Updating recent posts….!

Oops! I’d been posting blog posts just to my other site and not to this one. Hoping to make it more up-to-date now…!

 

 

 

Today (22nd October, 2013): Another October Update

Perhaps I should do one post each month, which would make it not too regular but regular enough – and in a slightly more orderly fashion than just whenever I remember…. Hmm.

Anyway, update from this month:

Regarding the pastors’ training conference that I mentioned earlier, this has been a cause of worry for me, even though it’s arguably not my responsibility or my right to totally bear this burden myself. Anyway I’ve been trying to raise funds and have been able to send about £1,200 out of the original sum of £6,400 – so the event has had to be somewhat scaled down from the original plan. The conference has been moved to a different event centre, and shortened to three days rather than five, and there will be 20 pastors being trained instead of 40, with just one full-time teacher/leader/facilitator instead of several, and no stationery or certificates and the like, and only very basic meals. My contact there said, “We can tailor the material to the number of days eg where we would have done 2 Bible studies per day, we do 6 bible studies in groups of 4 to 5 people and then gather for plenary instead of 8 to 10 people if days are more. In so doing we cover much more in a shorter time. We also move at a much faster pace than would have been had we got the chance and funds for 5 days. We can also select a committee if they can volunteer, to monitor use of wholistic transformational Bible studies. 40 people is a large number and for this first phase we could start with 20 then arrange for phase 2 at a later date for the other 20.” Fair enough.

Regarding College life: I’m learning (slowly) the balance between studies and the like, social stuff and private prayer time – and am learning new things from God every day! The workload is pretty huge, and I have assignment deadlines looming, but I have peace, and the resources here are great. I have everything I need and more – I feel so blessed! I keep noticing what freedom I have to eat and drink when I like (as well as very tasty meals provided), play music when I like and either alone or with others, talk and pray with a huge variety of lovely people, read everything I could possibly ever need to know for my studies and more, go for a walk in gardens or paint or retreat to the prayer room pretty much whenever I like…! I have opportunities to express myself, explore my gifts/talents, make myself useful in ways that I love, and I’m free to do things like decorate rooms with inspirational things and preach in community worship times etc (although when I did that two weeks ago it was the one day when the college promo video was being made, and my talk was filmed – aaaargh!). And I’m able to learn things that I’ve wanted to study for such a long time, such as Greek and Hebrew as well as Applied Theology in Global Context, and much more. I’ve started my Weekly Placement, working with a lovely church in the area, and I thoroughly enjoy that (so far) – and was able to participate in their Church Weekend last weekend, what a blessing! My “Community group” in College are really wonderful people, as are my “team” in the Teams lectures – and, basically, I just feel so abundantly blessed being here. I’m still missing Bolivia a lot though, and my Skype has decided that it doesn’t want to call Bolivia any more, even though it calls to several other countries fine. I’m trying to pursue and fix this issue, and really hope it gets sorted ASAP. I really miss talking with my friends there (Facebook chat doesn’t quite cut it)….

This weekend I return to Yorkshire for Half Term, and will be camping in Northumberland with family – awesome! (Hmm, camping right by the North Sea at the end of October and the start of November… Apparently they’re expecting blizzards. Lovely. Well, I have thermal clothing and alpaca clothing and many blankets, so should be fine!) Unfortunately I’ll be bombarded with many deadlines on return to the College after the break, and so will have to bring work with me on holiday – which is a shame since I’ve been looking forward to just spending time with family, and hope to not be too distracted with College life in that time. I’ll be praying that God helps me to get the balance right, there.

Thank God for His unconditionally loving faithfulness and incredible grace, and for all that He teaches too. He’s amazing!!

 

 

 

 

October 6, 2013: October 2013

This is a post regarding the pastor-training conference that I mentioned in the last post. The setup costs for the event are covered, but to facilitate each pastor with food and accommodation and stationery etc for the duration of the course, it would cost about the equivalent of 100 GBP per pastor. It’s a five-day course, the material is good stuff, and the organisation are small but legitimate and certainly trustworthy, and they know what they’re doing.

The conference is aimed for 40 pastors, and so I need to find 40 people each willing to give 100 pounds to fund a pastor to receive good training.

Could it be you? Think of what that money could get you: 1000 penny-sweets (if they were still around), 100 items from a pound-shop, 10 things that’d cost you a tenner, some new items of clothing, several lunches out… Or, it could change the life and ministry of an incredibly poor pastor from a rural area of Uganda (near Kampala), and thus transform his church which would of course have a massive knock-on effect on the community in which he lives.

Please consider sponsoring a pastor? Email me for more details…. Only two weeks left before things need to be paid for =/

 

 

 

 

 

September 22nd, 2013: Another Bible-College-Starting post…

Teehee, an interesting end to a really great first week.

 

Some background information for the first exciting thing – when I was in Uganda (see oooold blog posts, from 11 months ago) I came across the immense need for Bibles. Many people, including pastors, had no access to the Bible, as it was impossible to get hold of without money – and money was one thing they didn’t have. So large communities and villages with churches etc wouldn’t even have one Bible between them. As a result I set up a Bibles-To-Uganda scheme whereby people can donate some money (just a tenner) which enables a trustworthy friend and brother in Kampala to travel to the Uganda Bible Society, purchase a Bible, transport it to a pastor who doesn’t have one, and get back to his hometown. (He then sends me – to send to the donor – a photo of the pastor with his/her new Bible).

This scheme is great, but I also noticed another similar issue – a major need for discipleship and training for the pastors. As you can imagine, people without Bibles or any training or discipleship can end up teaching some odd things, and thus shaping their community in interesting ways. So, since October 2012 I’ve been looking to send people (including Christians who are already in Kampala) to do some fairly basic discipleship and training for a group of pastors there. Everyone I came across who mentioned some even vague interest or connection with Uganda I pestered about this cause, and many seemed interested and gave me email addresses etc, but until this week none followed up about this particular cause.

Here at Redcliffe you meet all kinds of people from all kinds of places, and this week I met a man who came for lunch, who had connections with a Christian mission organisation in Kampala, doing many different types of work. One of these involves churches. After speaking with him, I gave my email address, which he passed on to the head of the organisation there – and I very promptly received an email saying basically “we have 40 pastors ready for you to train them in the first week of November – we will provide the venue”. Not quite what I had in mind, I’d pictured THEM training up MY pastor connections…!! Perhaps a slight miscommunication somewhere along the line, but even so, it was some kind of (mildly obscure and somewhat entertaining) action going in the situation, so I prayed and pursued it. Right now I’m in the process of gathering names and contact details of the pastors I have connections with who need training, and those they know, so they can participate. The organisation there – CDAU – are happy to sort out everything for the training and now only expect me/my representative to teach for one day (8am – 5pm). I’ve made it clear that I won’t be able to be there but may possibly be able to send someone – but that they should have a backup person from their own organisation for if that ends up not being possible. After all, it’s like six weeks away.

Please pray for the work of CDAU, and for God’s provision of finance both for the running of the course and for the pastors attending – and pray for inspiration and guidance for those teaching!! 4th – 8th November, Lweza training and conference center on Entebbe road if anyone’s interested. Thanks!!

 

…So that was yesterday. TODAY was my first opportunity to explore and browse local churches. We were presented with many suggested options which were only a fraction of the million churches in this tiny city. Stuck for choice, I googled my brain and prayed and remembered that I know people here (who asked me to visit their church), and who I’ve been meaning to get in touch with. I wondered about phoning Scargill (where I knew them from) and asking for their contact details, and just as I was thinking about it I received a phone call from a friend who’ll be in the area in a few weeks’ time. He’s the visiting speaker at a local church, which just so happens to be the church of this mutual friend of ours whose contact details I’d been seeking. Within a few minutes, problem solved – I’d found the name and website of the church. I asked people in the College if anyone here has been there and nobody had heard of it. Hmm. So today I set off on foot with an hour to spare before the service was due to start, and clutching instructions from Google Maps (bad idea after having had trouble getting to College in the first place from Google Maps’ instructions last week) but confident that somehow I’d make it in the end. I got lost a few times and went round in a few circles and ended up wandering through a field following the sound of bells having found that there was no non-dead-end road near me that pointed in the vague direction of the sound – but got there in the end, just in time. The people seemed friendly, and it was a whole lot smaller, and more elderly, than I expected from the website – but the people were lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Over coffee after the service I learnt much more than I ever thought I’d need to know about biscuits from a man who has now been married sixty years and has worked in the biscuit industry all his life… Then had lunch with my friend the vicar and her family – so lovely! Already been roped into this Thursday’s Bible study with the Bishop, next weekend’s Harvest Festival lunch, and the Church Weekend in a few weeks’ time. Wow. “I hope you do stay with this church – you’d lower our average age by about thirty years!” …This all may sound slightly unpreferable to some, but I really did have a great morning, and plan to return. Who knows if it’ll become my home church for the next three years, or not. It’s strongly suggested that we browse a few before making serious decisions or commitments – but I may well end up coming back to St Lawrence’s to stay. Teehee!

Without going into too much detail, shortly afterwards I was faced with a situation whereby I had to keep my eye on a man who rolled and smoked something weird, not letting him wander off as he kept trying to do, while trying to sort out someone else without knowing quite what I was to do with her but knowing that she had nobody else to turn to at the time. Stressful but I was able to smile about it afterwards :) Later I was shown a rather odd advert which reiterates one of the College rules and makes me incredibly paranoid about CLOSING DOORS. Never close a door…. Especially in College, especially if a man and a dog are involved!! You’ll end up with TWENTY BABIES!! Redcliffians should get the reference. Hmm. I certainly will be obeying that rule…!

 

The workload is intense but I’ve finally finished the Theology and Greek work I have to do before next week (tomorrow), and won’t be working much more today. I still have assignments for Old Testament studies but this Wednesday we have a class fieldtrip to the Cathedral instead of the lecture (our lecture room was taken), so the deadline extends by a week :D I’ll work tomorrow…. Or the next day…… And every day it’s more and more obvious that I can’t get it all done or have peace about anything unless I have time just being with God as the first priority despite looming deadlines. As if I had to learn that one yet again. It wasn’t a struggle at all this time – too many times in the past learning and re-learning that same lesson over and over and over again. And I’m daily growing in appreciation of the gardens in the grounds and also the gardens a five minute walk down the road. Gorgeous!! I like to sit under a tree and pray, or study, or read, or sing, or chat, etc…. So nice :) Thanks for your prayers and support, keep in touch, and God bless! :D

 

 

 

 

 

September 20th, 2013: First week at Bible College!

Thanks for your prayers and support – I’m back in England and now coming to the end of my first week here at Redcliffe. It’s great! I have the privilege of being able to study modules such as A Missional Understanding of the Old Testament; New Testament Greek; Applied Theology from a Global Perspective; Spiritual Formation; Teamwork and more. The College is beautiful, with such lovely grounds containing a prayer room, computer room, great library, large garden area and much more. My room is great too with so much storage space, and the recently done-up showers are SO GOOD! I praise God for the food here too, although due to the option of both second helpings and puddings for two meals each day plus biscuits at 11am and 4pm I really hope I remain able to fit into the clothes I brought….!

The other students all seem really lovely (so far – ha…!), and the lecturers too. Its really small (less than 100 residents), so I feel like I already know just about everyone, to a certain extent. Everyone’s been so welcoming since I arrived, and it’s been great to be able to get involved with daily prayer groups for different things and different social events and other things that are either planned or spring up spontaneously. I’ve been asked to play in the music group leading the sung worship on Mondays/Thursdays in College, and that’s been great so far.

It’s lovely being in a place where everyone shares a similar passion and calling – people from all over the world, too – and everyone’s here for pretty much the same purpose. It’s also good to get out and about regularly, as the “Christian Bubble” isn’t something I’d like to exclusively remain in for long! I found that Gloucester has like seven charity shops within a relatively small space (!), as well as The Works (!!) and four pound-shops (!!!) – AND a place to eat where everything’s 99p. Perfect student city, teehee!

Still missing Bolivia, but growing gradually accustomed to living in the UK again. Ben still reckons I’m experiencing culture shock, which is possible, but I believe the worst has passed. There are several Latin-America-related people here, which is so nice! Also the LatinLink short-term coordinator who was overlooking my team in Guatemala turned up here for lunch on Wednesday…. “What are you doing in this continent?!” – it was nice to see her and catch up a bit! And a lovely couple I know from Scargill live in the area so I plan to see them this Sunday, visiting their church. Also a non-Gloucester friend is visiting Gloucester in a few weeks’ time, so I’m excited about that!

The workload is pretty intense and I find myself living part-time in the Library, but I currently feel more organised and prepared than I have in a while…!  Let’s see how long that lasts. Also had the opportunity to spend some time painting, which of course has been a great pleasure.

Off to eat now. Yay!

If anyone still reads this… Be blessed! Teehee :D

 

 

 

 

 

August 22nd, 2013: Thoughts about Prayer

Personal prayer

I’ve heard people say that private prayer is outdated or unnecessary, and some are surprised and sometimes even offended when people live differently and spend time regularly praying alone. People say that because ‘it doesn’t work for me’, it’s therefore ‘not for everyone’, or that spending time alone with God on a regular basis is ‘a gift’ that God gives to some and not others.

I don’t know how to respond to this in my own beliefs. My teaching contradicts it- but am I teaching simply from my own understanding and experience, my own theology and doctrine, discarding all contrasting thought as ungodly or false in a way that is unhealthy and damaging?

It interested and encouraged me that the Scargill promises seem to back up my way of thinking, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone who promises them stick to what they’ve said, in practice or intention. The example of Jesus and of the prophets closest to God’s heart also seem to agree that spending time alone with Him is vital for an active and life-changing relationship with Him. I personally cannot live without it, but I know some great Christians who can and do.

Is this just a ‘different way’, equally valid and beautiful in its own right, like a beach without a pier, or a living room without a sofa? Or is it missing something necessary, like a car missing a steering wheel or engine, or a lamp post missing a bulb? I remember when Jesus spoke of those who’d worked for Him and yet God said of them, ‘I never knew you’. How does one truly know God, if without spending time in prayer, alone with Him?

I don’t want to judge people. But I need to know if what I’m teaching is right and true and godly. Should I continue to teach of private prayer as a necessity as well as an immense blessing of grace, or should I not? Our life’s purpose, from my perspective, is relationship with God. What does that mean? I believe it means surrender to Him and intimacy with Him through talking with Him and getting to know His heart in a personal way rather than just through teaching and action. Is this wrong, or ‘not for everyone’…?

How can we ‘come into God’s presence’ or ‘enter His throne room’ or ‘live in the shelter of the Most High’ etc if not through private prayer? It seems to me that it’s only over this past century that people have begun thinking this way, that personal prayer is unnecessary or only for some. In the past, Jesus-followers of all generations seem to have acknowledged prayer as a vital and irreplaceable part of the walk with God, where God can instruct and teach and meet with individuals personally and intimately; where people can give themselves to God and place themselves at His feet without the distractions of life etc. People accepted the difficulty of it at times as part of growth, whereas nowadays people seem to prioritise comfort and instantaneanism and ease. Is this why people dismiss private prayer as unnecessary nowadays, because it’s uncomfortable in today’s culture and mindsets and doesn’t fit with the usual routine?

I feel inclined to believe that my teaching on the necessity of personal prayer need not be changed so drastically (or worse, scrapped completely). Lord God, please correct me if I’m wrong!

Perhaps though my approach should change and I should be open to other methods or ways of ‘private prayer’, such as talking alone with God while knitting or washing dishes or cutting wood and the like- completely focused on God but physically active in some way at the same time, because some can’t cope with being alone and quiet without doing anything but having to just talk to God. Some ‘connect with God’ to a deep level while listening to music or reading the Bible and such things, which are also great…

For years I’ve believed that it’s absolutely necessary as well as these things to have time alone talking with God, not doing anything at the same time. This eliminates distractions and shows surrender and priority in that God can do as He pleases with us; we’re putting ourselves in His hands instead of Him being an added extra to our activity, which can sort of be seen as the case throughout all other activities each day. Is this view right, healthy and good for everyone? Perhaps. Perhaps people are simply irrationally afraid, or with wrong priorities, or whatever. But perhaps my view is too closed-minded and I should change it. God, please make Your truth clear to me?

If anyone’s reading this and actually interested, I’d really like to hear your thoughts. Not necessarily anything too deep, or long arguments for either side, just whether you believe private prayer is helpful or unhelpful, easy or difficult, necessary or unnecessary… Feel free to comment on this post or send me an email :) Thanks!!

 

 

 

 

 

August 20th, 2013: England…!

Well, I’m back in England. My whistle-stop tour visiting different areas was changed somewhat – which in a way made me feel very much at home since in Bolivia plans change all the time especially at the very last minute – and I ended up cutting down a little, which gave me in the end more time at Scargill. Such a blessing from God, even though it meant missing out on seeing some people along the way.

My first week back in the UK was so strange. I loved seeing such wonderful people who I’ve missed, and experiencing normal western things all over again – but I felt a little overwhelmed by it all. All the cultural differences, it just made me miss Bolivia all the more. And everyone speaks English here- what’s with that?!

Anyway, after some time with friends in Wraysbury, London, Northampton and Harrogate, I’m now ‘retreating’ from the world, back at work at Scargill. When I got to the Dales (especially to Kettlewell), I began to feel at home and thought, ‘this is what I love about England.’ I still miss Bolivia so much, but am now less upset about it and more at peace, almost more settled. Its strange being here at Scargill too though, because throughout the year there’ve been so many changes here – especially in people. But seeing those who WERE here a year ago has been really great, and getting to know the newer community members is lovely too! Absolutely glad I made it to their Summerfest, the biggest event of the year, for which people have travelled from all over the world.

I’m here another week or so, perhaps a little less- not sure yet, depending on the host of my next visit- and loving it. For the first time I’m working in the kitchen at Scargill, which is pretty tiring but good fun, and gives me late afternoons and evenings free to enjoy the events and concerts and chat shows and hanging out with people, and time to pray and borrow abandoned guitars and even read a little.

That’s one thing that I’ve really enjoyed – the chance to just sit down and read, without thinking that I should be doing something productive or getting somewhere or working on something. So good. In recent months I’ve developed a real interest and passion for reading the writings and teachings of monks and scholars from centuries past – especially those who’ve committed their lives and all their time to prayer and seeking God. People like St Ignatius, Fenelon, Madame Guyon, and others. At the moment I’m getting very into the writings of the 19th Century theologian Andrew Murray, whose books are GREAT. I recommend his stuff. Challenging and motivational and fairly deep. Reading some of his writings has confirmed in great timing and cool ways some of the things God’s been teaching me and challenging me about, which has been encouraging!

It’s also been so awesome being able to get back into a routine here of having a couple of hours to pray at certain times each day, which wasn’t so practical at all in Bolivia and there cost more in effort and priority, and rarely without much interruption. Through this time I’ve learnt many things and as I’ve been returning to where I was at the start of my walk with God in wondering about meaning and purpose of things in life (and life itself), God’s been bringing me to new understanding as I recognise my total lack of understanding in matters that seem so simple in words such as prayer, worship, surrender, intercession and more. The basics of relationship with God are so beyond my understanding!

I’ve been attempting to understand some of the things that have shaped and been foundational for my life for the past six and a half years, and I can’t get my head around the logic or theology of them at all. Having preached on such things countless times and written about them a little and had many in-depth conversations on these matters, I now finally recognise that I can’t possibly begin to understand the things of God.

This recognition of my own weakness and total lack of understanding upset me at first and I worried about it, spending several hours in frustrated prayer and feeling that God just wasn’t answering me. This ultimately led me to a depth of surrender that I haven’t known for a while, from which God began leading me to set surrender and intercession as more of a priority and a basis on which my faith can grow, instead of simply an addition to the ‘chatting with God’ which I’ve been holding as the most important thing for a while now. Chatting with God is important and great- now though God seems to be leading me into a time of slightly different priorities with Him than before.

What I’ve learnt lately in a nutshell:

I’m incapable; I CAN’T.
God’s capable; He CAN.
My only possible way of life- total surrender.

What about you? What is your life and relationship with God etc based on at the moment? How’s He been challenging and teaching and shaping you lately? I really would love to know.

Life for me at the moment is full of changes, that transition of country and culture and lifestyle as I continue to live out of a suitcase and get increasingly excited about starting Bible College soon….! I’m very excited to continue to see and catch up with old friends once I leave Scargill later this month, and I’m really looking forward to seeing family too. God is good!!

 

 

 

 

 

August 7th, 2013: Back in the UK after a year that’s gone by so fast!

This my last “Bolivia Update” for the moment – possibly the last Blog post in a while. I’m now back in the UK, safe and sound – thanks for your prayers!

The past month in Bolivia was full of emotions. Despair at the concept of the homes closing if God doesn’t provide more staff, excitement as He answers prayers and miraculously provides the needs of the ministry and individuals (new female staff!), distress at the thought of having to leave, relief at finally receiving my residents’ card (after 8 months of being a resident), anxiety about looking forward to UK life, surprise at the sudden changes in the girls’ home, and many more…

One exciting thing that happened was that the ministry social worker went to visit the little daughter of one of the girls in the home – Karina has lived on the streets all her life and is apparently 3rd generation street girl: all her family have always lived on the streets and she’s not known anything else. So when she came into the home there was of course a little turbulence as she adjusted to lack of drugs, policies and systems, living in a house with expectations, cleanliness, and more. She gave birth for the first time when she was 14 and her daughter had lived with her on the streets. When Karina came into the home, the daughter went to live with the man who was thought to be the child’s dad, and his family. Karina had another baby later on, a boy who is living in the baby home down the road, and she visits him with the social worker each Friday – with the intention that when Karina is stable enough the boy can come and live in the same home, with our ministry. Every day Karina’s been praying for her daughter too, that one day she’ll see her again, and that God protects her. The social worker one day over this past month went to find the child to see if she could sort out for a visit some time soon, and discovered that the girl is in absolutely horrendous conditions, not being looked after well at all and being left alone or looked after by a drunk babysitter who couldn’t care less about their welfare. Meanwhile I was working at the girls’ home, and Louise (who I was working with) received a phone call from the social worker, saying that she was on her way, with the little girl.

This was a shock to all of us, as now we’d have an almost-two-year-old living with a house of teenagers – and as Karina would now have to learn to be a mother. It was interesting because Karina had grown up living and “working” on the streets, taking responsibility for herself as best she could, and trying to act grown-up, more or less. In recent months we’ve seen her begin to learn to play and be a kid, which has been one of the most beautiful things. She has an amazing laugh and I loved playing with her – we all did. She’d started learning to read and write a little, which was also amazing to be a part of. So all of a sudden she was now to be a full-time mum. The dynamics in the home shifted a lot at that point, and for a time she seemed to lose the joy and childlike-ness that she’d found. Thankfully now she seems to have got that back, and we’re really praying for her and trying to guide her in the best ways possible as to how to raise a toddler. May God teach her and raise up her and the daughter in His hands, and teach the other girls and the staff to handle it all well and to grow together with them, developing in wisdom and understanding.

God’s provision and answers to prayer has been awesome lately too. Several of us were feeling rather stressed about when both I and the Year4God team leave Bolivia: there will be too few staff for the ministry to run. Last month God provided male staff and they’ve been AMAZING and brought great new dynamics and enthusiasm and love to the boys’ home. And over these past 2 weeks God’s been providing temporary female staff to fill our shoes too – awesome! Another way God’s provided is for my resident’s card. You may have heard already about all the problems I had with my visa – the process for the visa has to be completed within 30 days of arrival into the country, but the system took me 7 months. The Carnet (residents’ card) has to be completed within 30 days of receiving the visa. I became officially a resident 3 days before leaving the country – finally! If it had taken another 3 days I would have had to pay extravagant fines (yet MORE extravagant fines), and all that time spent in Immigration and the Justice Palace and different Police places (more time than I’d like to say) would all have seemed to be for nothing. But God provided! WOOP!

Another interesting thing that’s not really mine to tell but is crazily interesting so I thought I’d write it anyway: while cleaning the house and while packing, people from the house (Casa Alfa, the volunteers’ house where I live) had found or discarded old clothes that nobody wanted. Wondering what to do with it – and knowing that the homes already receive FAR too many clothing donations and have no need for more – it was decided that we should try to sell these old clothes that nobody in the house wanted any more. So Ben, Sarah and Kelly went to the Ramada (the dodgy end of town, where there are many cheap markets selling all kinds of clothes and food and other things) to see if any of the market stallholders wanted to buy these clothes to re-sell. The stallholders all refused because they didn’t supply the clothes but only manned the stalls – instead they advised the little team to set out the clothes on the ground and see if anyone wanted to buy them. While they were standing holding their bags of clothes and pondering this, a lady approached them and asked if their bags contained clothes to sell, and she asked to see them. The first buyer. Then shortly afterwards, a crowd of about 15 different ladies showed up and started looking through the things and buying them – and within about 20 minutes they’d made about 360 Bolivianos (£36). Suddenly a police van pulled up and out jumped several officers in black suits, and all the other stallholders started bundling up their things and running away. Someone shouted to them, “take your things and run, or they’ll take it all!” So they shoved as much as they could into their bags and ran down a side street, and then walked out trying to look casual. They got a taxi back to the house and asked the driver who the police were and what they were doing. “They’ve come for those who are selling things without a permit”. “Where do they take them?” “To the prison cells inside the Ex-Terminal”. Wow…..

On Tuesday of last week I visited some friends, very inspirational people through whom I’ve learnt a lot, and after lots of chatting and eating and laughing together I was presented with the generous option of staying in Bolivia and living with them at no charge. I knew that God’s will for me was to return to the UK to go to Bible College, but I’d been talking myself out of all the other options in my head so that nothing else seemed like a realistic possibility to me anyway – to make it less difficult to leave. For example I’d been saying to myself  things like, “I couldn’t stay in Bolivia anyway – I have no money left and have to pay for my rent and food”, and “I can’t live in Casa Alfa for any longer if I haven’t done a DTS or university”. With the offer that my friends gave me, those excuses were no longer valid – and the potential idea of remaining in Bolivia for longer became a realistic option. I had a battle between my desires and emotions, and what I knew was the will of God. Have you ever had that? God says one thing, and you want something entirely different – and you have to make a decision? People have said to me, “Well it’s easy if God’s said something” – but I’ve found that’s not so. I find myself desperately wanting to disobey and go my own way, even with things that can be classed under the category of “serving Him”. Crazy, no?

My friends who’d made this offer didn’t wait for any kind of an answer (and I didn’t try to force one on them), and we ended up in a long time of musical worship and prayer, in which I felt God’s presence in a more intense way than I’d experienced in quite a while. I ended up in floods of tears, from a combination of feeling challenged and moved by God’s work within me whatever it was, my happiness thinking about Bolivia and how much I love living there, and sadness about leaving so soon. We prayed for a very long time, and then I went back to Casa Alfa – and although it was late I knew I needed to go pray for longer, alone. There I felt God was challenging me to surrender to Him, and I kept wanting to refuse (ironic, knowing the theme of my major study at the moment). He challenged me to surrender Bolivia to Him and all that it means to me. Surrender my love for Bolivia and my passion for change and my joy in being there and my desire to return – give it all over into His hands, and not try to take it back.

I wondered, what does that mean? What does it mean to surrender a desire completely into God’s hands and leave it there? That night I wrote some notes down in my notebook about what I learnt from God. I was feeling too challenged to actually DO what God was saying, so I wrote about it instead. Again, ironic. Like what people always used to say about teachers in school: if you can’t do it, teach it! Often when I’m asked to preach I’m given a topic that is exactly what I’m struggling with at the time, and I find I have to depend on God rather than my own understanding or belief. Anyway so this is what I wrote (translated – it was all in Spanish as I’d been praying and thinking just in Spanish): “Got to surrender your desires, all of them, completely – even if God gave you them. But what does it mean? I have in my heart BOLIVIA. It’s been there in my heart for years. God gave it to me. But, I have to surrender, to give it to Him so that He does with it what He wants. It’s not easy. Maybe I’ll never have what I want, even if I have faith or anything else. Got to surrender. The Lord never spoke to me about the future and Bolivia after this year – so that I learn to surrender my desires, and leave them at His feet so that He can do what He wants with my situations and my life.”

That was certainly one of (if not THE most) the most difficult prayer times I’ve ever had. Having to surrender Bolivia and my desire to return – knowing that it might be in His plan that I never return, despite everything. I found it so hard to let go. It was horrible. But after time I gave it over to God, just about, and still feeling distressed and with many tears gave my whole life and future over to Him yet again. Of course I still WANT to come back – but now I’m willing (ish) to obey if God says that’s not His plan.

I told my friend who’d given me the offer of living with them that God had prompted me to give Him my desire to return, and that I don’t know what His plans are yet but that I’ll let them know when I find out. She was very supportive, of course.

Goodbyes were horrible – these past seven days have been like torture for me. The worst was leaving the girls’ home – I cried so much, and it was so embarrassing too. The girls didn’t seem at all bothered (the teenage face of you-can’t-do-anything-to-me) but I had to go sit in the staff room a few times just to get the strength to go out and be with them without bursting into tears at the thought of leaving them. I was such a coward and spent too much time hiding, not wanting to go say goodbye at the end. It was horrible. Thankfully I somehow managed not to cry when leaving my church, though that was just as difficult in a different way. They got us up to the front and prayed for us, and at the end almost everyone gave me big hugs and beautiful words, and some with tears. I’d decided not to have a leaving party because I didn’t want to cry any more in front of anyone and I didn’t want to think about leaving too much, but instead I had lots of coffees with people, which was lovely. On my last night (Monday night of this week – two days ago) some of the ministry people came over, and again I managed not to cry in front of them – yay :) It was so hard though, these people are so special to me and I was so upset to be leaving them not knowing when I’ll see them again in person. Thanking God for technology of Skype and Facebook and phones etc!!

Now, as of this morning, I’m back in the UK and have already experienced rather a lot of reverse culture shock. Windows that close properly without gaps in them. Lack of dust. Everything’s clean. Men don’t shout at you from car windows. Nobody yells “popcorn” or “jelly” or “newspaper” or a place name etc at you when you walk past them (selling things). People use indicators, and seat belts, and only one person occupies a seat in a car or bus….! What IS this place?! And the price of trains and food etc – I need to stop comparing i to Bolivian prices in my mind.

Before going to College I’m doing a bit of a run around the UK in a few different locations visiting people and churches etc, and I’m excited to see people. Also very excited to start Bible College so soon. Today has been a big struggle though, missing Bolivia so much. I’m staying with Ben’s family in their new house for a few days and they’re so lovely – I love hanging out with them and they’ve made it all so welcoming and great (English breakfast, fish and chips, HOT TAPS IN SINKS etc), but still I’ve been missing the people and the places in Bolivia a lot. Even the trees….!

So, one more time, thank you so much if you’ve supported me in any way over this past 12 months, be that with prayer, words, advice, preparation, or even finance. It’s been greatly appreciated!! Who knows how God will use all this in the long-run. I’ve learnt so many things and had so many absolutely crazy experiences (many of which include foods such as chicken’s feet, cow’s tongue and the like – or journeys sitting among dead pigs or with large men sitting on me or hanging out of the bus door as the driver takes it wildly around sharp bends….) and met so many seriously incredible people. Now to start College – another exciting adventure of a different kind – and may God continue to teach and shape and use me in any way He wants :)

Obviously, please still keep in touch – and you never know, more blog posts may appear one day. Teehee!

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