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.

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YMCA Black Country Staff Awards 2014

Last week saw the announcement and presentation of the 2014 YMCA Black Country staff awards.  I was really proud to have two of the YMCA Open Door Team shortlisted for individual categories and to have the team shortlisted for Team of the Year.

We didn’t win Team of the Year, that deservedly went to the Walsall Housing Team who have worked so hard together to overcome some very challenging circumstances this year.  Nevertheless, it was great to be shortlisted and receive a bit of recognition – the team work incredibly hard and with great ability and compassion to deliver a fantastic service that enables 50 young people to stay in safe accommodation each night.

YMCA Open Door – Team of the Year Runners Up

Unfortunately, despite a tremendous record of recruiting Host families, fundraising and all round non-stop dedication, Rachael Taylor was only runner up in the Personal Achievement category.  But again deserved recognition to be shortlisted nonetheless and it was difficult to argue with Wolverhampton Nursery Manager, Charlie, being announced as winner.

Rachael Taylor – Personal Achievement Runner Up

However, despite these slight disappointments the rock of our Wolverhampton Supported Lodgings provision, Stanley Ifamene, was crowned Inspirational Colleague of the Year.  I was utterly delighted with this.  Stanley really is one of the most inspirational and exemplary humans I have ever met.  He works hard, cares with great attention and tenderness for the young people he is responsible for and, most importantly, he lives out every part and every moment of his life through his faith in Jesus.  He encourages me every time I see him, inspires me to greater performance and approaches every situation with a desire to give honour to God.  He is a true hero.

Stanley Ifamene – Inspirational Colleague of the Year Winner

It was a great fun evening.  The company was top quality and it was good to be reminded of the effective and wide reaching work that YMCA Black Country Group is responsible for.  The positive impact and influence of the organisation seems to be growing and building on the firm foundations of past generations.  The other award winners were James and Hashan who both work with great effort and enthusiasm in Aleksa’s nursery, and Tony who has worked persistently and tirelessly for years making sure the place doesn’t fall apart.  The final award was a Lifetime Achievement award for Board Members Eric and Brenda Moore who have given about 60 and 40 years voluntary service respectively to the YMCA.  That really was an inspiring and fitting end to the awards.  Looking forward to next year!

The Shock of the Fall

I’m missing our YMCA book club meeting again today.  This month we’ve been reading The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer.  It’s a first person story about a young man who is mentally ill.  It is as beautiful as it is sad.  Here are a couple of things I am taking away from the book:

  1. It hit me hard when he is observing the attitudes of those who work with those with mental health.  A few examples are the condescending way the staff talk down to him, the language they use (i.e. calling him a ‘service user’ – who wants to be called a ‘service user’?!) and that when the Day Centre was closing down the staff were clearly more moved by the fact they’d lose their jobs than by the loss of the service for those that needed it.  In fact that was pretty much the most emotion the staff gave out in the whole book.  I was challenged with relation to how we work at the YMCA.  As much as you come in with your ideals, they quickly get squished by other pressures and before you know it you’ve forgotten that you’re there to serve other human beings.
  2. I’ll not spoil the detail, but the tragedy involving his brother is gut wrenching.  It is referred to from the start and more information about what happened is revealed throughout the narrative.  And the information given is the finest detail, the acutest memory, the hurtful consequences, and it brings home pain and loss in the most devastating way.  How can anybody know what somebody else is experiencing?  I think life can sometimes become one long trail of judgment on others and yet we haven’t got a clue what is going on in another person’s head.

These lessons for me are summed up in Jesus’ famous saying, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’  This quote is often reduced simplistically – i.e. don’t hit someone if you don’t want to be hit etc.  However, if we are to really reflect on the essence of this saying then it is that we need to treat one another with respect and with humanity in as much detail as is observed and described in The Shock of the Fall‘.  When we fail to do this, ironically, it is ourselves who lose our humanity as much as, if not more than, those we are disrespecting.

It’s Half-Term!

I’m really looking forward to this week – just got back from an inspiring and, dare I say it, life changing weekend in Germany and Poland with the YMCA and now it’s just me and Anya at home together for the whole of half-term!

It’s going to be a great week, I have one or two ideas for what to do but I thought I’d ask Anya what she wanted to do.  Bless her, her answer was, “You know when we go to the cash and carry….can I ride on top of the trolley!?”  I’m really proud of her that she is satisfied with such simple pleasures.

We’re off to go and get an extra ingredient for baking now and I will do my best to give her a wonderful, memorable week.  I really believe that some of the best gifts we can give our kids are shared memories together.  They can be simple, silly times together but I think they are worth so much more than expensive presents.

We’re also both looking forward to having the luxury of time so that we can do some Bible study and praying together.  Such a privilege to be a dad and I really don’t want to take it for granted.

The Book Thief

Running Rachael has started a great book club at work.  It’s great to be able to spend an extended lunch time with friends and colleagues* chatting about literature and life and generally relaxing in the middle of a hectic work day.

The latest offering that we have read is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  It really is a good one and before I go further I would thoroughly recommend it.  It is quirky and is written and edited with such innovation that your attention is kept and you remain eager to see how events will unfold.

The setting is intriguing as it portrays life in a regular German town with regular German people but during the surreal experiences of the Second World War.  For me the fascination in this is that in Britain we are so preoccupied with our perspective of the Second World War that we don’t think about what life would have been like in Germany and the book suggests that life was pretty hellish.  It wasn’t just air raids and rationing.  Germans had to deal with a nationalistic political fervour that demanded adherance and dolled out horrific consequences for those who did not make the right choices.

Liesel, the protagonist, is a delightful character who captures your heart from the off and takes you on a childhood journey of growth, survival, loss and love.  The concept of Death as narrator is ingenious and allows for an easy fluidity from story telling to philosophising.  Although tragic from the start the tone is heart warming and generates a real confidence in the potential of humanity in the midst of the absolute worst that our species has to offer.

Out of interest, the film adaption is out in cinemas in the next month or so starring Geoffrey Rush.

*The colleagues referred to are also  friends, I’m not suggesting some are friends and some are colleagues!

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.