The Last Words!

Picture of Steve and Ruth

This post by Steve and Ruth Lancaster was originally published at Life in the Lancs Lane

2nd January: High Pike in the Lakes

The very last words of Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ novel are a tad underwhelming considering what has gone before.  Samwise Gamgee, the ever-faithful travelling companion, arrives back in the Shire after completing his quest to help Frodo deposit the magical ring in the fires of Mount Doom.  He has fought off giant spiders, battled with orcs and trolls, trudged over mire and mountain, and finally arrived back at his Hobbiton home.  He slumps into a chair in his cosy hobbit-hole and says to his wife in a rather understated manner, “Well, I’m back.”

Well, we’re back!  And this is where our AIM journey comes to an end.  We haven’t had to fight any trolls, at least not in the physical realm!  Who knows how many spiritual trolls have been encountered during our journey?!  We have encountered a few big spiders and scorpions, but not on the scale that Sam and Frodo had to deal with.  We haven’t had to trudge over mire and mountain, unlike many of the early AIM missionaries, but we did clock up a lot of miles on the potholed roles of Tanzania as we ministered to pastors and missionaries across the country.  We didn’t have a magical ring to deal with, although, just as Tolkien’s ring had the power to destroy all evil, our mission was to teach God’s Word, a story that deals with the ultimate battle between good and evil, and the eventual demise of our enemy.  Revelation ch. 20 states that Satan will indeed be thrown into a lake of fire, and on that day, his influence will be no more!  The victory has been won!  Now, I realise that you can take analogies too far (Tolkien might disagree!) but the fact is that Ruth and I have completed our AIM journey and we’re finally able to say with Sam Gamgee, “Well, we’re back.”  It is the end of that story – but if you’d like to watch a summary of our final term ‘adventures’, see the penultimate paragraph for more details! 

Winter Wonderland: It’s now just over four months since we arrived back in the UK.  We enjoyed a quarantined Christmas, staying in a cosy Cumbrian cottage in the village of Baggrow – not ‘Bag End’!  Due to the fact that we couldn’t do any face-to-face deputation and that we hadn’t got a home to go to, we decided to head north to Scotland where Ruth’s sister has a holiday cottage that we could rent for a few months.  We stayed in the town of Nairn, or as one resident referred to it, Nairnia!  It certainly felt like Narnia during January when the snow came down and covered the frozen harbour!  Here’s a strange connection: the actress who played the evil ice queen in the Narnia movie actually lives in Nairn! 

Coming out of the heat of Tanzania, Ruth and I had both wanted to experience a proper cold winter, and up in Nairn we certainly got that!  We were told that Nairn hadn’t seen as cold a winter for at least 10 years, so it seems we were there at the right time!  With mountains on the doorstep, beaches to walk along, forests to wander through and birds to spot, these two months provided a real Rivendell experience for us; a place to rest and relax, to unwind and unravel, to chill and be chilled!  We loved it!  We managed to do a few online presentations and I was also able to preach a couple of times.  In fact, the wonders of modern technology meant that I could be halfway up a mountainous Munro but at the same time preaching in Carlisle!  Whilst preaching a pre-recorded sermon to a laptop does have some advantages, it isn’t quite the same, so I’m looking forward to getting back in a live pulpit sometime soon. 

A wintry Munro in the Highlands of Scotland

Morogoro to Malmesbury: Following our time in Scotland we headed south and began the process of finding somewhere to rent.  To cut a long story short, we’ve ended up in the small Cotswold town of Malmesbury where we have been able to rent a flat in an old workhouse!  Actually, it’s an old silk mill that was built in 1793 to process raw silk from China.  You’ll see from the photo that the building has numerous large windows in it, designed to let lots of natural light into the rooms, thereby avoiding having to use oil lamps and candles.  This was all with safety in mind as the silk material being processed was highly flammable!  We’ve been here just over a month and have settled in really well, and so far haven’t come across any ghostly silk-millers looking for their silk!  We had initially wanted to rent in Corsham itself but found that there was very little on the rental market that was available for just six months, so we opted for this flat in Malmesbury, only a 20-minute drive away. The silk mill will be our home for the next few months whilst we wait for our tenants to move out of our house in Corsham.    

The town of Malmesbury seems to have three notable claims to fame.1 . Athelstan, the first king of England was buried here in the abbey in the year 939. 2. A tower in the abbey was used for an early attempt at human flight way back in 1010.  One of the monks jumped into a hand-made glider and launched himself off the tower.  It flew for 180 metres before crashing to the ground, leaving him with two broken legs!  3. Nowadays it’s home to the Dyson company, an employer of over 4,000 people who design and produce all sorts of household gadgets.

Sunset on the Solway Firth

And so to the ‘what next’ question!  We’ve certainly enjoyed our home assignment months, even though they’ve been a bit different due to Covid restrictions.  Tanzania already seems a world away from where we are now; there are no geckos on our walls here, no ants crawling over the kitchen top, no snakes to be mindful of!  We now drink water from the taps without a second thought and are still amazed by the food choices available in the supermarket!  Despite what people may say, the roads here are a pleasure to drive on, and having my car serviced here only takes a day, rather than week!!  And it still seems strange that it’s not getting dark at 6.30 every night!  I guess that these, and a thousand other differences, add to the variety of life that we’ve experienced during the past 7 years, and it’s going to take a bit more time to fully adjust back into UK culture.  We’re grateful for most of these experiences (!) and thankful to God for a good re-entry!  

Ruth has been actively looking for employment and had hoped to find a job with a Christian ministry.  However, the Lord seems to have another direction in mind for her at this time and on 10th May she will start a new job as the Operations Manager of a small company that specializes in providing training through role play (see www.inspired-act.co.uk for more information).  This opportunity came about through a member of Corsham Baptist Church who runs the company.  Please pray for Ruth as she settles into the role. 

As for me (Steve), there are a few possibilities, but nothing definite to report on.  I’ve found it hard to know exactly what I want to do in this next chapter, and I’m content to wait for the right opportunity, knowing that God will show me the right door to walk through as and when that door appears!  I’d like to continue in Christian ministry through preaching and teaching but working out the right context in which to do that, at this point in time, is the hard part!  Meanwhile, Oak Hall has asked me to lead and speak on a few trips during the summer and, now that travel restrictions are beginning to ease, there is a better chance of them actually happening.  Israel is one country that has just been given a ‘green light’, meaning that there won’t be a requirement to quarantine on return.  The Israel trips I hope to be leading will be 31st July-10th August, and 8th-18th Sept, and I also hope to be doing the Bible teaching on the Oak Hall Alpine Bible week in Austria towards the end of August.  It’s always good to see a few familiar faces on these trips, so if you fancy joining me, please have a look at the Oak Hall website, or click the following links: 

Oak Hall – Israel—trip codes IS34 and IS40 

Pastor Batano & Tony 
at Sanga Sanga

News of Sanga Sanga: Our former team mates Tony & Cath Swanson visited Sanga Sanga in February to run a training course for pastors and reported back to us that the ministry appears to be thriving.  The buildings were spick and span and visitor bookings were growing.  We’re so thankful to hear this news and to know that our Tanzanian colleagues are doing a great job.  Please do continue to pray for Pastor Batano, the accountant John, evangelist Francis Manungu and all the team there.  You can receive occasional updates of Sanga Sanga through the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/aictsangasanga.

Magical Memories and Memorable Moments: Back in March we put together a video presentation of our third term in Tanzania, a summary of our final term and a collection of our memorable moments.  It was done primarily for folks at our home church in Corsham because we couldn’t report back to them face-to-face, but we thought we’d make it available on the blog for anyone to watch.  You might be familiar with some of the photos and stories, as they’ve appeared in various newsletters, but we hope that it gives the full flavour of our final term in Tanzania.  So, if you’d like to see some footage of an elephant up close and personal, some grown-up men and women getting excited over a piece of birthday cake, a Muslim-majority primary school class singing God’s praises, and some Masai dance moves, head to the previous post on the blog entitled “Video – a look back at our last term” and click on the link which says “3rd term video for Corsham Baptist”.  A word of warning to those strapped for time, the presentation lasts for 46 minutes!! 
This is the 41st and final edition of our AIM-related newsletter and, if you’ve read all 41 editions, you deserve a medal!  A note of thanks to Ma and Pa Lancs for printing and distributing those 41 editions!  We hope you’ve enjoyed the journey and have felt a part of what we’ve been doing over these last 7.5 years.  We may well continue to write an occasional blog update (depending on what happens next), so if you would prefer not to be on the blog update list, please let us know.  If we don’t hear from you, we’ll assume you’re happy to hear from us occasionally!  
Our formal service with AIM officially ended on 31st March, although we’ll continue to be inactive members for the time being.  We had good debriefs with our colleagues in the Nottingham office and are grateful for all they’ve done to administer our service and smooth our transitions to and from the field.
To those who have written to us at various times, to those who have encouraged us, to those who have prayed for us, and to those who have supported us and our work at IBM financially, we want to say the biggest THANK YOU possible – asante sana kabisa for your support!  You’ve been a huge blessing!  And I guess all that’s left to say is ‘goodbye’…. for now!   
Every blessing,
Steve & Ruth
Prayer Points
– Praise God for the way in which He has helped us to adjust back to life in the UK and for the provision of accommodation.
– Please pray for Ruth as she starts her new job soon.  Pray too for Steve as he considers the future and waits for God’s direction.
– Please pray for Pastor Batano and his team at Sanga Sanga, that the ministry will continue to bless the pastors and evangelists of the AICT.  Pray for wise management and increasing visitor numbers to sustain the work.
Bird of the month: Long-tailed Duck,
seen at Hopeman, Moray
Steve, his niece Grace and sister
Bev at the end of the unofficial
Nairn half marathon in March!

Video – a look back at our last term

Picture of Steve and Ruth

This post by Steve and Ruth Lancaster was originally published at Life in the Lancs Lane

 Hi folks,

We’ve been back in the UK for a couple of months now.  It’s been a good time for us to process our final term in Tanzania and adjust to life back here, and especially life under lockdown.  We’ll be sending out a final newsletter in a few weeks’ time but for now we thought you might want to watch a video that we put together for our church, Corsham Baptist, that gives the highlights of our final year, some memorable moments and some things that we’d love you to pray for.  The video is 45 minutes long so get yourself a cuppa and get comfortable!  To access the video, clink the link below (it will look like it’s buffering but if you press play it will start).

Enjoy!

3rd term video for Corsham Baptist

Never say never!

Picture of Steve and Ruth

This post by Steve and Ruth Lancaster was originally published at Life in the Lancs Lane

Back in 2010, in my role as an AIM mobiliser I made a brief visit to Morogoro to stay with an AIM missionary couple (the Swansons), little knowing that three years later we’d be joining them in the work at Sanga Sanga.  Towards the end of that trip, Ruth flew out from the UK to join me for some holiday.  It was Ruth’s first visit to sub-Saharan Africa and she can vividly remember walking down one of the bustling Morogoro streets thinking to herself, “I could never live here!”  Well, I wonder if God had a little chuckle at that point, knowing that His plan was for us to live and work here for 7.5 years?!  We often joke that, in God’s economy, it’s dangerous to say the word ‘never’, but obviously in Ruth’s case, the thought was just as dangerous!  God has a habit of using people in places and situations where they could never have imagined living, doing what they never thought they’d be doing.  And yet He always follows that ‘never-never’ call by equipping His servants to carry out what He’s called them to do in never-never land! 

We can both testify to that.  Ruth can testify to the fact that God has equipped her to manage the finances at Sanga, alongside many other tasks and roles she would never have imagined doing before she came here (building maintenance!).  Although I’m not a fantastic linguist God has enabled me to preach and teach in Swahili on 229 occasions, despite the fact that I would often find myself thinking (whilst preaching) ‘What on earth am I doing standing up here preaching in another language?!’  He has proven the words of a phrase I heard at Bible College 18 years ago: “God often doesn’t call the qualified but he always qualifies the called.”  The verse that we chose for our third term prayer card highlights this issue of God equipping His servants for a role: “There is nothing in us that allows us to claim that we are capable of doing this work.  The capacity we have comes only from God.” (2 Cor 3:4)

Being equipped by God to do what He has called you to do does not, however, guarantee that the road ahead is going to be straightforward!  I think our 7.5 years of living in Morogoro can be compared to the state of the roads in Tanzania!  There are sections where the tarmac is new and smooth, where the road is straight for many a mile – but there are also sections where the roads are rough, twisty, potholed and yet another rumble strip shudders through the car, testing your shock absorbers to the limit!  There are also quite a few unpainted humps in the road which are invisible until you’re on them!  Likewise, that’s how life can be for us all at various times. 

Certainly, in the last couple of years, there have been more potholes and humps than we would have chosen on this journey, but despite them, God has enabled us to do what we came to do, and this part of the journey is nearly journeyed!  And we’re realising (rather slowly!) that God uses the humps and bumps more than the ‘straight and the smooth’.  In fact it would seem from the pages of Scripture, that there are times when God leads us purposefully down into some potholes in order to accomplish His purposes in our lives.  And more often than not, at the time we haven’t got a clue why!  
Although it doesn’t use potholes as an analogy, I’m reminded of a poem I came across years ago called The Weaver.  My guess is that I’ll look back over time and wish I hadn’t complained so much about all those humps and bumps!

Surviving the Seminar Season!  A few weeks ago we were able to wrap up the IBM conference season with a four day seminar for AICT Evangelists at Sanga Sanga, with over 120 people in attendance.  This was concluded with another goodbye ceremony and yet more yards of coloured cloth being wrapped around Ruth.  The presentation of an African shirt provided many minutes of comedy as I struggled to get the thing over my head, whilst silently vowing never to wear it again! 

No, these aren’t snow goggle marks – they’re
tribal tattoos.  A conference attendee.
Steve’s very last Swahili session!

The Evangelists’ conference provided a real contrast to the last of our regional seminars, held in Iringa back in October.  The church building we met in was a challenging venue as it was situated at the top of a steep road leading into the city.  The sound of labouring lorries struggling up the hill in first gear was never far away!  Added to that was the constant sound of pan-clattering as the adjoining corridor was used as a makeshift kitchen.  Strangely enough, I never did see the hygiene certificate on the wall, although in defence of the cooks, the food was good and we didn’t get dodgy stomachs! It was a challenging week in many ways and brought added meaning to the scripture where Paul says, “Preach the Word, being prepared in season and out of season.”  In other words, be prepared to preach when it’s convenient and when it’s not; when it’s noisy and when it’s quiet; when it’s well-attended and when it’s not!  So concluded the teaching series on Mark’s gospel, after which we headed straight off to our annual AIM retreat (also in Iringa) where I was involved in teaching, this time from John’s gospel.  I know for sure that any ministry back in the UK might not be as ‘colourful’ as it is here in Africa!            

Project Pack-down!  With our goodbye ceremonies complete and handovers all but done, we’re now preparing for our Tanzanian departure on 20th Dec.  This week is definitely where the pack-down gets serious as we sell off our household goods and aim to squeeze our worldly belongings into six suitcases!  We leave Morogoro on Tuesday 15th and head to the coast for five days, where we’ll take in the last of the African sun and enjoy the last few days of mask-freedom!  Arriving back in the UK on 21st Dec is going to be a shock to the system in terms of climate and Covid!  We’ll quarantine over Christmas in Cumbria and then plan on heading down south to Wiltshire in early January.  The first two months of 2021 will see us on home assignment, and then come 1st March, our term of service with AIM will come to a close.  At this point, we’re still not sure what the next chapter looks like and the canvas is looking fairly blank!  However, we believe that the Artist in charge of the next tapestry will reveal the pattern according to His timing and purpose.  Please pray that we’ll remain patient as we watch, wait, and listen! 

Saying farewell to the staff at Sanga Sanga

We hope to be in touch with a final newsletter sometime in February but for now we’ll sign off from Tanzania and wish you all a very happy and healthy Christmas.  Many thanks to those of you who have supported us on this journey, whether that be through prayer or pounds, or both!  We’ve been blessed with faithful, loyal and loving support along the route – and for that we are extremely grateful.  We could not have done this without you.  To those who have supported us financially, we’ll be in contact in the New Year to let you know about the ‘shutting down’ process!  For now, it’s ‘kwa heri’ from Tanzania, knowing that it will soon be time for ‘hello’ in the UK!  

Prayer Points: 

  • We’re thanking God for the completion of this year’s conferences, and praying the teaching goes on to bear much fruit.  
  • We’re thanking God for good farewells and a sense of closure to our time in Tanzania. 
  • We’re thanking God for His protection and blessing during the last 7.5 years.  
  • We’re praying for guidance with regard to the next chapter; that we’d be open to His leading; that God would show us clearly what the next step is; for wisdom as we plan our home assignment including where we should live!
  • Please continue to pray for Pastor Batano, John Enock and the staff at Sanga Sanga as they continue with the ministry in our absence.   

Every blessing

Steve & Ruth

PS. For the Corshamites among you, here’s a weird connection with our newsletter title!  Did you know that the first time the phrase “never say never” first appeared in print was back in 1837?  Charles Dickens used it in his novel ‘The Pickwick Papers’ – which was apparently written in Pickwick, Corsham! 

Ruth just about managed to cram John’s head
with as much information as he needs!
The flamboyant trees are in full bloom at this
time of year, Tanzania’s own Christmas trees!
Who’s pinched the arch?
Bird of the month: Brown-hooded Kingfisher,
a frequent visitor to our garden in Morogoro

Making the Message of Mark Matter

This post by Steve and Ruth Lancaster was originally published at Life in the Lancs Lane

Monduli seminar
The Monduli conference – the heart of
Masai land

We’re now midway through our conference season and preparing for our fourth event, this time in the wilds of Magambua (23rd-25th Sept), a 3 hour drive from the nearest tarred road. So far the IBM events have gone really well, with 90 pastors (and wives) in attendance. During the 3 day course we journey together through the gospel of Mark, although with only ten teaching sessions we’re only scraping the surface of some of the major events.  Here’s the breakdown, with a few added comments:

1: Intro to Mark.  A man who was possibly a failed missionary but was given a second chance by Barnabas, and who later became very useful to both Paul and Peter.

2: The Parable of the Sower.  A session that promotes more discussion than any other, quite possibly because many of our pastors are also subsistence farmers!?

3: Jesus calming the storm.  A key lesson for me this term, as I keep trying to apply the truth that Jesus is in the boat with me as I face the waves.

4: The feeding of the 5000.  Jesus doesn’t actually need the five loaves and two fish to do his work, but he chooses to use the small amount the little boy can offer to feed thousands!   

5. Peter’s confession of Christ.  If Jesus really is who he says he is, then we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.

6: The donkey-riding King!  King of the Universe – yet he comes in humility and gentleness.

7: The authority of Jesus and the rumble in the temple!  What do we need to remove from the courtyards of our lives in order to give room for more reverence and worship to God?

8: Anointing the anointed.  The deep devotion of one woman who was prepared to give something of immense worth to Christ. 

9: The power of the cross.  Jesus (who didn’t deserve to die) was crucified, whilst Barabbas (who deserved to die) was freed.  Our middle name is Barabbas!   

10: He has risen!  Some of the most important words ever uttered by an angel!

Steve’s just relieved he didn’t get
the jacket!
At the three conferences so far, the day that stands out from the rest is the third day of teaching.  From a teaching/preaching perspective it has felt as though there has been an extra ‘uummpphhh’ to sessions 9 and 10.  Swahili utterance has felt more fluid and there’s been a real feeling of the message hitting home. The singing that follows these sessions has borne testimony to the fact that hearts and minds have been challenged and blessed, as we’ve considered the awesome power of the cross and the empty tomb.  It’s our hope that the teaching the pastors receive will enable and inspire them personally, but that they might also be mobilised to pass on what they’ve learned to their congregations.  

The Long Goodbye!  At each conference so far the closing minutes have involved a farewell presentation to us from the pastors and their wives, even though we haven’t shouted from the rooftops about our departure home to the UK!  I’d rather pop out the back door once the conference has finished!  A lengthy speech is normally followed by a procession of swaying gift-givers who parade to the front and wrap us up with tribal blankets!  At the Monduli event we were robed in Masai gear, followed up by the longest of photo-calls! 

At the Monduli seminar – clearly the couple on the 
right didn’t get the joke!


At the Pwani event, in an attempt to get us to rethink our exit strategy, pastor Reuben quoted from Acts 18:20 where the Ephesians pleaded with Paul to stay: They asked him to spend more time with them.  I politely quoted the end of the verse which says, but he declined!  Such farewells are indeed a blessing and enable us to realise that the work God has given us to do has not been in vain.  Such farewells also help us to finish well and give us the platform to say good goodbyes!  It also gives me the opportunity, in my closing speech, to lift up my Enabler in all of this. 1 Peter 4:11 says whoever preaches must preach God’s messages; whoever serves must serve with the strength God gives, so that in all things praise may be given to God through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs glory and power for ever.  In a season which has seen a few struggles, I am so aware that it is He who has given us the strength to do our work here, and therefore the glory belongs to Him.

Celebrating 125 years!

AIM logo

This post by Steve and Ruth Lancaster was originally published at Life in the Lancs Lane

We are sharing this message from AIM with you all:

“In humble dependence upon God, we have moved steadily forward, no doubt in our blindness making many mistakes, but we ascribe all praise to him for anything that has been done which can bring glory to his name and honour to his cause.”
The words above were written by our founder, Peter Cameron Scott after the first AIM base was established in Nzawi, Kenya. This year we mark our 125-year celebration, and look back with the same mindset. Despite our human frailties, God has done great things in and through those who have served AIM over our history.
Originally we’d planned to have celebrations in Edinburgh and London, but these have now moved online. We are currently compiling stories, videos which allow us to worship together remotely and thoughts from both missionaries, Africans and our International Office on our past and our future.
There are two ways for you to watch all that we put together:
• Sign up to get a password details of our Vimeo stream, which will go live on 26 September and remain accessible for a while afterwards.
• Sign up to receive a DVD through the post.
We hope that you all sign up for one of the above options, and that the event will be an encouragement to you. It would also be great if you could share about the event with your prayer supporters, so that they too can gain a wider insight into the work of AIM and our thoughts for the future. You can sign up, and point them to sign up, at https://eu.aimint.org/prayer/aim-europe-10/

Covid Conundrums!

This post by Steve and Ruth Lancaster was originally published at Life in the Lancs Lane

Our last sunset view from Hotel Quarantine!

You may remember that our last blog update came at the end of March from the third floor of a hotel in Dar during our 15 day quarantine period.  Well, we survived our enforced captivity and were proudly presented with ‘corona-free’ certificates on our release, along with our confiscated passports!  That same morning the Tanzanian government decided to remove the hotel option for incoming passengers for quarantine due to the fact that a number of disgruntled lock-downers had escaped their hotels!  Instead, all incomers were being whisked off to some dingy university halls…. complete with shared bathrooms!  Not so ideal when you’re meant to be isolating!  It made us realise that our enforced hotel stay could have been so much worse!  To be honest, even though we were confined to one room, we actually enjoyed our stay there, although what did help was being able to escape into the corridor every night for some speed-walking exercise!  I (Steve) managed to clock up 30 miles over 14 nights – much to the amusement of the policeman posted at the end of the corridor!

So, what has the situation been like in Tanzania during these past few months?  In short, there has been no lockdown, much to the annoyance of the surrounding countries!  From the outset the President decided that serious lockdown would be too costly on the fragile economy of the country.  Schools, colleges and public gatherings were banned – but he did insist that the ban should not include gathering in church on a Sunday morning!  In fact he encouraged people to attend to pray against the virus – and just last week announced to worshippers in Dodoma that “the corona disease has been eliminated (from the country) thanks to God.”  We’re a tad sceptical about the elimination part of that sentence, although we’re very thankful to God that the virus does not seem to have caused the devastation that was feared.  It’s hard to know the real facts because data on the number of virus cases stopped being published on 29th April, at which point there were only 21 official deaths recorded.  Last month there were all sorts of rumours swirling around – of night-time burials in Dar, hospitals being overwhelmed, unreliable testing, and plane-loads of herbal remedies being flown in from Madagascar etc!
Social Distancing – what’s that?!  

Today, the main streets of Morogoro are as busy as ever, and it’s very much business as usual.  It’s all hustle & bustle and there’s certainly little sign of social distancing!  Was there ever going to be in Africa?!  The traders continue to lay out their wares on the dusty pavements; the knife sharpener continues to sharpen machetes on his upturned bike; beggars continue to ask for a few shillings; the coffin-makers (situated near the hospital!) continue to bang up their coffins at the normal rate of production; the guy selling fresh coconuts from the back of his rickety old pushbike continues to peddle (and pedal!) for his living!   The only sign of a pandemic is that a few people are still wearing face masks, and outside every shop there is a variety of handwashing contraptions, some of which work better than others!

It seems a world away from what has happened elsewhere across the globe and the expected disaster appears not to have happened, and God willing it won’t.  In fact the WHO is now saying that there has been a slower rate of infection in Africa with lower mortality rates than elsewhere in the world.  One possible explanation is that Africa has a young population which has benefited from the control of diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis which has in turn reduced the vulnerabilities.  The experts are now saying that, whilst coronavirus likely won’t spread as fast in Africa, it may well linger on in transmission hotspots for some time.  The following link is a recent BBC article on the how the country (and president!) has handled Covid-19: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-52983563

Pastor Batano receives a sack of
flour for his family

Sanga & Seminars: Due to the ‘gatherings ban’ (April-May) life at IBM’s HQ has been rather quiet.  Kids camps and churches cancelled their bookings at Sanga, and this meant that income was virtually non-existent.  As a result we had to reduce the hours of our workers but thankfully haven’t had to lay anyone off. There’s no such thing as ‘furlough support’ here in Tanzania, and we’re very grateful to a number of IBM supporters who donated to the cause and enabled us to continue paying salaries.  With these donations we were also able to buy sacks of maize flour to support the families of our workers during these leaner times.  It is hoped, now that the ‘gathering ban’ has been lifted, that bookings will be re-booked and life at Sanga will return to some sort of normality!  Two incidents reported in the last few days remind us that life at Sanga is often not normal: reports of a neighbouring bush fire meant that our workers were on high alert to prevent it spreading onto our property; and just yesterday a few of our workers tried to harvest honey from our bee hives…. without a great deal of success!  People ended up running in all directions as the bees swarmed and vented their fury on whoever got in their path.  Our building maintenance guy, who was down a well at the time, didn’t even escape the stinging!

Our first scheduled IBM regional seminar of the year had to be postponed back in early June.  We’re hoping that the next one on the list will happen in July in Mtwara, way down in the south of the country. With an extended preparation time this year, all of the teaching material has now been prepared and is ready to print – all 64 pages of it, with a Swahili word count of 35,000 words!  The pastors and evangelists who attend will be given a full set of notes for two reasons: firstly, they can then use the material in their churches, and secondly, having my notes means they’re able to make sense of my Swahili pronunciation!  In terms of the English word count, the notes are 6,000 words longer due to fact that one word in written Swahili often comprises 3-5 English words!  Everything is thrown together: tense, pronoun, verb etc!  Let me give you a couple of examples so that you can marvel at the language that is Swahili!  These five words – “he did not concern himself” become one word in Swahili – “Hakujishugulisha”.  If I were to say to you “Let us humble ourselves”, I’d say this word: “Tujinyenyekeze”.  And finally the words “When it is preached” become “Itakapohubiriwa”.  You can understand why my teaching notes contain a lot of pen marks in an attempt to break up such words to make them easier to say!
IBM seminar dates:
 1.  6-11 July Mtwara seminar
 2.  5-7 Aug Coastal Diocese seminar at Sanga Sanga Retreat Centre
 3:  2-4 Sept Ifakara seminar
 4:  23-25  Sept Magambua seminar
 5:  28-30 Oct Songea seminar
 6:  ?? Monduli Arusha seminar
 7:  24-27 Nov Pastors’ seminar at Sanga Sanga Retreat Centre

A labour of love!  Steve poses with his
finished teaching materials

This year I’ll be preaching through the gospel of Mark, although with only eleven teaching sessions, we’ll only be scratching the surface.  There is no particular theme or agenda, no strategies or ‘how to do….’ methods, just good old-fashioned preaching from God’s Word!  In studying Mark’s gospel I’m inspired by the fact that the writer was, in his early days, quite possibly a failed missionary whose best friend was our favourite disciple, Peter – who was also known for his slip-ups and failures!  I’m encouraged by the fact that these two ‘failures’ were used mightily by God in the early church and beyond.  It’s thought that Mark used much of Peter’s preaching material and shaped it into the gospel that we have today.  Little did they know what an impact this material would have down through the ages.  Praise God that he chooses to use ordinary bods like Mark and Peter, with their foibles and faults, in the growth of His kingdom!  Whilst I’m certainly not expecting my teaching to have as much impact, I am hoping and praying that God would use my material on Mark’s gospel to inspire, strengthen and deepen the faith of all the AICT men and women we work with.

These last two months have continued to be busy ones for Ruth.  Whilst her monthly ladies prayer breakfast and fortnightly Book Club have been temporarily suspended, there has been plenty to do at Sanga Sanga.  The audit of the books in March has led to implementing some new and improved processes, the finance manual has been updated, a new bank account opened (a long-winded process here!) and various reports written for the Diocese.  There are always personnel issues to deal with and the usual administration and maintenance that goes with running a conference and retreat centre, even without guests!
One of Ruth’s goals for this term was to find a good person to employ as an Accountant.  Praise God that we have been able to appoint a young man who is a believer and seems suitably qualified.  God willing, he will start on 1st July and Ruth will spend several weeks training him in our systems and processes.
The choir of a local Baptist church came to Sanga Sanga
recently to shoot a video for their new DVD 

Life in the Lockdown Lane!

Picture of Steve and Ruth

This post by Steve and Ruth Lancaster was originally published at Life in the Lancs Lane

Some of you will know that Steve was recently granted a month’s medical leave in the UK as he had been diagnosed with anxiety and burn out.  I stayed behind in Tanzania for 3 weeks and joined him in the UK for his final week there, last week.  I’m thankful to say that the break has done Steve good and he is improving, and he has even regained enthusiasm for life in Tanzania!  Sleep has at last returned for him thanks to the medication and his head is a lot clearer.  Thank you so much for all who have prayed for Steve during this last month – your prayers are being answered.  I’m also thankful for your prayers for me while I have been sorting out the Sanga Sanga accounts.  That work is now done and the 2019 accounts closed.  An audit of the accounts was very helpful too.

Rush hour on the London
Underground!

We travelled to Heathrow on 22nd March for our flight back to Tanzania.  We knew that we would probably have to self-isolate at home in Morogoro but we could do that quite easily.  However, 5 minutes after checking in at the airport we received news from our team mate in Morogoro that the Tz Government would be quarantining all passengers arriving from a Covid-19 zone for 14 days.  With no other information to go on – would that include us?  Where would we be quarantined?  – we wrestled with whether to pull our bags out and remain in the UK, or to go on with our plans and return to Tanzania.

We spent an hour trying to get more information from friends on the ground in Tanzania.  One said she’d been told that all arrivals would go to a hospital ward for 14 days, another said it would be a hotel – at our own expense.  Despite the uncertainty and after more than a few arrow prayers for guidance, we decided to go ahead and get on the plane.

Route map on the Qatar Airways flight…hmm,where has
Israel gone?!
Getting 40 winks at Doha Airport

It was a long journey – we had a 7 hour layover in Doha.  Actually we met a few missionaries at the airport who were heading the other way, back to the West, including a family of AIM missionaries who had just left Tanzania (the leaders of the Zigua team who we mentioned in our last blog).  It was good to see them and say our goodbyes, as Steve had been their Unit Leader and involved with them and their team in various ways. 

On our 300-seater Dreamliner aircraft from Doha there were only 12 of us aboard!  Behind their masks the cabin crew were undoubtedly smiling at how easy their job was going to be!  On arrival at Dar yesterday afternoon we were processed through Passport Control but then gathered together to be told that we were going to a hotel to be put into quarantine.  Our pleas to be allowed to return to Morogoro to self-isolate fell on deaf ears.

The view from our window 

So here we are in quarantine.  The hotel is quite comfortable and there is good wifi.  The staff and manager are being helpful and sympathetic.  That said, we have to take all our meals in our room and are not allowed to leave the 3rd floor – and to make sure of that there are now armed police outside!  Officials from the Ministry of Health will be visiting us every day to check our temperatures and health.  It’s a bit frustrating not being able to be at Sanga Sanga, especially as I was due to pay wages there at the end of the month.  But we understand the reasons for our quarantine and are happy to comply with the instructions of the authorities here.  During the next few weeks Steve still has some prep to occupy him and I will be keeping a remote eye on finances at Sanga Sanga.

Interesting bathroom tiles in our hotel room (sorry, we’re a bit
desperate for good photos!)

Pray for Tanzania – if Covid-19 takes hold here the results will be devastating.  Social distancing is almost impossible with large families living together under one roof and public transport cramming in as many people as possible.  Many have underlying health issues that they can’t afford to have treated, making them very vulnerable.  Medical facilities will not be able to cope with an influx of patients, and protective equipment and ventilators will most likely not be available in the quantities that will be needed.

Please pray for us too, for grace and patience in this enforced period of confinement, albeit with room service!  Pray that we won’t get cabin fever and will use this time wisely – and not throttle each other in the process!!

Bird of the month: Southern African
White-faced Owl…on the streets of
Keswick! 

Bizarre Birds, Balancing the Books, and Jars of Clay

This post by Steve and Ruth Lancaster was originally published at Life in the Lancs Lane

Shoebill Sighted!  
Although they now seem like a distant memory, we very much enjoyed our Christmas hols in Uganda, hosted by our friends the Swansons & the Kinsellas.  We picnicked in Entebbe Botanical Gardens on Christmas Eve, got within touching distance of a southern white rhino in the conservation park, and sat down for lunch on the shores of Lake Victoria as a swarm of lake flies passed through!  Looking across the lake we thought we’d seen huge plumes of smoke rising from the water, only to discover that they were in fact millions of lake flies!  Thankfully they don’t bite, but it’s a good idea to check your sandwich before taking a mouthful!  The birders amongst you will also remember that our birding mission was to catch a glimpse of the mysterious Shoebill with its fat hooked beak.  Our boating trip into Mabamba Swamp did not disappoint, and we had some great views of this weird and wonderful bird, also known as the ‘whalehead’! All in all, a great Christmas break, although there’s still a ‘strangeness’ about celebrating Christmas 
in Africa.    


“From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise” (Psalm 8:2). I often travel to see 
various missionaries, and am privileged to get a glimpse of what Christ is doing through them in 
their ministries.  You may remember in our last newsletter, I mentioned that an AIM TIMO team had 
established a nursery school in the rural village where they live, and that 25 children had made it 
through their first year of education. That team is only two months away from finishing and I want to 
refer to an article produced by AIM recently, highlighting the way in which God has used the team to 
reach out to the children of the village with the gospel. 

One of the team members shares the following: “Our village leader, Mwenyekiti, is a force to be 
reckoned with.  She is well respected in the village and is full of wisdom.  She is also adamantly 
opposed to hearing about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Many of the members of our team have 
shared the gospel with her countless times but she usually responds with a polite, “Maybe another 
day” or “That’s great for you but I’ll stick with my religion.”  She has made it pretty clear that Jesus is 
not for her.  Nonetheless, her youngest son and four of her grandchildren are students at our nursery, 
an openly Christian school.  A few weeks back, Mwenyekiti mentioned that she was fairly certain her 
son was ready to profess Christ as his Saviour.  We were thrilled to hear this, of course!  The 
conversation went on and Mwenyekiti casually continued, “I expect this next generation to all be Christians because of the school.  They won’t be Muslim anymore.”  Yes! Praise Jesus! This is our prayer.”  This has not been an easy three years for the team, so it’s great that they are now 
beginning to see a few seedlings growing in what has been a very tough soil to cultivate.  For the full 
article click on the following: https://eu.aimint.org/ziguafeb2020/ 

Gardens being planted at the conference centre
Day-to-Day stuff!  
When we’re at home in Morogoro, it’s pretty much routine and humdrum stuff!  The power surges continue, the water supply is intermittent, the sugar ants run riot in the house, the often-repaired potholes grow deeper…. and the traffic police still circle like vultures waiting to pounce!  Ruth has spent a lot of time over the last few months at Sanga, beavering away at getting the accounts up-to-date, tracking down payment vouchers and receipts.  At the moment she’s working on end-of-year financial reports for AIM, but by the end of the month, she’s hoping to have signed-off 
on ‘the money’, and will then turn her attention to fundraising and marketing.  This has been
a huge undertaking for Ruth, and her diligence and persistence is definitely winning through.  

In terms of teaching material for this year’s conferences, I’ve chosen to look at the Gospel of Mark, focussing on Jesus as the suffering servant.  It’s the shortest Gospel, the earliest Gospel, and 
probably the liveliest with everything happening at a quick pace.  You’ll find that every preacher has 
a favourite word, and Mark’s is definitely ‘immediately’ or ‘straightaway’.  He uses it over forty times!  “Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat.  Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit what 
they were thinking.  Immediately blind Bartimaeus received his sight.”  It’s a gospel full of action and 
you are hurried from one scene to the next. Mark manages to pack a lot into his Gospel, although if 
you add up all the events that he portrays, they only come to a period of three weeks in the life of 
Jesus.  Ironically, at my current pace, it’s going to take me three months to prepare eleven teaching sessions!  

Treasure in Jars of Clay  
Some of you know that poor sleep has been an issue for me over recent years and this has often been accompanied by other 
health complaints (stomach, headaches, etc).  These past few 
months have been quite tough for me in terms of general health.  
Last year whilst on home assignment I was encouraged to 
consider counselling, to explore whether these symptoms could 
have a physiological basis.  This led to a diagnosis of ‘generalised 
anxiety disorder’.  It would seem that I’ve had this for many years 
and that living and working in Tanzania has exacerbated things, causing it to bubble to the surface.  I won’t go into detail but 
having trouble sleeping is just one of the symptoms of this 
disorder!  I’ve also been aware that I’m not tolerating the stress of 
cross-cultural living as well as I once did, and this has been accompanied by the feeling that there’s not much left in the tank.  

A few weeks ago, following advice from a few folks, I travelled to Nairobi for a medical and for further counselling with AIM’s dedicated counselling service.  What 
came out of those sessions was a further diagnosis of burnout and mild depression, resulting from 
stress and anxiety which hasn’t been managed well. It was a lightbulb moment for me because I 
found that I was experiencing many of the symptoms listed under ‘burnout’: no emotional energy left, digestive problems, increased irritability, reduced ability to concentrate, poor sleep, aching joints/
muscles, and mental exhaustion.  It’s no wonder that the tank feels empty!  

As a result, we’ve made a number of decisions that we hope will reduce certain stressors and may 
enable us to finish our work here in a timely way.  I will be heading back to UK on Tues 25th February 
for a month’s medical leave, based in Cumbria with my parents, whilst Ruth will stay to continue the 
work at Sanga.  We’ve also been advised to finish here in Morogoro sooner rather than later, and so, although we were planning for this to be our last term, we’ll now aim to finish at the end of November 
this year, rather than November 2021.  We realise that a month’s medical leave is not going to turn 
me into Superman and clear up all the issues!  However, we hope that it will provide some 
recuperation, whilst giving medication the chance to do its work, so that on my return I’ll be able to 
finish the conference season, work towards a good handover, and that Ruth will be able to train up a Tanzanian accountant at Sanga.  We’re committing our way to the Lord in this and praying that our 
plans will succeed (Prov 16:3) – but we’re also well aware that, “in his heart a man plans his course, 
but the Lord determines his steps” (Prov 16:9)!  If we need to finish earlier, then we will do so, but we 
want to try and handover in the best possible way. 

Note from Ruth: It’s fair to say that the last few weeks have been challenging for me as I’ve ploughed 
much time and energy into sorting out Sanga Sanga’s accounts and at the same time tried to be a 
patient and sympathetic wife to Steve!  I know that many of you have been lifting us up in prayer.  I 
am certain that your prayers for me have been answered and I’m praising God that He has given me 
the needed strength and ability to persevere when ordinarily I might have retreated to a dark room for 
an indefinite lie down!  My grateful thanks to you for your prayers.

Praise & Prayer Points: 

– Pray for Ruth as she ties up last year’s accounts and reports to AIM by the end of Feb. 
– Please pray for Steve as he heads home to UK for medical leave, that there would be some healing 
and a renewed energy to finish this task.
– Pray for Ruth in terms of safety and security as she stays in Tanzania. The longest we’ve been 
apart in 11 years is 13 days!  Pray that there won’t be any emergencies or problems to sort out at 
home or at Sanga Sanga.
– In a few days we’ll be advertising for the position of an accountant/book-keeper at Sanga.  This is a 
key position at IBM so please pray that we’d have some godly and gifted applicants to choose from.
– Please pray for the Zigua team as they prepare to finish up, and for the children who are hearing 
the gospel; that these seedlings will spring up and produce a good crop!  Pray also for the Tanzanian 
couple (the Kimoyo’s) who are staying on to continue the work. 

Dates:

25th February            Steve flies to UK for medical leave
22nd March               Steve returns to Tanzania
8th April                     Ruth & Steve fly to UK.  Ruth spending time with her parents
9th-18th April             Steve leading Oak Hall Israel trip (DV)
20th April                   S&R fly back to Tz
Children at a recent AICT kids’ camp at Sanga Sanga.  Looks
like most of them are having fun!

Tanzania Touch-down!

This post by Steve and Ruth Lancaster was originally published at Life in the Lancs Lane

It seems more than five weeks ago that we packed up our stuff and headed back here to Tanzania.  I’d been given the all-clear by the surgeon and was able to return with a new nose!  The operation went well and my sinuses were well and truly scrubbed up and scraped out!  As we touched down in Dar another delight awaited us!  In fact, we wondered whether we’d arrived in the right country!  We left Dar back in March from a rather grotty airport and arrived back at a brand new terminal building!  And this time, it was great to see all our luggage trundling around the gleaming new carousel!  It was also a bit of a surprise to have no issues at Immigration, so the system obviously acknowledged the recent renewal of our permits. 

As forecast in the last newsletter, the cars were indeed a lengthy job!  Peeling back the tarpaulins revealed that the insides of the cars were covered in a thick layer of mould!  In an effort to protect the outside of the cars, the insides had certainly suffered, so much so that we had to take the seats out to give them a thorough cleansing!  Rotting fuel (?!) also added to a fuel-filter issue and, although the engine compartments hadn’t become a nesting place for termites, rats or snakes, we did find a couple of rather large spiders hiding in there, one of which is still lurking somewhere amongst the spark plugs!  Thankfully, the house was in good condition and it didn’t take us long to get settled in.

On our return to Sanga Sanga, it was good to see the conference hall being used for a pastors’ conference and to hear that all but one scheduled seminar had taken place during the year.  It was also encouraging to see the AIC using the facilities for a children’s camp.  Thanks to our sending church, Corsham Baptist, it was great to see a new accommodation block rising out of the bush!  And, as a tree lover, it was fantastic to see that the team had been busy planting lots of trees and shrubs around the site.

Since our return Ruth has been spending hours with her head in the cash books, sorting out vouchers and receipts from the last eight months and playing the detective in trying to work out what came from which budget etc!  It’s consumed her every waking thought (and some night-time thoughts as well!) but headway is being made slowly.  My efforts have been focussed more on unit leadership matters, which has meant more time behind the mouldy steering wheel as I visited various missionaries in the unit.   
 
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go”?! 
As I wandered the aisles of a supermarket in Dar the other day, this was one of many Christmas songs being played.  It all seemed a bit surreal and disconnected from life outside.  In fact, here in Morogoro, there are only a few small shops that are remotely Christmassy and it’s rather ironic that those shops belong to Muslims!  I pondered some of the words of these so-called Christmas classics and wondered what Tanzanians make of them.  After all, reindeers and sleigh bells, mulled wine and mince pies, snowy Christmas-card scenes and Santa, carolling and Christmas cake don’t quite fit into an African culture!  Thankfully, there’s more to Christmas than some of these western traditions! 
The situation I found myself in 24 hours earlier was even further removed from the title of that song!  As part of my role as unit leader, I was visiting a team of AIM missionaries out in the bush who are living amongst an unreached Muslim people group – and it certainly didn’t feel anything like Christmas there!  The rutted red-mudded ‘road’ was a bit of a challenge for the Subaru but it led me to a village of mud huts and mud-bricked houses.  The heat was intense, the cicadas buzzed in the trees, and a family sat on the ground under some trees, whilst bare-bottomed toddlers toddled around!  One of the recent buildings is a small school which was built by an AIC church and the team.  Providing education has definitely been a gateway for the gospel here, where teaching the Bible is part of the curriculum.  Twenty five children have made it through the first year of education and there are some encouraging tales of the gospel rubbing off on some of these little ones. 
You might remember a rather different Christmas song released back in 1984 (35 years ago!) which contained the words “Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?”  Well, here in this off-the-beaten-track Tanzanian village, they definitely do!  They’ve heard the real Christmas message, without having to wade through wrapping paper and tinsel to hear about Jesus.  Thanks to this team, this group of people has heard the real and relevant message of God’s son “putting on skin” and descending into humanity for the most dramatic and sacrificial rescue mission of all time!  As you pray for people around you this Christmas who don’t yet know Christ, please also spare a prayer for this team and the villagers they’re trying to reach with the gospel. 
Christmas will be different for us this year as we’re heading to Uganda to spend some time with our former team-mates, Tony & Cath Swanson.  At some point during those festivities we’re also hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive Shoebill, which I realise might not mean much to many of you, or even be top of your Christmas wish list, but it’s one of those ‘must see’ birds in the African birding world!  For those trying to picture it, just think of a large bird with a shoe-like bill!  Soon after New Year, we’ll be heading to the cooler climes of Nairobi for unit leader meetings.  So all in all, a festive period that will involve quite a bit of travel, some of it for pleasure and some for ministry.  
As we close up a memorable year, we’d like to take the opportunity to thank those of you who support us prayerfully and financially.  We couldn’t do our work here in Tanzania without you – so many, many thanks to you all.  Whatever you’re up to for Christmas and New Year, have a truly blessed time!  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:13).      
Diary Dates: 
23-30 Dec: Christmas in Uganda
5-11 Jan: Nairobi (Unit Leader meetings) 
Jan-March: Steve prepares teaching material for 2020 conferences
Prayer & Praise Points: 
  • We’re thanking God for a safe return and for the fact that we’re fully supported.
  • Please pray for Steve as he begins his teaching preparation for the seminars in 2020.
  • Pray for Ruth as she wades through the accounts, checking and correcting.
  • Please pray for an accountant to be employed at Sanga, sooner rather than later! 
  • Please pray for Steve and his health.  Whilst the sinus operation was very much needed, it has now become obvious that the sinuses weren’t the real cause of headaches and dizziness.  They still exist, along with the insomnia. The sleep tank is pretty empty!  
Bird of the month:
Long-crested Eagle

Permits & Polyps – Delays & Deferrals!

Picture of Steve and Ruth

This post by Steve and Ruth Lancaster was originally published at Life in the Lancs Lane

We all know that feeling don’t we? That feeling of relief when your luggage finally appears on the carousel!  Some of us have also experienced the other feeling – that anxious and annoyed feeling when the carousel comes to a grinding halt and your luggage hasn’t appeared!  When we returned from Tanzania back in March, we experienced the latter feeling and had to wait 5 days for our luggage to arrive, all the way from……. Amsterdam!  Our home assignment started with a delay and it certainly seems to be ending with a delay….or two!  First of all there was the issue of our residents permits not being ready for our scheduled return in September.  And then just a few weeks ago (following a delay in getting my CT scan results) it was decided I needed sinus surgery to remove polyps, and so this has resulted in a further delay in our return!  So, until 17th November, we’re still very much based in UK.

UK based: the past seven months. You may just about remember that in our last update (nearly 8 months ago!) we listed 20 things that we were looking forward to during our home assignment.  Whilst I could wax lyrical about the whole list, you’ll be pleased to know that I’ve only chosen 8 things from that list as a way of reporting back on what’s been happening.

Overlooking Nazareth

Visiting Israel. I’ve had the pleasure of leading two Oak Hall trips to Israel/Palestine, one of them with Ruth as my co-leader!  Maybe I’ve said this before (!?) but to teach from God’s Word in the place where it all happened provides a real buzz!  And these trips are often eye-openers for the guests.  You can begin to imagine Hezekiah’s men chiselling their way through bedrock as you wade through his tunnel underneath David’s City!  You can picture Jesus weeping over Jerusalem as you descend the Mount of Olives, and, as you mingle with the crowds in the bazaars in the old city, it’s easy to visualise what a busy Passover festival would have been like.  And then, when you sail on the Sea of Galilee or sit on the shore, you can almost hear the words of Jesus as he teaches the crowds or stills the storm.  And so I could go on!

Steve waxing lyrical overlooking the Dead Sea

Running in cooler climes. We both enjoyed running the country lanes of Wiltshire in preparation for the Nairn half marathon in August.  My time of 1hr 58 mins over 13 miles was slightly faster than Eliud Kipchoge managed in Vienna last weekend, although it might be fair to point out that the professional Kenyan runner covered twice the distance in that time!!
Here we are with bro Lancs and Kerri.

90th birthday tea!

Spending quality time with family and friends. It’s been great to catch up with family and we’ve enjoyed some top times together!  We were able to see Steve’s youngest sister and her family for the first time in six years, and had the privilege of doing a mini-preach at my Grandad’s funeral back in July – just a month after his 97th birthday!  There have also been some awesome family holidays in Scotland to add to the memory bank.  Ruth enjoyed being able to celebrate her parents’ birthdays in September and October – Mum was 90 and Dad was 89.

Food variety. Bring out the pork pies!  And that could be the reason I’ve put on 7kgs (1 stone)!  We’ve enjoyed being able to eat salads without having to bleach them beforehand, and, as a bread fan, I’ve enjoyed eating some of the 20+ different varieties currently found in Morrison’s!  In Morogoro, brown bread is a relatively recent addition.

Driving on smooth roads where most people adhere to the highway code!  I realise that some of you will question my judgement on this one, but I’ve found driving in the UK to be relatively relaxing!  I’ve been amazed that drivers actually let you out at junctions!  It also makes a nice change not to see police jumping out of bushes with a tampered speed camera in hand!

The mighty Schilthorn

Skiing. What better way to unwind from the heat of Tanzania than to head to the Swiss Alps?!  We enjoyed a great Oak Hall skiing trip for five days back in March.  Somehow we covered 199 miles in distance and skied 170,000 vertical feet – although not all in one drop!  For those familiar with the Jungfrau ski area, I also managed 58mph on the wall of death; still shaking!!

Climbing a mountain or two. Definitely delivered on this one!  A number of minor Lakeland summits plus the Welsh summit of Snowdon were climbed.  We were also able to stand on the same mountain on which Moses stood (Mt Nebo) as he looked across from Moab (modern-day Jordan) into the Promised Land.  The view from Mt Masada (Israel) is also said to be one of the finest in the Middle East, although it’s more of a cable-car ride than a climb!  And during the Oak Hall Iceland trip that I spoke on, we stayed just a few miles away from the volcano that caused so much trouble back in 2010 – the one that no one outside of Iceland can really pronounce: Eyafjallajokul!

Cycling the Hebrides. What a week up in the southern Hebrides in July!  Along with some of the family, we cycled 95 miles on the islands of Barra, Eriskay, South and North Uist, Benbecula and Berneray.  Fantastic beaches, stunning scenery, and some quality birding: lots of short-eared owl and hen harriers, plus white-tailed eagle and snipe.

Not being at the mechanics on a weekly basis! We’ve managed to put 13,000 miles on the ‘little red blimp’ (mums car!), and apart from a standard service, we haven’t had to see a mechanic!

Being at our home church. We’re blessed to have a supportive church behind us (Corsham Baptist) who not only support us financially and prayerfully, but also send out teams to help at Sanga Sanga and at various AIM conferences – so we feel the connection is pretty strong!  We’re also blessed to be fully supported so we haven’t had the added stress of having to raise funds while at home.  I was asked to do the Bible teaching at our church weekend back in June and was given four 1 hour slots to focus on the Upper Room chapters in John’s Gospel.  Not sure about the folks there, but I very much enjoyed having quality time to preach in English!  We’ve also presented at a number of other churches in Liverpool, Lincoln, Carlisle and Chippenham, and I’ve been able to preach/teach on 30 occasions, including at the AIM Fellowship Conference in London and a warehouse church in Iceland!

Steve teaching the Word at the AIM Fellowship Conference in September

Delays & Deferrals are plentiful in the Bible!  Think about Jacob waiting to marry Rachel for 14 years!  What about the Israelites who took 40 years to enter the Promised Land when it could have taken them less than 3 weeks; that’s a huge delay!  The Apostle Paul was ‘delayed’ in Caesarea for two years sitting about waiting for his trial to happen.  Elisha was anointed Elijah’s successor but then had to wait 7 years for Elijah’s chariot to appear so that he could become Israel’s main prophet!  Jesus himself chose to delay for a few days on hearing about Lazarus.  And according to Daniel 10 even angels sometimes get delayed in their duties!

One of the passages that I preached on recently involves a delay, albeit a slightly shorter delay than the ones mentioned above!  Mark 6:47 says, “When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on the land.  He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them.”  We are told in the next verse that Jesus went out to them, walking on the water, during the 4th watch of the night (3-6am).  The disciples had been on the lake since late the previous afternoon, wrestling with the wind and battling with the waves. They were still in that position 10-12 hours later!  And yet remember, Jesus had seen them straining at the oars the previous evening!  He knew about their situation and the ordeal that they were facing but he chose not to come to their aid immediately.  Jesus chose to delay his rescue operation!  Why did he wait until the 4th watch of the night?  We simply don’t know.  Maybe the disciples asked that same question!

Steve & Ruth with a calm Galilee in the background

There are some delays in our lives that work well for us and, as we look back on them, we can see a clear reason for the delay. We can even thank God for the delay because in His sovereignty He works these things out and knows what’s best for us. There are, however, other delays which are painful to bear and we long for God to remove them – we just can’t see any logic in the delay. In fact it feels as though we’ve been sitting in our storm-tossed boat for too long, crying out for God to intervene, but He seems to delay in coming to our aid.

Be assured, the Almighty God sees you straining at your oars and, at His appointed time, He will come to your aid.  Somehow, in the midst of the delay, He is working His purposes out for your life.  It is during the delays, some of which can be quite stormy, that God teaches us about Himself.  He calls us to trust Him through the delays and through the storms.  Indeed, without the delays, stresses, trials, and even failures, we would never grow to be what we should become as Christians.  They are a vital part in our spiritual growth, even though at the time, we might not like or appreciate them.  Father God, grant us grace and patience to face the various delays that You, in Your sovereignty, have allowed to happen.

Onwards and southwards! Hopefully, if all goes to plan in the nasal department, we’ll be flying back to Tanzania on Sunday 17th Nov to begin our third and final term at Sanga Sanga (2 years).  Ruth will continue to work closely with Pastor Batano in the management of IBM & Sanga (bookings, admin and finance), and I’ll continue in my role as a Bible teacher amongst the pastors and evangelists of the AIC.  I will also continue as AIM unit leader for Tanzania East.  When we get back we’ll be returning to the same house in Morogoro, and hoping that our night guards haven’t moved in during our absence!  One of the first lengthy jobs will be to get the cars started, whilst hoping that the engine compartments haven’t become a nesting place for termites, rats or snakes!  One of the cars also needs some new brake disks, which I’m told can’t be obtained in Tanzania, and so packing that 14kgs of steel into our suitcases is going to be a bit of a challenge!

It will also be quite strange returning to Morogoro without the Swansons or the Dixons being there, but we’re looking forward to working with our new team-mates (Joel & Lauren Wildasin), who arrived back in May and seem to have got their feet firmly under what was the Swansons’ dining table!  So, onwards and southwards we go, back to the mighty continent of Africa, and in His strength we’ll carry on the work that He’s given us to do for this next chapter.  We’re fully aware that “there is nothing in us that allows us to claim that we are capable of doing this work” but we know that “the capacity we have comes from God” (2 Cor 3:4). And so we commit ourselves to Him and ask that He would use us mightily for His purposes, despite our weaknesses and our ‘jars of clay’ fragility!

Praise & Prayer Points: 

  • We’re certainly praising God for a top quality home assignment!  We’ve been able to do everything that we planned – and more!  We’ve also been bowled-over with how generous people have been towards us and our ministry – from a cottage, to a car; from a holiday, to various gifts and meals along the way.  You know who you are!  Many thanks to you, and of course, to the Ultimate Giver for His provision!
  • Please pray for Steve and a number of health issues he’s facing; that the sinus operation would go well on Weds 23rd Oct and that the ongoing stomach issue (functional dyspepsia) would somehow settle down!
  • Please pray for us as we return on Sun 17th Nov; that we would be able to pick up where we left off; for good relationships with our new team mates; for strength and stamina as we get back into the Tanzanian flow; and for safety on the roads and in the home.
  • Please pray for the continued work at Sanga Sanga, and amongst the pastors and evangelists of the AIC church with whom we work.  Pray that I may proclaim God’s Word clearly whenever I have the opportunity.
  • Whilst we think this next chapter is for a two year period, we don’t know what’s in the pipeline after that.  We don’t need to know right now, and we know that God has a plan for the next phase, but we’d value prayer as we keep our spiritual eyes and ears open for what He may be saying to us during this next two years.

Every blessing,

Steve & Ruth

Bird of the month: Short-eared Owl, North Uist
Sunset in the Hebrides