Category: Overseas Mission

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!

From Tanzania to Corsham Baptist

Picture of Steve and Ruth

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.

You can see the full report below.

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

You’re Invited to ‘On the Ground’ With Compassion

For the first time, we’ve organised a series of online events, now called “On the Ground”.

We want to give you an informative update on what sponsored children and their families are facing during this time and how our local church partners are responding to their needs.

Two of our Compassion UK staff will host the event. They’ll share a story about an initiative by our church partners to reach many families in need.

We’ll then hear from one of our staff on the ground to learn more about the realities they’re facing, followed by a time of prayer together. We’ll have some time for any questions at the end as well.

Upcoming on the ground events

  • Monday 26 October, 8.30pm. On the Ground — Christmas edition. Streaming live on Compassion UK Facebook, Youtube and here.
  • Monday 16 November, 8.30pm. On the Ground — Burkina Faso. Streaming live on Compassion UK Facebook, Youtube and here.
  • Monday 23 November, 8.30pm. On the Ground — Colombia. Streaming live on Compassion UK Facebook, Youtube and here.
  • Monday 30 November, 8.30pm. On the Ground — Peru. Streaming live on Compassion UK Facebook, Youtube and here.

If you’re not able to make this time, a video of the event will be available on YouTube.

Tearfund’s Autumn Partner Church Update

Dear Friends,

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.

Thank you so much for your support. 

Tearfund’s Churches Team
churches@tearfund.org

Please pray:

  • Give thanks for the way we have been able to respond so far. Pray for the local partners and churches we are working with who are serving their communities so faithfully.
  • Pray for the safety and protection of our partners, and the people they are serving. Particularly those in situations where social distancing is not possible.
  • Pray for provision, for those around the world who are not able to earn a living due to local lockdowns. Pray that their needs would be met and they would not be pushed further into poverty.

World Mission: From the Inside Out

WEC logo

Dear Friends,

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.

We do hope that some of you may be able to join.

Blessings,
Gill and Steve

Fancy using your trade skills in a completely different way?

Paint brush, pliers and other tools

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.

Check out this video clip of one of their ships in dry dock undergoing annual maintenance

Want to know more? Why not get in touch with the team at Mercy Ships for a chat  volunteering@mercyships.org.uk

We are proud to stand with Mercy Ships as they are changing the lives of the poor but the success of their mission depends on guys like you – let’s do this!

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.

End of a season.

This post by Matthew Little was originally published at Diary of a Deckie: My experience volunteering on a hospital ship.

The end of a season.

So. Here we are at last.

Said multiple fictional characters and probably some people who did exist and were in some kind of event that happened to be the proverbial ‘end of the line’. Probably, I don’t feel like fact checking this, but it doesn’t seem like much of a unique thing to say. I don’t know.

My time with Mercy Ships and my long service onboard the Africa Mercy has now come to an end, and now I feel in a state of  What is even happening right now. Presently, I am in in the middle of already left the Africa Mercy, and getting ready for starting the next season of life. University. It feels really strange.  The image below, taken from the plane, just coming over the British Isles is, I feel, a bit of an illustration of I am feeling.

It was only on the flight home, that I actually took time to notice the clouds over England. It is almost mesmerising just how still these big bunches of dust and vapours clouds are sometimes. I did A-level geography, but that was over two years ago, I have forgotten exactly the science of clouds, don’t judge. But it was like they were frozen in time, and, like all clouds do (well, most), obscure. At the moment, this time of transition feels like that. A bit frozen, surprisingly dynamic, and almost covered up. 

They also are a bit of a reminder of just how  breathtaking and complex His creation is. Whilst we as a species understand what clouds “are”, they are still incredibly detailed. The massive bunches of cloud, and how frozen they look are amazing on their own, then I noticed the tiny slithers of cloud branching out from the ‘main bodies’ almost suspended. I don’t understand clouds fully. I have seen the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, particularly over the last 5 months, but nothing will compare to the wonder of clouds, in my eyes.

I didn’t expect that two Novembers ago, I would ”embark’ on a journey quite like the one I have just finished, but I am incredibly glad that I did. It has been a period of ups, downs, growth, experiences, adventures, and learning to live, work and serve in community. Through Mercy Ships, I have learned more, gained more skills and experience, that if I had blindly made  the decision a little over three years ago to just do what everyone else seemed to be doing after finishing education university, without thinking about what I would be getting into, or if I was even ready (I wasn’t) I would have never had the chance to do things that I have done. I have said it before, and I’ll say it again. Through my work in the Deck Department, I have steered a ship, helped to tie off the ship, and operated a crane. I honestly cannot think how many guys or gals my age would be doing that straight out of school. Plus, I got something pretty dang neat out of my work, through training. As of about the middle of July, the slow months of trying to fill in sections of a training book, and also one almost long night of watching about 4 (some very boring) 20 minute training videos, to hand in my training book to Eric (then safety and training officer, now Chief Officer) the next morning, paid off. I became a Malta-recognised Deck Rating. Official title: Rating forming part of a navigational watch. What can I do with this, asides from shameless boasting, I could work on a ferry. #thinkingahead. All jokes aside, I am truly grateful to my officers onboard for helping me to get through this training, and allowing me to get to this level. If archaeology doesn’t work out, I have a career path to fall back on. God is good, and it was his will for this to happen in my life, and it is a great blessing. I am ready and looking forward to starting this new season of university. I don’t know if this is the path destined for me, but Jeremiah 29:11 gives me knowledge that I will be blessed.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future”

Side note – I may or may not have gone on a tiny tangent to work out the parallels between Halo and the Bible by finding 1 John 1:7. I didn’t work out the parallel, I just checked an interpretation on Reddit.                                                                                                                                                                                               

It has been a massive honour and a privilege to work alongside the guys I have worked with, directly. The Deck Department.  These guys are the most remarkable men I have ever met. It was very strange, not going to lie, I stood  out like a proverbial sore thumb. Being the only white guy and also by far the youngest team was a bit daunting, This was essentially my first job, and my entry into the working world, and I felt, at times, that I needed to prove myself to them all, but their warming nature told me otherwise, and I was quickly accepted into this unique working family, as a brother, and it is an honour to call them brothers as well. Looking ahead, I will probably never work in a team so diverse, coming from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin, Ghana, Madagascar, Guinea and Senegal. (Also The Philippines, Sweden, and Finland and Hungary. Though the Finns and the Hungarian were Deck Cadets)  I am incredibly thankful to have had this opportunity to work with and get to know these guys. Though, I feel like being different to the rest of the people I work with is going to a running theme, for me. Well, for the next year or so. As I go to start University, it is going to be weird, to introduce myself to my fellow students. Specifically fellow  first years, who will predominantly be made up of 18 years who just finished school, whilst I finished school two summers ago, and have been volunteering on a hospital ship serving in West Africa. 
Land ahoy! Oh wait, I am on a plane and not working
as a deck rating on a watch anymore.
Add caption

As well as the people that I have spent pretty much the last year and eight months working with, I have also met and made friends with the most diverse and extraordinary people. I will always be thankful and blessed by knowing and calling these guys my friends, and like my deck department work family, I will probably never meet a more diverse group of people, from all different nations, working in different departments on the ship. I have had friends from Engineering, from Food Services, from Reception, from Hospitality, from the Hospital, from Internet Serivces, from Finance, and from the Hope Centre. I will always keep these friends in my heart, and I cherished the moments of laughter, all the experiences and memories we made together, and I will always appreciate and never forget the time they took to make my birthday truly memorable (although, having a birthday locked down and under quarantine on a hospital ship in Tenerife is pretty memorable on it’s own), and to make me feel loved. Some of my favourite memories with the  different friendship groups have been spending a night on Casa Island, Guinea; Going for an unexpected sprint through Conakry Port in a desperate attempt to get back to the ship before curfew we didn’t; Going for an early evening swim on a beach in Las Palmas, which was much more pleasant than I expected for about 6/7 o’clock; A day trip Dakar, with 1 out of three planned visits done. Still bummed out that the western most point in Africa isn’t allowed to be stood on. Call of Duty matches on Christmas morning and Secret Santa; Completely ruining a teammate’s fun playing ‘Codenames’  with the intention of losing the game, and somehow succeeding in that task by accident; Nerf war in the Hospital (The hospital was closed, and we were in Tenerife, in quarantine) Want a solution for having a bonfire on a ship where bonfires are not  allowed? Two bits of wood carved to look like a fire, with fairy lights/ and chocolate-coated banana chips; mattress surfing (I can neither confirm nor deny) and the ‘Tour de AFM‘, or ‘Great Deck 8 Tricycle Race‘ This goes out to (in relative chronological order of friendship. Mostly) Caleb, Laura, Filips, Imani, Michiel, Kim, Philip, LK, Rimke, Michael, Simon, Stephen, Sam, Laurianna, Rachel, Ian, Kate, Moise, Luke, Leon, Anna, Cameron, Josh, Kees, Heilke and Justin. I just want to thank you all for walking with me in this journey, it has been an absolute pleasure, and I love you all.

Casa Island, Guinea
‘Funky sock Monday’ Tenerife
A bonfire made out of wood. But then, bonfires are made
of wood anyway. Mostly
So what about my time with Mercy Ships, how has that been? It’s been alright, I suppose. I have particularly enjoyed the opportunity I had back early into the Senegal field service, when I had a day off, and I had the chance to see what working in the hospital was like. No, it wasn’t a day to work in the Operating Rooms, I would be far out of my depth! I helped in Hospital Supply. It was almost satisfying to  see how my work in the Deck Department emptying containers full of hospital supplies, pays off. Apart from some of the medical supplies actually going towards the life-saving surgeries. It was like “So I empty the containers full of general supply and medical supplies, but where do they go after that?” then it’s like “This is so cool, I now know the complete journey of all this medical stuff.” I had two memorable moments of interacting with the patients. The first was playing Jenga, which quickly became a very advanced version of Jenga, where me, John the electrician from Australia and one of the young men competed to keep our tower stable, whilst putting the blocks on at really awkward positions. Even if we understood each other very little, it was wonderful to just have a laugh playing Jenga. Honestly, it was fun to watch the tower fall. The second most significant memory I have of interacting with a patient was purely accidental. It was  in Dakar, and one day, in the deck department we were engine testing, and I was stationed on the forward end of the dock, to keep an eye on the mooring lines, to make sure that they didn’t snap or become damaged, or unless we were getting too loose. As I was watching, I suddenly felt a small hand touching mine. I look down, and I just find a little girl, smiling at me. I smiled back, but then felt incredibly awkward. I was just thinking “I know there is a fence between us and the lines, but still, you shouldn’t be here!” But being British and not wanting to be rude and not trying to make her upset, I kind of just let her stay. I don’t know if I should done that. I think she just wanted to help me do whatever it was that that I was doing, she didn’t know what I was doing, but felt she wanted to help. I have no idea. Eventually, I think she got bored of not doing anything and went to play. I don’t know why, but that felt special.

So what now?

A very good question, that I will answer. I am starting University at the end of September, studying History and Archaeology with a Foundation Year, at Bishop Grosseteste University, in Lincoln. I am very excited about this, studying and learning about the past has been a passion of mine, and I have this opportunity to study further. Plus, the idea of interacting and discovering lost artefacts is really intriguing to me. Whether or not I find cursed occult treasures and end up running for my life keeping the artefacts at of the wrong hands, I have no idea. Indiana Jones is a very bad depiction of Archaeologists. 
I guess you could say that I am looking forward….. puts on sunglasses to looking back freeze frame, roll credits, 80s rock song plays in the distance

I am ready for this new season of life. I think. I think I am walking out into a new world. But this new world is…. my own country. Looking at this in the bigger picture, I have spent most of the last year and a half on a hospital ship in a completely different continent, serving two cities that I may never see anything like ever again. Conakry and Dakar were completely alien to me, but Lincoln, a city in my own country is also alien to me. I applied for University, on the ship, blind. No open days, just researching courses on the internet. I have never been to Lincoln. What is even more hard to get around is coming back to England in the time of Covid. I was expecting everything to be completely different, and all the towns being deserted. (Because I am a seafarer, and I have spent the last five months locked down on the ship, with very little contact with the outside world, I am exempt from self-isolation) But, apart from the social distancing measures in place, everything feels the way I left it, after returning back to the ship after my personal time off last August. The line between familiarity and  unknown is blurred. The first thing that I noticed coming back home, and I am sure most of my friends who have been to the ship and been away from the ship, is just how loud the ship is. There is always background noise, whether that be the air-con system, the generators below me (I have spent most of my time onboard on the smallest six berth on the ship on deck 3), loud work involving hitting things or grinding things (Both below me in the engine room or on the exterior of the ship, when I am on night patrol and sleeping during the day), my fellow fireman or the Firefighting Equipment Officer (miss you, Liang!) checking the SCBA bottles in the fire locker right outside my cabin early in the morning on Fridays (Also when I have just come off night patrol.), or the faint sound of the dead man alarm in the engine control room late at night, until the watch keeper switches it off. I will almost miss the background noise of the ship. 

Before I conclude, enjoy some photos from the promotion of myself and the rest of the deck crew. 

Me and Femi, my Bosun.
Eric putting on my epaulets, whilst I hold a certificate, which is a photo of the certificate.
Francis, Me, Djurre Jan (then captain), James and Cherif
(we became Deck Ratings); Richard and Patrice
(They became Able Seafarer Deck)
“The Firemen” and Liang, Firefighting Equipment Officer + Cherif, who is a waterman.

So what happens with the blog, you may be asking? I intend to keep the blog going, however, I don’t think posts will come out as regularly as I have tried to do, mostly because I don’t want to keep pumping out blogs about university life, and most of my time will probably be filled up with studies, and whatever I feel like doing. This will be more of a personal blog, writing about whatever is important to me and I want to share. Tune in for that, I guess.

Thank you!

This one will probably have a lot more meaning, I just want to thank you for reading. it has been a bit of a chore, at times, but to me, a read of any of my last how many or so posts is a big encouragement, so thank you for that support. I really hope that you, if you have been following the blog you have enjoyed reading.
Thank you,
And goodbye.
Matthew.

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/