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Building bridges, community and faith in Albania

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A men’s group supported by BMS World Mission in Albania is bringing people from different cultural backgrounds together to talk about God, their lives and (naturally) a bit of football.

It seems like a simple concept – five men sitting around a table having a BBQ each Tuesday. They chat about life, spirituality, football and everything in-between. It may even seem common for a men’s church group in the UK, but it isn’t in a country like Albania. Especially not for men. 
In Tirana, Albania, this unique men’s group is connecting people in a remarkable way. “It’s grown beyond our expectations,” says Mat Gregory, a BMS mission worker who leads the ‘Eat, talk, pray’ men’s group. In the space of only one year members have increased from five to 20 men.
It’s really rare to get a group of men in Albania to meet in a structured way like this outside of working hours, particularly to chat about spirituality. Most of the men who meet together have never been to church, but they have been very open to discussing faith. Mat believes it all comes down to the consistent attendance. As relationships have strengthened, it’s created an open and respectful environment where the men feel comfortable enough to share more personal feelings. “For men here, this is quite hard,” says Mat. “They’re less open and a little more suspicious of one another. It’s taken longer, but the group has reached a deeper level. And to reach that level where they talk about issues that don’t come naturally for men is really great.”
It’s also not natural to get such a diverse group of men together. They range in ages from 15 to late 60s and they come from different cultural backgrounds. Men from Egyptian, Roma and Albanian backgrounds sit together around the same table. “It’s exciting,” says Mat. “Usually these communities don’t connect very well together. Bridges are being built between neighbours that previously wouldn’t have wanted to.”
The success of the men’s group sparked a women’s ‘Eat, talk, pray’ group to start too. “It immediately touched on something that was really important for the women in this area,” says Mat. “A sense of community.”
Naturally, women get together more often with their neighbours in Albania, but this group is enhancing their connections with each other and enriching their spiritual understanding. “As they talk about their joys and struggles, they’re doing it in this new context where it’s framed in a way that says ‘there is a heavenly Father who cares for you in all of this too,’” says Mat.
There’s also hope that a new group will form. “There’s been individuals from both groups who want to go on a more in-depth spiritual journey,” says Mat. “So we’re hoping to create a group that will follow a more structured discipleship programme.”
These informal church groups are simple – gathering around a table to share food, life and faith. But, they are also extraordinary. Beyond the table, they are helping people connect with each other, despite differences, and to see God in a whole new light.
Who knew? All you need is a BBQ, chats about football and a bit of structure to get people talking about faith and looking past differences.

This week’s Prayer request from BMS World Mission

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  • Praise God – despite the bleak religious landscape in Europe, Evangelicals are growing in strength and confidence. Pray for BMS World Mission as we support them.
  • Disillusionment with the emptiness of secularism often leads to an interest in spirituality. Pray for BMS workers and European believers as they make Jesus known.
  • Economic, political and social upheaval and uncertainty may cause Europeans to ask questions about morals and meaning. Pray BMS workers will be able to respond.
  • Pray that BMS will help dynamic Christians who have moved to Europe from the Global South to be integrated and active in the Church.
  • Pray for BMS workers Ann and David MacFarlane, retiring after 24 years of continuous service in Italy. Pray too for the church they are leaving.
  • Give thanks for Tony Peck and Helle Liht, leading the BMS-supported European Baptist Federation (EBF), offering leadership, counsel and encouragement.
  • Pray for wisdom and strength for EBF indigenous missionaries, supported by BMS, who are sharing the gospel in their countries.

Nepal Earthquake

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Nepal earthquake anniversary: helping a man called Krishna

Two years on from the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal, BMS World Mission writer Hailey went to Gorkha, one of the areas worst-hit by the devastation. When she got there, a man named Krishna was waiting for her.

Krishna sits cross-legged in front of us, ready to tell us his story. His mother, Pahilee, sits down right behind him. I can see in the lines spread across her face that things have not been easy for her and her son. Neighbours begin to flood the room. The small house fills up with men, women and children. It seems like they’re here partly because of curiosity and partly because of their love for Krishna. 
Two years ago, almost to this day, Krishna’s small, one-roomed house was completely destroyed when a massive earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, rocked his country. The roof and walls that protect me as I listen to his story are only here because of the gifts UK Christians gave to BMS’ Nepal earthquake appeal.
Hardship began for Krishna long before the earthquakes. He went blind when he was just four years old. He is now 44. “I don’t know what the world looks like,” says Krishna, tilting his head towards the floor. “I don’t remember.”
Growing up, he and his mother never had much money and barely had sufficient food to survive. “We do farming to make a living,” says Krishna. “But we never have enough for the entire year. We only make enough to last us three months.”
Krishna explains how the earthquakes made their lives even more precarious.
“Life was really hard after the earthquakes,” he says. “We had to live in the cow shed and temporary housing and it just caused more problems for us. It was really hard because my mother is getting older too.”
BMS has been helping Krishna. We’ve been working with a trusted partner on the ground in Gorkha to help the most vulnerable people in the district recover after the earthquake. Thanks to you, we are helping to rebuild homes for over a hundred people with disabilities in the area.
“Our new house is very good,” says Krishna. I’m told how it was built according to new government regulations to ensure that it is earthquake-proof. The hope is that this house will withstand any future disasters.
“We are so thankful,” says Krishna. “It feels good to live here now and we feel safe.”
Krishna lives a steep climb up a mountain in Gorkha. I’m a runner and even I find the incline leaves me straining. Out of breath. The greeting of “Namaste” and a smile are a relief when I arrive.
Krishna’s home is small and simple. It’s dark inside and there are two bed frames with no mattresses and a straw mat on the floor. That’s about it. He and his mother insist that our group sit on the bed frames while they sit on the floor. A woman comes in and places pink home-made flower necklaces and yellow scarves around each of our necks. Their kindness is humbling.
This little home, which many back in the UK or where I’m from in America wouldn’t think much of, means the world to Krishna and his mother. I can see it in the way he clutches his chest when he says, “we are very happy you helped us.”
As our Land Rover begins its descent from Krishna’s home up high in the mountains, it begins to rain. It’s like the tears welling up for Krishna and his mother. For all of the people I’ve met and spoken with today. Heaviness swells inside me and I feel like I can’t breathe.
Nilisha, my guide for the day, interrupts my thoughts from the back seat. “Hailey, look out of the window, that’s where we’re going next.” I look outside, and there it is – a beautiful rainbow cascading over our mountain to the next, right over Gorkha. I always think of God and his promises when I see rainbows, and all of a sudden I have this reassurance. Even though life is hard for these people – and it is still so hard – God is taking care of them. BMS and Christians around the world are playing our part. There is more to do. But we are still helping.
I breathe again.

BMS has given over £700,000 towards earthquake recovery in Nepal, responding to the needs of some of the worst-affected people in the aftermath of the disasters, and continuing to help the most vulnerable two years on.

This has only been possible because of your gifts and your prayers.

Thank you.

News From Philip Halliday

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Developments in Kosovo

It is almost six years ago now that BMS changed the direction of its work in Kosovo by having a team move into an ethnic minority enclave. The goal of their ministry was and is three-fold: to empower children (and girls especially), to foster community cohesion(in what is a post-conflict society), and to share and nurture faith (in what is a nominal Orthodox context).

Research undertaken by our team revealed that one of the most significant ways they could make a positive impact on the community was by providing educational activities for pre-school children and by creating a community play area for families. Accordingly, programmes were designed to enhance and develop the children’s learning skills, as well as increasing their knowledge of English, and a much needed recreational area was built in the garden of a rented Centre.

Six years on, the community speaks highly of our team and perceives them to be consistent and reliable in what is a rather unstable context. Our team has built good relationships with the different sections of society and has developed to become the only NGO in Kosovo (to our knowledge) that works across the different ethnicities.

The mix of children and young people attending our team’s programmes is likely to increase further as
we begin working more closely with a local Kosovan NGO that is focused on the Roma. It should be
noted that unemployment among the Roma currently stands at 92% and that the social benefits paid by the government only amount to €75 per family per month.

The plan is to move our whole operation to the administrative headquarters of the local Kosovan NGO. It is close to our present Centre and next to a Roma settlement. Beyond the offer of physical space, there
is real potential to develop a measure of collaboration in the areas of Early Years education and English Language teaching (across a wider age range).

Once again, the BMS Action Team is playing an integral role in assuring the success of the project in Kosovo. Their contribution goes beyond the help they provide in our Centre and playground. In a community that functions like a large village (despite there being a population of 30,000), the Action Team-ers stand out and are quickly known.

Do pray for Robert and Rose (both teachers) who joined our Kosovo team in January and for Holly and Toby who (after ve years) will be nishing and returning to the UK in June.

French Baptist church-planters

As is our custom, we gathered together the French Baptist church-planters in early February (around 35 of us) for two days’ sharing, teaching, encouraging and planning.

We invited a spiritual ‘father’, a Swedish church- planter who has served in France for almost 50 years, to tell us about some of his experiences (positive and negative) and to draw lessons from them. What an encouragement!

We invited everyone to work on defining and articulating their vision, in each location. We spent time in worship. We shared news and prayed for one another. In the evening, we also shared culinary specialities that we had brought from our various corners of France.

The work in France is slow and unspectacular but the number of Evangelicals has nonetheless multiplied
by nine over the past 60 years. In addition, there would seem to be a fresh impetus for church-planting currently and a greater desire among the various Evangelical denominations to work together. Do pray for us.

Changing roles

After 16 years’ travelling, we are going to be stepping down from our BMS regional leadership role in September and will return to being fully seconded to the French Baptist Federation once more.

What the French Baptists are requesting is that we build on our current leadership of their ‘Home Mission’ team, with a view to further developing the church- plants and, in addition, trying to strengthen some of the more fragile congregations through visiting, training, coaching, and so on.

Part of our time will continue to be devoted to a wider BMS role, however, in that we will still carry some delegated responsibility for BMS’ partnerships with the French Baptist Federation and with the International Baptist Theological Study Centre in The Netherlands. That means that, happily, we will still have the opportunity to support our BMS colleagues around France and in Amsterdam.

These past 16 years in the regional role have seen us travel to 34 different countries. We have taken close to 500 flights and 200 InterCity trains and made 230 road trips, sleeping in nearly 500 different beds!

We will be sad to conclude what has been such an enriching and fulfilling regional role but, that said, we are a pastoral couple at heart and are looking forward to returning to more local church ministry. There is an advert for Philip’s successor on the BMS website currently and he/she will hopefully be appointed on Thursday 13 April. Please do pray on that day (and beforehand) that God’s will may be clearly discerned.

With warm wishes and
our thanks for your support, Philip and Rosemary

If you would like to support Philip and Rosemary by prayer and committed regular giving, visit bmsworldmission.org/partners or call 01235 517617 for a 24:7 Partners lea et.

BMS

24:7 partners Turning compassion into action

PO Box 49 129 Broadway Didcot Oxfordshire OX11 8XA Tel: 01235 517700 mail@bmsworldmission.org bmsworldmission.org

Baptist Missionary Society: registered as a charity in England and Wales (number 233782) and in Scotland (number SC037767)

A visit from Kathryn Smith – Mission Worker

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Kathryn visited us recently and told us about the work she is about to be involved in in Thailand – read below her talk.

Hi, I’m Kathryn and I am currently training for mission with BMS at their training centre in Birmingham. Before moving to Birmingham, I lived in Wantage, South Oxfordshire and I am a children’s nurse working in a children’s hospice in Oxford.

I have grown up in a Christian family and mission has been within my family, my grandparents were missionaries in the 1960’s with SIM and worked in Nigeria, then in their head office in London. Also, my dad has worked for BMS at Baptist House in Didcot.

I was in my late teens while at a Soul Survivor youth camp, when I felt God first call me into mission. I felt He wanted me to go and reach out to the lost, show people His love and mercy.

As I started to explore what this calling might involve, I was doing a child care course at college and believed God tell me to train as a paediatric nurse.

So I went and filled out my uni applications. Because of the child care course, I thought I would be a strong candidate for a paediatric nurse and I would easily get a place. However, I did not get in anywhere! Feeling very disheartened and confused, wondering what God was doing, I decided to take a gap year and reapply for the following September.

But I’m so glad I got that gap year. I had the opportunity to do some travelling and I got a job as a carer at Douglas House Hospice for young adults in Oxford. Throughout that year I gained confidence and lots of valuable experience, which, really helped me with my nursing training and this is when God gave me a heart for palliative care.

During that year I reapplied to do my nursing training. I got into Southampton Uni and started the course in September 2007. Over those 3 years I devised a plan where, once I was qualified I was going to work for a couple of years and then go aboard into mission, however, this was not God’s plan and it was 5 years later when I felt God saying it was the right time to go into mission. knowing myself back then I don’t think I would have lasted very long on the mission field and it would have ended up being a short trip.

Since that first calling into mission, I’ve taken some opportunities to do some short-term mission trips. For the summers between 2005-2007 I went to Jerusalem, to help run a summer camp for Palestinian children who had disabilities and carry out maintenance work in a children’s medical centre . For my nursing elective in 2010 I went to Thailand with BMS and worked in Hope Home, which carers for children with disabilities. And in 2011, I went to Durban in South Africa to work in a centre for children on the streets. These trips, gave me a glimpse into life on the mission field and thankfully confirmed my calling into mission. These trips, alongside my work as a nurse has developed a passion to work with marginalized people and help them reach their full potential despite their situation in life.

After my trip to South Africa in 2011, things went a bit quiet. I had assumed after my nursing training it wouldn’t be long until I would be on the mission field but I had yet felt God telling me to go. During this time, I really started to question my calling. I enjoy being a nurse, and after working on the neonatal unit for 2 years in Oxford I went back in palliative care, working in children’s hospices, developing my career and skills. I have, also, got very involved in the life of my church.

I was beginning to wonder if I had misinterpreted what God was saying to me, were the short term mission trips enough? Or had I made it up in my head as a young person. However, something within me never let up and I knew it would never sit right with me until I had fulfilled that calling. Thankfully at the start of 2015 I felt God tell me to go. I applied to BMS and after several interviews I was accepted in November 2015 to go to Thailand.

In September 2016, I started my training at BMS, International Mission Centre (IMC) in Birmingham. My training will finish on the 7th of April and then I will have around 5 weeks to get ready for flying to Thailand on the 12th May.

When I first arrive in Thailand, I will be doing language learning in Bangkok. Once I’ve completed my language training I will move up north to Chang Mai to start working on 2 projects that BMS are involved with. Hope Home and Church of Christ in Thailand AIDS Ministry (CAM)

Hope Home specializes in foster care for children with disabilities. In Thailand people living with disabilities are stigmatized against, and many families are too poor to afford specialized treatment. Children may face prejudice in their day-to-day lives outside the home. Knowing that society is hard on the disabled, families can become over-protective and may commonly prevent the child from venturing outside the home.

Hope Home provides ongoing care for children, medical and nutritional support, giving physiotherapy and lots of fun activities as well and is a support for those in the community with disabilities. I hope to be getting involved with the care of the children and to do some training for the carers.

CAM is a BMS partnership and is Christian organization which work in the prevention of HIV/AIDS and cares for people living with disease.

In Thailand there are 44,000 people living with HIV in a population of about 67 million. After sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Pacific is the region with the largest number of people living with HIV and AIDS.

CAM runs 4 different projects:

-Home based care-CAM workers will visit families affected by HIV/AIDS once a month to assess their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.

 

-Education Pro- CAM mostly goes into schools, universities, church youth groups and provide education programmes on prevention and protection of HIV/AIDS. Will also raise awareness in the public through events like world AIDS day.

 

-Agape Home-Set up in Chang Mai in 1996 and is a home for children affected by HIV/AIDS. Also, housing and care for mothers and babies affected and provide home assistance for children HIV/AIDS in nearby villages.

 

-Baan Sabaay- ban means home and Sabaay means pleasant or peaceful. It is a hospice and rehabilitation centre for people with HIV/AIDS. I hope to be involved with developing palliative care service at Baan Sabaay.

News from Hope Home in Thailand

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Hope Home news:

Last prayer letter I spoke about the necessary move of Hope Home to new premises. So, on the day after my return from Home Assignment, we nally moved out from our old premises and moved all remaining stuff, children and staff over to our new and expanding premises. We will have a fantastic place and I am excited at the way all aspects are coming together, but temporarily we are all adjusting to living in a house which is in the process of being built around
us.  All our mobile children are exhibiting skills in brick laying, plastering, oor laying, tile grouting ….the list is endless. Our handyman has single-handedly seen the vision of how to make something new (out of old reused material mostly) and we praise God for the provision of such a man with a heart to create the best home possible for our very special and dearly loved children. His faith in a God who would provide for all our needs is a true testimony…he saw the potential in this new house way ahead of the rest of us, and had the confidence to persuade us that God was leading
us to this point in the history of the family of Hope Home. We are renting a premises that is owned by a dear friend now back living in Australia and this house has previously been home to many orphaned children placed in her foster care until their adoption. It is wonderful to see this home once more be a shelter and place of growth and refuge for Thai children once more and a place where God’s love reigns.

Sometimes God’s timing of events seems odd to us, but more and more I am learning to trust in His timing, and know that He is in control. Two years ago we needed to send one of our 10 year old boys away to a large institution in Bangkok. I and a mission colleague have regularly visited Phil there and been praying for a way to return Phil to his lifelong home and family. This has been a tough two years for us, and for Phil too, so it has been wonderful that last week the way opened and cleared for Becca and I to go to Bangkok and bring Phil back home. He is now under the direct foster care of Becca, and living next door to the new Hope Home, so we can all help in his upbringing and care. Phil is happy to be home, remembers us all, however he has lost a lot of weight, forgotten many of his previous skills but we can say with con dence that God is in this, and in His life, and that healing and restoration will surely come.

CCT AIDS Ministry news:

CAM is undergoing a name change, which will be formalised next month at the CCT Assembly…..we are becoming CCT Ministry of Health Promotion, and will be linking up administratively and practically more with the Social Development Unit and with the Child protection unit of the CCT. Our name may change, but our mission and vision to reach out in love, acceptance and understanding to vulnerable people, especially those affected by HIV and AIDS, will not alter. The needs continue, and we as a ministry know our work as Servants of God is not yet done. The name change is because of the stigma still associated with the notion of AIDS, so for the sake of our clients we are trying to remove the source of further stigma if associated with CAM. Let me introduce one of our staff members, Mit, who has a huge heart for helping vulnerable people from the ethnic minority groups, primarily the Lahu people groups. He tirelessly seeks ways to help link them with sources of help, increasing their own sense of self-worth and self-independence, and increasing their knowledge of a God who truly cares for them and is concerned for them above all human compassion. Pray for him and his family, dedicating their lives to helping fellow Lahu people.

Thank you for the support and encouragement of the ministries here in Thailand, through your prayers, letters and emails and through your financial giving. Your generosity through BMS reaches into the hearts and lives of many people here, and on their behalf, thank you. Please consider regular support of BMS through the 24:7 Partner Scheme. The details of this can be found on the BMS website.

May God richly bless you in all that you are and do for Him wherever He has placed you, and I pray you know the peace and joy that comes from serving our Lord and Saviour.

Prayer points

• For the staff of Hope Home to know the Lord as their Saviour and closest friend

• For continued good health for all the children at Hope Home and in the respite care programme

• For Mit and his work among the Lahu people group, especially for those with HIV

• For wisdom and good time management skills for me please, and a renewed desire to be open to serve the Lord in whatever way He requires

Praise points

  • For protection over the Hope Home children, and for excellent health care facilities provided by the government.
  • For continued openness to be a Christian witness in Thailand despite changing political situations.Yours in ChristJudy Cook

Mexborough Baptist Church – Exciting Times

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At the YBA we love to hear stories from our churches! One of our Home Mission-supported churches in South Yorkshire – Mexborough Baptist Church – has been really inspirational over the last year in the way the church has connected with its community and is building on those links.

Pastor Denise Lancaster (pictured) takes up the story:-Denisemugshotsm

“It’s so exciting being a Home Mission church. We’re acutely aware of our restrictions and, frustratingly at times, lack of funds to grow God’s kingdom on Windhill in Mexborough. Yet the Great Commission is to the small and large church alike, the same commission whether we’re rich or poor, and to the best of our ability we connect with our community, businesses and organisations in the town.

“The Memory Café which launched in October 2016 in collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Society, is going well. As a church, we felt it was our moral duty to help a group who have no money to spend on rent, and let them use our building for a year rent-free. One of our members, a retired nurse, is being trained as a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Society, and will be our link person with the Memory Café.”

Denise says she had also been invited to present Christingle services in two mental health rehabilitation centres.

“This is the fourth year I’ve been asked to do this. I took one person from church with me to each of the services and it was great to be able to share the good news of Christmas with the patients and pray with those who asked for prayer.

“For Advent Sunday the Scout leaders, with the help of 25 pieces of card and a washing line, took us through 25 aspects of Advent – the adventure of expectation looking forward to Christmas.
And Mexborough Funeral Service – interested in our Advent theme – offered to donate Advent calendars for all the children.”

Some of the calendars were shared at another of the church’s ministries, continued Denise.

“We had some calendars left, and took these to our monthly service at a supported housing complex and repeated the 25 days of Advent with the residents. After this we were all treated to fruit cake and cheese by one of our regular attenders. We’ve been leading the service for a couple of years now. It came about because one of our members is a resident there and can no longer come to church. We approached the housing complex to see if we could bring the service to him and any others who might be interested.

“The small group of residents call it their church and it’s interesting how it’s developed. One regular attender made a wooden cross, others the communion tray – and others provide the tea, coffee and cake. They really own it, and one gentleman who, due to his condition hadn’t been to church for so long, looks forward to church every month. He felt alone and abandoned, hardly ever visited by those he thought were his friends.  He meets with one of our team every week who has taken him on a journey of finding Christ for himself.
 
“We have the church’s Christmas dinner at the same supported housing complex and this time 66 people attended – the largest proportion from the Royal British Legion (I was asked to lead the British Legion Remembrance service at the Mexborough War Memorial this year). There was also a group from our own Scout leaders, plus people from the supported housing and our own church people. It was a great afternoon with quizzes and carols after the dinner.
 
“Avalunch – the community café which meets at the church – also had their Christmas dinner with about 80 customers, some of whom attended the Christmas Community Communion as well. Avalunch has recently started supplying lunches to a local day centre. And in 2016, Avabrecky was introduced and is running once a week to provide breakfast to the local community, anything from a slice of toast and a cup of tea to a full English!

“At a recent Doncaster Council for Voluntary Services event, one of our long-standing volunteers, Peter Moore, was recognised and received the Senior Volunteer of the Year Award.  We were all so excited by this that we presented the award to him again at the Sunday service!

“We’re looking forward to 2017 and to seeing what opportunities the Lord is going to open up for us to let the people of Mexborough know that we are here and, more importantly, that Jesus loves them.”

The Nativity

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One of the many Nativities on display throughout Advent in the church.  This knitted Nativity was a favourite with many.

Advent In Great Missenden

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image3Christmas has been very busy in church this year;  we have been involved in the Festive evening when we invited visitors to dress up and take part in the nativity scene, we hosted a concert by Fiona Firth, our Carol Service last Sunday was very original and well received and we took part in the Tree Festival at St Peter and Pauls.