near the landmark Shwedagon Pagoda.  John had reserved the last table available, and asked the owner to line up the best choice of meals.  We had mainly fishy things, and I found blueberry milkshake on the menu.  "Have you had octopus and squid before?"  I asided to Steve.  The only implements available were chopsticks, so I had to recover my skill or starve.  On the return ride, we stopped off for a quick photo of the Pagoda, then agreed to spend Saturday morning together, visiting the National Rural State Villages Centre.  I was grateful for a relaxed evening.

Multiply India Visit Day Twelve, 14 Sept

Today Nathan, Sam and Colney fly from Aizawl to Cuttack.  I have no means of contacting them, but Nath's posted a new FB blog, and in the afternoon I sent him a comment.  Saturday wifi is tolerably working, so first off I emailed Daniel about Butch, and our scheduled arrival in UAE on Monday, and Kelly, who I've omitted from my earlier email attempts.  Steve and I discuss what to look for in other potential Jesus Fellowship candidates for the sort of thing we've been doing.

The overnight rain hasn't let up, and John predicts we'll need umbrellas.  Surefoot produces one from the depths of his bag - what a guy!  We travel about an hour to the National Rural Villages Centre on the edge of the Bago River.  It's like a country park with representative traditional homes and lifestyles from the 14 states that make up Myanmar.  We drive round in a sort of charabanc, which keeps the showers at bay.  Each home has the typical cooking, living, sleeping and garden layout (and a gift shop).

After three or four, John, who's the only one who's seen it before, is losing interest.  "Let's go straight on to the Chin house," I coax (that's John's state).  Suddenly, he's fired up again, and skips along with Mary (his wife) telling us in great detail how he remembers things being just like they're presented here.  Pointing out the weaponry, John comments that 100 years ago the tribes were in constant war.  Missionary activity started 120 years ago.   

Many of the houses are built in mahogany, some with bamboo walls, some with grass roofs - an interesting diversity.  But our hour's use of the vehicle is up.  Next we want to go to Bogyoke market, an Aladdin's Cave of stalls specialising in silks, jewellery, ornaments, and everything esle that delights the eye.  The prices are fair, and we get some pressies for home.  Then at Dave's insistence, we go for lunch in a local eatery.  Appearing in the diner doorway provokes a raucus mele of invitations to the different tables.  It's a mini-mall, and each small kitchen/counter has a distinct proprietor.  Chicken curry, fried rice and fried chicken, with the inevitable Burmese soup, is the best deal.  With a soft drink each, the total bill is £23 for seven of us.

We head back for home, Insein, and call in at a tea room to sample the one things we've so far missed out.  I'm smiling broadly with a big mug of chai.  The rain intensifies, and back in the Hotel, we reimburse John.  He's paid for everything, so we haven't got skanked with "white man's prices".  It's been an relaxed and wholesome use of the day, one that most tourists would never have a chance to enjoy.

Dave, Rebecca and Nick, check out and leave for the airport by taxi.  I go to do some packing.  To fit in with a pressing request to preach tomorrow at the 8.00am Bible College service, we'll have to early, bags and all.  Steve and I will share a 30 minute slot.  Our flight to Abu Dhabi is around 8.00pm, so we'll have to play it by ear after the service.

We meet John, Mary and Butch for dinner, and John produces a schedule of the week's actual costs.  We've been pretty near the mark, but I can't dissuade John from contributing towards the extra numbers for catering, and some subsistence for local delegates' travel.  I settle up the Restaurant bill, and we find some small anomalies.  But the girls behind the counter will have to make this up from their wages, so as there's less than £10 at stake, we pay anyway. 

Butch and Steve are deep in conversation, and planning MILC 2014 in the Philippines and Hong Kong.  I tell them that'll be a tough one to get past Huw!  The bedroom looks like a bomb's gone off as we pack, and I give some though to what to include in this 15 minutes preach tomorrow morning.  I mustn't forget to give John a copy of the conference teaching material.  I feel better for the nine hours' sleep last night.  It'll be another overnight flight tomorrow.  Sadly, we'll be going west, but the time zones work in favour of a bit more chance of rest.  I wonder how Nathan and Sam are doing.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Multiply India Visit Day Ten, 12 Sept

Summit day: everything the planning and preparation's been building up to, and there's enough problems to put me off for ever.  I sat out on the balcony and prayed.  Butch is irrepressible - even a night on the airport bench and three days without food because he had no spending money, hasn't deflated him.  I packed my whole hand luggage bag with notes and techie stuff, in case John - who'd gone over to the venue at 7.00am - was stuck.  There were fried eggs at the breakfast buffet!

The taxi took us past several ornate golden temples, and Buddhist monks in their plum-coloured robes.  Yangon Education Centre for the Blind, Baho Road, is a classic example of Yangon's decadence.  When first set up - I believe by American mission money - it must have been a hugely impressive place.  It remains the only Christian school that the Government allow, and is open to all faiths.  Now it's large complex is musty, stained, creaking and lacking any sign of modernisation.  It was heaving with young people.  The lessons are all done by voice; our entire time was parallel tracked with PA from the classrooms as teacher and pupils recited their lessons.  It 'got to' Steve.

John had arranged a breakfast for the early arrivals among the delegates.  This seemed to be everybody!  We went to the first floor main hall where noisy fans attempted to battle the hot and humid day.  We only had four power-outs, and the projector survived.  John had also got a special songbook made up, with half and half English and Burmese songs.  His entire stock of 133 soon disappeared, so we must have been 150 attending.

We were underway by 9.15am.  By the end of just
one song, John's shirt was soaking wet.  Now he was going to have to interpret for me as I slowly went through our 'official' Multiply presentation.  With a break, and questions, we reached 12.30pm lunchtime.  More rice!  But the fried vegetables and mild chicken curry were very tasty, and we're acquiring a taste for the traditional Burmese soup.

If these were majority Baptists but hadn't received the Holy Spirit, I'd decided, the only course was a head-on teaching on New Testament baptism in water, Fire and the Body.  Butch later pointed out that they looked less than thrilled when I announced the afternoon's main topic.  By the end, 4.30pm, Steve had them on their feet praying and strongly engaged.  In Thrissur, he'd had the delegates identify the old Adamic characteristics that block new life.  After a lot of evasion, they'd come up with some accurate assessment, and joined Steve in breaking the obstacles.

Steve repeated the invitation here. "What do the sins of Myanmar look like?"  "Murder", was the first response!  High in the list came disrespect between generations (I wondered if this was a bit of cultural conditioning - but no matter, they were getting the hang of it.)  After more contributions, we all stood and prayed in faith.  We stayed around for the after-session rice.  The tight finances meant that waiting til the evening and paying for a meal at the hotel would be rash.

Once returned, Steve engaged in conversation with a group of five obviously-English folks sitting sipping their orange juices.  They were from a church in Southampton, and had come for three weeks, to teach at local bibles colleges.  I commented that there seems to be a pattern of western Christians adding their support in whatever way they can to the fledgling church here.  It's also the case in Nepal. 

It took two hours to coax the wifi to resend the budget email to Colney.  Meanwhile, Steve was working on today's sessions.  I found some blueberry boiled sweets, and Steve some pistachio nuts.  And so, with a complimentary cuppa from the hotel tea-set, we gratefully headed for an early bed.  From the morning's experience, the wireless signal is better before 7.30am, and I planned to get online and post some of the six waiting blogs!

Multiply India Visit Day Nine, 11 Sept

The window view as we descended into Yangon would have fitted a Second World War film: long low buildings set among palms.  It seemed like Alec Guinness could walk out any time.  The country has had thirty years of stand-still under the military regime.  Whereas the population in most of Asia has graduated to motorbikes, here it's still bicycles.  The properties are shabby and almost entirely lack upkeep.  In India, construction work is evident all over - even if unfinished as the economy temporarily splutters. 

Of course, there are exceptions.  The International airport is modern and airy.  There are pockets of impressive affluence, no doubt now to catch the Chinese investment eye, and, I suspect, formerly to indulge the ruling elite.   The Golf Resort we're staying at is an example.  And, of course, there's always funds for the many glittering Buddhist temples.  A SIM card costs two-and-a-half years' average wage.  But the Arrivals area was heaving with taxi drivers offering to make you a phone call for a hotel or to reach a local resident.

The plane had lost an hour on departure.  John was nowhere to be seen, and Steve was due in about two hours later.  So I settled down by my luggage and read chunks of J Oswald Sanders.  "Did you actually ask John Biak to meet you?" was Steve's first question.  I hadn't; but no rush, it was a short trip from the Airport, and it was good to let himfill me in with Daniel's situation and the conference in Kerala.  Seemingly, the two of them had stayed overnight on Saturday in Kochin with Daniel's friend Dennis.  They'd gone to his church, too, and had Sunday dinner together.  Dennis had driven them to Thrissur, where they were accommodated in a hotel.

The Monday and Tuesday conference sessions were almost entirely 'in house' to Lionel Daniel's father's ministry's leaders and workers.  Daniel had feared this may happen after his visit last October.  We'd effectively paid them to use their own church, staged their own leadership training and fed them for free. 

John Biak sent an invitation letter by email to Daniel, so getting at this point a visa remained in the balance.  I had a shower and went off to try the wifi; Steve crashed out.  Hannah had emailed to say our parcel of conference material could be delivered to the Airport.  But in the event that would still be too late for From our fourth floor room balcony, there's a view south west, whereas the city downtown area lies to the south east of us.  Immediately in front there's s development of twenty very substantial modern detached homes.  Steve did some traveller-type washing, and hung stuff on the rail to dry. A gust of wind carried a couple of vital items floating away.

At 5.30pm we resurfaced and met up with John, Butch (from the Philippines), and Dave and Rebecca Parkin, who'd travelled with their friend Nick from Pattaya in Thailand.  Butch had heard that Daniel had had to go home - so, we were the team!  John's wife Mary joined us for a meal.  The whole time was hearty, warm and constructive.  However, we're in a spot with money.  Daniel had invited Butch, but now his expenses were unresolved.  Colney had sent John a considerably smaller advance sum than we'd calculated.  The hotel was asking for a night-by-night settlement.  The folks from Thailand were, understandably, on a shoestring, too. John explained that most of the delegates would be non-, probably anti- charismatic.  Great. 

But, with a first day's programme organised, and John having sorted out the practical arrangements for the morning, I was under instruction to get to bed!  I didn't so much sleep, as sink into oblivion.  Everybody else seemed to have heard a cracking overnight storm.

Multiply India Visit Day Eight, Sept 10

Colney appeared and sat opposite me as I peered into the remains of my cold tea.  "I had some feedback from the conference."  Yes," I replied.  "I think we did very well, making the best use of the shortened time."  "You know, there were some very important people there.  There was the Secretary of the State Assembly, and two past Moderators of the Presbyterian synod."  I didn't, and wondered how I may have performed if I had!

"Did you know that Peter, with the tattooed arms?" I asked.  "Was he from Mizoram?  I thought he was a Jesus Army boy!"  Colney looked surprised.  "He'd been to London to do an MBA, but dropped out, and now has to work hard to get back on his feet," I'd discovered.

"I've enjoyed getting to know your wife." I began.  He replied, "She is from a very influential Presbyterian family.  They run the big hospital here.  Some said she would never leave that to live here with me, but she has made the sacrifice."

Sam and Nathan both slept on well into the morning, and would be giving out loads of energy preparing for tomorrow's public event.  I repacked for a difficult set of three flights, putting enough stuff in my hand luggage to survive 24 hours if I got stranded or parted from my other case.  After all, already Daniel's flight had been cancelled on Saturday, and we'd missed our connection.

Silas arrived with the micro-MPV, and after a quick lunch we all said our farewells.  Soon, at a junction leading to the city centre, a thick rope stretched across the road.  Groups of men sat about, somewhat threateningly.  One, wearing an official identity tag, grunted at Silas.  The get-out-of-jail-free passes did the trick.  After five more similar roadblocks, we hit NH54, the main road to Lengpui airport.  As we twisted down many hundreds of feet, the air was noticeably warmer than the mountain-top freshness of the Mission Home.  We passed recent landslips from two nights of heavy rain.  Silas and I had a great conversation.  He pastors the the Jesus Army Center (in the middle of town), having been trained by Colney.  The distant view of Aizawl faded.

"You wait here." Silas pointed, and strode into an office in the terminal building.  He returned and asked for a business card, then disappeared again.  "I have sorted out your luggage.  There will be no excess charge.  I know the manager here!"  The road had been completely clear of traffic, so we had time on our hands.  The check-in lady gave me a row 1 seat again - where there's leg room.  As two days before, the Bay of Bengal was lost in the haze, but a chatted to the flight attendant about the onward service to Bangkok.  "Oh, it's a strange flight," he offered.  "Nobody wants to sleep; they all want to party.  You'll see."

As soon as I landed at Kolkata, I got a phone signal and a terse message from Steve: "Send Yangon hotel address".  I sank.  Had he and Daniel not succeeded in confirming anything?  I rang him with no success. Then I rang Mary.  She shouted and spoke slowly, and I heard Zebedee's giggles in the background.  With seven hours' wait on my hands, I found a phone charge point and set up my laptop.  The EE connection was too slow to satisfactorily load emails.  First I got an Orange 10mb data warning, then a 20mb one.  What's the point of an average 30mb per day, when you can only get a connection two times in a week?!

Steve rang me. "You'll have to shout and speak slowly.  My hearing aid's bust!"  He and Daniel were travelling to Kochin airport.  He relayed their happenings in Thrissur, and plans for arrival at Yangon.  At 10.00pm, Daniel rang on the same number.  "Is Colney there?  They won't let me leave India for Myanmar unless I have a letter of invitation.  Can you get John to fax it to me, and I can leave first thing tomorrow?"  I had to press him to contact Colney directly, explaining I'd had no success making mobile calls.  Like me, Steve would now be making the journey alone.  He's described this trip as "pressing through open doors".  I considered if I should wait for him once at Yangon airport.  But that was a decision for later.

Perversely, the check-in challenge went smoothly.  Daniel texted his revised arrangements.  The flight to Bangkok wasn't rowdy, and the brunch of chicken with lemon - at some uncalculable hour of the morning - was very welcome.  (To the three hour flight add a further one and a half hours for the time zone difference, followed by a reversal of half an hour back into Myanmar - follow me?)

As I walked into the smart new Suvarnbhumi airport, I suddenly realised that Lizzie and Col had been here last November.  Thanks to the airport free connections, I rang her by Viber.  It was 7.00pm Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale and 6.00am Wednesday here, and midnight at home.  Strange world.

Multiply India Visit Day Eight, Sept 10 - Thoughts

I attempted a bit more sleep, as I'd be travelling overnight from Kolkata to Bangkok, then on to Yangon.  As the morning was free (apart from the perennial packing), and not a soul was stirring outside because of the State BANDH, I sat down with a mug of tea and engaged in some reflection.  What had the week so far revealed?

First, I thought about the models of community living we'd experienced.  In Bangalore, there was Daniel and Betty Edwin's 'open house' or 'home-from-home' in the apartment adjacent to his church building.  In addition to a wheelchair-bound grandma, they were hosting an older brother who was getting on his feet in God.  Various church pastors and evangelists (we'd say leaders), dropped by from the ministry's outlying works.  As in New Testament days, where travel is troublesome, such hospitality is essential. The two conference delegates from Andhra Pradesh had travelled 30 hours by train to attend.  Here, in India, the evening is a key time to find people around.  Cake and chai, and a pot of rice are always on offer.

Then there's Colney's (or, rather his father's) Mission Home in Aizawl.  We'd only seen about half the overall residents from the total complex at the evening prayer times.  In the whole compound there's a large dormitory of children, too - I believe Colney's mentioned a total of 70 souls.  Two young women attend to the household domestic duties.  Colney's father (aged 79) sits at a small table outside the ground floor worship/main hall, holding a daily 'surgery'.  Financially, they're thrown together by necessity, and everyone's industriously engaged.  On Monday morning I watched a boy about eight years old plying backwards and forwards from the compound's own well, filling two large green watering cans, and tottering from apartment to apartment topping up supplies.  There's an attempt at homegrown sufficiency, or at least supplement, with chicken, ducks and geese, and a large poly-tunnel.  Again, necessity, not 'lifestyle'.  "God's little acre" would be an appropriate term.  Somehow, everyone had found a place, and accepted their part's responsibility.

Second, I was struck by Colney insisting that any evangelism material for Wednesday's "Church on the Streets" should be in Mizo.  "English speaking, Christianity and Western Culture are synonymous," he'd explained.  "And Moslems, Hindus and Buddhists react against it."  In a no-holds-barred multicultural setting, as India, there remains an appropriate recognition - even celebration - of some aspects of diverse culture.  I suspect we in UK 'new churches' have blundered around unhelpfully with immigrants and second generation populations, because we don't have a missionary-sending ethos. 

True, we'd managed my teaching yesterday without translation.  But Colney had largely spoken in Mizo, and three three local music groups had thrown in a mixture.  In Bangalore, we'd had entire translation into Tamil or Kerala (Daniel E's wife, Betty, had done this for the Nathan and Sam in the Thursday concert.)  They say you need your own tongue to deepen your intimacy/relationship with God.  Sam commented how difficult it was to achieve good communication when you couldn't read the body language nuances - and he'd been trying impressively.

Third, I'd found a refreshing rhythm to life.  I can't say relaxed, because the daily round of working, feeding and keeping up with relationships is a bigger slice of peoples' energies than in UK.  But when we, as a church, are seeking a return to more time for people, there's something going on here to note.  True, the tropics days work to a pretty unvarying daylight and darkness pattern.  But, blessed with the convenience of lighting and goods to improve things, we've jumbled up, overfilled and scrambled the connection (and connectedness) of daily life.  You just set your own agenda, and touch with others at the margins.

For example, again in Colney's Mission Home, there was little obvious organising - it was an implicit operation of life.  I find it difficult to settle on one change that would reconstruct this kind of quiet vitality.  Perhaps Mick's team exploring a theology of time will do better.

Fourth comes the open-heartedness and open-handedness to many servants of God.  I've found a response based on the simple expression of need that fellow-labourers can empathise with, and will strive to support in.  Is this because many pastors, evangelists and workers operate near the breadline and on the limit of resources as matter of course, and it's just an unquestioned 'part of the territory'?  They don't hide their insecurity and dilemmas.  They're often in emergency.  I sense that many leaders know they gain a blessing from giving when faced with such knowledge.  It would be unbrotherly to fail to engage in prayer, seek to help practically and with moral support, and use connections, when it's available for you to do this and so to partner with others.  I found little evidence of scrutiny and cross-questioning, though a discernment of motives and genuineness certainly applies.  We need to note this as our Multiply exec and Regional funds get increasing contact with a variety of global ministries.  The right stance should be to celebrate the rich texture of God's word and grace outworked in trying circumstances.

Fifth, is fervent prayer, and a confidence that God's hand is on lives, and that's best.  Colney spoke of the Christian North Eastern States being jammed between Buddhist Myanmar, Moslem Banglasesh, and Hindu north India.  But it's not just leader-speak.  Average saints display a freshness that the distinctive Christian way is unquestionably and demonstrably right, clean, true, genuine, to be imitated, influential and embraced where possible.  It will lead to many blessings now and in the future; personally, for family and nation, and conclusively won't be worsted.  So, prayer was expressed along the lines of God's goodness and greatness, not life's problems or some incompleteness.

Multiply India Visit Day Seven, 9 Sept

At 1.15am, I turned over and found Nathan sitting up in bed.  "What'ya going to do about the flight?" he queried.  "Huh.  Don't even mention it.  I just can't get my head round it."  Sam was awake, too.  "Did I tell you about this moth?"  He linked his thumbs together and waggled his hands. "It was this big, no kiddin'."  We chatted backwards and forwards for half an hour.  We'd needed this.  I was happy that they'd flourish for the remainder of the visit.  I was less happy about Steve and Daniel, and my situation, fuelled by Nathan's reasonable suggestion that I should fly out of the State on Monday evening, plus the number of insect bites I'd collected.  "There's your cockerel," Nathan commented as sunlight eventually broke through our thin curtains some time after 5.30am.

Putting in my left hearing aid, I was assaulted by a persistent clicking.  Broken.  Time for a beard trim, then.  But the gadget I'd specially brought had gone flat, and I'd risked not bringing the charger.  "Apostolic irritations," I muttered.  "I expect it happens to other men," Nathan chirped,  somewhat deflatingly. 

I reviewed my options.  Maybe Tuesday's flight back to Kolkata would proceed.  Maybe it wouldn't, and I'd have to rebook for 24 hours later.  Directly, through our crumby communications situation, or through our agent Travel Solutions?  Or something else, like the presidential jet. Yea, right.  I went for a short walk, but preparation for the teaching sessions needed to have priority.  I sensed a growing conviction that the Holy Spirit counted our visit important.

Colney appeared, expecting us to join him for breakfast, but the rations in the room had been enough.  "I had a phone call," he proceeded, "From Butch at Yangon airport asking where everybody was.  I rang John Biak, but he'd heard nothing."  Butch was flying from the Philippines, and had lined up his arrangement with Daniel G.  I knew in Bangalore that Daniel hadn't seen John's email asking for delegate names and arrivals.  On our way to the conference, Colney tried to contact Daniel, but didn't get through.  More things to patch up.

The Club building we'd hired epitomised 'faded genteel' or 'time-worn colonial', as does so much in India.  I smiled at the neat rows of alternating blue and red chairs with gold frames.  "Indian wedding chairs! We got offered some of these for the Jesus Centre!"  Set-up was easy, and we kept to our programmed right through til the afternoon.  Nathan looked around at the empty seats.  "Don't worry.  It's classic warm-climate culture." I encouraged.

The Salvation Army worship group gave us a strong lead.  Colney's introduction, my Multiply presentation and Nathan's two songs all went fine.  We met some intelligent questions from the delegates, and spent lunchtime well engaged.  Colney later explained that we had some distinguished local delegates.  The 40 or so there at the start had swelled to over 100.  Mind you, we featured two supporting local choirs in the afternoon.  That should up the value of my DVDs!  Again, I felt that the teaching on "fathering" would prove pivotal.  Sam was brilliant manning the computer, and we'd all obviously pressed some right buttons.

 Colony walked up, smiling.  "Here, I told you we would get permission."  He waved a blue form signed by the Opposition Party leader, requiring safe passage for Mr Ian Greatheart to the airport.  "My get-out-of-jail-free card," I laughed.  After a cup of chai, we exited into a miserable foggy afternoon, well eligible for an English summer.  The Aizawl traffic congestion was equally miserable.  Colney pointed out the A.R. (Assam Rifles) Showground, to where he hopes that we will return and stage a major Jesus Festival.

We'd eaten well all day and hardly needed another meal, but the family pressed us.  Sam had a great time washing his clothes courtesy of the geyser that had appeared in our bathroom.  The energetic 8 o'clock prayer time followed.  We were presented with books, shirts and CDs as a token of their appreciation and affection.  Keith, who had been prominent in the question time, promised to bring his young peoples' group up tomorrow morning, to practise some songs, and some drama pieces that Sam was hatching.  They'll hold a two-hour Church on the Streets on Wednesday morning.  Now it's the guys' turn to click in to gear, and they're bubbling with ideas.

When I turned in at 11.30pm, content with the day's progress, Nathan was already a hump under his quilt.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Multiply India Visit Day Six, 8 Sept

I paid our hotel bill and went to call Sam and Nathan for breakfast.  We were earlier than the normal hours.  After an initial offer of "just black coffee", we found the serving tables filling up with cereals, fruit dishes, fry-ups and bowls of foreign stuff.  "That's how every breakfast should be., Nathan endorsed.

Our baggage was piled in reception and various smart aviation-looking types were climbing into waiting vehicles.  I fixed the duty manager.  "Where's our 7 o'clock hotel car, for the airport?"  He flustered, flicked through a logbook, and said, "You haven't paid for it."  "Your bill that I paid was just a summary statement."  (I'd had to ask for meals details for our intended travel insurance claim.) I fired, "I hope you're not going to let us down on this."  The charge was 1,380 rupees; yesterday's taxi had been 375.

Cogs whirred.  A whole caste system of door porters, baggage porters, assistant porters, senior porters, door attendants, security attendants and concierges swarmed round the diminutive car boot jostling for the right protocol for who should decide how to load the impossible mountain, who should convey the instruction, who should lift it in, and who should try to close the lid.  I put an end to the pantomime by making it clear that sharing the back seat with a small case was tolerable, but further delay wasn't.  Ah, India.

At Domestic Departures, we strode towards the - by now very familiar - Jet counter D.  They were weighing in hand baggage.  I knew we were out of luck.  The tiny lady, with voice to suit, eventually made herself understood that we'd omitted to put the hold luggage through the security scan.  My fault.  Nathan booled over the trolley and came back with the cases duly tie-strapped.  I put my hand case on the belt scales.  Our lady looked as though the shock of seeing 14kg would prove terminal to her fragile constitution.  We tried waving at her the excess baggage receipt from Bangalore, and woeful tales of our missed flight.  She spluttered something from which I picked out 7kg, and we apologised our way to a space where we could repack.

But the cases were tightly strapped and, of course, we had no sharp instruments.  We all got down to 7kg, and re-presented ourselves at the desk.  The three main cases came to 64.7kg in total.  A second heart attack.  She screeched, "I said take out 4kg, I can allow 10."  Not what I'd heard.  Confused about what should now be reduced by 4kg, we were overcome with frustration, and chorused, "Yes, we know we've got to pay for excess: we did yesterday."  "But it will be 20kg, that's 3,000 rupees," she gasped.  "Yea, fine!" Sam burst in.  Then, "Where?"  Of course it was a different counter.

"That's taken an hour," I muttered as we headed for Security check.  This time they were fine with the other two, but insisted that I unpack.  "There's a tube," the front man said.  "No, they're all separate, in this plastic bag," I insisted, meaning toothpaste and insect cream.  Front Man handed the case back to the Screen Watcher to rescan.  He wasn't satisfied.  They bickered.  The bag went through the scan again.  The Screen Watcher lugged my bag over himself and tugged at the contents.  Eventually he found my digital sound recorder, and inside the padded case a pistol grip.  He tossed the contents back into my bag disgustedly, and swung back to his seat without acknowledgement.  I was left to replace the tipped-out heap.

"I wanna do a video diary," Nathan enthused, as we recovered with a cup of coffee.  "This is Greatheart, the man who has repacked his case three times already this morning..."  "And is still beset with impatience, irritation, anger, self pity, annoyance, frustrated sense of consumerist entitlement, and general ill-grace; so has learnt nothing from this carefully weighed trial." I laughed.  Nathan roared and the 'diary' closed.  We threaded down to the Gate area.

I managed to get a phone signal (pace EE), and collected emails.  Sam and Nathan decided an impromptu throw-about with the Frisbee would great.  Twenty minutes later they tumbled back from the stair-well, sweating, but we were no nearer boarding.  They transferred the game to the Departure area and resumed.  The amused desk staff joined in. 

"Oh, no.  Look at that.  It's got propellers!"  Still giddy as schoolboys, they rushed to the front.  The kind assistant yesterday had allocated seats on row 1.  A smart lady pushed past through the open flight deck door.  "Hey, are you the pilot?"  She nodded.  "Wicked!  Can we come and see the cockpit..?"  They jammed through before she could raise objection.

The sky was overcast, and I was disappointed that we missed seeing the Bay of Bengal.  But as we approached Aizawl mist cleared from the distinctive lush green mountainous terrain of Mizoram.  "Hey, it's jungle!  I don't believe it. You didn't tell us this!"  We taxi'd to the terminal building past pretty formal gardens and a prominent white marble cross inscribed "THY KINGDOM COME". Colney, and driver Silas, were delighted and ushered us through the North Eastern Territories permit registration.  He'd previously got the necessary letter of sponsorship all sorted.

The journey from Lengpui airport to Aizawl city is epic.  We passed close to tumbling waterfalls; under overhanging cliffs where a landslip had taken away about a third of the road; across a rickety Bailey Bridge; past small village settlements of hillside houses built on stilts, walled with plaited fibres, and with wooden pig-pens.  And all along butterflies, small tidy groups carrying bibles, prolific bamboo, and ever-changing views as we twisted in and out of the ravines and promontories.  To give an idea, the first sight of Aizawl is some 10km-12km distant, but the road hairpins 28km.

We stopped for petrol.  Sam and Nathan dived down a precipitous hillside flight of steps and somehow got invited into a local home, before Colney had to puff down after them.  Sam dropped had his phone and we had to backtrack to the filling station, or else his "Missus would kill me". 

Colney rang someone at the church, and decided our arrival would be disruptive to their service.
So we headed to Chief Police office to finish the Foreigner Registration process, up yet another steep road.  Along the way Colney explained that he'd always got a mark of zero in his Hindi exam, as he refused to write anything.  Mizos like a good protest, especially against greater integration with the remainder of India.

"I'd be interested to see how many other visitors they've had," I said, as we got out of the Suzuki micro-MPV.  Through the double aspect windows of his office, we could see the steep terraces of pastel buildings and wisps of mist hanging over the invisible valley floor.  The smiling Registrar gave us scraps of paper.  "Your father's name, and your profession, please"  He opened the impressive ledger.  There were just four earlier entries dated 2013.

We ascended ever higher towards Colney's Mission for Christ Centre, and turned into a colourful tidy compound.  His father stepped forward to greet us, then Mapuii, whom Colney married on 11 June.  We smiled at a dozen or so young people who all live in the Mission.  "Tea and something to eat," Colney insisted.  We learnt how to spread butter and pineapple jam with a spoon - a ritual I'd also picked up in Nepal.   On the floor of the large family kitchen was piled a heap of gaudy and unfamiliar fresh vegetables. 

"Come and see your rooms."  Colney announced.  He showed to a first floor wing with a large sitting room, attached bedroom and small bathroom.  A table was set with breakfast cereals, a kettle, tea, cups and spoons.  "Here is for you for any time,"  Colney explained.  The three bedroom windows opened onto a small balcony.  The bathroom featured the ubiquitous (at least in the global world) plastic bucket and jug.  Nathan couldn't resist a comparison with the Kolkata HHI five-star luxury of the previous 24 hours.

Rain began to patter on the corrugated roof, and we began the search for plugs compatible with the power sockets.  EE was offering no connection, even though my phone found six networks.  Colney joined us, and we thrashed out very satisfactory draft programme for conference day one.  I felt again that our visit was going to be important to challenge a very Christian attendance towards the Holy Spirit's urgent word for today. 

At dinner time, Colney patiently explained the dishes: traditional pumpkin leaves, green chillies, mashed potato and red onion, and thick chunks of rice.  As we chatted, Colney quizzed me again about my onward journey to Myanmar and the possibilities for our programme here.  "Ah; I have explained.  Tuesday is a Government ban.  We cannot have this second day."  "Whaddaya mean?" I was alarmed.  "No one is at work, and no buildings are open; all across Mizoram.  Hmmm.  You will not fly Tuesday."  While I struggled to process the significance of being caught in a one-day general strike, and no movement permitted, Colney announced, "Now we have our evening prayer time." 

We joined the lounge where twenty or so young people we sitting around with songbooks and a guitar.  The praise was loud and vigorous.  I was introduced to some of the folks.  One had a farm and processed and bottled lemon juice.  I wondered about a tie-up with Goodness Foods.  An older smartly-dressed gentlemen mentioned that he had been the Minister of Education, and had visited UK three times.  "Give him your flight number," Colney instructed.  "He will see if you are able to fly with Government permission". 

Nathan was well engaged with Ruatmawia, the church secretary, himself 35 and single.  I'd just about hit sensory overload, but had the wit to find a plug for my mosquito burner before I sent my charging laptop crashing to the floor.  I cleaned my teeth and splashed some water on my face, leaving Nathan teaching two of the young people "I need you my family".   Sam burst into the room with tales of unbelievably noisy crickets, and a moth the size of a starling tapping on the window.  At the airport he'd been dive-bombed by a huge insect with knobbly antennae.

Sleep didn't come easily. I was still worried about Steve, and knew we'd have no news. 

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