You may not know that the very first Black Friday was Nov 18th 1910, and it had nothing to do with shopping. On this day 300 women marched to the Houses of Parliament as part of their campaign to secure voting rights for women. The day earned its name from the violence meted out to protesters, some of it sexual, by the Metropolitan Police and male bystanders. Thanks to the courageous perseverance of these suffragette women, and even earlier the commitment of Chartism for the working class, there is now equality in voting. We still have a way to go though, inequality is still very present in our society.
You may be wondering why I am talking about Black Friday when the rest of the Church is probably talking about Advent & Christmas. Inequality was certainly very real at the time of Jesus’ birth. Consider Mary the mother of Jesus. Mary had no status, or societal influence. Her wealth was next to nothing, and she had no real material value that would’ve caused people to stand up and take notice. And yet because of this, God chooses Mary. In the eyes of the world she had nothing to give and yet Gabriel was sent to her with some extraordinary news. Mary was a young girl in a society that valued men and maturity; she was lowly and poor as her canticle of praise mentions. In other words, Mary was not someone who was favoured in the world, but Christians learn from the Gospels that she was indeed honoured in the eyes of God, she was in fact blessed because of her poverty.
It’s important to know that Mary’s status before God would have undoubtedly brought her shame. In her day, an unmarried woman expecting a child was cause for disgrace. It broke every social and familial law of acceptability. Not only would her condition bring shame on the family, but to try and explain it was somehow a blessing from God, that conception was by account of a visit from God’s messenger, well, this would have been blasphemy of the highest order. Nevertheless, she trusts God. Mary’s part in the Good News and the Incarnation is so inspiring, so extraordinary, and so liberating for us because of her faith.
Mary was the first champion of the Christian faith, showing such courage despite facing the possibility of social darkness, disgrace, shame and violence. Because of her faith the Word of God came into the world. To the world around her Mary had nothing to give. To us, as Christians, we learn that Mary had everything to give, and held nothing back. Her faith inspires us today.
And so, this Christmas I hope like Mary, you know the grace to trust God completely. There are many challenges still facing our society with regards to freedom and equality, and we do need boldness and faith to survive them and to challenge them. But my prayer this Advent and Christmas time is that we learn how loved we are by God through the inspiring faith and motherhood of Mary, and together make the changes God longs to see.
May God bless you and keep you this Christmastide.
Revd Jeremy Putnam.
Despite the nice sounding quote from John Piper [above) anything other than an egalitarian approach to the role of women and men in partnerships, marriages, households, workplaces, churches and indeed society, can potentially leave the door open to abuse of rights and abuse of power. Most Conservative Evangelicals in this country no longer buy into the idea that men are superior to women. Many now insist that scripture teaches that there are only two contexts in which male headship actually applies: the household, and the Church. Women are not inferior, but different they say.
What progress is this? Surely it still leaves the door open for spiritual abuse and the abuse of this claimed positional power.
Over the last couple of years there has been a noticeable increase in religious commentators linking the doctrine of headship and domestic violence. Kelly Ladd Bishop writes, “Most complementarians [see below for explanation] appeal to the servant leadership of the man and the loving submission of the woman. The idea is that a man is to lead his home by serving his wife and family, and this should never involve abuse. The problem is, while many complementarians may truly be outraged by domestic abuse, their theology enables it. Any time there is a power imbalance, one party becomes vulnerable, and the door is opened to abuse.”
A prime example of this imbalance is in the words of leading Evangelical John Piper, who is also one of the founders of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. He spoke out in response to one of his Youtube subscribers who asked, “What should a wife’s submission to her husband look like if he’s an abuser?”. His first response was to clarify different types of abuse, suggesting there are different responses for different forms. This might sound okay on the surface but then John Piper states that if the abuse is just verbal women should be encouraged to ‘endure the abuse’. Does he not know that emotional, spiritual or psychological abuse is just as harmful as physical abuse?
He later offered some clarifying remarks and encouraged women to seek out civil protection. Sadly, what he does not see is that when you are in an relationship with a significant imposed power imbalance (in the sense that you live under an improper authority that is justified by your own faith) then how does a wife seek civil protection and at the same time make sure ‘it does not contradict the spirit of love and submission to her husband?” ...There is no such thing as “civil protection” that arrives at the beck and call of a beaten wife and hangs around her home to protect her. [Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife, Dr. Ruth Tucker]
Here is another example. During a talk about the meaning of Bible verses on male headship an image of newly-shorn actress Kristen Stewart flashed appeared on an overhead screen. It was during a talk at a women’s conference in Sydney that had over 3000 participates and 1600 viewers online. As reported by Anne Lim in Eternity magazine, Carmelina Read, the Dean of Women at the Presbyterian Christ College in Sydney, said "it might be more in line with God's good design to have long hair because it was a visible sign of the difference between men and women in which God delighted". Ms Reed then went on to say that women should consider themselves as ‘helpers’ of men in the workplace.
I just don’t understand why people can’t see that Jesus didn’t come to patronise women or defend a tradition that places women lower in society and home. He came to show how women inspire, nurture, care, defend, bring about change, fight the powers of greed, how women are often the cause of our faith in Jesus. For goodness sake, Mary, his own mother, was an inspirational radical protestor who sang about a defiance against political oppression, inequality and cruel regimes (Luke 1:46-56). Where was the headship and authority of Joseph? No precedents being set here. So where does it come from?
Last week most of America was glued to their TVs or Ipads watching the Senate Committee hearing over the suitability of Brett Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court Judge, and filling the vacant space left by Anthony Kennedy. The high profile and global nature of this event is due to the allegations made by a number of women that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted girls at High School, and College. Judge Kavanaugh has a great deal of support from the Conservative and predominately evangelical Republican Party who have accused the Democratic Senate members of political games and manipulation in order to delay the appointment of Kavanaugh. A friend of mine was visiting the US at the time and shared a photo of her colleagues sat watching the hearing live on Youtube. It sparked some comments from people both sides of the Atlantic – including one comment from a clergy person in the UK saying, “Seems like a witch hunt I’m afraid. No evidence being presented to corroborate witness statement, Kavanaugh testimony strong.” Later that evening I was watching comments made by Americans include suggestions that what Kavanaugh is alleged to have done was merely a misdemeanor, and comments like ‘boys will be boys’ were offered. Why is it that so many jump to the defence of someone we know nothing about? Don’t get me wrong, I defend wholeheartedly the principle of someone being innocent until proven guilty, but when a woman’s testimony is questioned because of a perceived political agenda, or a man’s defence is based solely on his position and power, we are in danger of giving an appalling confidence to the abuser whoever it might be. I am fearful to the core for my two daughters who are growing up a in a world where a man pinning a woman to the ground can be described as ‘boys just being boys’, and how world leaders like Trump and Berlusconi laugh off comments that degrade and demean a woman’s body by what they say and what they do behind closed doors, or even from the platform. The Church has to take seriously how its theology can encourage an environment where this is allowed to happen. It makes me so angry to think that the Church (particularly in the States) has helped to create an environment where there is even the remote possibility that a man’s lie can be accepted over a woman’s truth.
Read below for a more egalitarian hermeneutic.
Christian Theology actually asserts that men and women are equally created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The ethical and spiritual justification for this is inspired by a proper reading of the Bible, by focusing on passages that deal in primary truths (i.e. they aren’t contradicted and therefore held as ultimacies) about human nature (eg. Genesis 1:26-27; Galatians 3:28); rather than passages concerned with correcting cultural or customary norms (Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Timothy 2:11-15; 3:1-7). For those that like boxes, this view puts me clearly in the Egalitarian Evangelical box. In other words, I hold to the Bible stating that there is no defining difference between men and women that can possibly defend the notion that one gender has authority over the other. Women and men are made equal, in authority, for the glory of God, and for the common good. When this truth has not been honoured, like for most of Christian history (certainly since the 3rd century CE) it has been due in part to the warping of the natural order by either societal a-values or dogmatic religion predominantly for the benefit of men. We now have the privilege of hindsight and thus can see the imbalance that has held society and the Church back for far too long, and damaged many lives.
Despite this, the clear majority of Conservative Evangelicals still hold to a theology of ‘Complementarianism’ in which men and women are declared equal, but with an important caveat; when it comes to the Household and the Church, men are given the role of ‘leader’. And for women, a life of faithful obedience in the Church or in the home is lived out by ‘helping’ the man, by supporting and complementing their leadership. This is due to a particular reading of a few passages by the Apostle Paul, such as 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. In which submission of women and men is put within the context of our call as Christians to submit to Jesus. In addition, through a simple reading of the Gospel narratives, it is seen that Jesus calls men as disciples, and how God chose to be God as Man Incarnate. Further, Paul is very explicit in this letter to Timothy about what women should and shouldn’t do in the life of the Church (1 Timothy 2:11-15; 3:1-7).
There are number of problems with this view (biblical justification for an egalitarian approach)
Acts 435 was inspired by the works of the early church, as described in the Acts 4:32 to 4:35. The early disciples shared their possessions and passed money to the apostles to give to anyone who had need. Acts 435 was set up in 2009 in recognition of the increasing needs of people in UK poverty in a time of recession and austerity.
It was the brainchild of a Yorkshire businessman who recognised the donor fatigue in charity giving where donors want to be connected with a specific cause and know their donation is not just going into a general pot of funds. This is particularly important for those with only a small amount to give, so that they can be sure their gift will make a difference.
By partnering with local churches and charities, Acts 435 enables a direct connection of people in need with people who want to help. Advocates, who are local volunteers, meet with clients who have been referred by local agencies such as the Foodbank or job centre where a crisis need has been identified. This can be anything from being able to top up an electricity meter, buying school uniform, purchasing work boots or replacing a fridge. Requests can be made for a maximum of £120 and a limit of three requests per client. The advocate posts the request on the website and donors can give online in amounts from £5 to £120. Requests are essentially met by crowd-funding and 100% of every donation goes to the person in need.
Acts 435 is a very real way of giving to those in need in your local community and giving a helping hand to those who are really struggling. It maybe that you yourself need a helping hand at a time of crisis. To be referred you will need to been seen by an official agency who will refer you on. You don’t need to have a faith to be referred, Acts is for all those in need.
A small gift can make a big difference in lifting a burden or preventing a crisis for the most vulnerable in our society. If you would like more information about how you can help, or be helped, please contact one of the advocates, via the online contact form, at All Saints Church (asht.org.uk) or at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also get more information from acts435.org.uk
I am writing this on the hottest day of the year so far. A day that has followed several very hot days. Before I go on, please know this, I’m not going to moan about the weather. The sun is glorious, its warmth is welcome, the cool waters of Cornwall are invigorating. It can bring the best out of people (and I might add the worst too, out of the hot and bothered), but with the sun out and the blue sky stretching ahead of you, some things seem just a bit more possible than they did before. Those jobs in the allotment you’ve been putting off are there for the taking. The very delayed walk on the beach has come. Even that once lost opportunity to have a long G and T (substitute with drink of choice) with your feet up has now returned. Somehow the world feels a little bit better. Somehow more whole and more restored when the sun is shining.
Having said that, the heat can get a bit much and therefore escaping to the shade is definitely needed from time to time. Additionally, more time should be given to our loved ones who don’t cope as well in the hot weather, in the same way they don’t cope well in the cold. Which is really my point. For some the weather comes as a blessing and for others a curse.
At the beginning of May I was asked to lead a Rogation Service for a neighbouring parish. Rogation Sunday is a very special service in which the community asks for God’s blessing upon the fields, the herds, the newly seeded crops and the tools of farming. In my talk to a church full of farmers I likened good farming to good discipleship. I said, “a good farmer doesn’t just pray for rain, but prepares for it!”. I thought I’d made a strong case for the idea of preparing for God’s blessing and expecting it, rather than praying for it and wondering whether it will come at all.
As soon as I said this, laughter struck a good portion of my audience. After the service one of the farmers came to me and said, “your in Cornwall son, there’s never any need to pray for rain!” He was right, we get plenty of rain.
The bible is full of references to weather. Rain, wind, sun and snow are all described equally as blessing as well as disaster. It is one of the many areas in which Scripture and Science are aligned – in scripture and in textbooks weather is describe as chaotic, unpredictable, uncertain and indeterminate. Yes, we have the seasons, day and night, but even in this ordered creation we still know to fear the weather for its power and ferocity. Sadly, our chaotic weather patterns are more frequently a disaster than they are a blessing due to the impact our 21st century lifestyle is having on the global climate.
Unpredictable weather is also a used as a metaphor in scripture for the unpredictability of life. This was evident in Job’s life, as well as in the disciples who found themselves overwhelmed by the storm over the Sea of Galilee. In every case anchoring one’s self to God was the calming influence both over the waves, wind and thunder, as well as over life’s tempest.
Whilst we still experience one of the hottest summers on record maybe we could think about where one might go to anchor ourselves to God, and keep cool. The coolest places are definitely churches. These old stone buildings that remain open during the day are the perfect refuge from the sun. They are also wonderful places of faith that speak of God’s power over chaos, his comfort in our struggles, and his healing over wounds. Cornwall has many beautiful church buildings why not find some shade!
All Saints Highertown is open most days for prayer and some cool shade. Please pop in, you'd be very welcomed.
Rev Jeremy Putnam
The beginning of June saw the second annual ‘Every Woman’s Hope Conference’ which was on the topic of wholeness which has had me thinking ever since what do we mean when we talk about being whole.
Often we talk about having a ‘gap’ in our lives.
I read often how losing a loved one feels like we have a ‘gap’, how the breakdown in a relationship leaves a ‘hole’ or even how injury from a sport can leave an athlete with a space that needs to be filled.
But what do we mean by wholeness?
What do we consider whole and how can we be whole when we are surrounded by so much brokenness.
Just a few weeks ago I encountered a lady who, for whatever reason, was of the option that my husband and I not having children was not a whole life. The words she used were of defeat, giving in, not having enough faith and not being whole if we did not have children.
The details of the rest of the conversation are not important as the underlying idea of what makes us whole.
She could not see that in (her conceived idea of) my brokenness of not being able to have children I could still be whole and live out a live fulfilled to God’s glory. After all, the bible never tells us that being childless is bad, wrong, broken or otherwise. Yes, there are stories where God allows ‘barren’ women to conceive but there is nothing ever mentioned about them being broken in this aspect of their life. It is purely a world view that you are somehow lacking if this is your lot.
The bible tells us ‘with God all things are possible’ (Matt 19:26) which I truly believe. God is greater than my imagination, my will, my desire and my ability to grasp what he is saying, to name but a few.
He is also able to make us whole in whatever brokenness.
The bible also talks about peace which passes all understanding. The kind of peace that in the midst of all the things life can throw at us we still feel. It makes no sense. It is not of this world. The world reaction is of fight or flight but God can give us the peace which we cannot understand.
If can give us that then the God of all possibilities can make us whole in our brokenness.
But what do I mean?
I mean that in our ‘broken’ bodies, however that might manifest, for me it is a combination of medication conditions that makes life hard and children impossible (medically at least) but in that I can still be whole in Christ.
I can still life a life that brings Glory to him.
I might not live a life that world thinks of as successful, as in a fulltime well paid job that allows me to own a big house, fast car and 3 holidays a year and 2.4 children, but the bible also tells me ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world’ (Romans 12:2) and ‘Do not store up treasures on earth’ (Matt 6:19).
Our wholeness should not come from what the world tells us we need, how we should look, what we should strive to be, but from God.
A God who wanted to heal our broken world so much he sent his only Son to pay the price to bring us a different kind of wholeness. A wholeness that is another level of peace we can never ever understand.
We can be broken, the world can be broken, yet we are made whole in Christ.
This months article was written by Mrs Lydia Remick (Licensed Lay Minister)
All Saints Church has been involved in collecting and delivering aid to refugees in Europe and further afield for several years. Just this year Rowley Surridge, one of our churchwardens and Project Leader for the All Saints European and Syrian aid trips has been to Calais several times in 2017 and again this year, with a further trip planned this June. The refugee situation has not and will not go away and refugees are returning to the Calais and Dunkirk area despite the closure of the “Jungle”.
Why does a small church in Cornwall get involved in an international crisis? As Christians we are called over and over again by the words of the Bible in both Old and New Testaments to help others, particularly those who are victims of injustice.
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 reminds the Israelites:
“For the Lord your God...loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus 19:33-34; 24:22 instructs them:
“When the foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the foreigner. The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
and the gospel of Luke tells us: Luke 3:11
“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Matthew 8:20 records the words of Jesus: "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
Jesus, and therefore Christians too, belong to a people indelibly marked by stories of Exodus and exile. Like the millions of Syrians today, Jesus and his family were forced to flee their home and find refuge. In Jesus’ case the destination was Egypt, the very place that his family’s ancestors fled in the time of Moses. We believe that God will bring justice to the world and right wrongs as part of that he will also ask us to account for our actions:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Further information on ways to get involved with the Cornish response to the refugee crisis can be found on our website http://www.asht.org.uk/refugee-crisis.html. We also have several initiatives to help local people in need, one of which is Acts 435 http://www.asht.org.uk/acts-435.html.
Revd Jeremy Putnam
What speed does God move at? That is the question we were asked to ponder during the seven week course “Live Godspeed”. The title comes from the theologian N.T. Wright who explains that as God came to us in the incarnated Jesus in first century Galilee, God’s speed is a walking pace. In other words we need to “slow down to keep up with God”, to live our lives in the moment and to be present to our surroundings and the people around us in a way that isn’t possible if we are swept along by 21st century hurry and anonymity.
The course challenged us to examine our lives and the ways in which we were not present to God, each other and our communities. Do we take the time to see other’s virtues as well as their faults? Do we feel that we “belong” to where we live, are we truly known by those around us? Do we feel like pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson that “there is no place on earth without the potential for unearthing holiness”? How can we practice stability in our modern, transient society and re-humanise our towns and cities?
The Bible has many stories which examine being known and present: from the Genesis account of Adam and Eve in the garden hiding from God and choosing not to be known, to Jesus being present with people that society didn’t even consider worth acknowledging let alone being present with, such as the Samaritan woman described in John’s gospel chapter 4 verses 4-26. In fact the story throughout the Bible is of God with us, culminating in His ultimate presence within our flawed and messy world through birth, life, death and resurrection in the human person of Jesus.
Those of us who attended the original Godspeed Course have been trying to live the lessons learned. We are exploring mindfulness, vulnerability and being fully present to God where we are and in the body we have. N.T Wright says that it is useless to complain about our rushed and shallow culture but that as Christians we must subvert it instead. We can do this in so many ways-by taking the time to learn somebody’s name, or even just smile and make eye contact in the situations where it is so easy to say “I haven’t got time”;“it doesn’t matter”; it’s not my problem”. Why not chat to the cashier in the supermarket while you are packing your bags or maybe that person you always try to avoid….
Being present and known by others enables us to recognise the image of God in one another and those who we may consider “other” but whom we can bring into the loving community of the Kingdom of God as brothers and sisters. However, to know ourselves and others takes a lifetime and can only be done in community. So perhaps it is time to start meeting together as a group again to practice mindfulness and being present and encourage each other to be present to the world around us.
Information about the Live Godpseed course can be found at https://www.livegodspeed.org/. Do speak to Revd Jeremy Putnam if you are interested in attending the next course which begins on 8th November. It has the potential to change your life and that of those around you.
This month's article was written by Kirsty Basram (Parish Administrator) who attended the first Live Godspeed course at All Saints Highertown.
Genesis 32:22-32 | Acts 9:1-9 | John 20:19-23
We are now in the season of the resurrection (I'm not talking about the Church calendar!). A post-Easter world, in which the curtain has been torn, the stone has been rolled away and the gates have been lifted. So why is it that we still live in a world that is so evidently broken by sin, and why are there still imperfections that have not been overcome by this awesome Gospel truth?
I invite you to look at the three passages that I’ve suggested for reading. These for me sum up the paradox. Jacob meets with God, wrestles with him and comes away with a broken hip. Saul witnesses the resurrected Christ and comes away from it blinded by the experience. And Thomas, like Paul, encounters the resurrected Jesus and recognises him by his wounds.
At Easter we are told of the new creation that is waiting for us, and with it a wholeness that only Jesus can bring. But salvation is not about being saved from the world, it is about being saved for the world, since we are called to follow the God who became humanity for the world. So how can we reconcile a world that is still at odds with itself, and with this Easter faith?
It shouldn’t surprise us that in our desire to follow Christ, whose ministry led directly to Calvary, we are likely to first experience a breach before we encounter healing. For Jacob, the injury to his hip from wrestling with God, was preparation for the healing and reconciliation he would later find with his brother, and with God. For Saul, the loss of sight was a counter to the healing and reconciliation he would later find for himself, without this, he would otherwise be held back by his history. And the passage from John’s gospel reminds us that Christ’s resurrected body still exhibited the scars of his crucifixion. Which might teach us that in our own resurrection, all that we have suffered will aid us in our partaking in Christ’s glory.
These passages teach us that ‘wholeness and healing’ in a Christlike sense is not the same as wholeness and healing in a worldly sense. Christ did not setup a trauma centre or an accident and emergency tent outside Jerusalem. Rather he met the reality of our brokenness by joining us in our brokenness. You’ll remember that he said “I am the resurrection and the life” after weeping over the death of Lazarus. You’ll remember that he sweated blood, whilst agonizing over his path to the cross. Christ’s way is not the easy way.
So, does that mean we shouldn’t ask for healing in prayer for human ailments, does this mean we shouldn’t request cures for all that harms or deters us from life? No, of course not. Jesus healed the sick, and through his faith we can find wholeness despite being confronted by things that we would otherwise have no control over. But what these passages teach us is that God can still be found in the hurt, the pain, the injury and the ache. Leonard Cohen wrote:
Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
In the pain and the hurt of the world, in which we will all feel and share at some point in our lives, we pray that a new perspective of God is found, and our faith is made more real in the knowledge that Jesus suffered with us, and our prayer for wholeness might ultimately honour his suffering, and the suffering of the world he loves.
May the life and blessing of this Easter season be with you.
Revd Jeremy Putnam.
The smell caught me off guard. I had already brushed off the powdery residue of toxic raindrops on my bear arms and wiped the crud off my cheeks as I came in off the streets. And now a fume that carried a sickening sense of forgottenness was scraping at the back of my throat as I crossed the threshold. This dilapidated orphanage in some backwater industrial zone of Suceava was nothing short of shocking. From no fault of its own, what once stood as a life giving infant sanctuary was now debased; spoiled by an arrogant death that smugly showed off its stench to any good intended visitor.
P%$* and s*!& came to mind before the fact I was in the company of motherless children. I felt like a bloody tourist.
I was 16 and had signed up for a Christian mission in Romania to build a church and do some street evangelism. In the summer of 1992, before the cotton wool world of risk-aversity emerged, I spent a few weeks with a Romanian family in a block of flats that overlooked the city. From this height I was expecting to see a city scape or maybe even the ominous Carpathian Mountains to the west, but instead nothing other than the thick layer of smog that covered everything. Pollution had saturated the clouds and whenever it rained it bubbled like a fizzy lemonade on the pavements. The smog acted as a oppressive reminder that nothing had really changed since the fall of communism and the assassination of Nicolae Ceaușescu in 1989, well at least not yet anyway. The country’s economic system had collapsed entirely, barely getting by with a GDP growth rate of -12.4%, the lowest in Romania’s recorded fiscal history. Money had no real value anymore, so many people paid with items that had a much higher value, like milk, potatoes and beans.
I had arrived in Romania as part of a mission team that carried aid like clothes and medical supplies. We also had kid’s toys, lots of kid’s toys. The UK had reacted with a knee jerk and there were lots of aid trips going over with all sorts of donations.
After spending a week digging out a trench for a new sewerage system for the church build, the team decided to take our donations to a nearby orphanage in Suceava. Aside from the smell which was just simply impossible to ignore we were told that there were 10-12 nurses on staff at any one time, for the 400+ children that were accommodated. Children from new-borns to teenagers were separated on each floor of the concrete multi-storey complex.
I remember the building feeling more like a prison than a hospital, but it had a similar layout to both. Long corridors with rooms off each side. Large windows in each door allowed you to look in on the desperate occupants. Some rooms had larger windows beside the door, so you could check more carefully without the need to enter. Light switches were on the outside of the room.
As we toured the corridors I began to feel increasingly more uncomfortable with my own life at home. I felt embarrassed that we had thought to bring toys, and even ourselves. Mickey Mouse and I were about as useful as an ashtray on a motorbike.
The smell was getting worse.
We were led up the stairs to this first floor dedicated to children aged 2 to 4. We passed a room filled with cuddly toys and unwrapped gifts, we paraded passed another containing cot mattresses. Then after a few more paces we stopped outside a room with two children in cots. One, a girl, seemingly dead, still, pale and eyes wide open, the other a boy. If it weren’t for the other boy’s crying lament I would have thought it was a morgue. The nurse checked the girl and reassured us she was breathing. The boy wouldn’t stop weeping.
I didn’t know who this boy was, what his name was, or where he was from; but at that moment I had never felt more connected to anyone else. His tears were my tears. I don’t mean in some westernised empathetic sense, the kind that signals to the virtue before the humanity, but in a sense that i was feeling lost, entirely lost. I don’t know why I did what I did next. Maybe I just felt compelled to do something, to prevent this 'feeling of being lost' entirely overwhelming me. Maybe it was the combination of the soiled mattress, the cold walls, the crying, the smell of urine catching the back of my throat, the girl laying lifeless, and Mickey Mouse in the room next door. I was nothing, I was lost, and yet I had to do something.
As the nurse turned to leave the room, I walked over to the boy and held out my hands to offer an embrace. He reached over the cot side bar and I lifted him up and out. His arms clung to me like a limpet on a jagged rock. His head rested in my neck, shaking and convulsing, hyper-ventilating. His body had resorted to a kind of physiological revulsion over the circumstance and his surroundings. He wouldn’t let go.
This was my conversion experience. The day that death died. I had come to Romania to share the good news, but I had at times slipped into thinking that I had brought Jesus with me. That I had something that others needed and wanted. The truth is I had nothing. I was lost. I hadn’t even contemplated the idea that Jesus might have already been there.
Yes, I was a Christian. I had a sense of mission. I wanted to do good and share the message of God’s love. I knew Jesus was light of the world, and that his Church was like a prism refracting his light in the darkest of places. Yet, in this orphanage I was lost, I had nothing. I couldn’t even say Dumnezeu te iubește, God loves you.
This boy. In my arms. He was like Christ to me. I’d read about Jesus appearing to Paul on the road to Damascus, I had heard about the fisherman being called out of their boats, and how Thomas had seen the wounds of Christ and believed. I didn’t think it would happen to me.
This boy was Christ to me. I had nothing, and he held on. I was lost, and he found me. Most of the time humanity hates and attack what it has good reason to love. I hated poverty, I hated the stench and my lostness in it. And yet, in a worldly sense, this boy I held and every other child in that orphanage was more lost than I will ever be, and more hated than I will ever be – hated so much that their lives are seen as burden. But in that embrace and my conversation to really let Jesus into my life, I remembered that hope is not some vague belief that all will work out well, but as Richard Rohr puts it, ‘biblical hope is the certainty that things finally have a victorious meaning no matter how they turn out.’ Now I believe in generous justice, a God who met us in the poverty of Christ and spoke to us in the terminus between dark and light.
I have always wondered about that boy, where he is now, what he's doing. In my searching for him, I keep finding Christ.
If you want to know how to respond. Speak to your nearest Christian about Jesus, and/or lookup www.whitecrossmission.com
Revd Jeremy Putnam
I recently heard an army veteran say, “There’s no atheists on the front line”. This veteran, still a young man, had seen first-hand the power of God in the face of man’s fear, and could now say how important one’s prayer life was in the face of adversity.
In January, the Guardian newspaper had an article entitled ‘Non-believers turn to prayer in a crisis, poll finds,’ which said that for the non-religious, personal crisis or tragedy is the most common reason for praying; with one in four saying they pray to gain comfort or feel less lonely. For those that struggle to pray, and I include self-professed committed Christians in that category, it is often to do with either not having the words to say or not hearing anything back.
Firstly, God doesn’t need to hear your words spoken allowed. Prayer is something that is done from the heart and gut, not just from the vocal chords. Holding a time of silence with a candle lit, or taking a walk and listening for God, are both legitimate ways to pray. But then so is screaming at the top of your voice in lament, anger or frustration too. The point here is that God doesn’t set conditions for effective prayer he welcomes any time spent with him.
Secondly, prayer is a two-way thing. That’s why it’s so frustrating when you feel your prayers are falling on deaf ears. Listening for God is crucial to a healthy prayer life. Yes, you can give over all your concerns, requests, petitions and intercessions but like any correspondence it will always feel incomplete unless you get a reply. So how do we listen for God's reply? Maybe this will help…
A wise lady and her friend were walking near Times Square in New York. The streets were filled with people, cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing around corners, and sirens were wailing. Suddenly, the wise lady stops and says, 'I hear a cricket.'
Her friend is astounded. 'What? You must be crazy. You couldn't possibly hear a cricket in all of this noise!'
'No, I'm sure of it,' the wise lady said. 'I heard a cricket.'
'That's crazy,' said her friend.
The wise lady listened carefully for a moment, and then walked across the street to where some shrubs were growing. She looked into the bushes and sure enough, she located a small cricket. Her friend was utterly amazed.
'That's incredible,' said her friend. 'You must have super-human ears!'
'No,' said the wise lady. 'My ears are no different from yours.'
'But that can't be!' said the friend. 'I could never hear a cricket in this noise.'
'Yes, you could,' came the reply. 'Here, let me show you.'
She reached into her pocket, pulled out a few coins, and dropped them on the pavement. And then, with the noise of the crowded street still blaring in their ears, they noticed every head within 5 metres turn and look to see if the money that tinkled on the pavement was theirs.
'See what I mean?' asked the wise lady. 'It all depends on what's important to you, on what you're listening for.'
So, what is important to you? If God isn’t, then you're probably not going to hear what he’s saying to you. If he is, then listening for him in the busyness of our lives is the most important thing we can do.
Luke 11:1 reads, "One day, Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, 'Lord, teach us to pray…"
What we forget to mention in this passage is that Jesus went and found a place to pray first before he gave us the Lord’s Prayer. He met with his father every day and modeled a pattern of prayer that sustained his human nature. Listening for God is made easier by committing time, energy and intent. Like the cricket in the story, God’s voice can be heard, it just all depends on what’s important to you.
May you hear the voice of God speak peace and comfort to you. Rev Jeremy Putnam.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.