17 Dec 2011

Beginning To Look A Bit Like Christmas...

Although the sun is still shining and it's still warm, the weather is changing here in Arequipa. The mountains surrounding the city have disappeared almost permanently into cloud, and the air has a thick humidity which actually makes quite a pleasant change from the dry, dusty climate of before. The Arequipeñans keep looking at the sky and muttering ominous things about 'the rain coming', and the Council recently cut off the water supply to the whole city for 24 hours so they could clear the drains ready for the oncoming weather.


Trying to get the tree lights to work in the Plaza de Armas


One thing that the coming of the rain does mean, however, is that it must be nearly Christmas, and the city is slowly gearing itself up for the festive celebrations. Lights and decorations have appeared in many of the shops, turkeys are becoming increasingly fearful, and White Christmas is being played endlessly on the radio (despite the fact that it has never snowed in Arequipa, and probably never will). A particularly strong feature of the Christmas tradition here is the nativity scenes, which appear in most of the Catholic churches but also in many government buildings and shops. The focus is on the Níño Jesus, who is worshipped as a baby at these nativity scenes and is also responsible for bringing presents on Christmas Eve (a tradition which is slowly being usurped by Father Christmas).


The Nativity Scene in the Basilica Cathedral
For us, Christmas is obviously a bit different this year. Apart from the very different climate, songs, food and traditions, it feels very strange being away from family and friends at this time of year. We will be spending Christmas itself in Cusco with BMS colleagues Scott and Anjanette Williamson and the Peru Action Team, which should be great. However, being at language school means we've also had the chance to share in some of the Christmas traditions and food from all over the world, and we've been reminded again that even though our traditions are often very different, the reason for the celebration and the good news of Christmas is the same wherever we are.


Language school Christmas party
This has also been a time of saying goodbyes, as many of the other students at the school are moving on to begin work. Please pray for them as they make this transition, especially for those of them with children. And please pray for us, as we come to the end of full-time Spanish classes and start thinking about working with some of the local Baptist churches and learning more about Baptist life here.

1 Dec 2011

November '11 Prayer Letter

Our latest official BMS prayer letter is now available and can be read by clicking here. Thanks for reading and for all your prayers, and do let us know how we can be praying for you!

27 Nov 2011

Skype with Pinner Free Church

Today we were up at the almost civilised hour of 5.10am to have a live skype chat with one of our link churches - Pinner Free Church. It was lovely to hear some friendly voices and especially to be prayed for in English! Thanks guys!

The church has a new student minister - Jamie Kidd - so please pray for them all as they seek what God has in store for them over the next few months, and for Jamie as he juggles college and church life.

We should have a new prayer letter coming out in the next few days, so watch this space for more news!

12 Nov 2011

God Wins

Last night we were invited to a ‘presentation’ of the book of Revelation at a local seminary. Despite being a little cynical, a couple of friends were going so we decided to tag along. After sitting outside in the queue for some time, and being warned that there might be some explosions in the Battle of Armageddon(!), we were led as a group through a series of scenes (which were, to their credit, very well produced) attempting to depict the horrors of what is allegedly going to happen in the end times. We were shown the chaos and destruction on earth immediately after all the Christians are raptured, with car accidents and bloody corpses everywhere. We had women and children grabbing our hands and begging us to help them as they starved on the roadside. We were forced into an interrogation room and watched as the newly-formed military force who had taken power (and who had a logo and initials suspiciously similar to the United Nations) tortured and killed those who refused to be branded with the ‘Mark of the Beast’. We had guns pointed in our faces and were pushed and shoved through dark rooms in an experience designed to be as disorientating and terrifying as possible. Eventually we arrived before God himself, who dispassionately consigned those whose names were not in the Book of Life to be thrown into the fires of hell. Finally, we were all sat down in a room and told that if we wanted to avoid the events we’d just seen, we just needed to pray a simple prayer saying that we believed in God. Then we were sent home.

Although, as suggested above, we had suspected that this was the sort of thing we were going to, we left feeling a mixture of sadness and anger. Not because we doubt the sincerity or good intentions of those behind the production, but because what we saw only told half the story. Leaving aside the ongoing arguments about whether Revelation should be understood as a prediction of how things will pan out in the future or (more likely) a theological and political commentary on contemporary events, surely most people would agree that the loudest voice crying out from the pages of Revelation is not the voice of gloom and doom, but rather a far more positive message: God wins. The Lamb is victorious. Evil is conquered. And the day is coming when the God who mourns for his creation will make everything new; when there will be no more pain, or crying or death (Rev. 21:4).

And this is where, ultimately, the presentation we saw last night failed. It was so occupied with trying to scare the pants off people to make them convert that it forgot to offer any sort of positive vision of what they would be converting to. Accepting God was an escape plan from hell rather than an invitation to something better. God was portrayed as an emotionless tyrant rather than a loving God who wants to see all his creation come back into relationship with him. 

Peru is a country where people are still reeling from the after effects of civil war, where grinding poverty still blights a huge percentage of the population, and where the majority of the scenes we saw above are or have been a regular part of daily life. The people of Peru don’t need reminding of these things – they’ve seen them. And so it seems to us that what the Church has to offer above all here is not a vision of life without God but rather a vision of life with him; a vision of the coming kingdom which we can begin to taste and touch here and now. A vision of hope, forgiveness, redemption, justice and love, which forms communities of people living in the knowledge that God's promises are true and seeking to enact that truth in their lives together. Because the Lamb is victorious. God has won. And that is the good news we have to share.

10 Nov 2011

Peru Action Team 2011-12

As we said in our previous entry, last week we had the privilege of meeting the first ever BMS Action Team to Peru! Jess, Rob, Amy and Liz arrived in Peru a couple of weeks ago and will be working for 6 months with BMS workers Scott and Anjanette Williamson in Cusco.

We really enjoyed meeting them and getting to know them a little last week. At the moment they're mostly settling into life at altitude, learning Spanish and generally helping out wherever they can. We'd love it if you could pray for them as they continue to settle in. Pray for them as a team - that they would be a good support for each other, pray for their language learning - we certainly know how tough it feels early on! And please pray for those they are going to meet and serve. Pray that in everything they would be great witnesses to the love of Jesus and to his good news!

Action Teams is the Gap Year programme run by BMS and is open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 23. After one month's training, young people go out in small teams for six months to join with BMS workers or local people who are seeking to share God's love in a totally new country and context. They then return to the UK and tour churches for eight weeks, sharing all that they've learnt and experienced. It's a great opportunity! If you're interested in being on an Action Team next year check out the BMS website for more details.  

3 Nov 2011

Day of the Dead

Yesterday many of the Catholics here in South America (as well as in Europe and other places) celebrated the Day of the Dead. We are in Cusco this week meeting our new boss and visiting the Sacred Valley again, so had the chance to go with the Peru Action Team to the local cemetery to see what was going on.

For many people the Day of the Dead is an opportunity to visit the graves (or resting places) of deceased loved ones, pray for them and share food and drink together in their memory. Stories are sometimes told about the person's life as the family remember them together. For others, the day is a time when the spirits or souls of the dead are 'closer' and able to come back to be with the family again. The person's favourite food and drink is taken to the grave and 'shared' with them in an effort to entice them back for a while.

We went relatively early in the day, but apparently later on the mourning turns into more of a party atmosphere, as food and drink is fairly liberally imbibed!
 

20 Oct 2011

BMS Birthday Scheme - Prescription For Life

This years BMS Birthday Scheme video features Anjanette Williamson and the work she's doing as a doctor in a Christian clinic in Cusco. Please take a look and share the video in your churches if you can!

Birthday Scheme - Prescription for life from BMS World Mission on Vimeo.

9 Oct 2011

Prayer Focus on Peru

This week the BMS Prayer Guide is focussed once again on Peru. We know that many of you are praying for us already and are very grateful for that. If you get the chance it would be great if you could also pray for the rest of the team here during the following week.

Sun 9th - Julia and James Henley as we continue with language study and start to think about the practicalities of moving to the Sacred Valley.

Mon 10th - Margaret Swires, senior BMS mission worker in Peru, as she works to support Peruvian churches around the country in a whole range of social projects, especially in the area of domestic violence. Margaret is currently in the UK receiving treatment for breast cancer. Please keep her and her family especially in your prayers at this time.

Tues 11th - Anjanette Williamson working in La Fuente clinic in Cusco and supporting husband Scott in the church plant, where their children Samuel (6) and Jessica (8) are lively participants!

Wed 12th - Amanda and Neil Roper, youth and children’s work specialists working with the church plant in Cusco. Pray too for Daniel (4) and Sophia (2).

Thurs 13th - Harland Rivas and Gill Thurgood with Lilia (1) and Ingny (4) who have just returned to the Amazon town of Iquitos after three months in the UK.

Fri 14th - Laura Lee Lovering, an environmental project manager, who is currently studying at IMC. In 2012, Laura will move to the holistic mission training centre in the town of Nauta, on the banks of the Marañon river.

Sat 15th - BMS supported partner worker Robert Murrogarra who heads up evangelistic mission by boat in riverside communities near Nauta, along with pastor Luiz Alvorado.

Please also keep in your prayers Mark Greenwood, our newly appointed Regional Team Leader, and the Peru Action Team, who are due to arrive in Cusco in a couple of weeks time.

8 Oct 2011

10 lessons we’ve learnt so far in Peru!

1) Always always check cream biscuits before biting into them – you never know, the contents of someone’s nose could be sandwiched inside.

2) It’s best to carry toilet paper – it’s not always available here when you need it and you never know when that might be!

3) There is always room for another type of carbohydrate in a meal.

4) Personal space does not exist on a bus, what’s mine is yours and yours is mine; whether limbs, odour or chickens!

5) Lane markings, stop signs, traffic lights, seatbelts, indicators, lights, crash helmets and traffic police are for decoration only. Nothing more.

6) Don’t be foolish enough to expect to follow the age old British advice of ‘Don’t get off the bus before it stops,’ as it very rarely happens!

7) Sweating is good. Air conditioning is available in the fitness class, but why put it on in if you can sweat until the mirrors steam up instead!?

8) Maintaining and fostering relationships with friends and family is more important than anything else.

9) Official charges such as taxes, traffic fines and tickets are not as serious as you might think. You should avoid paying for as long as possible.

10) Don’t expect to keep your self-respect when learning another language. Everyone will laugh at your attempts, especially 6 year olds, who can be very smug about it! 


2 Oct 2011

Harvest Celebrations

It's been lovely over the last few weeks to hear from lots of churches who've been using the BMS Harvest material, 'Sacred Soil' (highlighted below) in their celebrations this year.

If you  haven't seen or used the Sacred Soil material as yet, it's not too late! It focuses on the work that our colleagues have been involved with in the village of Yucay in southern Peru and the way that BMS funding has made such a difference in the lives of many people. Yucay is almost certainly the area where we'll be going to live after Christmas to continue to share God's love and care with people there. They still have many needs and lots of families are still struggling to rebuild homes and livelihoods after the flooding. So please pray for them!

Thank you to New Addington, Hatch End Free, Camrose, and Calvary Baptist Churches, who all asked for updates recently. We also had fun pre-recording a skype message with Budleigh Salterton Baptist  last week and had a live skype link with Worthing Baptist today followed by a live phone call with Emmanuel and Bethania Baptist Churches (Llanelli) later on.

We do love hearing from you all (by whatever means) and of course it was great to be able to share how we're doing and ask for your prayers. We're really grateful to God for the modern technology that allows us to keep in touch so easily! 

14 Sep 2011

2 years and counting...

This week we celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary!  We're not sure if we're benefiting from the traditions of other cultures, or just particularly nice friends here in Peru, but we've been overwhelmed by presents and kindness from people eager to celebrate with us.  We woke up to gifts of chocolate by our seats at the breakfast table and then when we came back upstairs to our room there was a lovely bunch of flowers from our hosts.  The message read, 'with love from your Arequipeñan family!' Then once we arrived at language school we were met by our friend Stefanie who had made us a beautiful cheese cake with a fresh fruit topping!  We decided we couldn't eat it all ourselves, however tempted we might have been, so that evening we went to Stefanie and Tibor's home together with other students from our class, David and Christine, to share it.  David and Christine had baked fresh bread for the occasion and thought that we might appreciate an 'English Tea' so came prepared with butter and sliced cucumber too!  They also brought gifts of chocolate!  It was almost like Christmas come early!


We also went to a 'Creperia' on Sunday for a very relaxed and tasty lunch.  We spent a while in the restaurant playing chess, cards and most importantly, enjoying an English Ale!  We had thought there was no chance of such a thing here in Arequipa, so it was a great treat.  Julia's task now, however, is to keep James out of the Creperia!   

Many thanks to all our lovely friends here for spoiling us rotten!  We've had a brilliant first two years of  marriage and are looking forward to many more!

10 Sep 2011

Poco a poco


It’s been a while since we blogged, so we thought it was about time we updated you on our progress with Spanish!  Every weekday morning we spend 3 and a half hours at language school.  The first hour and a half is spent learning ‘grammar,’ then after a coffee break we have a further hour and a half of ‘conversation’ one-to-one with a teacher.  Some days we feel like we’re doing brilliantly and could easily be mistaken for Peruvians(!), but other days we feel like we are probably the worst students of the language since records began and will never get the hang of it!  Now we’re reliably informed that this is perfectly normal and that we will get there eventually.  We are particularly entertained by the phrase that several of the teachers use with us when we’re evidently having a less than fluent moment.  They rest a hand pastorally on our shoulder and say... ‘poco a poco, poco a poco.’  Literally translated it  means, ‘little by little.’  It’s intended to encourage us that we need to take things one step at a time, that we can’t run before we can walk, and that slow and steady wins the race!  We often wonder whether, as our good friend Amanda once suggested, a paraphrased translation would be closer to the truth... ‘Yes you are rubbish, but try not to worry about it!’

Rather than going by our fluctuating sense of achievement on any particular day, it seems more helpful to measure our progress in more concrete ways.  So for example, last month I could barely understand anything in the newspaper, now I am beginning to understand the articles.  Last week we could talk about what we are doing, what we have done, what we did and what we used to do, but this week our repertoire has expanded to what we will do, and even would do if given the opportunity! 

It really is slow progress, but we’re enjoying it!  And we are really grateful for our excellent tutors at the school and to God for keeping us going!  Please pray for Julio, Edgar and Ana-Lu  as they put up with our, at times hilarious, attempts at conversation and please pray for us that we’d remain positive and keen to learn.

21 Aug 2011

'Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name...'

This week I (Julia) have been reflecting on our coping strategies whilst we’re here in Arequipa. Every weekday morning our routine is predictable. We go to language school, we come home and have lunch and then do our homework. In the evening we normally stay in and play a game or watch a film in our room. This makes every day much the same as any other. For this reason it helps to pepper the week with other things to do – perhaps a little sightseeing or a visit to the post office to check for mail or, about once a week, a trip to Starbucks!

We have a Starbucks about 25 minutes walk from our house. It’s in a mall called ‘Parque Lambramani’, a relatively new addition to the consumer scene in Arequipa. As well as Starbucks there are a few restaurants, mostly chains from the USA, and there are small and very expensive boutiques and clothes shops too. I really like it! It reminds me of familiar diversions at home – mooching round the shops, drinking coffee with friends, people watching! So the weekly visit to drink a vanilla frappuccino in Starbucks is eagerly anticipated! It’s never very busy in there. It strikes us that most Arequipeñans probably can’t afford the prices, and there are lots and lots of other eateries and cafes nearby that are certainly more ‘Peruvian.’ Perhaps because it’s quiet, or perhaps because we’re gringos we have begun to be recognised by the staff. A few weeks ago one of the ladies who works there greeted us by name. It was a shock! We didn’t expect it. Very few people in this city know our names and we felt ok with that! But then one day the assistant said ‘¡Hola Julia! ¿Cómo está?’

Now it could be argued that there are ‘more worthy’ places that we could be making a name for ourselves. Indeed, our initial reaction was to wonder if we come here too much. We can easily get missionary guilt complexes about how we spend our time and money and arguably contributing to the profits of the multi-million dollar giant that is Starbucks isn’t the best use of either. Our guilt complex is made slightly worse too by the knowledge that we won’t have anything remotely like a Starbucks in the Sacred Valley. We’re going to have find other places to go to relax; we’re going to have to, for a while at least, let go of the familiar comforts of home.

I have come to the conclusion though that whilst we are here and whilst we have the means to enjoy a vanilla frappuccino each week, we need to thank God for it and enjoy it! It is a blessing and as the old song says, we should count our blessings: the blessings of various tasty beverages ending in the suffix ‘-cino’ yes, but also the blessing of being known. For whatever reason we’ve become known here and so we pray that when our Spanish improves we’ll be able to chat and to share why we’re here in Peru. Maybe you’ll pray with us for the staff in Starbucks who know our name. Pray that we’ll get to know their names too...

11 Aug 2011

Cristo Blanco (White Jesus)

Look up from almost anywhere in Cusco and you will see, towering over the city, a giant statue of Jesus; arms outstretched, his eyes staring impassively into space as he stands guard over the streets below. Of course having a statue of Jesus isn’t unusual here in South America as many cities have them, each with a distinctive character of their own. Perhaps the most famous is Rio de Janeiro’s Cristo Redentor, but other examples include the slightly controversial leaving gift of Peru’s outgoing president in Lima and the brilliant self-resurrecting Jesus in a theme park in Buenos Aires. The reasons for their construction also vary – the statue in Cusco was a gift from Palestinian Christians who lived in the city in the early twentieth century, Lima’s Jesus is a sign of ‘blessing and protection’ over Peruvians, and Rio’s Christ the Redeemer is a symbol of oppression; even today, anyone buying or selling property under his gaze has to pay taxes to the Catholic Church.

Standing at the feet of Jesus on the hilltop in Cusco (although not too close, because of the barbed wire fence that surrounds him) is a strange experience. The statue stands (deliberately one suspects) next to, but higher than, the ruins of an Incan fortress, thus forcing into juxtaposition two cultures which continue to live in tension with each other in Peru. The statue seems to suggest, however, that in this case Jesus has ‘won’, relieving people from the fear of traditional beliefs and now standing as a symbol of God’s protection over the city: faithful, unchanging, watching everything that goes on.

All this is well and good, but as we stood there I couldn’t help but feel that Jesus had become just another symbol, just another evil spirit-busting figurine to join the myriad of shrines, talismans and charms that fill the homes, streets and taxis of this city. Of course one of the central tenets of Christianity, and one that has particular resonance here, is precisely that Christ is more powerful than the forces of evil which pervade our world, and more than able to protect us from the ‘spirits’ which torment us. However the Jesus who stands on the hill in Cusco is a Jesus who is strangely detached from daily life, who seems completely removed from the grinding poverty and desperation of so many people. And as we stood there, I realised that this is not the Jesus that we read about in the Bible, and that this is not the God we worship. The Jesus we see in the Bible does not stand above the city but comes down into it; does not remain pure and clean but instead is covered in the dust and grime of the streets; does not stare passively ahead in steely-eyed concentration but instead is brought to tears by the suffering of the people whom he meets. He is a man who allows himself to be utterly caught up in the sin, trials and torment of the world. He is a man who isn’t protected by a barbed wire fence but who instead allows the crown of thorns to be pushed into his head. He is a God who takes the sin and suffering upon himself and in doing so transforms it, offering us the hope of a new tomorrow.

My hope and prayer is that this would be the Jesus that we share. A Jesus who doesn’t dominate but who serves, a Jesus who doesn’t oppress but who loves, a Jesus who doesn’t reject but embraces, a God who loved the world first and therefore truly deserves our worship.


10 Aug 2011

Sacred Soil

This year’s BMS Harvest Resource focuses in part on the village of Yucay, in the Sacred Valley. In January 2010 Yucay and many other villages on the valley floor were hit by heavy rains and severe flooding, which destroyed a huge number of houses and ruined crops. BMS provided a relief grant, and Scott and Anjanette Williamson, along with several members of their church in Cusco, were able to take food, shelter and new seed down to the village.


We had the opportunity to visit Yucay last week and met some of the people whose lives have been affected by this tragedy. Many people are still living in temporary accommodation whilst they try and find the money to rebuild. The government has provided no help at all so most of them rely on the crops they grow for income.


However, as a result of the relationship that has built up between the people for Yucay and the church in Cusco, some of them are now asking whether it would be possible to start a church in the village. Many of you will know that we have been praying, and asking you to join us in prayer, about where exactly we should end up after language school. It seems to us (and BMS) that God is opening a door of opportunity in Yucay and so this is almost definitely where we will be coming to live in the new year.


If you haven’t already then please do consider using the Harvest Videos and other resources in your churches. God is working both practically and spiritually in Yucay and we are privileged, on your behalf, to be a part of that. However, we still need your prayers and BMS, if they are to continue reaching out to people in the name of Jesus, need your support. All the resources are free and can either be ordered or downloaded from http://www.bmsworldmission.org/resources/video/harvest Thanks!

4 Aug 2011

Smiles


This week we’re visiting Cusco, one of the main reasons for which is to spend time with our friends Neil, Amanda, Daniel and Sophia Roper.  They are also in Peru with BMS World Mission and working with La Iglesia El Puente, a church plant led by BMS workers Scott and Anjanette Williamson. It’s been great to catch up with our colleagues and most of all to have fun together. 

We’ve also done some ‘proper’ work too – which has made a really nice change from our normal routine of language study! At the beginning of the week we were able to help with a holiday club the church was running for primary aged children in a place called Huambutio, on the outskirts of Cusco. We took some time to walk around the village and invite children to come to the club, and were struck immediately by the poverty there and the sadness in the faces of many of the children that came. Some of the children didn’t look like they’d had a wash for a while and many turned up in their school uniform – a sure indicator that they didn’t have many other clothes. However as the activities began and the games got underway and as the children started to sing and clap and dance we noticed a change.  There were smiles – really big smiles!  


Following this, I (Julia) had the opportunity to visit the local public hospital with Amanda and spend time with some of the patients.  Although no stranger to hospital visiting in the UK, this was a very different experience.  So much of what we take for granted, even in a financially struggling NHS, is just not available here in Peru.  The children we visited had either suffered burns or some kind of orthopaedic trauma.  Many of them have been in the hospital for weeks and will remain there for many weeks more. No wonder then that we saw many sad faces here too - that is until the toys came out. 

One toy in particular seemed to have enormous appeal.  One of the volunteers entered the ward with a small white box and a shy, retiring boy rushed out to meet her. With his one good arm he reached up for the box and spoke animatedly – ‘Give it to me, give it to me!’  Grasping it tightly he ran back to his bed and sat down.  He then lifted the lid and the smallest sound of giggling started to come from the open box. He replaced the lid and the giggling stopped. Then he lifted the lid and it began again and as it did a small but definite smile crept across his face. The little smile grew into a wide toothy grin and in no time at all it spread from him to everyone in the ward. Parents and children alike beamed as the carefree laughter escaped into the room.

We’re not able to say very much yet in Spanish and it can be frustrating when communication is difficult. This week though we have been reminded of the fact that smiles and laughter are free, they work in any language and culture and they’re very very infectious!

16 Jul 2011

Pushing back the darkness...


Yesterday we went to see the 8th and final instalment of the Harry Potter films.  We managed to find a cinema just by our language school that showed it in English with Spanish subtitles rather than being dubbed over.  Now I’m very aware that many Christians have issues with the content and genre of this story.  They’re concerned for good reasons about the story’s potential to encourage young people to dabble with the occult and to open their minds to the attractiveness of dark spiritual realities.  I believe wholeheartedly in the reality of the darkness.  I don’t think you need to be a Christian to see the suffering, the pain and the troubles that so many people go through.  There are dangers in our world and I believe wholeheartedly that we should make young people aware of the very real dangers of messing with evil.

But here’s the thing – I believe even more wholeheartedly in the power of light to overcome darkness.  More particularly I believe in the power of Jesus, the son of God who came into this world to conquer sin and death and to bring light into any and every place, even those places where the darkness seems to reign.

Since arriving in Peru we've already become aware that the 'spiritual' is very real here and 'spirituality' very open.  We saw it on a recent bus trip where a man who stood up in the aisle and offered talismans and jewelry to guard against illness did a roaring trade.  We saw it in the market where the work of the curandero (shaman) is clearly accepted by many people as equal to if not more important than western medicine.  We are at an early stage in our reflections and don't want to simplify these issues.  How the Gospel interacts with these very strong beliefs is something we need to work out with God.

However, what I love about the Harry Potter story is the way it so vividly shows us that the darkness will not and cannot win.  It brilliantly depicts how the resolve of the few who choose to stand for honesty and truth can overcome the force and the might of the many who choose evil.    There was a point in the film (and don’t worry this won’t give anything away if you haven’t seen it) when the witches and wizards who believed that Harry would save them sent up spells to protect Hogwarts School.  They were committed to resisting Voldermort’s army for as long as they possibly could, even if it cost them their lives.  As they lifted their wands high in the air tiny shafts of light began to shine out from each of them, almost like tiny silver threads.  Gradually the area around the school was lit up and the darkness of the army beyond receded.   It was beautiful and for me it was a picture of what our prayers might look like if only we could see them.

Imagine your prayers going up like tiny shafts of light in a dark place.  Imagine what that looks like when we join our prayers with the prayers of others around the country and around the world!  Imagine the darkness receding and the light and love of Jesus filling our homes, our neighbourhoods and our world!  This film encouraged me to hold on to God, to hold on to his light in my life, but more importantly to commit to praying his light into the darkness.  

‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’  Matthew 5:14-16

10 Jul 2011

July Prayer Letter

Our July prayer letter is now available from our page on the BMS website - www.bmsworldmission.org/jjhenley. Thanks for reading!

The Basilica Cathedral in Arequipa



2 Jul 2011

Fruit, Veg and Dead Alpacas!

Yesterday, as part of our language lessons, we were taken to San Camillo market in the centre of Arequipa. Housed under a huge iron roof, San Camillo is an emporium of the weird and the wonderful, alongside a huge variety of fruit and veg and everything from live crabs to sheep heads.

We were supposed to be there to practice buying things in Spanish. Playing it safe we stuck to fruit, although even eating some of this will be a novel experience, as many of the fruits are completely new to us. We are slowly working out which ones we like (and which ones not so much)!


Elsewhere in the market we wandered through the section of stalls for traditional healing. People buy these remedies on the recommendation of the curanderos (shamans) and seem to put a lot of faith in them. Some of the products and herbs wouldn’t have looked out of place in Holland and Barrett, but there were also some slightly more strange things on offer, including charms for blessing the house and dead baby alpacas which could be hung up to ward off evil spirits.


Although we’re not sure how much Spanish we actually learnt, it was good to get a glimpse of traditional life in this part of Peru. One day we might even try the sheep’s head soup...

23 Jun 2011

Sunshine, Mountains & Hanging On For Dear Life!


Greetings from Arequipa! We’ve been here for just over a week now, and although it’s still early days, are beginning to feel a bit more settled. Arequipa is Peru’s second city, although it feels significantly smaller than Lima. This might be because the roads are considerably less hectic, and could be due to the lack of high buildings – they keep them low here because of the fairly regular seismic tremors! It is, however, a beautiful city, and we are looking forward to exploring the winding cobbled streets and historic buildings. The sun shines every day, meaning that it gets nicely warm in the day time. The same cannot be said, however, for the nights, which are decidedly chilly! The cold doesn’t seem to impede the local stray dogs, who sound their chorus late into the night and again a little too early in the morning. This is more than compensated for by the view – the city is surrounded by a spectacular mountain range, including three volcanoes, of which we have a stunning view from the roof of our house. Watching the early evening sunlight on the snow covered peaks as it turns orange and slowly sinks away is breathtaking. God has done well here!


This week we began language school. This means that every morning we pile on one of the many combis – small busses which are usually rammed with people and driven at breakneck speed around the city whilst everyone hangs on for dear life. Although there are taxis (thousands of them in fact), we prefer to take the bus when we can as a) it’s considerably cheaper and b) it seems a much better inculturation into Peruvian life.

Our classes start with an hour and a half of grammar with Julio, who is also our landlord. Julio is also a dentist and seems to have an inexhaustible supply of incredibly funny stories about life here in Peru. Lessons are not going to be dull! We share the class with an Australian couple – David and Christine – and are sometimes joined by their 10 month baby Samuel, who is showing better aptitude for grammar than the rest of us.


After a short break we then have another hour and a half of one to one ‘practical’ work, in which we sit with a teacher and are drilled in conversation, pronunciation and vocabulary. This is, as you can imagine, pretty intense, but we’ve been amazed at how much we’ve learned already.

Once lessons are over it’s back on the combi to head home for lunch, then hit the homework, of which we’re meant to do a couple of hours each day. We are slowly discovering different places we can work to get us out of the house, including our personal favourites the coffee shops. So all in all we’re doing well – thanks to all who have been praying. Please pray that we’d continue to settle in, that we’d be able to find a church to attend regularly, that we’d be able to adapt well to the altitude (Arequipa is 2,500m above sea level), and that our brains would expand sufficiently to fit in all the new words we’re learning!

Muchas Gracias!

14 Jun 2011

Residency, Horns and the Faint Smell of Fish...

For the last week and a half we have been staying in Lima with Margaret Swires, one of our BMS colleagues. Lima is like any other big city - bustling and full of life. We have enjoyed being tourists and having a chance to visit sights such as the Presidential Palace, as well as sampling some classic Peruvian cuisine such as Starbucks and KFC. A lasting memory, however, will be of the traffic and general standards of driving, which make rush hour in central London look like Driving Miss Daisy on sedatives. Another will be of the lingering dreary grey which hangs over the city at this time of year, carrying with it the faint aroma of wet fish.


Most importantly we did, after several days of standing in queues and enjoying Peruvian bureacracy, manage to both retrieve our freight which we'd sent over (easier said than done), and get our Peruvian ID cards. The process for the latter included a trip to Interpol to have our photos taken, be fingerprinted and have our teeth checked, which was...erm...fun! The end result is that we're officially residents of Peru now, which should make life a lot easier in the long run! Thanks again to all who were praying for this. Despite our moaning, the process was relatively quick and easy. Thanks also to Margaret, without whom we wouldn't have been able to do anything!


Time marches on, and it's time to pack again and move us and all our stuff to Arequipa to begin language school where it should, at least, be sunny! Again we're not sure what sort of internet connection we'll have once we're there, but we'll keep you posted as soon as possible.


Chincha



On Saturday we travelled with Margaret 2 1/2 hours south from Lima to the town of Chincha, which was hit by a massive earthquake 4 years ago. Margaret and others from the Baptist Convention arrived in Chincha 24 hours after the quake, and were able to play an instrumental role in providing basic relief. Later, this developed into a project, funded by a BMS relief appeal, which helped people to rebuild their homes. The results of this can be seen in the video below.




BMS Relief Appeal - After the quake from BMS World Mission on Vimeo.

We were able to visit a couple of the houses that had been built and meet the people living in them, including Luis and Lydia, the couple in the photo. Everyone we met was very friendly, but we were struck by the huge amount of money and effort which is still needed to help people rebuild their lives - many are still living in homes made of wood, reed matting and canvas from USAID tents!

More recently BMS have employed a Supported Partner Worker, Francisco, who has been trying to get various sports programmes established in the town. The main point of our trip yesterday was so that Margaret could attend a local residents meeting about a proposed new sports centre. Thankfully, the meeting voted in favour so the project can begin to move ahead. Please pray for Francisco, Margaret and everyone else involved as they work to make this a reality!




5 Jun 2011

Brazil!


Greetings from Lima!  We arrived here yesterday after a fairly hectic, but good, trip to Brazil.

After an overnight flight to São Paulo we spent a day and night at the BMS Mission House before getting an early bus to Rio de Janeiro. Here we were staying with José and Loyde Laurindo and their family. José has played a key role in church planting and leadership in the Brazilian Baptist Convention and has served as president of Brazilian Baptist Missionary Society. He is currently the senior pastor at the First Baptist Church of Niterói, which is one of the biggest Baptist churches in Brazil. It was great to be able to begin our time in South America with them, as they made us feel incredibly welcome and like part of the family from the start.

The weather wasn’t brilliant, but we were still able to go to the top of Sugar Loaf mountain and see the whole city laid out below us, with Christ the Redeemer towering above everything. We also got to see Copacabana (in the rain!) and the old fortress. On Sunday we attended their church, who again were incredibly welcoming. We were prayed for and commissioned again by the whole church, and James had the immense privilege of helping to baptise 12 people. The greatest value of the time, however, was the opportunity to spend time with people who have so much experience and insight into life and work in South America. We learned a huge amount and were given a lot to reflect on as we begin life in Peru.


After returning to São Paulo on Sunday evening, we were up early again on Monday to fly to Brasilia for the bi-annual BMS Latin America retreat. This was an opportunity for all the BMS personnel in Latin America to get together, have a few days rest and share together both the highs and lows of life here. The whole thing felt a bit odd, as by this point we’d been in the country a grand total of 5 days, but again the team made us feel very welcome, and it was good to meet new colleagues and be able to spend some time hearing from the experiences of others.

We also got to see the futuristic concrete marvel that is the city of Brasilia itself; a modern, purpose built capital which is the direct result of giving one architect a free hand to do whatever he wants with a whole city. Our favourite place was probably the Cathedral Dom Bosco, which is made almost entirely of blue stained glass. The result is stunningly beautiful!


After all of this it is something of a relief to actually arrive in Peru, although we are already feeling the frustrations of not speaking the language. We are well, but still feel quite unsettled, so please pray that everything goes smoothly as we wrangle with bureaucracy over the next few days. Please also pray for Peru as a whole, as they elect a new president tomorrow. We’ll keep you posted how things go over the next few days!


30 May 2011

We've arrived...

Just a quick post to let you know that we arrived safely, and have just got back to Sao Paulo after a great weekend in Rio de Janeiro with a Brazilian pastor and his family. More details and photos to follow, but again thanks for all your prayers!

25 May 2011

Here we go...

Well the ash cloud seems to have behaved, our bags are just inside the weight limit and the security staff were only slightly distracted by the Lady Gaga lookalike who came through at the same time as us. We're ready to board, so just wanted to say thanks for all the cards, emails, texts, and prayers. We'll update this again once we're in Brazil!


18 May 2011

The Great Commissioning(s)

One week to go, and any sense of order we might have had is rapidly disappearing as we desperately try and remember everything that needs to be done before we go. Organisation has never been our strong point!

In between all this, however, have been some especially poignant moments for us as we have been commissioned no less than six(!) times in preparation for the task ahead...

The end of term at IMC was marked by a short service for students and staff, at which we were able to pray for each other and reflect on the time we'd had together as well as on the future. Then, after Easter, we all went to the Baptist Assembly in Blackpool, where we were 'valedicted' as part of the Saturday evening celebration. We were all given a short time to say a little about our story, before the whole assembly spoke words of commissioning and blessing over us. Although the scale of the event meant that it wasn't as intimate as the other services we had, we were overwhelmed by the wave of support and affirmation that we felt.

On stage at the Baptist Assembly. Photo (c) Baptist Union of Great Britain

The following weekend we were down at James' home church in Bexhill. They have three services each week and wanted to give space in each one for us to share what we're going to be doing and be prayed for. In between we had a bring and share lunch at the church, which was a great chance to catch up with people, including some old friends we hadn't seen for a while.

Finally, last Sunday we were at Romsey, where again we were given a chance to share and were prayed for. This time we had Arthur Magahy from BMS who preached and spoke about the work of BMS more widely. Again it was great to see some old friends as well as have a chance to say goodbye to many people.

Huge thanks to all of you who came and were involved in any of these services, especially to those who travelled some way to see us and say goodbye. It is such a privilege and comfort to have so much support and prayer and to know that, as we said in the services, we go to Peru not on our own but on behalf of all the Baptist churches in the UK. These are occasions that we will treasure and look back to, especially when times are tough!

We will try and post at least once more before we go but for now, it's back to the packing!



26 Apr 2011

29 Days To Go...

Time has flown but we've now finished our training time at IMC and are in our final month before we fly to South America. It's been a fantastic year - we've really appreciated having the time and opportunity to think, read, learn and reflect on what we're going to be doing and some of the practicalities involved. Most significant, however, has been the chance to spend 9 months living and sharing with a community of like-minded people. We've laughed, cried and grown together and made a lot of good friends. Thank you!


Our flight date has been set for Wednesday 25th May. However, as it seems is often the case with us, we're not doing anything straightforward like flying straight to Peru. Rather, we'll be travelling via Brazil, where we'll be spending a couple of days with a Brazilian pastor and his family in Rio de Janeiro, then going on to the BMS Worker's retreat in Brasilia for a week. We're hoping these will be both be opportunities to meet others with far more experience than us(!), as well as getting to know new colleagues in a more relaxed setting. This means that we won't actually be arriving in Peru until June. Once there, the plan is to spend a couple of weeks in Lima sorting out visas and all the rest of the paperwork we need, before moving to Arequipa to start language school.

As you can imagine, life at the moment is fairly hectic as we try to pack, sort out freight, put things into storage and say goodbye to people. This weekend we'll be at the Baptist Assembly, where we have our official valediction - hopefully see some of you there. However we're also being commissioned at each of our home churches on the days and times below:

Sunday 8th May
11am

Sunday 15th May
10.30am

All are very welcome at either (or both!) of the services. The service at Beulah will be followed by a lunch at the church - if you'd like to come to this please let us know so we have an idea of numbers.

We'll try and write something again before we fly, but in the meantime Happy Easter and we hope to see as many as possible of you over the next few weeks.

4 Apr 2011

Sunny Llanelli


This weekend we visited Llanelli to visit our seventh link up group. It was a lovely weekend with plenty of sunshine and lots of new friends.

We spent Saturday afternoon at Bethel Baptist Church where a fine tea was laid on for us. Here we introduced ourselves and shared a little of what we hope to do in Peru. Then on Sunday we took part in services at Bethania Baptist Chapel and Emmanuel Baptist Chapel. In the morning we were interviewed by a Dog called Arthur - who helped us explain to the children why we're travelling out to Peru in a few weeks! Later, in the evening members of the three chapels made covenant with us and committed themselves to pray for our work.

BMS produce a covenant agreement for use by link churches and it was great to be able to share in that moment and know that our new friends in Llanelli were committed to standing with us in prayer.

Huge thanks to everyone who made the weekend possible especially Paul, Robyn, Rebekah and Hannah Smethurst. Thanks for your hospitality and your love! And thanks to everybody for making us feel so welcome. We look forward to keeping in touch in the coming months.