Friday, 3 April 2020

Today the sun is shining brightly, the temperature is rising, it’s going to be a hot one. These last few weeks we’ve enjoyed some spectacular sunsets, some magnificent thunder and lightning shows and a lot of rain. Today the ground is slowly drying after the deluge of rainfall that has been there, every night, for more than a week.

Looking out of my office door, in the middle of this ‘long’ rainy season, nothing much seems to have changed here in Kosele, in Kenya. But, obviously, that isn’t true. Everything has changed here, just as it has all over the world. All because of a virus that you can only see under a microscope; a virus that looks like something just created for a cool sci-fi movie. Or is that picture we’re all seeing in the media just an artist’s impression, ‘pimped up’ to make us all more fearful?

In the evening Judi and I like to sit on the veranda of our ECD classroom and watch the sun go down. We live right on the equator so we get really big skies and amazing sunsets. Every night it’s like some master artist has painted a new sky. Sometimes shafts of light break through the clouds and shine a beam of energy down to the ground. You can understand why people, all over the earth, have worshipped the sun, the moon and the stars. Our evening light show never disappoints, it’s always awesome – especially when there is a storm in the distance, right on the horizon, and the lightning cracks across the sky in horizontal flashes and the sound of thunder rolls around the air. Sometimes we sit under the centre of the storm. That’s both awe inspiring and scary. When vertical lightning strikes the ground, with the sound like a bomb going off, you don’t hang about. You seek safety and shelter – and then carry on watching as the storm rages and the rain drives rivers along the ground. Sitting in the centre of a tropical storm is exhilarating, potentially terrifying but never quite reaching that intensity because you know what to expect. The flashes, bangs and downpour have you on the edge but you’re pretty sure it won’t harm you.

The storm that is approaching Kenya now, is terrifying. Right now, the microscopic eye of the storm, Coronavirus, is in its infancy. We have 110 confirmed cases, 3 deaths and 2 recoveries. The health minister has warned people to expect an exponential rise in the numbers and everybody knows that the health system won’t even begin to cope. Closure of schools and markets, reduced travel and 7pm curfews already mean there are far fewer opportunities to earn your daily bread. Everyone in our community is afraid of the hunger that is already coming into their homes. Some of them are in denial about the virus. They think that it’s a story that’s being made up in Nairobi. They are fearful because none of us know what will really happen in Kenya as the Coronavirus storm grows bigger and bigger.

As much as we believe that we are looking at a disaster we are comforted by our faith. As the world seems to head off towards ‘hell in a handcart’ we are sustained by our belief in a God who pulls good out of adversity and who gives us courage in the face of danger. Today our young people and some church members were out in our community taking food assistance to about twenty families that we have, for some time, been supporting through regular food assistance. Our leadership team met yesterday to work out how we will respond to the crisis facing our community. Together we are trying to plan what help and assistance we can give, from whatever it is that we have.

Every morning I meet with our older children for a short devotional time – a Bible study, chat and prayer. We were reminded how Jesus expects us to help our needy neighbours. Verse 44 of Matthew 25 says: “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry, or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and would not help you? The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.’”

Matthew 25 challenges us to look out for each other in a way that goes beyond the boundaries of our immediate circle. Hiding behind the headlines of global economic disaster and medical crisis and in spite of the lock downs, social distancing and hand sanitizing, I am sure there are countless stories of people ‘going the extra mile’ and caring for each other in the face of adversity. I hope that these stories will be a lasting legacy of the Covid Pandemic. That they will be a blueprint for the new world that gets up from the ashes of the Coronavirus firestorm that has razed so much of what is familiar to the ground.

Despite living in a country where there are less than 150 (ICU) beds equipped for the medical storm ahead, I still feel privileged to be here. Tonight I’ll sit on the veranda of the ECD classroom with Judi and watch the sun go down. I’ll praise God for the wonder of His creation. Maybe there will be a storm to watch. Even if I sit right in the middle of it I will not fear. I’ve never felt the need to be close to God more than I do now. For all the worries I might have, worries about feeding the children in our home and keeping them safe, worries about what is happening to all the children and young people that should be here, learning and eating with us every day, worries about loving our neighbours in a real way, worries about what happens after it’s all over, I choose to keep my trust in God.

Showing my age somewhat, there is a line in an Eagles song (Long Road Out of Eden) that says:

“Somebody whispering the 23rd Psalm, dusty rifle in his hand.”

That might be happening in America right now. I was horrified and dismayed to read that gun and ammunition sales have soared in America since the Pandemic arrived there. We can only pray that it doesn’t come to that. But the 23rd Psalm is an inspired and inspiring scripture.

“Even if I go through the deepest darkness,
I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me.
Your shepherd’s rod and staff protect me.”

Some of you reading this might take issue with God, with the whole idea of God. In the past I know I would have. But right now I am struggling to understand what is happening across the world. The only thing that makes sense to me is the belief that when it is all over we won’t go back to being the same; that the Coronavirus Pandemic will change and transform not just our material world but change and transform each of us.

I’ve heard many preachers say “I’m sure that when you leave church today you won’t be the same as when you came in, that you will have got something.” Too often I’ve thought that those words were just a sad old cliché. I guess I still do. I find it incredible that, all over the world, this virus has had the power to shut down the churches, the mosques, the temples and all places of worship … including the football stadiums too. I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world who is wondering what God is up to. At the moment I honestly don’t know. I’m fairly sure that, whatever it is, God is calling us to something radically new. It’s a tragedy that the thing we have “got,” the thing that has brought this change is a weird, alien looking virus. But I pray that, wherever it came from, we won’t forget the lessons it is teaching to those of us still willing to learn.

Link to Eagles song Long Road Out of Eden 

VERY  appropriate lyrics for now!

Monday, 24 February 2020

Down on the Farm

I’ve done a lot of different jobs since I left school. That makes me very fortunate really. I’m part of a generation that was lucky enough to enjoy good fortune in the job market for a very long time. It’s not exactly a ‘cool’ generation to belong to these days. We ‘boomers’ have to put our hands up to some of the world’s current problems I guess. It’s a sobering thought to dwell on – fixing the planet is likely to be a lot harder than breaking it was. So ……I’m doing my bit by developing our Agribusiness projects. Specifically aquaponics, rearing fish fingerlings, organic crop production and cricket farming. To that end I’ve had a good day down on the farm today.

Actually, it’s also very sobering thinking about the prospects for the agriculture industry in Africa right now. Everybody will be familiar with the idea of drought related famine in a number of African countries. Climate change is affecting us all and farmers all over the world are wondering just how they will cope with farming in the future, as climate change makes previously taken for granted assumptions about seasons and planting very uncertain. We’ve certainly noticed the change here in Kosele since we first started out in 2002. Back then growing seasons were much more predictable. Harvests were better and farming was more productive.

Climate change, huge as it is, is not what boggles my mind the most. For the pioneering farmer the future has enormous potential in Africa because of predicted population growth. The population of Africa is going to double between now and the middle of the century. That’s in thirty years’ time. It is an unimaginable situation. An exciting and at the same time horrifying prospect. It creates an enormous market but also carries the seeds of potential conflict over scarce resources. With my ‘glass half full’ head on I’m believing for the best.

In that spirit I’m planning to continue planning and scheming with our great farm team to increase fingerling numbers and maximise our crop production. We were in rescue mode in the fingerling hatchery this morning, doing a quick water change in one of our two thousand litre tanks which had become a bit deoxygenated. The five hundred fingerlings that we rescued are our first real ‘harvest’ and the guys did a good job of making sure they will survive for long enough to get them to market.

I never imagined that I’d become a farmer but I’m increasingly led to the conclusion that farming will become more important than any other sector here in Africa. It’s very hard to persuade young people that there is any kind of future in agriculture. They have understandable ambitions for safe office jobs with good prospects and see working on the farm as the worst kind of torture. We’re learning as we go along with all of our ventures. It’s very much a ‘two steps forward, one back’ kind of experience, but I couldn’t ask for a better team to work with. I really hope that our progress as a fledgling Agribusiness will encourage at least a few of our young people to reconsider life on the farm.

Saturday, 8 February 2020

Do You Love Your Wife?

We had our first men’s group meeting since I’ve been back in Kosele today. I think that men’s meetings are an integral part of church life and have a strong commitment to them. It’s great sharing life with the men in our church. Unsurprisingly the same issues come up for us men wherever we are meeting.

Today we were looking at a scripture that is well know to many people – including non-Christians and people of other faiths. It’s a scripture that I like a lot because it is very short and easy to remember. In the Book of Mark chapter 12 vs 29-30 Jesus is dealing with the tricky question of what the most important commandment is. He tells the assembled crowd “The most important one is this ……. Love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second most important commandment is this: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’” This idea is the basis of the Golden Rule which enjoys massive popular support all over the world. Whether you have a faith or not it is very hard to disagree with what Jesus is saying here.

The two questions I wanted the guys to think about today were:

Do you love God? 
How do you know?

To make it easier to answer the question our starter for 10 was the question “Do you love your wife?” (Most of us are married so it wasn’t a hard or unfair question.) Everybody who had a wife, obviously, said “Yes.” The “how do you know?” question was a bit trickier. One of the guys came up with an absolutely fantastic answer. He said:

“Your neighbours will say ‘I can see you love your wife.’” Simple. But incredibly powerful.

The same answer is true for the question about loving God. “Your neighbours will say ‘I can see that you love God.’”

In just the same way that marriage has its ups and downs so does our relationship with God. In the end though we live our lives out in a public arena. We can put on a front in our marriage and in church but people aren’t fooled and neither is God.

I hope my neighbours would say “I can see that you love your wife and love God” more days than not.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Early in the morning

Every weekday morning I try to be at the gate to our compound at about 6:45 a.m. to greet students coming to school. When we’re back in the UK any time around 6 a.m. feels like an alien time zone, especially in the late autumn and winter months. Out here in Kenya it’s hard to have a lie in. Early morning is a great time as the birds start to get the day going, the sun starts beaming and the piki-piki motor bike taxis roar up and down our road.

To be honest I only really catch the stragglers from the High School as they come through the gates. Most of the students are in their classrooms ready to go by about 6:35. I’m usually joined by the ‘teacher on duty’ for the fifteen minutes before the bell rings for the first lesson of the day. We check on ties and tidiness and at five to seven, start chivvying the late arrivals in. I know the same scene plays itself out in schools at the beginning and end of the school day all over the world. It’s a bit of a ritual, but like most rituals it is reassuringly familiar and settling. 6:55 is the significant boundary time for late arrivals. At 6:55 I step out of the compound to the side of the road, looking for green shirted students in the distance who now know they will have to run the last couple of hundred yards if they’re going to get to their lessons on time. It’s generally the same students. It becomes a bit of a game.

Every morning I’m amazed how courteous, smart and ‘serious’ our students are. In the UK I used to dread the prospect of a uniform crackdown in school, as it would inevitably lead to a week or so of generally tedious confrontations with students who frequently didn’t really want to be in school in the first place and who couldn’t care less about the uniform regulations that we imposed on them. I remember feeling the same when I was a teenager. After the crackdown we’d return to the normal rules of engagement, having achieved nothing. It would be untrue to say that we don’t have any challenges with our students. We do. But they tend to be a result of their taking their education very seriously rather than the generational conflict that plays itself out in so many classrooms in more ‘developed’ countries.

Standing, first thing in the morning, by the side of our now tarmacked road, reminds me how fortunate I am to be out here, doing what I’m doing. It’s easy for me to be at work on time – I just have to get up and walk out of my front door. It sometimes seems a bit of a cliché to talk about the effort that young people have to make to get to school in Africa. It doesn’t make it any less true or impressive. It’s not just the distance that some of our students walk either – it’s the walk in the dark that they have to make when they’re aiming to be in by 6:30 and the mud they have to walk through when it’s hammered it down with rain for most of the night. I don’t know how they manage it. As a teenager I would have considered starting school at 7:00 a.m. a kind of child abuse. Our students don’t finish early either. The ‘candidate’ class (who will be sitting their secondary school leaving exam in November) don’t go home until 6:00 p.m. and the other three forms leave at five! They don’t complain – they would all feel cheated if they had their school day reduced.

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a challenging thing to do. Every morning our students amaze me with their steadfast determination to make it to school and their belief that school still counts for something. When some minor inconvenience upsets my applecart I’m thankful that I’m living and working in a place where there are so many people who remind me how thankful I should be for each day. It doesn’t make me a perfect person, but it does keep me focused and determined to make their morning journey worthwhile. School should still count for something.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Reboot -February 1st 2020

It’s been a while (6 years!) since I posted anything on my blog. It seems a bit odd deciding to take it up again now, but it does feel right. Blogging gets me into the discipline of reflecting on my day, my activities and probably most importantly, the state of my heart. If my blogging helps, inspires or motivates any body else it will be a bonus.

A few years ago I half-heartedly started reading a book called “People in Rural Development” by Peter Batchelor. I say half-heartedly not as a criticism of the book or the author but because my initial reading came at the end of a long period of immersion in similar texts. I think a bit of development literature fatigue had set in by then.

As it turns out rediscovering the book today has proved to be a great blessing (……. cue for a discussion on God’s perfect timing which I’m sure those of you who have experienced it will recognise.) The 2nd revised edition that I am reading was published in 1993. Checking on the details on Amazon I came across the following review - “Don't be put off by the age of this book, it raises some good questions that people considering working in rural development would be wise to consider.” Very much my experience.

I work in Kosele, a rural community in the west of Kenya, not far from Lake Victoria. My wife and I started a project in Kosele in 2002, consisting of a very small children’s home and a fledgling nursery school. Now we have grown into an Early Years class, Primary School and High School. The small Sunday School that we started in 2002 is now a church with a Kenyan pastor and a Youth Ministry. We are working hard developing sustainable agribusinesses in fish and fingerling farming using an aquaponics system and in rearing crickets for food security. It’s been an amazing journey for nearly 18 years now. Our website ( tells a bit more of our story (though it is need of a bit of an update!). Our most up to date news tends to be posted on Facebook these days at Enough of the gratuitous self-publicity!

In the foreward to the book, Barnaba Dusu writes “In order to make an impact on the majority of people in the developing countries one must remember that they live in rural areas whereas modern development seems to be geared towards cities. This has unfortunate results: people are attracted to such centres only to find that the facilities and the ways of life are different from those they have left behind in the villages. The result is that most of them “drown” in these towns, becoming useful neither to themselves nor to their communities.

Reflecting on our work in Kosele so much that was written in 1993 seems just as true (if not even more so) in 2020. Peter Batchelor dedicated himself to the development of poor communities in rural Africa and shows a deep understanding of the possibilities as well as the barriers to achieving success in this essential work. One sentence at the beginning of Chapter one (appropriately titled “People First”) really inspired and challenged me. It said:

“We do need .. to bring people back to the point of wanting to make the sacrifice that most change calls for.”

It rocked me because it made me face up to the fact that it refers to me just as much as it does to the people in the community that my wife Judi and I are working with to try and bring about change and improvement. Two scriptures sprang to mind.

Matthew 16:24 “Then Jesus said to His disciples “If anyone wishes to follow me [as my disciple], he must deny himself [set aside selfish interests] and take up his cross [expressing a willingness to endure whatever may come] and follow me.” (Amplified Bible) …….. This prompted the question is it possible to follow Jesus as anything other than a disciple?

Luke 14:28 “But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise you might complete only the foundation before running out of money and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it.” (New Living Translation)

I’m sure that losing stamina and failing to work truly sacrificially are two reasons why it is so hard to make a real, lasting impact in the kind of work that we do. Peter Batchelor’s book is written as a life saver for those rural migrants who end up “drowning” in the city and as an inspiration to those with a heart for rural development.

In the foreward it says “Life in the rural areas should be made attractive and profitable with a view to keeping these people in their homes and in their surroundings. In these pages we find some of the ways of achieving this. The lessons are taught with a Christian bias in order to care not only for a person’s body but for his soul.”

Amen to that!

Saturday, 6 December 2014


It’s been a while since the last post. There are a number of reasons for this but I think the most significant centre on focus and purpose. As I have written previously it has been quite challenging adjusting to the most recent steps in the Hope and Kindness journey. Judi and I have seemed to have so many different things to do that it has been hard gaining traction on any of them. Fortunately God hasn't lost track of where we are. His hand points us in the right direction. When you feel you’ve been walking round in circles for a while it comes as a great relief when God points and says “Go that way.”

My most recent epiphany has come about as a result of:

  • Watching a lot of old detective series on the Alibi channel (New Tricks and Lewis especially!) 
  • Re-reading a John Maxwell book called “Be All You Can Be: A Challenge To Stretch Your God Given Potential.”
  • Making a tough decision.
  • Receiving some good news immediately after making the tough decision.
I like to feel that I am well informed, knowledgeable and highly competent before acting. I guess a lot of people feel the same. This attitude has helped me on a number of occasions. It has also, unfortunately, often led me to a state of decision paralysis. I don’t have Eureka moments all that often but I had one this evening. In the John Maxwell book I came across one of the most challenging questions I've ever read. John Maxwell asked:

“If you could be anything you wanted to be and do what you wanted to do, what would you be or do?”

It really made me think. After thinking for a while, an important truth dawned on me. One which will, I hope, help me to prepare for next year in Kenya much more effectively.

Life isn't about knowing all the right answers. It’s about asking the right questions.

The Alibi channel might seem like an unlikely source of inspiration, but asking the right questions is what all the best detectives do.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Unsung Heroes and Heroines

Judi and I have just got back from speaking at Riverside Elim Church in Bewdley. Yesterday we returned from spending three days in Wales. I mention this because I am feeling quite overwhelmed by the love and care that we receive from friends who believe in what we are doing in Kenya. They really are the unsung heroes and heroines that keep Hope and Kindness going.

In our talks I have sometimes spoken about the work of a lady called Sarah De Carvalho. I hope she won’t mind me sharing some of the things that she wrote in her book called A Survival Guide for Frontline Living. In the book she writes:

“Despite my unworthiness, the Lord asked me in 1990 to give up my career in television, my comfortable apartment in London, my family and friends, to go to Brazil to rescue children living on filthy streets because they have nowhere else to go.” Sarah De Carvalho is a lady who knows about missionary work!

I read the book some time ago but it’s message has stuck with me over the years, mostly because it rightly acknowledges the massive amount of work and dedication that has to happen behind the scenes to keep missionaries ‘in the field.’ She starts the book with a sad, but inspiring, story.

“Once upon a time there was a small village built at the edge of a very wide and fast flowing river. One day a young boy fell in the river and he started to cry out for help. Everyone in the village ran to the river to see if it was their son who had fallen in. There was panic as the small boy kept disappearing under the rapids. Suddenly a teenage boy, renowned for his swimming prowess, found a long thick cord and tying one end around his waist he threw the other end into the crowd. ‘Grab hold of the cord!’ he cried as he dived bravely into the river after the drowning child. The crowd ran along the bank with bated breath. Eventually the teenager reached the boy and locking him in his arms he called out exhausted, ‘Pull the cord!’

On the riverbank there was chaos as everyone looked at everyone else, repeating the desperate cry of the teenager, ‘Pull the cord, pull the cord!’ Then the appalling truth dawned. No one had grabbed hold of the other end of the cord. Each one had thought that someone else was holding it. And the two boys drowned.

The moral of the story is obvious. As the writer says it is a parable about mission. Fortunately for us the Hope and Kindness rope is being held tightly by many people. Tonight I’d like to thank a few of them for holding the rope for us over the past few days. Thank you Jon and Fiona for Wales. Thank you Annie, Liz, Val and Bernadette for organising tonight in Bewdley and thank you to the man who gave £10 to Val and Liz in Marks & Spencer this morning. Thank you for holding our rope so tight that we won’t drown.