THE TORCH - ISSUE 2 2011

From:-
TORCH TRUST, Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, LE16 9HL, U.K.
Telephone: (01858) 438260, Fax: (01858) 438275, email: info@torchtrust.org
Charity Number 1095904.

Contents

Greetings!

What to do on Saturday?

Saturday is a curious day. The one that sits between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is the Saturday I have in mind! On Good Friday we remember the death of Jesus on the cross. Easter Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. But what are we supposed to do - or think about on the Saturday that is forever trapped between them.

On the Friday we start the whole Eastertide thing rolling by reflecting on the crucifixion but then we are "lost in space" until the Sunday morning when we celebrate the resurrection. How are we supposed to feel? On Good Friday we know to feel sad and Easter Sunday we know that we're to feel very happy, so happy that some people I know behave very strangely to my way of thinking. They get up dead early to go up a hill before dawn to the see the sun rise and sing hymns!

Some churches have a name for this peculiar Saturday, and call it Holy Saturday or Low Saturday. In the Czech Republic it is known as White Saturday, in the Philippines as Black Saturday and in Eastern Orthodox Churches as Great Saturday. So it's anything from Low to Great, White to Black. What are we to make of this one Saturday of fifty-two. How should we feel? And what should we do - if anything? I've read that there are churches which make it a prayer vigil. Now that seems like a good idea.

So how did they feel, I wonder, those who knew Jesus and were around when he was crucified? If we are still struck by the contrasts of emotions that touch us on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, what sort of a roller coaster ride must it have been for them?

They must have been devastated. The death of a close friend is always tragic but this was more than that. In knowing Jesus they had experienced such goodness, such love, such strength, and many of them had come to believe that he was more than human, that he was the Son of God. How could he ever die?

What if I had been there? How would I have felt? As well as heartbroken, I think I would have been angry, outraged at such hideous injustice. He had done nothing that deserved death - in fact he stood out as wholly good. He was a victim. The trial was a sham - a set-up. Governor Pilate saw it as a matter of politics - not of justice. How could it have come to this? Execution by crucifixion was reserved for very worst crimes, and for people that today we might label as terrorists. And no Roman citizen could ever be sentenced to this most humiliating of punishments.

Beyond the heartbreak and the anger lies crushing disappointment. Though the Jewish people of the day felt terribly oppressed, those who had travelled with Jesus and found hope, with Jesus' death, the hopes and dreams that he had planted in their minds and hearts died too. Gone the new kingdom of justice and love, with a value system that was in stark contrast to both the religious and political agendas of the time. They called him Teacher and Lord. They had really begun to believe he was the Messiah - that he was the answer to all that was wrong. He was their deliverer and he would be their king. But now he was gone. The emptiness must have been bottomless.

Jesus had tried hard to warn them - to prepare them for this moment - but they didn't get what he was on about. So it was that on the Sunday morning when Mary goes to tend the grave, the last person she expects to meet is Jesus. She enters into conversation with him but doesn't recognise him until he speaks her name. The two on the road to Emmaus are in conversation, processing their grief and disappointment when Jesus joins in. And again they don't recognise Jesus.

Gradually the truth of Jesus' resurrection grips his followers and deep joy fills the cavern of grief and disappointment to overflowing. From rock bottom to top of the world. The emotional contrast could not have been greater. Jesus is alive!

I'm glad there's the Saturday. It's the neutral on which blackness of Good Friday and the blazing brightness of Easter Sunday are displayed. It's a moment to reflect. To ponder the awesome sacrifice made by Jesus, who though sinless, took our sin and suffered its consequences so that we don't have to.

And it moves us beyond the death. What if there was no resurrection? Think how empty history would have been without Jesus, for without the resurrection there would have been no memory of him beyond those who knew him. As Paul wrote, "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." (1 Corinthians 15:7)

We can be thankful for this interval, for it is the answer to those who might otherwise have contested the resurrection with the notion that Jesus didn't die on the cross, he just fainted. No, Jesus was confirmed dead by the soldier and then buried - unusually so for someone crucified. The body would normally have been thrown on the city rubbish heap.

There are only hints in Scripture about what was going on in the spiritual realm but it's clear that Jesus went through the whole experience of death - and came out the other side having broken its universal grip over humankind. He secured a victory that means for us that we can share his resurrection life. It means that for those who become his followers and friends here and now, will one day emerge from death to live forever in his company.

Of course, even as we enter Good Friday, we know how it turned out - that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. The grave could not hold him. So even as we reflect on the appalling experience of the cross we have at the back of minds our that this was not the end.

International Christian speaker and author, Tony Campolo, once wrote of an elderly Black American preacher whose cadence for each section of his passionate Good Friday sermon was "It's Friday, but Sunday's a comin'". Now that's a thought to hold onto through the Saturday: "Sunday's a comin'".

What had appeared to those who had followed Jesus to be the end of the story was in fact its beginning - a story so big that it has influenced the course of human history right around the globe and is still bringing that resurrection life to millions of people all over the globe.

Gordon Temple - Chief Executive

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Oberammergau 2010

by Lin Ball

On a very wet Friday in August 2010 my husband and I sat for a total of five hours in an open air theatre in a small village high up in the Bavarian Alps of Germany. We were achieving an ambition we had held for many years - to attend the world-famous Oberammergau Passion Play.

The town has about 5000 inhabitants. Of those, some 2000 ordinary men, women and children take part onstage and backstage throughout the summer in this extraordinary drama. Most of the other townspeople are somehow involved in the Passion Play - running gift shops, restaurants, hotels and everything else needed to welcome around half a million visitors to the town between May and October.

We watched entranced as the intrigue of the well-known story of Jesus unfolded on the huge stage space. The play opens with Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem as the crowd wave palm branches and shout "Hosanna". The people are responding enthusiastically to the wonderful teaching of this itinerant rabbi. Their land is occupied by foreign troops and Jesus faces opposition not only from the Roman rulers but from the religious leaders, both groups fearful of an uprising by the followers of this unknown troublemaker. They debate his claims to be the Son of God and conspire together to arrest him on a charge of blasphemy. The intrigue leads to his arrest and cruel death on a cross.

The spectacle of the Oberammergau Passion Play is large scale and professional yet emotionally compelling. It's hard to imagine the dedicated work that has gone into producing acting of such a standard from this huge cast of amateurs. The orchestra and choir perform to an equally high standard. The crowd scenes are particularly memorable because of their authenticity; there is no comparison with the Hollywood films that have been produced over the years. And I was struck by how evangelistic the whole production is. Not content with the faithful retelling of the Bible accounts, the drama is interpreted by beautiful and vivid tableaux of Old Testament scenes chosen to lend understanding to the story of salvation that unfolds, and the choir spell out the meaning for the action we see onstage.

The Passion Play has a fascinating history. It all began with a simple vow in 1633. Throughout much of Europe, Protestant and Catholics had been fighting each other in the Thirty Years' War. The Black Death - a deadly plague - had arrived in the village of Oberammergau by 1632. By October of that year, some 80 villagers had died. The parish elders met, prayed for God's mercy and took a vow that they would perform the story of the death of Jesus every 10 years. It's said that from that day no more souls in the village fell to the dreaded disease. The next Pentecost, around 60 villagers performed the first play next to the church, among the graves of the Black Death victims. It's been performed ever since, with a few exceptions such as during the Second World War. The text, the music and the staging have, of course, changed down the centuries. But essentially it's simply the most significant story in the world - the last week of the Man who was God, who came to save the world.

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Wise Words (5)

Once Bitten Twice Shy ...

by Walters Fanuel Malunga

In African culture, old people always teach their young ones through proverbs and one of the most famous proverbs is "mphechepeche mwa njobv sapitamo kawiri" - Once bitten twice shy.

This proverb is a warning to the people who do evil deeds. It is said to a person who was once in trouble and was rescued, forgotten what happened to them and jumped in to the same scenario again. Then the old people say this proverb in order to remind him/her of the past events. For example:

Two young boys went out hunting mice. While in the Bush they found a hole in which they thought they would kill a lot of mice. They started digging the hole happily. Suddenly, they saw a big black mamba (snake) running out from one hole into another. They all ran away to a distance of 25mtr. One of the boys persuaded his friend to go back and kill the big snake which was very poisonous.

When this boy started digging, the snake spit in his eyes and he became blind. We might guess he would never do such a thing again.

This story relates to the way we sin repeatedly in our Christian lives. Our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross because of our sins in order for us to be saved and have eternal life. Well, we all know about this, but still we continue to sin against the Lord. My fellow friends this is a warning to us all. Let us repent and turn away from Satan and be faithful to the one Almighty God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Do you know that at anytime God will punish this world for our sin? Please strike while the iron is hot and take heed to this warning. Amen.

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No longer blighted by blindness

by Derek Reeh

(taken from Flying for Life by kind permission of Mission Aviation Fellowship)

Jesus applied Isaiah's words to himself: "He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind." (Luke 4:18, NIV)

Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya is close to the border with Somalia. It is home to 300,000 people - mostly Somali refugees.

For many years, the specialist eye team from Kikuyu Hospital in Nairobi has flown there with MAF to carry out sight-restoring surgery for its impoverished inhabitants. Due to the world financial crisis, the primary donor for these "eye safaris" was unable to fund this aspect of the hospital's work during last year.

MAF provides Christian love to poor people in remote and inaccessible parts of the world. We in Kenya could not stand by and witness the loss of such a powerful and life-changing ministry. Early in 2010, MAF found resources to fund one such safari. However, it seemed unlikely that we would be able to afford more of these flights.

Generous gift

Due to a generous gift at the funeral of Paul Rees, a dear friend of mine, it has been possible to fund a further eye safari which took place in October 2010.

The Gospels describe many scenes where Jesus is surrounded by crowds - often hopeful sick people who have heard of his miraculous healings. Such scenes greet us as we arrive on a Monday morning at Dadaab Hospital. There are hundreds of blind people lining the fence surrounding the building where the medical team will work. A path is cleared for the doctor and nurses through the pressing crowd.

Three theatre nurses start setting up the operating theatre in one room. Meanwhile, in another room, the doctor and a clinical nurse assess the first batch of patients. Everywhere, blind people are being led; sometimes several are walking in a line - the first accompanied by a carer, those following holding on to the clothes of the person ahead.

Watching them, you are overwhelmed with compassion. While all have individual stories, what really strikes you is the sheer scale - hundreds of people whose lives have been blighted by blindness and who are dependent on others for survival.

Relentless work

By the end of the day, more than 300 patients have been assessed and categorised. The fortunate majority have disorders that can be cured by surgery under local anaesthetic - these will be treated during this safari. Those needing general anaesthetic will be treated in Nairobi. About 10% have conditions that will not respond to surgery - often older people with glaucoma where the optic nerve has been irreparably damaged.

The operating theatre has two tables side by side about three metres apart. On one, the surgeon is operating assisted by a nurse; on the other, the next patient is being prepared. Having completed the procedure on one patient, the surgeon turns to the adjoining table, changes gloves, reads the notes and, with a new set of instruments, starts the next operation. The work is relentless - everybody in the team knows their role and they can perform up to seven operations each hour.

Transformed lives

At Dadaab, if you are unable to see, there are no social services, no guide dogs. You have no independence. You aren't "visually impaired" - you are blind. And then an MAF aircraft arrives with a surgical team. Suddenly, your life is transformed. You can participate in the world; your life - and that of your family - dramatically changes for the better.

It is a fitting tribute to Paul Rees, a man who devoted his career to caring for those who are sick, that his death has enabled restored sight for more than 200 people - people imprisoned by their blindness but now set free.

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Old Testament Characters

by Michael Stafford

7. Joseph

Last time we considered one of the Old Testament's "rogues" - Jacob, who nevertheless was changed by God's grace and became "Israel", one of the patriarchs who were the foundation of the Israelite nation. Jacob had 12 sons - the last two were the children of Rachel, his favourite wife. So Joseph, Rachel's first-born, was favoured by Jacob above all his other children. Favouritism results in spoilt children and Joseph was no exception.

"Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age, and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that the father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, 'Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of corn out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered round mine and bowed down to it.'" (Genesis 37:3-5)

He was given special recognition over his brothers by his "coat of many colours", or "coat with long sleeves" as it is sometimes translated. He was known as a young man who sometimes had vivid dreams which seemed to suggest that he was going to be far greater than all his brothers. This would come true, but he boasted to his father and brothers about it and offended them. He became hated by them and suffered the consequences when they endeavoured to get rid of him. They thought to kill him but due to the pleas of Reuben he was thrown into a pit instead. While Reuben was out of sight, the other brothers sold Joseph to some passing travellers who took him to Egypt and sold him there as a slave.

Joseph's pride was dashed. Unknown to him God was preparing him for great things, but first he had to endure a humbling process which would shatter his egotistical views of himself. Sometimes God has to do the same with us - we have to come to the point where we no longer rely on ourselves, but put our lives in God's hands so that he can fulfil his purposes for us.

In Egypt, Joseph soon proved himself as capable and trustworthy. As a result, Potiphar, his master, left everything in his hands. However, His integrity was to be tested to the limit:

"Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said 'Come to bed with me!' But he refused. 'With me in charge,' he told her, 'my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care' ... And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her ... One day ... she caught him by his cloak and said 'come to bed with me!' But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house." (Genesis 39:6-12)

Potiphar's wife was so annoyed that she showed Joseph's cloak to her husband when he returned, and claimed that Joseph had tried to rape her. In consequence, he was thrown into prison and suffered unjustly for a crime he had not committed.

Joseph's experience is an illustration of the exhortation given by Peter in his first epistle: "Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh, for it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God ... Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps ... when they hurled their insults at him he did not retaliate ... he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." (1 Peter 2:18-23).

Again, God blessed Joseph as he proved himself trustworthy, even in prison. The prison warders gave him responsibilities and trusted him: "... because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did" (Genesis 39:23).

Meanwhile, two of the king of Egypt's servants had ended up in the same prison as Joseph. These two both had dreams which disturbed them, and they asked Joseph to interpret the dreams for them. He was able to do this by the power of God, and predicted that one of the servants, the king's chief cupbearer, would be restored to his former position as a trusted servant who was responsible to see that the wine served to the king was safe to drink. However the other servant, the king's baker, was told that he would be executed in three days! These things came true, so that Joseph became noted as an interpreter of dreams.

Joseph hoped that the cupbearer would show gratitude to him by pleading to the king for his freedom. This did not happen until one day the king himself had troublesome dreams and was greatly disturbed. The cupbearer then remembered Joseph and he was called for. Having rightly interpreted the dreams and put the king's mind at rest, he was honoured by the king and trusted to such an extent that he was made second-in-command over the whole country.

Trusting is a two-way affair. We are exhorted again and again in the Bible to put our trust in God because he can be relied upon and is unchangeable like a rock. But what about God trusting us? That is just as important. We see in Joseph a person whom God was able to trust, and that is why he was blessed and entrusted with an honourable and respected position. We equally need to be trustworthy people of God - trusted by him and by others. Only then can God use us and fulfil his purpose for us. Probably this will not result in us being put in an exalted position like Joseph, but it does mean we will be blessed and respected, and will bring God glory in our lives.

There is much more to consider in Joseph's life, and we will continue to study him in the next edition of The Torch.

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