An Encounter with Goodness

Last Tuesday, I was invited to a talk that Tom was giving locally, on his experience mentoring James, an ex-offender. Tom brought James with him. My initial thoughts (prejudices?) conjured up some robust views being expressed on both sides, not least because, from James’ point of view, his audience (retired professional and business men) was probably not from his regular crowd, and they may even have come across each other in other more formal surroundings. Quite high risk stuff again, Vicar.

How wrong I was. James gave a fascinating presentation of life on the other side of the tracks. He was no saint by his own admission. He proved himself to be personable & articulate, without apparent resentment or bitterness about what life had thrown at him, and he at it. His first offence at age 17 was for carrying a knife (“I carried one just as you would a mobile phone”.) He preferred the discipline of a boot camp to present prison regimes. Whilst in prison, he worked in the mental health section.

James also spoke warmly of the support that the mentoring scheme with Tom had given to him over the four years he had known him. This relationship was based on friendship alone, outside the usual institutional controls that are imposed by officialdom.

What did I take away from this experience? Well, there are obviously basically decent people who have led lives of re-offending. Mentoring schemes are also truly valuable in providing a refuge at times of temptation and weakness. Most of all, it is that basic human need for unconditional friendship that so many cry out for, in silence.

David Green

Flooding In Mozambique

The London Diocese is linked to Mozambique where there is severe flooding. Here is a summary of news received.

80 people have died with over 150,000 displaced to temporary camps.

In Maputo, 1000 homes were destroyed along with some schools, roads, sewage and water distribution systems and some electricity sub stations.

Flooding along the Limpopo river basin has been devastating – as huge as the floods of 2000. Red flood alert in place with compulsory evacuations in force as the flood surge moved along the river. Chokwe completely inundated last week.

Marie Conselee Mukangendo, of UNICEF, said the Chikahalani camp alone is holding an estimated 65,000 people but has only 28 latrines.

Agricultural land and crops have been destroyed and the risk of malaria is very high.

The church there is trying to assist in very practical ways including: provision of mosquitoes nets, seeds, school materials, household items and soap.

River basins in the centre and north of the country are also affected, with the deluge expected to swell the Zambezi river basin. Flooding in Dere, Shire and Morrumbala, ALMA London facebook page is regularly updated.

ALMA (Angola London Mozambique Association) has donated £2000 to assist with church based flood relief. Anyone wishing to make a financial contribution can do so via ALMA: cheques payable to London Diocesan Fund (ALMA). Please add a note stating that it is for flood relief.

Digging for gold

Well, maybe… To realise a dream of some of our younger members to grow some vegetables, the area
behind the church needs digging.

Bring a fork.

Sunday 3rd Feb, 2.30pm

Hopeful Signs for Southern Sudan

The name ‘Sudan’ evokes images of a worn torn land, ravaged by destruction; and of emaciated people, desperate for food. The photos of Mundri we saw, some which Penny had taken in 1986 and some from Tom’s recent visit, told a different story.

The land was much greener than imagined (Tom’s visit was just at the end of the rainy season) and crops grow well there. There are large mango and other trees. The houses are mainly traditional ‘tukels’, blending into the landscape.

The few ‘western’ houses, with their bright roofs stand out as being somewhat incongruous – as did the Cathedral building. Mundri Town main street is very basic. Particularly in 2012, the photos showed people who looked well fed and well dressed. At least on the surface, there were smiles and a carefree look.

We saw images of malnourished children from 1986. There were refugees from Uganda then, and internally displaced people. Then, it had been a period of continuing development. However, the effect of nearly 20 years of war has set this back, so that there is now little infrastructure.

The horrors of war have taken a high toll on many of the people. The photos, and the discussion they stimulated, led to a feeling of hope for this newest country in the world.

Their land is fertile, there are considerable oil reserves, and the faces we saw looked optimistic. But: ‘where do you start?’ The role of government is vital, but it is seen as being corrupt and dominated by one tribe (Dinka.) The country is land locked and so needs good relations with its neighbours, especially Uganda and Kenya.

The church is one of the main organisations; and photos of dancing, smiling, prayerful worshippers increase a sense of optimism.

Opening Our Doors

The Shelter Project 2012

I decided early in 2012 not to send Christmas cards, but that I would email greetings and put the money saved to a worthwhile cause. So when we started talking about St John’s involvement with The Shelter Project Hounslow I realised this was the worthwhile cause. My idea of an Open House in aid of the TSPH followed on, as a ‘cheer up’ in the New Year.

I am reminded of the night, some years ago, that I sat talking to “Mac” in my car. He was a hardened alcoholic whom I sometimes bumped into when he came to the drop-in at Richmond. He showed me his patch, under the arches. He told me how difficult it was to get sleep; if you slept deeply, someone might come and steal your things, or you would get beaten up. He had lost his sleeping bag, so I went home to give him mine.

When I returned home I was absolutely frozen. It took an age to get warm. I don’t suppose my thin sleeping bag was much protection for Mac, but he seemed very grateful. A year or so later I heard he had died. He had been on the streets too long.

I don’t feel that then, or now, I been much good engaging with homeless people on the streets. But TSPH gives us all opportunity to do something to help the homeless and it’s really great that the churches are working together in such a practical way. For some of the guests, this will be a vital step on the road to rebuilding their life. We can all help out practically, as part of a team, to give a warm welcome to all coming to St John’s. It will be fun and I have a feeling there will be lots of cake!

Thank you to everyone who came to my Open House last Saturday and to the makers of the excellent cakes. We raised more than £250.