Wonderful Ukrainians

It is amazing how in the short space of a week it is possible to feel so much love, hope and
affection for people that you have never met before.  I met many great people during this past week at the YMCA Youth Unify camp in Poland and was most deeply moved through the immense privilege of getting to know an amazing group of people from YMCA Ukraine – specifically Kiev, Lutsk, Odessa and Kharkiv.  They really ambushed me with their friendship and encouragement.  I wish to use this blog post for two simple reasons:

  1. To honour their faithfulness to their nation, the YMCA and, most importantly, to God.  They work tirelessly in their home towns sacrificing time, money and man
    y other things to serve young people.  Their hunger to understand and know Christ is inspiring.  Love and humility just pours out of them.
  2. To call you to pray for the nation of Ukraine which remains in the midst of such violence and a heartbreaking war.  This video shows four of the volunteers from YMCA Ukraine sing a haunting prayer for the peace of their nation. You may wish to use the song as a tool to lead you into praying for the peace of Ukraine.

Cultural Perspectives: Middle East on UK

The first guest blog in the Cultural Perspectives series is by a lady originally from the Middle East but now living in Britain:

For a person like me, who became a Christian from another religion and hated religiosity, it was difficult to find the right church that doesn’t make people run away!

I personally like Charismatic churches which are alive and where you can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in the atmosphere.  Also you can see the action of the Holy Spirit and the lives of people changed.  Also, the way of worshiping God is so important for me and a prayerful atmosphere.  Good preaching and teaching are important too.  When I lived in Germany I went to some churches that were Charismatic and I loved to be in that atmosphere.

However, the first time I visited a church in the UK I didn’t have any idea about churches here.  I chose the church because it was near my home, so I went there and found the people were really friendly and kind.  I only attended that church for couple of months because it was not what I had expected.

I tried to find out about other churches and how they differed so I attended some others but none of them were what I was used to.  I spoke to a lady who was from that first church and she kindly helped me and didn’t get upset about my decision to leave their church.

She sent me to the church that I am now a member of.  The first time you experience something is very important for someone, and the first time I went to the new church there was a lady who was so friendly and accepting.  She came to me and started to speak to me.  She touched my heart and I felt like I was at home!

I think it was God’s plan for me to find this church which now is my home and family!  Before that day I was so desperate and was thinking I couldn’t settle in the UK because church for me is like my home and it’s sooo important for me to be in the right one.  I am glad and thankful for being a member of this church and they bless me a lot.  Their kindness and mercy touch my heart, in fact they are good examples of Christians who I can learn from them.

Because I was a Muslim before, I had lots of fear that maybe God would leave me or get angry with me but by attending church in the UK I’ve learnt even more about our God and his mercy than before.  I feel free now from all of those lies which religion and society in my home country taught me!

Also, I went to some christian conferences which built me up and I’ve learnt a lot about being a community in Christianity.  I am still learning and love this adventurous life which Jesus gave me.  Every day living with him is like a gift and I love to find out what’s waiting for me in it.  Sometimes I can’t wait or be patient to find out his plan for my life but I trust in him so I know anything that happened to me was for a reason and I let him work on me to become that shape which he wants me to be!

Friendship gives cancer a good beating at the YMCA

Today was a wonderful day at the YMCA as staff came together to put on a great morning of fabulous food and even better friendship.

Sadly it seems more true each year that each of us is affected by cancer.  And  it was as a result of the wicked claws of cancer that three people at the YMCA wanted to put on a Macmillan Coffee Morning.  When they all found out what the others were wanting to do and once they had put their heads together the result was brilliant.  People came in early, cooked breakfast for the whole staff team and loads of home baked cakes were brought in and sold (and eaten).

But better than any amount of money that was raised for Macmillan, which really is a worthy cause, was the sense of community and friendship that pervaded the building at Carters Green.  It was fun and moving to be together.  Two of our colleagues and friends who are living with cancer at the moment were able to come and visit and there was a great feel of togetherness.  Tears were shed, jokes shared, encouragement given and I am sure all were inspired.  I really felt the love of God among us, bringing unity and sticking one in the eye for cancer.

Well done to everybody who took time to make today possible.  It is a privilege to be part of the YMCA community.

The Mission Continues

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I returned home on Monday night from an incredible fortnight with the Mission Possible team for the YMCA Europe Festival in Prague.  It was a wonderful time and when I woke up on Tuesday morning and made my way into work it felt like I was missing a limb.

The one thing that made it so fulfilling was that the entire time with the team seemed to be non-stop worship of God.  Whether we were eating, team building, planning, singing, dancing, discussing, acting, preaching, playing, laughing or crying God was in the centre of it all and so it just felt good and right the whole time.

So as I drove to work feeling a definite sense of loss I realised, as amazing as the people were and as much as I am bereaved by the absence of their companionship, it was actually the tangible image of God shining through them that seemed to be slipping away and was causing this sadness.

Of course, God is not fleeting and is still to be found in the slightly more mundane of life.  It just takes a little more effort not to be distracted by the less meaningful and to continue living purposefully in the presence of God.  I had a beautiful evening with 5 Black Country friends from church last night, again because God was in the middle of what we were doing.

The truth is that Mission Possible continues wherever God is acknowledged and I look forward to endless more Mission Possible experiences on my own, with my own wonderful family, with my lovely colleagues and with my inspiring church.

I still miss my friends though.

Benjamin Button on friendship

I watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button last night.  I found it a really sad and poignant film.  Particularly the way it explores building attachments, sharing experiences and loving people and then losing them.  Naturally, due to his reverse ageing, Benjamin is forced to deal with this even more head-on but it seems his peace is found in his acceptance that this is the way life is.

People come into your life, you love them, you lose them.

Yesterday some friends came to visit and asked if we’d stay in touch after we leave Solihull.  Of course we’d love to stay in touch with everybody everywhere but it just isn’t practical.  We’ve only been married 8 years and we have dozens of friends from Sheffield, Solihull, Montenegro and other places as well as many other friends we have known before we met.  All of these friends are precious to us but I think the best way to cherish a friendship is to recognise that it is a friendship for a season.

Maybe the friendship is for a particular job or course.  Or to help overcome a particular difficulty or stage in life.  Some friendships span a decade or two and maybe a few can last a lifetime.  But just because people drift or don’t have the practical means to keep in touch does not mean the friendship has been any less significant.

Facebook is great for keeping in touch with old friends but is there a danger that we end up prolonging friendships beyond their natural course and therefore diluting the impact of that person on our lives?  I’m not saying it is like this, it’s just a thought.

But anyway…my point is this;  let’s cherish the friendships we have and have had and be thankful for the different seasons that people come into our lives and the roles they play there.  To all my friends out there, thanks for being there.  I am very grateful for your support and all the great memories – I look forward to any times together in the future and will be sad if that is not meant to be…….

Friendship

I love being with people.  Spending time together as relationship is created.  Watching bonds develop through experiences shared.  Through conversation.

Each friendship has an intricate and unique set of links and bonds.  I am talking about how we are joined spiritually.  I believe that each relationship has a spiritual cohesion that is different to any other relationship.

Imagine you are with someone and you begin to bore, or y0u just don’t want to be with them.  Your default is to make excuses to leave their presence, or to switch off.  But this time you begin thinking about some different things.  You think about the positive qualities of the other.  You think about the things you have in common, even if it is simply the fact you are in the same place.  You think about the needs of the other.  You think about how they can reach out to you and add something to who you are.

Every encounter is a unique gift that can never be reclaimed.  Make use of them and you will build stronger, more numerous and more fulfilling friendships.