Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Following The Spread of the Early Church in Photos

Our ten day holiday from the end of August to the beginning of September was one to remember forever.  It gave us so much insight and a deeper understanding of how the early apostles carried the Good News of Jesus and the Kingdom of God to the then known world, and how it spread from there to be by far the largest "religion" in today's world.

We took over a thousand photographs!  Here we have selected just some of them to help you catch for yourselves something of what we experienced.

We flew to Thessaloniki and travelled by bus to Kavala, the old Neapolis where Paul and others landed before travelling the 10km inland to Philippi, the leading city in Macedonia at their time.

The numerous earthquakes have taken their toll on the Roman and hitherto Greek (Hellenistic) cities they visited, but still a lot is standing.  Even where there is little remaining from that era, at least the geography of the places is there to understand the locations.

In Acts 16, Paul, Silas, and Timothy traveled by foot through Turkey to Troy on the northwest coast.

After the Holy Spirit closed the doors to them to visit other places in Turkey, Paul had a vision in which a Macedonian man (a very tall race) called him to cross the sea to them.  Luke joined them as they set sail in a small ship towards Macedonia, stopping overnight on the island of Samothrace, with the coast of Macedonia in sight. Samothrace is visible on the horizon beyond the harbour of Kavala, previously known as Neapolis,
founded 700 yrs BC and
 today a busy fishing port.

From this lovely spot, Paul and his companions walked along the Egnatian Way, the ancient Roman road that stretched from Neapolis to Brindisi in the foot of Italy!
The tarmac road covers much of this today, but it was thrilling to walk along a section of it on our way inland to Philippi like Paul and co. It crosses a pass then follows the valley, past two big natural lakes on the banks of which lie Amphipolis (a town built on both sides of a river) and Apollonia, both mentioned in Paul's travels.
Philippi, being the capital of Macedonia, was huge and there is still lots more to be excavated. The Romans had occupied this ancient Greek city by Paul's time.  Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke made their way to the River Zegato at the foot of the hill of Philippi. There they met with Jews who gathered there to pray on the Sabbath.  Lydia, a wealthy tradeswoman from Thyatira near Troy, was one of them.  She was convinced by what Paul was preaching and, along with her household, was baptized there in
the river. The foursome stayed with her after that.

On another occasion on their way down to the river they set a slave girl free from a spirit fortune telling, much to the annoyance of her owners who would no longer get an income from her!  They dragged Paul and Silas to the authorities in the public square in the agora or forum (left) and the crowd joined in the attack.  After being whipped and beaten they were thrown into the inner gaol just to the right of the steps up from the forum with their feet secured. At midnight, as this battered pair were praying and singing, there was an earthquake which shattered their chains and burst open the doors. They stopped the frightened gaoler from killing himself,
assuring him they had chosen not to escape.  On his request they introduced him to Jesus and he and all his household were converted as they washed their wounds as they heard the stories.

The next day Paul, Silas and Timothy left along the Egnatian Way,                                                 passing through the cities of Amphipolis, built in a meander of the river, and Apollonia which both lie on the banks of two big natural lakes.  All that is left of the latter is the name given to the present day village there. According to tradition and the name of a nearby hill meaning 'of Paul' the apostles established churches there which became significant over the next few centuries. They continued on to Thessaloniki where many believed Paul's message but others opposed it and formed a mob. That night the new believers sent Paul, Silas and Timothy on to nearby Berea where they were
well received.  But the mob from Thessaloniki came hot on their heals to cause more trouble.  Some of the new believers took Paul by boat to Athens, leaving Silas and Timothy to catch up with Paul there later. This would have been several days journey, but we went by plane and stayed there in a hotel with a garden and swimming pool on the roof,  overlooking the floodlit Parthenon on top of the Acropolis - the high place of  a city with the temple of the main god or goddess.
We climbed up Mars Hill, on
which the Areopagus was built,
overlooking the Parthenon,where
philosopher Paul spent much time
debating with philosophers and the city council there. Paul did his research of Athens. The photo shows the tomb of the unknown soldier, but Paul found a shrine to the unknown god (built in case the Athenians had missed one of their hundreds!) and took this as his starting point to explain who the supreme God is.

TO BE CONTINUED ...... keep looking!


As Autumn gets into full swing in all its glory in the hills and valleys of Breconshire, we look back on this last quarter and are encouraged to realize how God's Kingdom is quietly breaking through and spreading as we seek to raise the Spiritual climate around here and beyond.  Two signs of this are in Brecon where a small group are looking to start Street Pastors in the town - a ministry hardly
 heard of in this county, although becoming a household name elsewhere.  Also a couple, with helpers, are launching a group called Snak, (Sunday Night at Kensington). It is aimed at teenagers who would like to explore more about God and His relevance to today's issues. Please pray for take-up in these two new ventures.

As we were leaving Pembrokeshire over five years ago, two people
independently said "Don't forget the Gurkha population in Brecon." (the photo shows some of the Gurkhas involved in the 600 year Agincourt muster commemorations in Brecon). We have not been able to find a way in, until this summer we hosted an evening to hear a couple who are missionaries in Nepal. One is Nepalese and the other is English.  They were pleased to hear we knew a retired Gurkha couple who regularly attend a church in Brecon and    
so I joined them as they went to visit the next day. That was a helpful cultural learning experience. When their granddaughter in Australia died a few months ago, the members of the small Baptist church in Brecon they attended supported them as much as they were able.  As far as they knew there were no other Nepali Christians in the town and they felt somewhat isolated in this respect. We prayed with his wife against what appeared to be a large tumour, and later heard from her husband that she is now well.  Sadly two weeks ago Mr. Limbu went into hospital for tests and died there. Please pray for his wife who speaks very little English but has started going to evening classes. She will be moving to Australia to join her son and family there at the beginning of November.  Ifor had been asked to give a tribute to him on behalf of the chapel they attended, which is
where his funeral was conducted in Nepalese by a Nepali minister from Ireland. This gave us an insight into what his wife experienced all these years of faithfully attending English speaking services without knowing the language. The music of the Nepalese hymns was beautiful and reminded me of the sound of wind blowing through the prayer flags and bells on the Himalayas.  Most of the chapel members came, filling just over one pew. About 200 Nepalis came, many of them bringing bouquets of flowers which, at the end of the service, they piled around and under the coffin which was opened for the people to file past to say their goodbyes. After walking all the way up to the cemetery where there was a lot of singing around the grave, we all enjoyed a Nepalese meal. I was able to give a prophetic drawing the Holy Spirit gave me, to a young Nepalese woman.   Mr. Limbu was a strong Christian who, after he was converted and baptized, built and started a church in his village in Nepal.  When I went to visit the bereaved family after the funeral I was introduced to a retired Gurkha who wants to know more about Jesus. This man invited us to his home to regularly teach him and some of his friends about Jesus, the English language and British culture. Thank you God.

Another sign of the Kingdom coming closer is that after five years of failing to get opportunities to talk at Young Farmers' Club meetings and National Farmers' Union (apart from early on doing a Uganda talk at our local club), suddenly opportunities came like London buses!  Last month Ifor was asked to speak about his work with Farm Community Network (a kind of Samaritans for farmers) at a county NFU meeting.   All the farmers present took cards to give to neighbours who might benefit from FCN.  This resulted in a phone call the next morning from someone needing help.     The following evening Ifor was the guest speaker at a large YFC which also responded well.  The free pens and wrist bands disappeared very quickly! All these will end up in their homes and round about, where their families and friends will have access to a phone number in time of need.  Statistically, farmers are the third highest group in the UK, of people taking their own lives.  Ifor has been dealing with quite a few cases recently, one of whom actually did try to take his life. That man is now doing well.

The following week Ifor was asked to speak at the annual county YFC Harvest Festival in Brecon. His talk concerning the ridiculous sharing of the world's resources with some eye opening facts and figures, really gripped the Young Farmers and tied in well with the Christmas shoebox appeal for Eastern Europe in which the clubs had participated.  Ifor has also led quite a few other Harvest Festivals this year in different chapels. This is often the only service many in the rural community attend - apart from funerals.  A number of the chapels only open for their Harvest Festival and sometimes their anniversary service, like Capel y Ffin which Ifor was asked to lead again this summer.

Yet another sign of the increasing closeness of the Kingdom was the encouragement I had when going around the mothers of young children in our local vicinity to see how many would be interested in coming to our house for a mums' and young childrens'  Bible fun time for just 45 mins, with the opportunity of staying on for a cuppa and chat afterwards if they were able.  Many of the mums feel rather isolated. Although they were keen to start over the summer, only a very few actually made it during the holidays.  They had more commitments than they'd realised.  Those that came enjoyed acting out the story whilst dressed up, then clothing empty loo roll
and ping pong ball figures and doing the story again through them, whilst singing the story all through well known nursery rhyme songs with new words.  Several of the mum's, who had been to Sunday Schools when they themselves were little, would like their own children to have the same experience, but there are none around here.  (Another sign of the veil beginning to lift is that a few of the Anglican churches have started doing Messy Church).  I was only able to run it for two or three sessions as I have not been well, but hope to start it again next month.

Ifor took his second senior school assembly this autumn, in a high school where he is now on the rota.  Although in Pembrokeshire he was regularly doing assemblies, that was over five years ago. It seemed to go well and a year seven boy stopped to chat to him afterwards about something he'd said.

                                                      We took our Uganda stall to four
village shows this summer.     At Cwmdu show Ifor had a go at the popular competition to hang a long gate on obscured hinges.  He held the record for the shortest time for two or three hours before eventually being pipped by two other farmers!   At Llanigon show
a women's clothing shop owner inquired about buying a selection of necklaces to accessorize their dressed mannequins and having my publicity cards available in the shop. Llyswen and Gwenddwr shows were also very successful. I was able to give a prophecy to one of the other stallholders. As well as raising money from sales of their paper bead jewellery, the publicity often results in requests to do slide shows.  The
slideshow I did at a village gardening club on Horticulture in Kenya and Uganda was enthusiastically received.  Afterwards they bought lots of  the paper bead jewellery made by the two schools we support and gave a generous donation.  After seeing photos of some of the healings we witnessed in Kenya, two of them requested prayer for themselves. there and then. The leader of the gardening club asked if I could do a slideshow at their W.I. And so it continues.

In October I once again did a whole morning Uganda experience with the school near Newport where our son-in-law teaches. It really opens their eyes and the school always does half a term focusing on life there. They ask lots of questions and have fun especially trying to balance things on their heads whilst trying to copy an African dance at the same time! The children will now learn skills in marketing as they go on to sell the paper bead jewellery made by their counterparts in a school in Uganda, as well as having a go at making some themselves.

As well as taking services in the little chapels, two or three most Sundays, Ifor has recently also done two weddings, with preparation, and two baby dedications at the request of families he has got to know well. It was also wonderful to go to our grandson's dedication in the same week that we helped them move into their lovely new house!  Another special dedication service was the opening of the new building on the site of the the old stable for a little chapel high up in the Black Mountains.  This will provide kitchen, toilet and rest facilities for hikers, as well as an extra room for the chapel.
We've been to a few funerals of friends in the county, one of which was a Quaker funeral which was very different.  We were also able to get to John Pullin's memorial service last month.  He was the minister of our sending church in Tenby when Ifor was called to train for the Baptist ministry and helped him develop his preaching.  Ever since then John has been a missionary in Brazil where he has been Principal of a theological college there and planted several churches.
Ifor was asked to preach at the funeral of BMS missionary Dr. David Wilson who founded a hospital in a clearing in the jungle of the Congo. Patients would be carried by foot or by canoe, sometimes covering a distance of 1,000 miles to the hospital which specialized in orthopaedics.  He was one of only eight doctors serving the whole of the Congo. On his return to the UK he had a big influence on the NHS, transforming the A&E section. He loved his Lord and the people He created.

Bristol Baptist College held a conference on bi-vocational ministry at which Ifor was invited to speak, focusing on his work amongst farmers. Milking three mornings a week (a lone deer seems to have joined the herd in recent weeks!) adds credibility to his role as Rural Chaplain and FCN worker. So does being a rep for Bowketts Farm Supplies, selling feed and fertiliser. This gives an open door onto all the farms in the county and beyond. Of course they also see him leading the huge funeral services of the farming community.  So he is quickly becoming familiar beyond the small chapel network. At a Farm Open Day, a speaker made the point that no matter how much fertiliser you use, grass won't start growing in the Spring until the soil temperature reaches 8 degrees. Ifor was struck by the spiritual application.  We're beginning to realise that much of our work throughout the County is about raising the spiritual temperature, and we won't see any significant growth until the spiritual temperature rises. It makes sense of the many, varied, and seemingly unconnected aspects we're involved with. Every part is helping to raise the spiritual temperature across the County and that is noticeably happening.

A farmer whom Ifor helped with TB testing, showed his appreciation by bringing us 70 pallets for firewood! What a palaver cutting those up!  The last couple of dozen we gave to a grateful local farmer for use in his barn. 

In June at Momentum, the annual Baptist Assembly in Wales, Ifor completed his year as President by stepping in at last minute when one of the key speakers was unable to attend. The advertised theme for that session was 'Hope in a hopeless world', and Ifor was able to speak about the varied signs of hope we are now seeing in what once seemed a hopeless situation. In an earlier session on personal spirituality, Ifor gave a strong challenge which had a big impact on many in the congregation.

Local boy Rob whom we mentioned in our last update, has gone from strength to strength with his table tennis and recently won the doubles in the Paraplegic European Championships.

This year has not been an easy one for me.  After being ill for the first few months of the year, I had just a couple of months feeling normal, before experiencing excruciating pain which lasted three to ten hours at a time for the next few months and the blood levels in my liver went haywire.  Weekly blood tests, a scan and endoscopy showed this was due to a gallstone stuck in the bile duct. Ongoing liver problems, combined with a hiatus hernia, brought me low and I caught one virus after another. The consultant is now talking about a Gall Bladder operation.  I was concerned how I would cope as the departure date for our amazing holiday of a lifetime, planned for my 60th birthday, approached.  I had my final major attack just a couple of days before we left. Thank you Jesus!

The leader of our group of 16 was Mike, our minister when Ifor was training in Cardiff for the ministry all those years ago.  The tour called "The Spreading Flame of the Early Church" took us following the footsteps of mostly Paul,
but also John, Peter, Timothy, Silas and others, through Greece, Turkey, Patmos and Rome. We visited ancient Neapolis, Philippi, Lydia's brook, Thessalonika, Athens, Corinth, Cenchrae, Patmos, Ephesus, Hierapolis,
Laodicea, Philadelphia, Sardis, Smyrna and Rome. It has been calculated that Paul travelled at least 10,000 miles by foot and sea over the course of his mission trips. It was an amazing ten days for us that brought to life and gave us greater understanding of the book of Acts, the Epistles and Jesus's words to the seven churches in Revelation.  Experiencing these locations and the stories in their contexts was quite eye opening. Reliving the adventures of these early pioneers was both helpful and reassuring to us in our pioneering work in Breconshire. On a separate post in this blog I have put together a short photographic summary of this tour so you also can reap some of the benefit we experienced. A church in Cardiff has already asked for a presentation which I am putting together to be shown wherever people would like it, both inside and outside of churches.

A few days after our return it was lovely to have all my extended family here to celebrate my birthday on a warm, sunny September day which continued into the evening with a sing song around a campfire.  I was given two particularly amazing presents.  Our children had clubbed together to buy me a nestbox with a colour and infrared  camera inside which connects to our television!  Many of the rest of the family combined to present us with two vouchers for a trip in a hot air balloon during these next twelve months!

We have been having trouble with our ducks these last few months.  Quite a few have been sitting on their eggs but a stoat has been taking the eggs from underneath them, leaving just three to hatch - which have all turned out to be drakes! You can see them trying to climb the 'cliff' up to their mum!  Sadly eight ducks have quietly been taken one by one, we think by a mink which might have taken up residence somewhere nearby. The ninth one pluckily escaped with a nasty bite to his leg and a large chunk of feathers torn off his back.

Our big family news is that we now have a little granddaughter.  Emily Grace was born to Katie and Sam just a fortnight before her big brother's second birthday. She is such a sweetie.  Sadly she contracted bronchiolitis and had to spend quite a few days in hospital on a drip and sometimes in an oxygen tent. She is now recovering well and back home with her new family.  Thank you Lord for many answered prayers.
Also thank you for answering so many of our supporters' prayers and for the joy of seeing the Good News of the Kingdom spreading, little by little.