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:
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!
Steve & Ruth
– 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!
As you may know Steve and Ruth landed back in the UK after their Tanzanian service just before Christmas and had to quarantine over Christmas period.
They are now wrapping up their time with AIM and readjusting to life back in the UK. One aspect of this is, following Paul and Barnabus’ example in Acts 14:26-27, has been reporting back to various churches on their work and what God has been doing. They hope to return to living in Corsham in mid-March.
Periodically, we have guest speakers from our various mission partners and this week it is time to hear from Paul Wagstaff of Compassion, who has recorded a specific video for CBC where he reports back on the impact of donations from people in our church.
Paul also speaks of storms he has experienced as we do too and asks what we seek to anchor ourselves to in order to weather them.
The disciples in Matt 8:23-27 knew they were in a storm but they were oblivious to where their hope came from even as Jesus lay in the boat with them. Watch Paul’s full message below.
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!
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.
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
In January we started “Souper Friday”, a free lunch of soup and bread, tea and coffee from 1 to 2.30pm every Friday in Corsham Baptist Church hall. Since the lock down we have taken this ‘on the road’ in the form of delivering food parcels along with a socially distanced chat and prayer! We are collecting groceries from local supermarkets to enable this and reducing food being thrown away at the end of the day. This is available to all church folk and the wider community in Corsham, Chippenham and surrounding areas.
We need volunteers to :
Assist Joan and Jo with phone calls to clients ;
Assist with collecting food from Chippenham or Corsham ;
Assist with sorting food for delivery (Thursday evening) ;
2020 has been a year like no other. We have all been deeply affected by the Coronavirus pandemic and for the communities where Tearfund is working, the impact has been severe.
Many communities have found accessing healthcare, clean water and basic hygiene supplies difficult, while lockdowns have made it impossible for many people to provide for their families.
But thanks to your prayers and support, Tearfund has been able to respond. Our partners and local churches are providing information, supplies and support to communities around the world.
In our latest update to you Nigel Harris, Tearfund’s CEO, has shared what challenges communities face and how we are responding. Please make time in your services to share this video, thank God for what He has been doing and pray with us for the millions affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.
We are having a really inspiring time taking part in the WEC UK conference online. We would like to invite you to an open event which is part of this conference. If you are able to join it would be brilliant, even for part of the time.
Vision:Unplugged An inspiring hour sharing WEC’s Vision! Come and find out more.
It will be live streamed on both YouTube and Facebook. You are very welcome to join – Wednesday 30th September 7.30pm –and available for replay for one month afterwards.
Our great friends and partners at Mercy Ships need our help – and it involves two weeks in the Canary Islands next summer… Mercy Ships deploy hospital ships to some of the poorest countries in the world, delivering vital, free healthcare to people in desperate need. But a ship takes a whole lot of maintenance, and every summer their massive hospital ship goes into shipyard – this is a critical time when serious renovations and heavy-duty projects are tackled.
Plumbing, welding, painting, installing new equipment; all together, they need 50 people to step up and offer their trade, to keep the medical ministry moving and make an impact for the Kingdom.
They are looking for people who can just spare 2 weeks (or more) in summer 2021 to work on the world’s biggest hospital ship in the Canary Islands. Your trade is a mission skill, and they need you to use it to serve God.