Monday, 21 November 2011

World AIDS Day 2011; Creative Worship

Creative worship

These ideas for a worship service are structured around Psalm 22

The beginning of the journey
Before the worship there may have been music playing. So allow a few moments of silence before a reader (reading probably from the back of the church) reads Psalm 22:1-5.

Another voice then says: The person who wrote those words felt desperately alone. Such desperation is perhaps also the experience of many of those who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS – particularly in parts of the world where treatments are too expensive to be widely available. Jesus Christ used these same words when he hung on the cross. He too felt desperately alone.

The voice continues: In spite of his agony, the psalmist trusted in God. Today our trust in God is linked to our belief, as Christians, that in Jesus Christ, God has known and has suffered the harshest human pain. From this trust new beginnings can dawn.

You could play music from The Umkhosi CD, a collection of songs performed by young South African singers dedicated to raising AIDS awareness. The faith and pain of the singers shines through their music. 

Moving onwards – yet deeper
A reader reads Psalm 22:6-11

Another voice then comments: The scorn experienced by the psalmist is sadly felt by too many people with HIV/AIDS. It reflects the mockery that Jesus Christ experienced as he hung on the cross. Yet, in spite of this suffering, the psalmist knows that God has cherished them throughout the whole of life.

You might wish to draw on the material in the sermon notes – The Body of Christ has AIDS – to reflect on ‘stigma’.

You could sing a Taizé chant, eg Within Our Darkest Night, Nada te turbe, etc

Example prayer:
Risen Jesus,
You are there close beside each person,
You descend to where we are,
To the very lowest point of our human condition,
And you take upon yourself all that hurts us,
Both in ourselves and in others.
You accompany every human being…
(Brother Roger of Taizé)

A prayer for deliverance
A reader reads Psalm 22:12-21

Another voice then comments: Although written in a very different context, the graphic language of the psalm seems to catch only too well the physical pain and suffering which is the lot of many people living with HIV or AIDS. However, the sense of alienation that is so all-encompassing at the beginning of the psalm is now replaced by direct words of prayer to God: ‘Come quickly to my aid.’

You might wish to use extracts from the bible study.

You could use the prayers of intercession

Telling your name to my brothers and sisters
A reader reads Psalm 22:22-26.

Another voice then comments: The mood of the psalm dramatically shifts, from lament to thanksgiving. The psalmist – who began by sensing himself or herself so alone – now feels supported as their brothers and sisters are invited to join in this ever widening song of praise. This circle extends to the corners of the earth. It is in this context that we can celebrate the support that USPG gives to churches in their ministry to people with HIV/AIDS. In supporting our brothers and sisters in this vital ministry we enable lament to turn into confidence and God’s name to be honoured throughout our world.

Use one or more of the examples showing how USPG is helping to support church work tackling HIV/AIDS

If people are holding candles/tea lights this could be the moment for them to be lit.

Pray the Lord’s Prayer together. If you wish you can pray this very slowly and at the end of each phrase offer silence for people to reflect, quietly or aloud, on ways in which the prayer links to the situation of people with HIV/AIDS.

All the ends of the earth
A reader reads Psalm 22:27-31

A voice then comments: The psalmist now extends the circle of praise even wider by calling on the people of God from the past and future, as well as the present, to add their voices to the chorus. We remember those who have died due to AIDS in the past, acknowledge the pain of those who suffer in the present, and offer our prayers for those who will be affected by this virus, directly or indirectly, in the future. We hold them in the embracing and infinite love of God. Let us shape our candles together in the form of a cross, the symbol of God’s ever-caring arms.

Sing a song of quiet confidence, eg In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful (Taizé), during which people set down their candles in the form of a cross.

Psalm 22 is perhaps the best known of all the Psalms of Lament. In the course of the psalm there is a dramatic shift in mood. The psalm begins with a sense of almost complete isolation and abandonment: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Yet, by the end of the psalm, all of humanity is called upon to share in the psalmist’s hymn of praise. How far can we experience or share in the psalmist’s journey?

In the following order of worship, different sections of the psalm are interspersed with suggestions – for music, words, pictures, etc – that you might wish to use. These are only suggestions; you may wish to draw on other resources, or particular situations, to which the church can relate.

Whenever I read Psalm 22, I have the sense of being on a journey towards God. In the darkness, in the beginning, God seems far away and there is only the barest chink of light. But, gradually, God and the psalmist draw closer to each other and the light becomes brighter.

Notice that God, in verse 1, is accused of being ‘far from helping me’, but, by verse 19, is being described as ‘my help’. It would be effective if this sense of movement, and brightening light, could be portrayed in some way during the course of worship – perhaps by the readers, etc, moving gradually from the back to the front of the church and/or by beginning in a darkness which gradually becomes brighter as the worship progresses.
Clare Amos, USPG’s theological consultant

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

World AIDS Day 2011; Intercessions

Intercessions for use during the Eucharist
Intercessions could be provided with a focus by placing and lighting the Paschal Candle, lit and with a red AIDS ribbon attached.
We offer our prayers to God our Father, in whose image all is created, in the name of the Son through whom all is redeemed, and in the power of the Spirit whose healing and saving power is given.

Leader: Almighty God and Father, we bring before you our prayers. We pray for your Church and those places where it witnesses amidst suffering. We remember particularly those marginalised and affected by HIV and AIDS. May they find in you their hope, and know the broken body on the Cross is also the symbol of new life.
Lord, in your mercy;
Hear our prayer.

We pray for those suffering from the effects of HIV and AIDS. We ask you to be with them in their suffering. We pray for families and friends of those who suffer, that they may find strength and peace.
We pray for all doctors, nurses and carers, that they may bring relief and know purpose in the use of their skills.
Lord, in your mercy;
Hear our prayer.

We pray for communities torn apart by the ravages of illness and loss. We ask that you will raise up those who can bring leadership and hope. We pray that the nations of the world may be converted to address the imbalances of justice and poverty.
Lord, in your mercy;
Hear our prayer.

We pray for research programmes, and a blessing on those whose skills and endeavours may bring new treatments and cures.
Lord, in your mercy;
Hear our prayer.

We pray for those who seek to bring information, that educational outreach programmes will be successful in combating ignorance and misinformation about HIV/AIDS.
Lord, in your mercy:
Hear our prayer.

We pray for ourselves, that as the Body of Christ, we may know compassion for those who are sick and suffering, and know that all are in need of healing as members one of another.
Lord, in your mercy;
Hear our prayer.

We remember before you, Father, those who have died – and particularly those who have died from complications arising from HIV/AIDS. We pray that they find peace at the last.
Lord, in your mercy;
Hear our prayer.

In the one Spirit we are baptised into the one Body. We bring our prayers to God our Father through Jesus the Son who knows our every weakness and pain.
Merciful Father,
Accept these prayers through Jesus Christ your Son, our Lord. Amen

Offertory prayer
Lord, you show yourself in those who are vulnerable, and you make your home with the poor and weak of this world. Accept these gifts which we offer in your service. May they be symbols of your loving power among us, in Jesus’ name. Amen

Post Communion prayer
We offer you thanks and praise that in Jesus you have found us and placed us under the protection of your love. May we, your people, using all our energy and imagination, and trusting in your unfailing love, be united in conquering all disease and fear. We make this prayer in the name of the one who has borne all our wounds, and whose Spirit strengthens and guides us. Warm us with the fire of your Spirit so that all may come to know the joyful good news of healing and peace. May the love and compassion of God, the strength and healing of the Spirit and the life-giving words of the Son be known in all Creation. Amen

World AIDS Day 2011; Bible Study

Bible study: The tangible good news
Mark 1:35-45
In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel we meet a Jesus in a hurry, anxious to share God’s good news with a wide range of people. Initially this takes place in Capernaum, but then Jesus travels outside his home town.

In Jesus’ day, people with leprosy were regarded as ‘unclean’. It was forbidden by Jewish law to touch someone with leprosy, or for someone with leprosy to touch other people. (Leviticus 13-14 sets out both attitudes to people with leprosy and the rituals that had to be gone through before sufferers could be reintegrated into the community.) The fact that Jesus used touch – rather than merely words – is particularly significant: touch breaks down barriers symbolically, it provides psychological healing and it aids physical healing.

There is another intriguing detail about the story. Most of our biblical translations say that Jesus was ‘moved with compassion’ – in Greek splanchnizomai. It is a strong word which is related to the Greek word for a person’s internal organs – the English word ‘spleen’ comes from it. Quite literally we could say that Jesus was ‘gutted’ by what this man had gone through.

However, it may well be that what was originally written was not ‘moved with compassion’ but another verb which means ‘moved with anger’. The footnotes to the biblical text suggest this possibility. If this was so we can understand why people later on might wish to change the text – because the idea of a Jesus who is ‘moved with anger’ is frightening to many.

Questions for discussion

1. Compare the experience of the person healed by Jesus to someone living with HIV or AIDS today. What does this tell us about Jesus’ attitude to AIDS?

2. Why do you think some church-goers take a judgemental attitude towards AIDS, with some people even claiming it is a sign of God’s punishment?

3. Different translations state that Jesus was either ‘moved with compassion’ or ‘moved with anger’. How do the two translations alter our understanding of the incident? With what might Jesus have been angry?

4. Assuming both ‘moved with compassion’ and ‘moved with anger’ are applicable translations, how should this affect our attitude as Christians as we reach out to those who have been infected or affected by HIV?

World AIDS Day 2011; Sermon notes

Galatians 6:17 From now on let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.
• The Christian faith is a ‘bodily’ faith – we believe that, in Jesus Christ, God took human flesh and became ‘body’. Our bodily experience is not therefore to be trivialised or neglected.

• This was shocking to many in the world of the New Testament – Creation and physical elements were seen as dirty. This was largely a consequence of the predominance of Greek philosophy, which held that the material world was of significantly less importance than the spiritual – an assumption Jesus challenged.

• Even worse – as Phil 2:7 puts it – Jesus took not the prestigious body of an emperor but ‘of a slave’.

• And the fate of this body – crucifixion – was the ultimate scandal for many in the ancient world.

• Jesus’ followers went on to express their unity by describing themselves as the ‘body of Christ’, whether slave or free, Jew or Gentile, male or female. This was shocking because it broke down social and religious barriers.

• In some ways we have become so anaesthetised to the phrase ‘the body of Christ’ that we fail to realise it is a powerful and shocking challenge.

• So the sentence ‘The Body of Christ has AIDS’ can serve as a sharp and powerful reminder of our unity with Christians who are living with HIV and AIDS. Perhaps their suffering can bring us all, as one body, closer to the cross.

• In Gal 6:17 the word translated as ‘marks’ is in Greek ‘stigmata’ – which is of course, the technical name for the wounds of Christ on the cross (wounds also visible in the hands of great saints such as Francis of Assisi).

• In turn, ‘stigmata’ is the plural of ‘stigma’, by which we mean ‘marks of shame’ or ‘our inability as humans to cope with one who is different than we are’ (Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, South Africa). Stigma is something frequently experienced by people living with HIV and AIDS.

• The reality is that our brothers and sisters are suffering due to the stigma and physical effects of HIV and AIDS. Through our connectedness in the Body of Christ we are invited to share in and respond to their suffering.

• Through sharing in this suffering we have an opportunity to discover something profound about the love of God. God does not remove us from suffering, but – according to Isaiah 43:1-5 – he brings us through suffering to a deeper experience of his presence.

• See the reflection of Donald Hilton below:
‘How is it, Lord?
Is it that humankind is really one;
Life interlocked, emotions joined, our sinewed nerves combined?
And have I touched the secret of the Cross
Where pain of all is carried by just one,
Lifts us all?
If so, then let it be,
And I will bear the pain,
And walk the way of Christ.’

Expanding Horizons: a placement in Swaziland

“When you go home to Ireland tell your people about the problems that we have with HIV and AIDS – we need help to deal with this.” These words were addressed to me by a parishioner of the church where I spent my summer placement in Swaziland.
As part of my training for ordination I had the opportunity to travel overseas in order to gain experience and awareness of the world-wide church. I travelled to Swaziland in southern Africa under the Expanding Horizons programme run by the Anglican mission agency U.S.P.G.
Before I left I had learned a little about Swaziland and the Anglican Church there. I knew that the country had the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the world, but having spent a month there I now have a greater appreciation of the problems faced by the church and their efforts to respond to the situation.
I spent the first week with Andrew and Rosemary Symonds, mission companions with U.S.P.G. and had the opportunity to visit several parishes, meet clergy and see something of the church’s work. At one remote rural church we were greeted by a group of about twenty small children who gathered around Andrew’s car in curiosity. These children, I learned, had come to be fed at the church where two women cook a large pot of mealy (maize) porridge and beans. The children are either orphans or whose families are too poor to feed them and they come several times a week for food. The parish also runs a training course for carers of HIV sufferers.
In a nearby homestead we visited an elderly lady who was caring for two young grandchildren on her own. She had a supply of maize that she grew on her small holding, because her neighbours had ploughed and sown the crop for her. The two grandchildren had attended school but now she was unable to pay the fees and they had to leave. Although teachers’ salaries are paid by the government, schools depend on fees to cover the other running costs and even modest fees are beyond the reach of many poor people.
It was humbling to meet people with so little; and yet they have a remarkable faith. This same lady showed us her newly born chickens. She informed us that God had rewarded her with many chickens because she had donated one to the church!
At a girls’ secondary school the chaplain described how HIV/AIDS impacted on the lives of the girls. Many of the girls have lost one or both parents to the virus and they are very vulnerable and some have been abused. She told us of one girl that had lost both parents and then was raped by a pastor to whom she had gone for counselling. Her aunt did not want the girl to report this to the police in order to protect the pastor. Seemingly such stories are not uncommon.
After my introductory week, I spent three weeks at Usuthu Mission church, staying in a house attached to a small community of Anglican nuns who provided my meals. While I was there the nuns accompanied lay ministers on outreach visits to remote homesteads where they found several people that were very ill and with nothing to feed themselves or their families. Through the outreach work of the church, numbers are growing as people come to faith including some elderly people who had never attended church before.
At my first service in a remote rural congregation food was provided after church. The rector informed me afterwards that several of these people would not have eaten for two or three days. The parish would like to offer meals on a regular basis, but does not have the resources.
While at Usuthu Mission I was involved in preaching and leading worship, conducting school assemblies and pastoral visiting to the elderly. This involved collecting elderly people from their homes and bringing them to the home of somebody who is ill or housebound to celebrate the Eucharist.  The African worship was vibrant with wonderful singing and rhythm. This was evident in the parish church, at the schools and even among the elderly. In one home service a group of elderly ladies danced around the room on their walking sticks!
While the people of Swaziland are full of joy and have a deep faith many lives have been devastated by HIV/AIDS. Invariably we found elderly women caring for very young children that have lost their parents. The parish does what it can, feeding some and paying school fees for orphans.
The diocese of Swaziland has plans to launch a sustainable development project that will fund its social outreach and provide employment, but this cannot happen without substantial funding. U.S.P.G. Ireland is currently looking at ways to fund this project which is so badly needed.

Paul Bogle

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Hands on Health, September 2011

Linda Chambers, USPG Ireland, and Janette O'Neill, General Secretary and CEO USPG:AWM with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Lambeth launch of Hands on Health.


“Hospitals in the developing world are overcome by excessive demand with preventable sickness,” says Linda Chambers, USPG Ireland. “Hospitals and clinics in many African and Asian countries are often over-stretched, sustained by declining foreign donations and lacking drugs and facilities.”

“USPG’s new approach is bringing communities into the centre of the health equation. Through local churches, communities and hospitals can enter into dialogue leading to practical action – health as a joint enterprise. As a result, hospital services will become more responsive and communities will have better access to the services they need. At the same time, there will be a greater emphasis on prevention through community based healthcare, which will help to reduce demand on hospitals.”

Speaking at the launch of USPG’s new health policy Hands on Health at Lambeth Palace Archbishop Rowan Williams said ‘It is easy to say that prevention is better than cure, but it takes courage and deep collaboration to turn this into a reality, transforming the health of communities. USPG is building on its considerable history in supporting mission hospitals and health clinics with an innovative approach that is very exciting.’

The programme will see local churches bridging the gap often felt between village communities and health facilities. Hands on Health acts as a catalyst enabling local communities to appreciate and act on their own strengths.  In working together all stakeholders can address concerns, share ideas and work on solutions. As a result, hospitals will have a sharper focus and communities will have more say in their health needs.

At the same time, there will be a greater emphasis on prevention through community based healthcare, which will help to reduce demand on hospitals.

It means a strategic re-balancing of the health equation. By strengthening community-based preventative health work, cherished mission hospitals will be given a new lease of life. The hospitals’ specialism in diagnosis and cure remains key but greater focus on appropriate hospital based services will make institutions more sustainable.

For those interested in health issues ,a comprehensive policy and priorities document for the development and implementation of Hands on Health is available is available. 

Alongside Hands on Health, USPG continues to focus on Growing the Church which covers theological and leadership training, capacity building etc.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Moving forward in mission, 2011

Trinity College Dublin, February 2010

World AIDS Day, 2010

Gerry Lynch, Experience Exchange Programme

Faith communities unite to tackle injustice
SUBHEAD: Archbishop of Cape Town is supporting inter faith social action in South Africa

Anglicans and other Christian denominations are working side by side with different faith communities to act as South Africa’s moral conscience in uncertain times.

This is the observation of political scientist Gerry Lynch, from St George’s Church in Belfast, who is currently on a six-month placement in South Africa with USPG’s Experience Exchange Programme.

Gerry is on placement with the Western Cape Religious Leaders’ Forum (WCRLF), which meets under the leadership of the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.

Gerry explained: ‘In the short time I have been here, I have been privileged to be part of the religious contribution to ensuring fair elections, resisting a proposed government secrecy bill, and highlighting the shocking state of sanitation in the townships.

Detailing his work further, Gerry said: ‘I arrived in Cape Town just six weeks before South Africa’s local government elections, and soon found myself part of the South African Election Monitoring Network (EMN). This is an independent, civil society, organisation whose patron is Archbishop Thabo – and churches play a major practical role in staffing the network. With field workers across the country, it reports incidents that undermine free and fair elections – for example, things like intimidation of canvassers or disruption of campaign meetings. South Africa is a very religious country, and faith communities have huge moral authority when they speak publicly on any issue.

‘The network needed some additional analytical capacity, and my skills fitted right in. Within a week of arriving here, I was poring over field reports from across South Africa and producing statistical analyses of them. My skills were a perfect fit for what was needed - it might not sound like a very 'churchy' role but it is one I'm sure that God led me to. I’m pleased to say that this year’s election was the most peaceful in South Africa’s democratic history and proud to have played a small part in that.’

‘Another issue which has kept me busy is the government’s proposed ‘Secrecy Bill’. Although there is a need to update the apartheid-era official secrets legislation which remains on the statute books here, the laws originally proposed would have been a charter to hide corruption and bad government. In recent weeks, the government has rowed back from the more draconian parts of this legislation and, again, the moral authority of the faith communities, who spoke out on the issue, played a big part in that.
‘Anglicans and other faith traditions have along history of working together to support the poor and marginalised in South Africa.

‘Inter faith relations – especially in multi-faith Cape Town – are strong, having been cemented through years of shared struggle against the injustice of apartheid.’

Fr John Oliver, the chairman of WCRLF and a former USPG Mission Companion, agreed: ‘It is out of the struggle against apartheid that the Forum has emerged as a powerful prophetic voice in the engagement between the faith sector and provincial and local government on the critical challenges facing our country.’

Gerry believes the co-operation of the different faith groups in South Africa could serve as an inspiration to other nations.

He said poignantly: ‘Coming from Northern Ireland, the fact that almost everyone in this divided society of South Africa proudly flies the same flag, sings the same national anthem and pledges allegiance to the same constitution seems truly miraculous.’

The forum is busy. Most recently it visited the impoverished Khayelitsha township, home to around 800,000 people. Sanitation here is appalling, with over 20 families often sharing a single toilet. Others have no access to toilets and are forced to use waste ground, often a long walk from home and a magnet for criminals who know they will find isolated potential victims. The forum is now taking action by raising the media profile of the issue and pricking the conscience of believers who live in more fortunate circumstances.

Gerry said: ‘South Africa is no paradise. ‘The country is blighted by the world’s worst level of inequality between rich and poor, with the poor enduring shocking levels of violent crime and malfunctioning state schools.

‘But on the positive side, the economy is stable, infrastructure is excellent, and democracy and free speech are in rude health. Given where this society came from, it remains a miracle.’

Letter from Nola, November 2010

As over two and a half months have elapsed since my last epistle, I think it is time to update you on my life here in ‘the bush’. Again, this will be a photocopied letter with a personal P.S, due to lack of time and energy to write very long, individual letters! Well, the main news is that I’m still very happy, contented and busy here! Time is flying by, so much so that I wish I could slow it down!
A while ago, I decided to extend my stay, from departure on 5th October to 26th of November, which is near the end of the school year here. I had to take off two or three Fridays (short school days) to sort this out at the only (very posh) travel agent I could find, which is closed on Saturdays. Now I’ll be very British and begin with the weather! Having been warm all the time for a couple of months or more, the weather changed, quite suddenly, in mid may, becoming very chilly around 5.30 pm until about 10 am the next day when the sun is hot again and the sky its usual glorious sapphire blue. These huge temperature differences present clothing problems. I contacted Cindy, friend and custodian of 9 Richmond Gardens to send me a few items I couldn’t get here. It was lovely to receive them last weekend – they’d been en route for about a month. However, I was able to keep warm with layers of clothes; I had here a few items I had bought. In the early evening one lot of layers is topped with a warm market bought tracksuit in dark green, with Blue Shark embroidered on it across the front. My bedroom is always quite warm, as the sun streams in during the afternoon and most importantly, my bed is very cosy. For school, different layers are topped with a market bought beige corded fur lined jacket (20). Until I received my sensible winter shoes from Cindy I’ve been wearing a pair of openwork summer shoes and – don’t be jealous – a pair of black plimsolls with pink floral wide decoration around the openings – bought here of course. I needed them for walking on the sandy tracks around here. With all this attire plus a pair of navy warm gloves, brought by someone from South Africa with others to be sold at a small profit I really am a sight to behold! Continuing about the weather, everyone has warned me that it’s very windy in July, and part of August. Indeed today and yesterday it was very breezy and dull. My colleagues have warned me also, that it will be blisteringly hot in October and that sounds appealing at the moment. Sorry, the weather report was too long!
Going right back to the Easter holidays, towards the end I spent a very enjoyable week at the bishops house just using it as a very pleasant base and doing my own thing during the day. It was lovely to have time to browse and to get to know the city better. I bought several items for my cottage including curtain material for the sitting room windows; there were old curtains on them! I’m quite proud of my hand sewn efforts. Bishop Cleopas and his wife Soreni, daughter Alison (13) and son Brian (early 20’s) lived in England for 6 years before they returned to Bulawayo, when Cleopas agreed to accept this position. Brian remained in university in the UK. This was a great sacrifice as he had been just offered a parish in Coventry and also the opportunity to undertake study for a Masters degree. He’s very dynamic and works extremely hard, as does his wife, a great support to him in her role as the president of the Mothers Union in Matabeleland. I may have written before that the MU is a hope, very important organisation here and in other African countries, I believe. During that week I attended the weekly communion service, one morning in the tiny chapel at the former rectory headquarters of the MU. There were just five of us – the bishop, Sonemi, two staff members of the HQ and myself. It was very special, and even then, with so few the singing was powerful. In contrast, I went with Sonemi to a monthly afternoon service / meeting in a church, for all the MU branches in the area – there were over 400 women of all ages all in their blue and white uniforms. As well as worship there was a meeting and then a speech from the diocese office, his theme was on ‘giving’. At the end I was surprised to hear members asking him several, very searching challenging questions. Afterwards there was tea in the hall so like MU teas everywhere – sandwiches, buns, plenty of hot tea… but no tray bakes, as in Northern Ireland! Their son Brian was with the family for a short break and was concerned, as many of you have been, about the volcanic ash disrupting his travel plans. I treated the family to a meal one evening in the Bsbaways club – a very grand building from colonial years, with many spacious lounges, much silver and other grandeur. Though the menu was short, the food was excellent...  and very reasonable. I was surprised that such a place exists nowadays, in Bikeways. There are quite a few fast food cafes as well as family restaurants. I often treat myself to breakfast in Munadi (mans delicious). It is a very cheerful restaurant with colourful décor and bright young staff members.
The days of sitting on the floor of the back of the closed in windows pickup truck may be over, as the community took delivery of an 18 year old Landover station wagon, after Easter. It was sent with a smaller 9 year old Landrover for the bishop by the friends of St James in England. The former is supposed to seat about ten. There are often more squeezed in and on the return trip many with shopping bags and other items. It never ceases to amaze me just how many people and stuff can be pressed into a vehicle. For return journeys we are asked to be at the cathedral for 4 pm but never leave the city until at least an hour after. There always seems to be things to be bought, people to visit etc. so all the passengers go on these additional trips as well. Like everyone else, I just have to be patient. Invariably we arrive back after sunset so I have seen some fabulous skies on the return journey. We always look first as we approach the gates to see if there’s electricity. It is a bit miserable to arrive back when it’s dark and cold- before the pioneer spirit arrives and candles are lit and water boiled on the gas ring, often by the light of the headlight that Ken Worthley gave me which is great! We had a whole month earlier, without power cuts but during that time, we had three days without water due to a failing pump and then a burst pipe. We all keep various containers filled with water at all times, but I find I have to be very economical. However if I need extra water I can get it from grace who has very large containers. I have a lovely photo of three of the grade 6 girls, balancing buckets of water on their heads which they carried without spilling a drop, along that rough track. I could write a chapter on the skill and ease of the women and girls carrying so many different, heavy items on their heads. One day I met a little group of pre school pupils making their way from their building to the primary school and one little girl had her bag on her head! On the theme of carrying, I’ve never seen only two push chairs since I arrived in Zimbabwe, as all babies and young children are carried on their mothers backs – again it all looks so effortless and babies seem to be very secure and happy... never see any crying! One day when Karen, Violet’s 3 year old, was out of sorts, Grace tied her on her back, and she was contented, as Grace walked about with her on her back.

I am enjoying the teaching immensely, using the best books available to plan (I hope) interesting lessons. I’m finding that lots of sketches on the board and dramatising stories are helping understanding. It’s still a problem to know just how much is understood, as the pupils read well but may not comprehend the meaning. Sometimes when I’ve practically stood on my head and they seem to have got it, a few days later show that they haven’t got it. But that’s the joy of teaching, wherever you are! I’ve introduced visits within the community so that we have first experiences to talk and write about. Four classes have been to the clinic and three staff members there were delighted to receive thank you cards and letters from the children. The male nursing assistant is so glad that he is going to write back and thank the children for the cards!
I have a full programme. Monday to Friday 8 – 9 I take the grade 3 class (8years) for English in a disused chapel. This gives Margaret (67) a break, as she teaches a double class – grades 2 and 3 – due to a teacher leaving and not being replaced. Then from 9 – 1 I take 3 classes (grade 4 – 7) for English – all aspects. There’s a break from 10 to 10:30 and sometimes I have 11 to 12 for marking. In the afternoons there is always preparation to do and at the weekends, the plan for the following week. The staff colleagues are very encouraging and I feel that I’m an established member of the team. I’ve been asked to lead a staff meeting I just showed what I do with the classes and bits and pieces I’ve made for the slower learners. This week it’s my turn to take the assembly on Monday and Friday. The teachers were delighted when the grade 3 class sang a chorus with actions that we hope to teach the whole school. The pupils do know a lot of choruses in English an Ndebele, which they learn at the Sunday school here and also at Pentecostal gatherings in their villages, apparently. The population is over 90% Christian and like Northern Ireland, many people attend the many churches. My only problem now, is that I have no more choruses up my sleeve. I’ll have to send an SOS to Ballymore! Also I asked for a few more singing games for small children, as I take the grade 1’s for 2 half an hour sessions outside with Janet, their teacher. So far I’ve taught ‘Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush’, ‘Hokey Cokey’, ‘Here We Come Gathering Nuts in May’ and believe it or not ‘The Farmer Wants a Wife’!
The pupils continue to be a pleasure to teach and they now respect me as a “normal” teacher (I think!!)They no longer laugh at my attempts to pronounce some of the long Ndebele names… but I am getting there. The pre-school children still find me hilarious in appearance. When I meet them they can’t understand why I can’t properly reply to their chatter. They are so cute. As they were calling me by a word which in their language means ‘white person’, Margaret the pre-school teacher has instilled into them that they must call me by my name. So now I’m greeted as Miss Nixon. Many times over, but still there are looks of bewilderment that I still can’t respond correctly!
After the aforementioned staff meeting, as I walked home and thought about a remark Stanley (deputy head) had made about it being a pity that I hadn’t more time to teach reading, I decided that I should concentrate my efforts on the primary school as though I enjoyed teaching in the high school; my sessions were really an added extra. The head of this school understood and my colleagues are pleased. As the finale with the form 2 high school girls they prepared short talks on life in their unique boarding school and I brought groups of our grade 7 girls to be the audiences. It was fascinating to listen to such themes as toilet cleaning duty and owls in the classroom roof space these appear through the broken ceiling during their prep time, 7pm till 8 30.
The practical skills and acceptance of normal tasks of the primary pupils even the youngest are amazing. First each morning all rooms are hives of activity as floors are brushed using grass brooms which they make and bring in. you can imagine just how much sand is carried in on feet. A few weeks ago when they were desperate for football practise to begin and the man had not come to slash the grass in the field they suggested bringing in slasher form home and for several afternoons girls and boys cut the grass using these long carved metal implements rather like thin hockey sticks. As an interschool sports day is immanent the older children were asked to bring in very wide strong hoes from home and spent a busy few hours digging up plants and plant remains left behind when the man had taken off the surface of the field where netball will be played. The young male teacher Gabriel and some children mixed ash and water to use for the workings of the pitches the work ethic is alive and well at St. James’!!!
On my way to and from school I may meet some of the manual workers who all know me and use the standard greeting: good morning, how are you? To which I must reply fine thank you how are you? From grade 1 the children are taught this and when a visitor enters a class room all rise and chant it. Continuing my walk I may see mothers some with babies on their backs slashing grass in lieu of preparing school food. They are always well dressed cheerful and ready for a chat! On my way home I may meet a scotch cart drawn always by four donkeys in which may be one or more people on their way from a village to the clinic. There is a nurse in charge there assisted by an Anglican nun sister Kathryn and peter a resident in the community. The can deal with all straight forward medical problems. Serious cases are referred to one of the two small hospitals some miles away from where an ambulance would come if needed. There are some beds in cubicles in the clinics but these are only for day use.
You may remember that I mentioned Violet and Father Albert who was in charge here and both were very kind and supportive during my first weeks. They were moved to a parish in Bulawayo at the beginning of May. I was sorry to see them go but we do keep in touch and I’m looking forward to spending this weekend with them. They have Karen already mentioned, two primary school boys and a son at boarding school. I am still being very well supported but Grace and Father Albert who is now in charge as well as being department head of the high school. Another friend who was moved suddenly was one of the fine Anglican sisters Constance with whom I got on very well. She is great “craic” and a mine of interesting information on Zimbabwean life and customs. We keep in touch by phone and perhaps I’ll have a chance to visit her though she is a long way from here now. There are three remaining sisters. Katherine, Justine and a young woman Joylyn who works in the high school library. They live in a very pleasant oasis by the high school. Rooms are built around a small court which has a large tree in the middle giving shade to the whole complex. They have also their own small chapel as well as feeling free to drop in with grace and father Albert I also know I’m very welcome to call with the sisters, enjoy the comfort of their sitting room and , of course, as always a cup of tea.
You can imagine the social life here isn’t vibrant. Apart from Grace and Violet when she was here people don’t entertain, even for light refreshments. I think the reasons are that everyone is very hard up, salaries are very meagre. I find that food costs about the same as in the UK. And the other reason maybe that the homes are very simple so there is no spare crockery etc.
For my birthday and slao Margaret’s (she was 67 on 8th May) I decided to have a tea party. To which I invited the primary school staff, Grace (Father Albert was away). I managed to buy a fairly large cake, a selection of homemade type buisits and I made sandwiches of course! They all enjoyed it so much, some saying later that they never go into each other’s homes and another said we can’t do that because we haven’t got the things. I must repeat this occasion again soon with the recipes you sent Helen! The whole school sang to me and also the congregation included happy birthday. I’ve had one dinner party, a posh name for a simple chicken meal cooked on my two electric plates for father A and Violet (before they left) and grace and father Albert, various couples, individuals and a lively group of teachers have been for coffee etc and chat.
An enjoyable baby shower party was held a few weeks ago to which the women of the community were invited. First there was a welcoming service at the church at 5 pm. The parents and grace holding Lennorah the baby girl knelt at the door of the church for prayers and repeated responses before moving to the alter for more prayers. And then taking their seats in the pews. The hall in Ndebele seemed a very moving service the party was the 7pm in the home of Stanley the dep head and his lovely wife Margaret. The baby’s granny is Lennorah, a teacher for years at the high school. Her son the child’s father also teaches there. There was lively music and dancing and letting down hair. A delicious buffet and the most extravert of the high school teachers opened the pile of baby presents with many jokes, some of which were translated to me by Grace.
The baby’s mother seemed a very quiet girl. Over awed no doubt by these exceptionally lively young Sec. teachers. We walked home under the unbelievably beautiful African starry skies at 11 pm, very late here. Fortunately, the next day was a public holiday – Africa day- so I could have a lie in.
I continue to be enthralled by the singing at our services on Wednesday and Sunday. The Ndebele sung responses interlace with the familiar Anglican liturgy are very beautiful and rousing. One of the highlights is the Nicene creed after every short phrase sung by the girls the congregation sings in Ndebele we believe, and they really sound as if they do!
Another lovely part is the peace, sometimes in English hands held across the rows. Slight swaying and in second verse hands raised. Very reverent and affirming. Before reading the psalm a response is given (a verse from that psalm) and repeated twice before eth reading commences then the reader pauses three of four times an says “response” and the congregation repeats the given verse, not sure if this makes sense as I describe it. I find that these customs ensure that the congregation is actively involved all the time. I joined a very special trip to a recently reopened church a few very rocky miles from here. The route reminded me of those Landrover adverts crossing impossible terrain. We were warmly welcomed by a waiting group from the small settlements we had passed. The church is tiny, sand walls and thatched roof. Inside were two benches and a low school type table on which a white cloth was placed and a white St. James communion sieber was used. About twenty to thirty people of all ages came and sat on the floor at the side front, all knew the words and sang powerfully. I found the experience very moving. At the end I was welcomed all in Ndebele but when they looked at me, smiled and applauded I knew to rise and acknowledge their welcome. Apparently the church as founded by an English minister who is now back in the UK.
This really will be the last sheet (thank goodness you may say!)
Some of you know that I was scared I may encounter mice or even worse, rats in my home, so I came armed with mouse traps and poison from Walter’s shop in Tandragee. Early on I was assured that as I have no ceiling and no roof space I’d be okay, as long as I keep doors and windows closed, to keep out snakes also. I’ve passed the poison to Stanley and Margaret, who were troubled by rats stampeding in their roof space at night… ugh. There are many varieties of snakes here, apparently but they usually stay away from humans. There was an Australian teacher here years ago who collected live snakes and kept them in his home. He used to pay children to bring him specimens (presumably the harmless type) and he often had small snakes in his pockets, which he would take out in the middle of class to show the children. I’m so glad he’s not here anymore!
In one week I heard about/saw some unpleasant creatures – the head teacher in the primary school Simangaliso said that she would have to visit her brother because he’d been bitten on the hand by a snake – serious at first but fine in the end. As she told me this, outside her modest office, a rat ran into it pursued by some children, but it escaped. Then Dado, my lovely cleaning lady didn’t come one day; her only goat had been taken by a leopard. Again, these animals are there but no one ever seems to see them. A day or two later I read in the newspaper that an elephant had been rampaging in the suburbs of the city, and sadly had killed someone in a car. Since hearing/seeing these wild life details all has been quiet. Apparently soon, monkeys will start to come into the St James’ area, when all the maize has been harvested, seeking food. Sometimes en route to town we see a few scampering across the road, and we see the odd kudu and impala.
Well, as I sit here at 5pm it is getting cooler, and darkness isn’t too far away. The girls are shouting and laughing on the sports field nearby. My home is in the ideal position as I am on the main track from St James and the high school is quite near, so I hear all the liveliness of the girls at various times of the day and evening.
To close – I know I write far too much but I just can’t be succinct. When I start I feel like I’m having a conversation. I haven’t mentioned email, which can be a slow and frustrating process, but the men in the centre I use are very friendly and helpful. I can only manage to keep in touch with Pauline and Anne and perhaps one or two others occasionally.
I am very grateful to God everyday that I feel so well and have plenty of energy, and I am so grateful and honoured that so many people in Ireland and England are praying for me regularly.
Thank you all for your interest, thoughts and prayers.
With love and prayers,

Letter from Nola, April 2010

17th April 2010

For those who haven’t heard on the grapevine, I’d like to reassure you that I’m very happy and contented here!
I spent the first few days at the home of the bishop, his wife and daughter in Bulawayo, where I received a very warm welcome. On Tuesday 9th March they drove me to St James’ Mission, in the bush, 50 miles from Bulawayo, along, mainly, a single track Tarred road with wide, hard, sandy verges for passing, and with many pot-holes. The final stretch is a single sandy track with deep ruts and pond-like puddles. (A normal saloon car would last very few journeys on this route!)
I received another great welcome from the rector of the community, Father Amon (?) and his wife, Violet, and later from Father Albert, ordained and also deputy head of the Girls High School, and his wife, Grace. These two couples, especially Violet and Grace, give me great support and friendship.
St James’ Mission consists of a Girls Boarding School, with 580 pupils; a Primary School with 230 children; a clinic; an incomplete sports stadium; and a large, plain, but very peaceful church. Dotted around the large site, amongst many trees, are simple bungalows and thatched round houses, the homes of teaching and non-teaching staff. The many young High School teachers tend to go home to the city at weekends, but those with families stay and some have gardens where they grow maize and vegetables for their own use. There are always many free range hens, sometimes with flocks of chicks, running around! Violet keeps three or four pigs, and raised broilers, recently slaughtered, to augment the family income.
There is a team of manual workers, whose main job seems to be slashing the grass, a feature of the bush, which grows rapidly in the sandy soil and would soon take over.
The boarding school pupils come mainly from Bulawayo and Victoria Falls (also a town!), 300 miles north. Fees are £200 per term and there are some scholarships. They are delightful girls – so polite and yet full of fun. Their buildings are simple, single-storey blocks of dormitories and classrooms. The first morning I was wakened at 4.45 am by a distant clanging sound – it was the girls’ wake-up call! They do all the cleaning of the school and church, tend the outside areas and, on Saturdays, They do their own laundry (hand-washing, of course), including their attractive pale orangey/tan dresses with cream facings round the sleeves and square necklines.
Sport is very important and often teams are taken to inter-schools events in the community’s lorry, closed in with high small windows. The passengers sit on benches around the sides – no Health & Safety regulations to worry about, and perhaps more fun for the young people than a luxury coach! The Mothers’ Union also used this vehicle to attend a special all-day event recently. I travelled in style, in the cab squashed with the driver, Violet and Grace (neither slight ladies!)
The primary school should have seven classes, but grades 2 & 3 have had to be amalgamated, as a teacher transferred to the High School and the authorities refuse to replace him – hence the pleasure in my arrival (hope they’re not disappointed!!). There are over 30 in each class; 50+ in the aforementioned, which is taught by Margaret, aged 67, who is the wife of the Dean of the Cathedral, but lives in rooms by the girls’ dorms during the week. The head teacher, Simangalisa, and all her staff are very friendly and work hard in very difficult circumstances – poor buildings, no electricity, no equipment and few books; blackboard and chalk are the only teaching tools. Despite these inadequacies most of the children can read English well, are excellent spellers and do beautiful handwriting. I believe that the mathematics I see on the blackboards is of a higher level than that in the UK.
Some of the primary pupils are the children of the staff of the community but most are very poor, from five outlying villages, which I have yet to see. Some walk long distances. They all receive a nourishing meal at the end of the school day, around 1pm, cooked in a shed over open fires, in two huge cauldrons, by a rota of two mothers each day, from the villages. The menu is the same each day – beans cooked with oil and the staple food sadza, loved by all (including the bishop) which is a stiff porridge, made from maize meal. Money to provide the food is supplied by the Friends of St James (based in England, I think). Sometimes I choose to teach outside, under a tree. At first it was amazing to see the mothers arrive to prepare the meal, carrying long branches of firewood on their heads. One day a basket of melon-like fruits/vegetables was carried to augment the diet, I presume.
I teach English in grades 4-7 (9-13 years) every morning. I’ll not go into the challenge of teaching from wordy comprehension books, and no copies for pupils! English is very much a second language, and as the children are reluctant to speak so far, it’s hard to determine how much they understand, especially as their life experiences are very limited and none has access to TV or books. But, they are absolutely delightful and perfectly behaved! At first they dissolved into gales of laughter as I tried to pronounce their Ndeble names. I love the other names such as Precious, Blessed and Rejoice! I am on a month’s holiday at present, and hope to plan at least some first-hand experiences on which to base the English work.
On three afternoons I take a few English lessons in the High School. The Form 1 classes are reading very ancient abridged versions of Oliver Twist, three girls sharing each book – yet they can very eloquently recap and discuss the chapters. A great treat in another class was when I showed a very colourful brochure of N Ireland – the girls were amazed by the sights. Another day I brought in the many beautiful Bon Voyage cards which decorate my home. Again they were very interested and impressed!
I love my home – a thatched round house (24’ diameter); half is the living room, and the other two quarters are a bedroom and a spare room. Attached is a rectangular extension – a laundry room with large stone sink, a WC, simple shower room and a kitchen with double sink, dresser and a 2-ring electric hob. I am very comfortable and I just love the peace and quiet. I am near enough other homes not to feel isolated and yet far enough to feel private. Like all other residents I have to accept cheerfully the frequent, often prolonged, power cuts, which also affect the supply of water and phone lines. When the High School is open and there’s a power cut a generator is switched on from 6pm -9pm, but not in the holidays (too expensive). During the 5 day power cut over Easter I was supplied with hot meals, flasks of hot water for tea making and extra containers of water. I quite enjoyed reading by candle-light. I intend to buy a small gas ring soon. I have a fridge-freezer in my spare room!
Worship permeates all of life here. It is an unusual blend of high church rituals (incense etc.) and the most beautiful, exuberant singing of hymns and responses. My first experience was the midweek 7am communion service. The power and beauty of the girls’ singing can only be described as heavenly. The girls read the bible passages and prayers very well in English, and the hymns and responses are mostly in Ndebele.
The Easter services were very special, though the girls were on holiday, but everyone seems to be able to sing and all seem to know the words! On Easter Eve there was a Baptism service at which 20 adults and children were baptised in the outdoor font by candle-light (power cut) while lightning flashed and thunder rolled (rain came later). Before this there was a Communion service in the candle-lit church, and afterwards a time of celebration. A few people stayed in the church all night. Before dawn, at 5.30am, we met again around a bonfire, before going into the church to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord at day-break.
Communication with the outside world is through e-mail, accessed at a small internet centre in Bulawayo. Often there’s the time pressure of catching transport back home and, recently, when I had plenty of time, there was a city power cut! It is good to read e-mails and to reply to some, but in the long term I think good, old-fashioned letters will be best. I have an unpredictable land-line, from which I actually managed to ring Pauline in N Ireland. I was amazed! Mobiles aren’t much use out here, and there’s seldom time in the city to fiddle about trying to send texts!!
Transport, by the way, usually entails sitting on a foam mattress on the floor of the goods part of one of the sturdy (closed in, with windows) pick-up trucks of the community... one way of having an all-over massage, as we bump along! I’m impressed that everyone is always so good-humoured. (Don’t seem to be any moaners here!!)
Highlights so far:
A hike with Violet and Grace to an impressive metal suspension foot-bridge over a river – much scarier and longer than Carrick-a-Rede!
A celebration for 700 Mothers’ Union members, all in their blue/white Diocesan uniforms – a long, lively service, lunch, then a competition – over 20 groups sang or performed sketches before a panel of judges – high standards of performance! (I received a special welcome, had to say a few words – rousing applause!)
On Easter Monday, a surprise birthday party for Fr Albert (38). It was good to help with the preparations – I tried not to appear squeamish, when given a lesson on gutting one of several chickens. (I watched only, and then returned, thankfully, to chopping vegetables!!) It was a great feast.
A three night break at Victoria Falls with Violet and Grace. The magnificence of the falls cannot be described. On our first morning, at a Sunday service, a coincidence (or God-incidence!) a lay-minister, well known to Violet, was there, on business from Bulawayo. He became our chauffeur and guide, throughout our stay, taking us to places we wouldn’t have reached, as well as keeping his appointments. We saw elephants, baboons and other wild-life very close. A sunset cruise on the Zambezi was a perfect end to our trip.
How un-British, I nearly forgot to mention the weather! I love being warm all the time, though just this week I notice a slight nip in the early morning and in the evening. Temperatures have been in the 20s and 30s and it will still be this hot during the day. As my home and the classrooms are cool, I am able to cope very well. We have had some very dramatic thunder storms, but soon after the sun shines, peace is restored, and the foods disappear into the sand.
With the help of the primary school children I’ve learned a few of the Ndebele greetings and Fr Amon has just lent me a book “Lessons in Ndebele” by an English couple, published in 1972 – so boredom will not be a problem!
I am very grateful to everyone who is thinking of me and praying for me.
With love and prayers,