Christian Today Digest – Autumn/Winter 2013

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This is the last Christian Today Digest for 2013. From 2014, we hope to bring you this news update from the Christian Today website every month instead of quarterly. The news items will be chosen by our friends at

We hope you'll enjoy having more current news and comment, but if for any reason you prefer not to have the digest on a monthly basis, just let us know. The magazine is on the Torch website or you can have it by email, in various point sizes of giant print, on audio CD or in braille. Until now we have expected those needing large print to take our one-size-fits-all 22-point print! But now the choice is wider with the magazine available in 17, 20, 25 and 30 point sizes.

Thank you for all messages of appreciation for this digest - we are so glad it continues to prove informative and enjoyable.

Jill Ferraby and the editors

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10,000 toys for children in Syria

Leicestershire churches and faith communities have donated an estimated 10,000 toys for children affected by the conflict in Syria. The toys came in from members of the local Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Jewish communities.

Churches made special announcements in their services to raise awareness of the toy collection, initiated by local resident Sharen Ravat to bring some joy to families who have lost loved ones, suffered injuries and been made homeless.

Ravat said, "I pay tribute to the wonderfully generous people including many children who donated toys for this vital cause. What was particularly heart-warming was that so many of Leicestershire's different faith communities came together. Collectively they demonstrated their shared values of compassion and love for children who they will never know. I hope that these toys will bring a smile to their faces."

The toys were collected at St Philip's Church, Leicester, and filled seven vans. They will be delivered to children in Syrian hospitals and refugee camps by the UK-based charity, Hand in Hand for Syria.

Fadi Al-Dairi from Hand in Hand for Syria said, "The people of Leicestershire will make a lot of children smile. Leicestershire is amazing with its people."

The Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO) was one of the many faith organisations supporting the campaign.

FMO spokesperson Suleman Nagdi said, "We were privileged to be part of this superb charity effort which has collected a huge amount of toys which will bring happiness to so many children who are facing a major crisis. This effort which focused on children was greatly needed at a time when many are facing huge trauma and uncertainty. I pay tribute to Sharen Ravat who single-handedly had the vision to arrange this appeal which has united so many of the faith and non-faith communities for a common cause for humanity."

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Access to Bible resources

Church pastors living in remote parts of the world will be able to access Christian training resources thanks to a new app from Mission Aviation Fellowship. The Estante app is available to Android users for free and allows them to easily store, view and share Bible study tools wherever they are.

The app takes its name from the Spanish word for bookshelf, reflecting its function to give isolated pastors and church leaders a digital library they can access without the need for internet connection.

The app complements the ministry's main work in supporting remote Christian workers and communities through aviation. It has been developed to provide resources to the estimated three million isolated pastors around the world who have had little or no Christian training, and lack access to even the most basic resources, like a Bible commentary or dictionary. Despite the lack of Bible resources, many of them do own a mobile phone and MAF is tapping into this by developing suitable technologies.

The Estante interface has initially been made available in English, Spanish, Russian and French, with plans to add more languages soon. The library can store files created in any language and users will be able to share entire libraries with other Estante users and even very basic phones that do not have Estante.

"Estante gives isolated pastors a simple way to carry the Bible and Bible study tools anywhere they go," said Jay Clark of MAF-Learning Technologies. "For many, it will be the first time they'll have easy access to the Word of God any time they want."

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Alpha helps the curious find faith and friendship

It seemed like a fair swap - Nigel Rennie taught the Rev Andy Norris how to sail after Andy had taught him about Christianity.

Nigel helped his local vicar through his sailing exams to thank him for leading a 10-week Alpha course that explained the basics of faith. The 53-year-old sailing instructor and examiner was part of Andy's congregation at St Mary's Church, Warsash, before Andy, now 51, moved to become rector of St Mary's Church, Alverstoke, this summer.

And Nigel was one of 3.3 million people in the UK and 22.5 million people worldwide to experience Alpha. Participants meet one evening a week for a shared meal, to hear a talk about an aspect of Christianity and then to discuss those issues in small groups.

The philosophy is that no question asked is out of bounds, and participants can ultimately decide whether Christianity is for them. Alpha and other basic Christianity courses have helped millions to understand more about faith and become more involved in their local churches. Alpha is the most well-known of these courses. Other courses such as Christianity Explored or the Emmaus Discipleship Course also unpack the Christian message.

Andy and Nigel actually became friends when Nigel's son Thomas became seriously ill when he was just six weeks old. Thomas had a heart condition and was taken into St Mary's Hospital in Portsmouth, where his heart stopped twice. Andy visited the family in hospital. Nigel and his family had recently started coming to St Mary's Church in Warsash.

"I remember the first time Andy tried to visit, he didn't actually get there because his car caught fire on the M27," said Nigel. "But later he did get there, and it is out of that kind of adversity that friendships are often formed. I've been part of the military - in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers - and had been spiritual, but not religious. I'd visited war zones and had skippered army yachts, and I'd always found the padres to be good people to speak to.

"There were three incidents that made me think more about the preciousness of life. One was when I had to steer a boat into Crete in a Force 10 gale. Afterwards I sat in a church for a while, realising that I was mortal.

"The second was in 1997 when I was in a yacht in the Pacific. There was a Force 12 storm, the boat rolled over and was ultimately lost. We were in the water for two hours and the people sent to rescue us lost their lives.

"And the third was when Thomas was ill in 2005. The problem was eventually traced back to a nerve being trapped in his neck, and he is now in perfect health.

"Although I was attending church, it became more of a priority after Thomas was ill. I wanted to be a full member and to be confirmed. The Alpha course was in Andy's home and 12 of us sat around the dining table for a meal, and then in his front room to watch a DVD and talk. The whole ambience was good - it was adding to what we knew and it was fun.

"I was confirmed by the bishop in the cathedral in February 2012, and Alpha definitely made me feel happier in the church environment. The videos were brilliant and I'd say to anyone thinking about doing the course that they should do it. My kids loved Andy's services and the Messy Church at St Mary's, and we're pleased to be part of the church."

Meanwhile, Nigel had been helping Andy learn how to sail. They had sailed back from Cork in 2007, with Andy skippering for the first time from Falmouth back home. Then in 2012 Nigel helped Andy to prepare to sail around Britain, and mentored him for his sea survival and diesel engine courses. And he helped him through his yachts master offshore exam earlier this year. Nigel is an instructor/examiner for the Royal Yachting Association, so knew what would be required.

"Nigel was determined to get me through the exam before I left the parish," said Andy. "It was his parting gift to me, because if I'd done it commercially it would have been quite expensive."

And Nigel said: "I do think each of us should use our skills to help each other. You can't always help the person who helps you, but I was more than happy to help Andy through his exam as he had been such a support to me and my family."

A similar course to Alpha is Christianity Explored, which is run at St James' Church in Emsworth. It also involves a meal, a talk and discussion groups.

When Barbara Crick moved back to Emsworth, she started going back to St James Church, where she'd been as a child. She thought its Christianity Explored course would be a good way to get to know people. In fact, it's resulted in a deepening of her faith and prompted her to go to church more regularly with her sons Josh, 5, and Sam, 3. She's now part of a house group that studies the Bible and prays together.

"We moved back here two years ago after living and working in Cambridgeshire," said Barbara, now 33. "My husband Shaun had his own business, Hollybank Builders, and I started my own business, Emsworth Cookery School. So we could move to be closer to my parents.

"I went to St James Church occasionally and so did my mum. I'd always enjoyed church when I went as a child. I'd heard of Alpha, but not Christianity Explored, but it sounded like a good way to get to know people. So my mum and I went together.

"I was in a discussion group with others who were my age, and we all got on well. We could discuss anything. I remember being at a toddler group with Sam and hearing the story of Noah. I thought it sounded like God being quite mean, so I asked about that in my small group. I got answers to my questions, but it was interesting to hear people with different points of view in our small group. I think we recognised that there wasn't always a straightforward answer.

"I did the course a year ago, and I've joined a home group since then, which happens to include plenty of mums, and meets during the day. We can talk about issues like parenting and understand more about faith. I definitely don't feel as peripheral in the church, and I do make more effort to be there on Sundays.

"I'd say to anyone who was thinking about Christianity Explored that they should go for it. It's open to anyone and is a platform to ask questions. But if at the end you're not convinced, that's fine."

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Football chaplains team up for stadium events

The grounds of Charlton Athletic and AFC Bournemouth are more used to the sound of shouting and chanting but this Christmas they'll be filled with the festive sounds of Christmas.

It may not even be the end of summer yet, but plans are already afoot to hold carol concerts in the club grounds this Christmas. The concerts are being organised by Charlton's club chaplain and pastoral support director in English football for Sports Chaplaincy UK, Matt Baker, and AFC Bournemouth's Chaplain, Rev Andy Rimmer.

Christian mission charity HOPE is supporting the concerts in partnership with Sports Chaplaincy UK in preparation for HOPE's nationwide year of mission in 2014. Sports chaplains, community groups and local churches will be equipped to host their own Christmas carol services in sports grounds up and down the country.

The first services were piloted two years ago in Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Aldershot Town and Shrewsbury, and last year 15 clubs held carol services. This year, more than 50 sports stadiums are expected to host the carol concerts for fans and other members of the community.

AFC Bournemouth's chaplain, the Reverend Andy Rimmer said: "I enjoy getting to know the lads and occasionally training with them. We have pre-match prayer which a few of them attend. Sport is a tremendous gift from God and it's where people are. The carol service is a chance to celebrate Jesus' birth in a completely unique environment. We want this event to have a real community feel as well as being attended by supporters of the clubs."

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God's choice of instrument

By Dick Slikker

Preaching and writing often revolve around ourselves. Postmodernists posture, "How will it benefit me to believe in God? What does it mean for me?"

Christians should ask themselves: how can I be useful to God? How can I be an instrument for God or how can I give God's blessing to another?

God gives tasks, such as "make disciples of all nations". But God also gives principles as to how we should do that. To be a useful instrument for God, we have to know the "what" and "how" to act according to God's methods and principles.

At some point in the history of Israel there were two kings. They were both chosen by God and set apart and yet were so very different. Read further 1 Samuel 8:1-9. Samuel was old but his sons were not very virtuous. A problem between leaders and people arose and the two sides were not on speaking terms. Yet the problem was not resolved on their knees.

Their circumstances were much like our modern times and we see in the Old Testament how many times the Israelites made the mistake of, as Paul puts it, conforming to the world. There are indeed Christian leaders who preach about money or are big ego trippers and I know several Christians who do not go to a church or congregation as they have already dismissed the church and simply try to maintain the faith by themselves.

Christian analysts have looked into whether there are behavioural differences between Christians and unbelievers, and sometimes they have concluded that there are few differences. If that is the case, we cannot be a blessing and we have nothing to offer.

Dissatisfaction and conformity are not good facilitators. The Israelites wanted change without going on their knees; they were looking for the easiest solution. They asked for a king. Both Samuel and God were very sad about this. If we get an answer to prayer, it does not always mean that it is God's will. Sometimes God answers for our sake. God had this situation predicted in Deuteronomy 17:14.

We see that God chooses Saul. He won many victories and was a good leader. But suddenly, he breaks God's principles and as a result he loses his ministry. He would lead the people and serve, but God said, "I give it to another" (1 Samuel 13:13-14). There is "someone better than you" (1 Samuel 15:28).

Sometimes we can experience something similar. You're doing fine work in your church and suddenly you hear the words: we'll give your job to someone who is better than you. The rejection of Saul has nothing to do with being saved or lost, but God saw that Saul had not acted on God's principles. God can therefore stop a ministry or work. Saul acknowledged that he was wrong and he did not take God's methods and principles seriously.

There are people who wonder why God seems sometimes to be unfair. A former Bible teacher once said to me: if God can still use anyone 5%, He will do it. It's not about the percentage, but the principle that God wants to use everyone even if it is only partially and it goes against our own logic. The question for us is: are we content that God only can use us for a few per cent?

After a sinful Saul there was a "holy" David. Well, he made a lot more mistakes than Saul, like adultery, murder, did not raise his children, was rock hard, and wanted to know how great he was by the people and so on. And yet ... God called him a man after his own heart. God chooses David; election has nothing to do with salvation, but with ministry and works.

Samuel is sent out to anoint a new king. He comes to Jesse to choose from his sons and David is out in the dullness and monotony of the sheep. None of the brothers say "Dad, you forgot a son". The whole family did not think that Samuel had come for David but God saw something more and something much deeper.

God began to make David ready for his calling and this time it was to use David to the full percentage. Our whole life is God's school and he has all the time. Very often I hear the preaching: "You can come as you are". That is perfectly true, and yet half a message: "You cannot stay as you are."

To be useful for God you must follow his training and that is quite different from what we get at school. It is very interesting to study men of God in the Bible and see how God educates them. Moses learned for 40 years at the court of Egypt how to be a leader. Moses was "a somebody". Then Moses practised as leader of sheep and he got an intensive course on how to survive in the desert. Moses was "a nobody". The last forty years of the training was to see what God could do with a "nobody". Our whole life is a school for God's tasks in the future. On the grave of a Christian it cannot be inscribed: "Here rests". There is work to be done in our lifetimes.

How much "nobodies" are there in your church? Leaders may not think to ask him or her to do something and yet God says, "I'm going to prepare that person for My job". Of course we must look at the qualities of people for a certain task, but we will also need to look much deeper. It is too one-sided to only look for quality, which is short-term thinking. We must be alert to see where God invests. We have to delve into God's qualities to make a tool and instrument out of people. We have to understand what God considers as important and where God has sown.

Did David go after his anointing to buy a crown? No, he just went back to perform his daily work, he took up his responsibility in addition to the training of loneliness, monotony, boredom and reality.

Someone who wants to be a tool and instrument of God is trained. I was reading a book with this question: "What does humiliation mean to you"? David says this: "Your help has made me great" (2 Samuel 22:36).

David had problems and struggles; he had to fight with a lion and a bear. He might have complained and said, "Why do I always have this difficulty?" When he stood before Goliath, he understood ... it was training and preparation. Someone said it this way: "It's a Christian work to convert a pagan but it is a pagan work to convert a Christian."

God wants to make an instrument for His kingdom. If you want to be this, then your whole life will be training, training, training, lifelong training. Sometimes the lessons will be lessons. We will often ask "why?". We want to be an instrument of God? This is only in his principles, not of man. Obedience is the key. God is looking for people whose hearts are fully devoted to him (2 Chronicles 16:9).

I hear regularly lately: what can one person do in God's kingdom? Every person is unique. Each individual can do something the other cannot. David stood alone for Goliath and won. We now see that Christians get stuck where the blows increasingly fall. The question is, do we stay there?

Was there a difference between the method of Saul and David? I think David walked with God. Have you ever heard of the psalms of Saul? David discussed everything with God, his grief, his questions, his joy, he gave God the glory and thanks.

Developing our talents is very important. The spiritual impact or fruit of your ministry and works is determined by obedience to God's principles.

We are called God's workers (1 Corinthians 3:9) but what percentage will God be able to use us?

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Gospel seeds planted in Korean hearts

By Rob James

I am no social media geek but I am willing to admit that I do enjoy my casual ramblings around Facebook. It's good to see what my friends are doing and if I'm honest the photographs can prove useful too: they help me recognise them on the occasions we are able to meet up!

And just every now and again I stumble across a comment that really leaps out at me. I came across one such aside the other day when an old friend wrote: "God's work done in God's way and in God's time will never fail to reap God's reward."

I guess I was particularly drawn to the latter half of his sentence because just prior to that I had just been thinking about the way the Lord is currently demonstrating his faithfulness to us here in Wales.

Wales was once known as the land of revival. Indeed the last national revival within the United Kingdom was the Welsh revival of 1904-5. Given this heritage, and the fact that Wales had in any event regularly experienced revival during the 18th and 19th centuries one might suppose that, despite general 20th century decline, Wales would be faring better than most. But nothing could be further from the truth. The latest census figures are far from encouraging. In fact the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins has congratulated the people of Wales for being "ahead of the rest of the UK" in showing a decline in religious belief.

But it's not all doom and gloom because once again the Lord is ensuring that "what goes around comes around". In fact the Christian scene in Wales is benefiting from the gratitude of believers in Asia to the extent that the churches in Wales will be benefiting from their generosity for decades to come.

And history holds the key to it all. In 2012, the 60,000 strong SaRang Community Church in Seoul, South Korea forged a partnership with the Wales Evangelical School of Theology (WEST) in Bridgend. Until last year, SaRang had missionary bases all over the world, except in Europe. WEST is now its gateway and operations base for outreach into this continent. This investment will result in substantial scholarships to students and also a fund to develop church planting in the valleys of South Wales. This initiative, called Valleys Commandos, will create new expressions for the gospel in some of the most socially and spiritually deprived areas in Europe.

The reason cited for this generous donation is rooted in the Korean conviction that they owe their Christian heritage to the courage and devotion of a young missionary from Monmouthshire named Robert Jermain Thomas. Decades later, in 1907, Korean Christians were profoundly influenced by the Welsh Revival of 1904/5 too.

Similarly, in yet another intriguing partnership the former Bible College of Wales has been purchased by Pastor Yanh Took Yoong, founder of the Cornerstone network of churches in South Asia. This Pentecostal leader believes the outpourings in Wales and then in Azusa Street are foundational to his spiritual journey.

During a visit to Wales in 2011 while visiting the site of the now redundant Bible college in Swansea he sensed God telling him to purchase it. The site has been bought for £3million and a further £2million will need to be spent on refurbishing the property which is expected to host a church plant, a training academy and a place of intercession.

Some time ago Professor Dawkins waxed lyrical on BBC Radio Wales telling his audience that the research commissioned by his foundation meant that the outlook for Christianity in the UK was "even more pessimistic" than the latest census data suggested. I have a feeling that he's the deluded one - as far as Wales is concerned at least.

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Jesus Film and Faith Comes By Hearing mash-up Bible resources

Faith Comes By Hearing and the Jesus Film group are extending their longtime partnership to mash-up their extensive resources in support of the Bible.

What was unthinkable even a decade ago has now been made possible thanks to new technology and with mobile phones now able to play audio, text and video, the two ministries are tapping into these emerging possibilities by combining Faith Comes By Hearing's Digital Bible Platform and the extensive video inventory of the JESUS film.

Each ministry currently offers access to their own digital content via apps, websites and other digital expressions but in the last year, Faith Comes By Hearing has made it possible for people to access Jesus film content via its app.

With new API technology allowing full sharing of this content between organisations and across digital platforms, the latest collaboration between the two ministries brings together digital Bible text, audio and video in hundreds of different languages.

Troy Carl, FCBH vice president and architect of the Digital Bible Platform, states, "By sharing content digitally, ministries and Bible organisations effectively broaden their reach and strengthen their ability to bring the Word of God to the world. In this digital era, this is very much the church - the Body of Christ - working together as we are commanded to do in Scripture."

The partnership between Jesus Film Media and Faith Comes By Hearing means that millions of Bible users now have access to over a thousand language versions of The Jesus Film.

"We are excited about this breakthrough in both mobile technology and partnership which will resonate throughout the Kingdom and in every user's heart," said Jesus Film.

Carl added: "This is an exciting time to be a Christian and working to fulfil the Great Commission. Today's technology allows unprecedented sharing of content between partnering organisations and across so many different platforms and devices. Most importantly, it provides unmatched access to God's Word for the end user."

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Mission possible for Cardiff churches

A group of churches sharing the same postcode in Cardiff have joined forces to bring their communities together through the gospel message. A year-long mission - called I CF3 - was launched in January in the CF3 postcode area of the Welsh capital with the goal of transforming lives and restoring communities. Counties Cardiff evangelist Mike Thomas has been working with leaders from seven other churches in the area on a concentrated effort of outreach events.

So far this year the I CF3 team have held curry evenings, photography exhibitions, community picnics, coffee mornings, fun days and mega messy church sessions. A huge fireworks community event is planned for later this year.

Mike said: "The areas in East Cardiff are quite insular and people don't tend to go into the other areas. Through I CF3, we wanted to unite all the areas in this postcode. The churches have always kept each other informed and prayed together but we have never worked together on a focused campaign of mission and evangelism. So far we have seen a real encouragement from the turnout at events and we feel the church is getting itself noticed. It's also been great to see churches uniting and working towards one purpose - to share God's love in a practical way."

Martyn Pennington, centre manager at the Christian Beacon Centre, added: "This campaign is not about the postcode but the people. There are more than 37,000 people who live in East Cardiff and we hope that through working together we can make Jesus known in our neighbourhoods and make a real difference."

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Moody and HCJB Global partner in radio training across Africa

Moody Radio and HCJB Global have teamed up to provide training to Christian radio station personnel across Africa. The four days of training took place in Accra, Ghana, and involved 215 media professionals from 15 countries. The total number of participants was above the anticipated 150.

"This conference exceeded our expectations in an amazing way," said Stephen Asare, project co-ordinator for Moody Radio. "Originally we had room for 150 attendees but were able to accommodate 215. There is a great hunger for training in Africa."

The trainees learnt new skills in fundraising, production, interviewing, on-air presentation, web integration, emerging technology, video production and social media.

"The interaction with participants was dynamic," said Jon Fugler, vice president for advancement at HCJB Global, who brought expertise in fundraising to the training. "They shared their ideas with one another and planned real steps of action to take upon returning home. There was a strong spiritual aspect as well. We paused during the teaching for a prayer of thanksgiving that God is in control, despite the obstacles."

The training was supported by Theovision International and Africa by Radio, and took place to help radio workers meet their local challenges. In addition to seminars, participants had the opportunity to create short features and develop real content for broadcasting.

At the end of the training, they each received certificates of completion.

One African radio producer who took part in the training said it had given participants the resources "to make our work easier".

At the closing ceremony, the Reverend Theodore Asare, president of Theovision International and member of HCJB Global's board of directors, charged the trainees to make good use of their new knowledge and skill to promote their ministries, stressing that with the right training, Africans can be empowered to do even more than their counterparts in the West.

"We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with Moody Radio, Theovision International and Africa by Radio," said Fugler. "Together we were able to provide our African brothers and sisters with not just theory, but real tools they can use. This is the power of partnership."

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Out to disrupt

Even in his youth, Alan Hodgkinson enjoyed cycling to cause disruption. Motorbikes empowered him. On a Sunday morning, together with friends, he would race around the outside of a church to interfere with the service inside.

Now, Alan is still cycling to cause disruption. This time it's to help break the oppressive entrapment of poverty which puts Vietnamese children at risk. But a lot has happened to change Alan's tendency to cause havoc.

In the early 1970s, young Alan pursued his happy life which centred on motorbikes and cars. His family lived in Northwich, Cheshire. When his father took exception to a minister whom he felt was not helpful to local business, it gave Alan another outlet. That's when he and his friends had fun motoring around the church at high speed just to be troublesome.

One day, a minister from a different church, the Reverend C David Le-Seeleur of Barnton Methodist Church came into the garage where Alan worked. He invited Alan to a youth meeting. Staunchly convinced that there was no God, he turned down the invitation.

According to Alan, some ministers don't know when to give up because this was repeated. "He came back a third time," said Alan, "saying that someone could give me a lift to his home for the youth meeting. I finally said yes just to get the guy off my back!"

Instead, Alan was taken aback when he heard what others had to say.

"Someone talked about how Jesus came first in his life. He insisted that he would give up everybody and everything, if he had to, for Jesus. Yet he had the most incredibly gorgeous girlfriend. And I thought, 'You must be joking, mate.' But I realised, 'They've got something I haven't got ... I need to give this a try.'"

Within a few months, Alan acknowledged God and his own need to follow Jesus.

As a new believer, Alan built lasting relationships, which included a young teacher trainee named Sue who became his wife. Over the years, Alan's father longed to have the experience which he saw in his son. Toward the end of his life, he too was able to enjoy peace and fulfilment when he accepted Jesus as his personal Saviour.

Another youthful relationship was to lead Alan and Sue halfway around the world 40 years later. It began when Olive Palin, a friend of David Le-Seeleur who was often in his home, joined in the youth meetings. Olive and the Hodgkinsons continued their friendship throughout the years and when they moved on to other areas.

But Olive, an enthusiastic lady now in her 90s, moved on in other ways too. In 2006, she decided to sponsor a girl in Vietnam through Siloam Christian Ministries. This one step opened up a relationship with Thao Tho, her sponsored girl, and also her entire family.

"Tho is a wonderful girl," says Olive. "I'm so thrilled that her parents look upon me as their second mother."

Influenced by Olive's decision, Alan and Sue also started to sponsor a Vietnamese girl, Nhan. Last year in March, they travelled from their home in Corwen, Wales, to Vietnam and were able to spend quality time with Tho and Nhan and their families. Their trip proved life-changing in many ways as they recall the Vietnamese people with whom they bonded. They cite Nhan's parents as typical of hardworking but poverty-stricken people, determined to do the best for their children. Nhan's father mends fishing nets and her mother has to ride a bike all over Danang to deliver the nets. Yet their earnings are so meagre that keeping children in school presents a daunting hardship.

The Hodgkinsons' commitment to help these children and their families continues - even when it comes to 1,000 miles of cycling.

"Actually, I was just up for a challenge," admits Alan when talking about his sponsored bike ride. "After all, I'm 67 now, so I want to do it while I can."

Then Sue, who considers it "a bit mad", suggested, "Why don't you use your cycling to raise money for Siloam's child sponsorship in Vietnam?"

On the 1st of September, Alan faced up to the challenge of cycling 1,000 miles, which he describes as "the scenic route" from Lands End to John-O-Groats. Scheduled to finish on the 21st of September, he expected to have only one day of rest, averaging 50 miles of cycling a day. His objective was to raise £1,000 for Siloam Christian Ministries' child sponsorship in Vietnam.

This is a strikingly different approach from the raucous motorbike racing of his youth. Instead, Alan chooses to be inside church as he and Sue are active members of Ruthin Christian Fellowship, affiliated to the Baptist Union of Wales, where he serves as an Elder/Trustee. Now, Alan and Sue's heart for the suffering of Vietnamese children and their families leads them to try disrupting oppressive economic constraints. It's a serious challenge - with a positive objective in view.

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Plight of Bangladeshi garment workers

Representatives of UK churches and church-related organisations were due to meet in London on 5 September to discuss how they can support efforts to improve conditions for Bangladeshi garment workers.

The UK Churches' Bangladesh Group has been set up following the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza in Savar, Bangladesh, in which over 1,100 people, mainly garment workers, were killed. Just six months earlier, a fire in a garment factory on the outskirts of Dhaka killed 117 people.

The group includes the Methodist Church, Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, Church Mission Society and Council for World Mission. They are working in partnership with the Church of Bangladesh, which is campaigning for safe working conditions and fair pay for Bangladeshi garment workers, many of whom work in factories making clothes for sale in Western stores.

The meeting at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, was to be joined by the former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Very Reverend John Christie, and Moderator of the Church of Bangladesh, Bishop Paul Sarker. A garment factory worker from Bangladesh was also due to be present at the meeting.

Steve Pearce, Partnership Co-ordinator for Asia and the Pacific, said: "The distressing tragedy at Savar has given us the opportunity to take action and make a difference for garment workers in Bangladesh. As the story of the inexcusable loss of life at Rana Plaza fades from our media, I hope people will use these resources to make sure it doesn't fade from our memory before we have done our best to create irresistible pressure for change."

Resources are being made available for churches containing an action plan for grassroots campaigning, a Bible study, prayer, and a letter for consumers to send to retailers demanding improvements to the pay and working conditions of garment workers.

The coalition is also taking the campaign to social media, using the Twitter hashtags #LookBehindTheLabel #garmentworkers and #Bangladesh.

Bishop Sarker said: "Importers and buyers should not stop their garments business in Bangladesh. At present the garment manufacturing sector is the second largest foreign exchange earner of Bangladesh. A large poor section of our population is surviving on this sector. We have to keep in mind that the garment manufacturers are rich, powerful and greedy. In Bangladesh most businessmen have no ethics. They want only easy profit."

Mr Christie said: "We are not going to go in as white knights and say 'this is how you have to do it'. If the rest of us support Bishop Paul and the Church of Bangladesh in what they are doing we have an opportunity for a positive step. Churches can do far more together than separately and by acting together we can work towards improving health and safety conditions and thus the quality of life for the many Bangladeshi garment factory workers. Together we are seeking justice for the garment workers and their families which are heavily dependent on them."

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Service of peace and reconciliation

A service of peace and reconciliation will be taking place in Branxton in October to mark the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden. The battle killed an estimated 5,000 English and 10,000 Scots, including Scottish King James IV, the last British monarch to die on a battlefield.

The Solemn Commemoration in September was attended by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, as well as the Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, the President of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and representatives of the Methodist and United Reformed Churches.

Rev Rob Kelsey, of Norham Church and the priest in charge of Branxton Church, was quoted by the Berwick Advertiser as saying: "It obviously was a turning point in history. We are seeking to honour those who died on both sides of the conflict. Part of the point of the Solemn Commemoration is to raise awareness as well as build bridges and work together towards a better future. This is a truly cross border commemoration."

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