Candles in a dark world

By Nick Wright

Last night I was speaking with Jasmin in the Philippines. She told me about an incident that really moved me. That day Jasmin saw old woman, who lived on the pavement, trying to eek out an existence by selling candles on the street. As Jasmin approached, this stooped woman beckoned to her with a smile.

‘Would you like to buy a candle?’ she asked. The tone in her voice suggested that she was bracing herself for disappointment, that same disappointment she had felt day after day, year after year, on so many occasions. After all, there were other people selling candles too, so what hope did she have? ‘How much for a candle?’, Jasmin asked. ‘2 pesos’, she replied. Jasmin said, ‘I will take 10 candles’, then, as if secretly, slipped a 500 pesos note into the woman’s hand.

‘But I don’t have any change for such a large amount’, the woman said. ‘How about you keep the candles and pay me next time you pass by, when you have some smaller change?’ Jasmin replied softly, ‘This is a gift to you from Jesus. Please accept it as a gift from Him.’ At that, the woman threw her arms around Jasmin’s neck, burst into tears, and cried, ‘Maam, thank you for helping me!!’ Jasmin hugged her back and whispered gently, ‘Pray and say thank you to Jesus.’

As she finished relating this story, I asked Jasmin why she did what she did. She welled up and said: ‘I remember selling candles as a child, how hard it was. I wasn’t good with maths and so, if I made a mistake when giving people change, I had to pay it back out of my own tiny earnings. I know what it is to be poor.’ So, I asked specifically about this woman, this one person, this stranger. Jasmin replied, ‘At least, for one day in her life, she knows how it feels to be loved, to be blessed by God.’

I fell silent. All I could see were images of Jesus, touching the lives of the poor and most vulnerable in the world. ‘I come to bring good news to the poor!’ He’s still doing it now. It challenges me:

  • How can I bring good news to the poor this week?

No longer boasting about tomorrow

By Elaine Vitikainen

We are all faced by the great uncertainty of the future. A colleague told me that planning has now been reduced to what can be done in the next three days, instead of planning for the months to come. In the past, a fully booked schedule was something to be proud of. Now, it felt like we are all starting from scratch.

The verses from James 4: 13 – 15 have spoken clearly to me in this present situation: Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’”

These verses reminded me that everything is in God’s hand. My life and my future can never be separated from God. Yes, I can plan but surely, it is God who directs my steps. It is God’s will that prevails in the end. Therefore, I cannot boast about tomorrow for I do not know what a day may bring. (Proverbs 27:1)

This week:

  • Spend some time reflecting on how God has directed your steps in your life? How was God present at some of the big turning points?
  • As you look ahead, how can you make yourself more aware of God’s presence on your journey? 

Look around your room

By Rick James

A psychologist friend of mine set us an exercise yesterday. He said, “Look around the room you are in and notice five objects”. As I let my eyes wander, I saw a family photo on my daughter’s 18th birthday; a picture of a beautiful malachite kingfisher from Malawi; clothing we’d bought at a World Music festival we’d been to with friends; a lampshade from a trip to Marrakesh… As I noticed these objects, I was filled with gratitude for so many wonderful experiences.

I heard on a Bridgetown Church podcast this morning that “anxiety is a kind of grasping of control of what we do not have in the future, gratitude is giving thanks for what we do have in the present” – and I would add ‘giving thanks for what we have enjoyed in the past’.

Gratitude is an antidote to anxiety. Colossians 3:15-17 talks about letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts… singing songs with gratitude in our hearts…

How do we do this? I found the simple exercise of looking around my room a useful way to fight anxiety with gratitude.

Rejoice always – even now?

By Elaine Vitikainen

Everyone is talking about COVID-19. The disruption to charities and churches may be huge. Some people are understandably concerned about elderly or vulnerable relatives. Many of my freelance friends are worried about the financial consequences. Multiple work contracts are being cancelled at an alarming rate. The security of being fully booked over the next months has suddenly been replaced by great uncertainty about the future.

Some are looking on the positive side. They hope it might be a time of healing for the earth as there are less flight emissions and less air pollution from factories. Some even see it as an additional occasion to spend with the family, a moment for self-learning, for re-evaluation and even, an opportunity for the elusive, but much needed rest.

I see this time as a time to encourage each other to choose joy and to speak life. As Philippians 4:4-8 says “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

With the rising fears surrounding us globally, let us remember that God’s perfect love casts out fear.

This week:

  • How can I receive God’s peace that transcends understanding – every day?
  • How can I let this deep peace and gentleness be evident to all around me?

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Ecological grief

By John Evans

Climate chaos is causing profound distress. We see more and more people suffering from ecological grief. You may even know someone in your family with ‘solastalgia’ (the emotional and existential distress caused by climate and ecological change).

It is hard to talk about grief. When we do it’s generally about the loss of a loved one. When we lose someone, we may go through stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We anticipate understanding and compassion – partly because this human experience of deep loss is universal. But what happens when someone continues to deny the passing of someone you love? In their presence you may not feel able to grieve.

The grief associated with climate change can be like this. Not everyone yet accepts the reality of global warming. Some simply don’t see climate change as a threat and may dismiss those who do. Others know it’s happening, but haven’t come to terms with its implications. Dismissing grief or the right to grieve creates “disenfranchised grief” – when society says you shouldn’t be grieving, so you feel like you can’t talk about it. You can’t find support. You feel alone. You may even think your feelings are wrong.

This week, think about what it means to grieve for the environment. Have you become too comfortable, unable to think about the implications? Do you need to grieve more? Are there others you know suffering? What can you do about it?


The Leader’s Bucket List

By Tobias Nyondo

If we were told we had a few more years to live, we might create a ‘bucket list’ of things we wanted to do before we die. Yet many of us live as though our life was endless – an illusion of immortality. We never identify what is on our bucket list and we never get around to doing it.

As I study the scriptures, I believe there are five must-haves on the leaders’ bucket list. These define the essence of a leader and the legacy that every leader should leave:

Positive impact on followers – Jesus Christ declared his bucket list in Luke 4:18. In
a nutshell, it was about bringing a lasting positive impact on those he came in touch with.
Identifying talent – for any organisation to survive, it needs to embrace talent. You
cannot exercise talent unless it has been identified. It is also important to create a conducive environment for the talent to be developed and used to its full potential.
Growth and multiplication – We are not only called to maintain what we have but to grow it. Leaders grow entities and they multiply.
Succession – God is concerned about his kingdom. His purpose and his will are
all reflected in his kingdom. He ensures that his kingdom will continue. Hezekiah cried out “for I have no one to inherit the throne”. Moses needed to develop Joshua. Jesus started with twelve disciples.
Have fun – A sense of humour is necessary in creating an environment that would help a leader reach out beyond his or her inner circle. People are attracted to laughter and humour. This gives an audience to fulfill the other “must-haves” above.

This week:
If you were given ten years to live, what would be on your bucket list?

Feeling the heat

By Stanley Arumugam

As part of our leadership Programme in Arusha, we invited a group of traditional dancers and drummers to entertain us in the evening. Before their performance they lit a fire and set the drums around it. I was curious about what they were doing. One of the drummers said “we make the fire to heat the skin of drum to get good sound”.

Leadership work is a performance and we are like the drums. If we are hard and unprepared we may break when the beating starts. To prepare us – we go through the fire process. We are warmed up, stretched out and made ready for our beating. As the Bible says we go through the refiner’s fire.

That night we enjoyed a great performance of drumming and dancing. The prepared drums proved fit for purpose. But not everyone attending the performance witnessed the heating and stretching earlier that evening. Our secret preparation is revealed in our public performance.

This week:                                                                                                                                                                             Reflect on where we are getting heated up in leadership?
What private preparation can help our leadership?

See, I am doing a new thing!

By Elaine Vitikainen

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Isaiah 43:18-19 is a very popular verse in the New Year. It’s in social media, as a part of church sermons, in devotions and even on greeting cards. Many people equate this verse with the beginning of the year where God brings in new things with great provision and prosperity.

But what does Isaiah 43:18-19 really means? Bible commentaries look back at Israel’s past. It talks about how Isaiah saw God’s new manifestation of redemption through the birth of Jesus Christ. This to me talks about the reaffirming of my faith in Christ and my relationship with God. It is an assurance of hope and peace in the amidst of the turbulent world that I live in. It does not promise of financial gains and prosperity. It speaks to me about spiritual gains where Christ is the centre.

As the New Year begins, let’s listen prayerfully about what 2020 means for our relationship with God. In what areas does our relationship need to deepen and change? Where do we need refreshment, strength and determination?

Have a blessed New Year.