The Torch – Issue 4 2016

Produced and published by Torch Trust
Torch House,
Torch Way,
Market Harborough,
Tel: +44 (0)1858 438260

The Torch Trust for the Blind
A charity registered in England and Wales no. 1095904
A company limited by guarantee no. 4616526

The Torch is available in the following formats: audio CD, braille, email and large print (17, 20, 25 and 30 point). It can also be downloaded from the Torch website as an HTML file.



Welcome to another edition of The Torch magazine. You are among thousands of readers across the world who receive this magazine. It’s written and compiled specifically for blind and partially sighted people and distributed in braille, large print and audio formats as well as being available by email and the internet.

Many of you have enjoyed listening to the magazine on cassette tape for many years but both the cassettes and the players are no longer widely available and so we are changing over to distribute audio CD discs. We are sorry if this is an unwelcome change for you but we hope you will enjoy the improved quality of the CD and its reliability.

When I write for this magazine I know that I am addressing people who live with blindness or low vision. Though this isn’t my own experience, over the years I have led the work of Torch I’ve listened carefully to the stories told me by people who know what it is like from the inside.

Just the other day a visitor to Torch House in England told me of the acute distress and despair of a man who has recently lost his sight, someone she knows at her local church. No doubt both he and others had prayed that he would not lose his sight, and later that he would regain it.

There are places and cultures in which disability, including blindness, is seen as a curse or punishment. From the Gospel of John we understand this was clearly the way the disciples of Jesus thought. Encountering a man born blind they ask Jesus to this effect. Jesus´ response breaks the link that was automatically made in first Century Palestine. This is what the Gospel tells us ...

As he went along, he [Jesus] saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1 –3)

I’m sure all of us would want the works of God to be seen in our lives – whether we see or not.

This man had his dignity restored and was also healed of his blindness by Jesus. But physical healing isn’t God’s plan for everyone. Even the great apostle Paul came to understand and experience this. This is his account ...

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7 –10)

Jill, who compiles this magazine for you, drew my attention to an article about Paul’s “thorn” by Mark Woods, published on the Christian Today website. We thought it was really helpful so we have included the larger part of it here ...

So what is this thorn? The Greek word is skolops, used for things that were sharp and pointed. The word could mean a stake, or a fishhook, too. Perhaps it was a physical ailment. It’s been suggested Paul might have had an eye problem that perhaps didn’t look very nice. At the end of Galatians he takes over from his secretary and says, “See what large letters I write to you in my own hand!” Earlier in the book (4:15) he says, “I know you would have torn out your own eyes and given them to me.”

On the other hand: the word for “flesh” he uses is sarx. This really means the side of our human nature that’s weak and fallen, oriented away from God. If he had wanted to say “a thorn in the body”, he could have done. So perhaps he was talking about a spiritual problem, a temptation of some kind that kept coming back.

Or, perhaps he was talking about a person, or people. Nowadays we talk about an irritating person being a “pain in the neck”. In those days, they would talk about someone being a “barb in the eye” – a skolops. So maybe he’s talking about his enemies, people who were making his life miserable because they were opposed to what he was doing.

The fact that we don’t actually know is important, because instead of narrowing that problem down, it expands it. All of these are things that affect us. We do suffer physical pain and limitation. But we also struggle to live as Disciples of Christ in the face of temptation. And we struggle with people who are a pain in the neck, who might irritate us, frustrate us or hurt us.

Paul offers us a way of living with these things that’s nothing like that which we might have expected. He says, “You can’t necessarily expect God to solve your problems for you. I asked him to solve mine, and he didn’t. But what matters isn’t how comfortable we are, but how glorious God is: and sometimes it’s our weakness, our failure, our incapacity that shows God’s glory, not our strength and our gifts and our glorious achievements.”

This is radical. The ancient world was no different from ours. They idolised success and perfection, quite literally. Corinth was a Greek city with examples of astonishing Greek statues in marble and bronze, representing the perfect bodies of athletes. There are the great Greek stories, too, celebrating the achievements of Achilles and Odysseus. Even the Greek gods were just bigger and stronger versions of human beings. It was all about power, success and glamour.

But Paul says Christianity has nothing to do with that. God says to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness ...for when I am weak, then I am strong,” he concludes. [End of CT quote]

Yes, God may in his sovereign will choose to heal some who experience blindness or other disabilities, but for others he provides strength to live with the disability, and strength to cope with many other challenges that life throws at us. He always offers forgiveness and brings wholeness to each who calls on him and lives with trust in him. Things happen to us so that the work of God might be displayed in our lives. God’s presence and power is much more clearly seen when there is challenge and difficulty, when we are struggling more than when we are living in good times.

Is life tough for you just now? Paul learned to live with his “thorn”—whether it was to do with his eyes or not—and this is what he had to say ...

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Phil 4:6)

Gordon Temple

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Let the scriptures speak

Ephesians 1

Verses 3 – 8

How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every blessing in heaven because we belong to Christ.

Long ago, even before he made the world, God chose us to be his very own through what Christ would do for us; he decided then to make us holy in his eyes, without a single fault—we who stand before him covered with his love. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by sending Jesus Christ to die for us. And he did this because he wanted to!

Now all praise to God for his wonderful kindness to us and his favour that he has poured out upon us because we belong to his dearly loved Son. So overflowing is his kindness toward us that he took away all our sins through the blood of his Son, by whom we are saved; and he has showered down upon us the richness of his grace—for how well he understands us and knows what is best for us at all times.

Verses 11 – 12

Moreover, because of what Christ has done, we have become gifts to God that he delights in, for as part of God’s sovereign plan we were chosen from the beginning to be his, and all things happen just as he decided long ago. God’s purpose in this was that we should praise God and give glory to him for doing these mighty things for us, who were the first to trust in Christ.

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Here’s a thought

[Taken from UCB Word for Today]

Doug McKnight was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at 32. Over the next 16 years, it would cost him his career, his mobility and eventually his life. But he never lost his sense of gratitude. When his church friends asked him to compile a list of prayer requests, he responded by sending them 18 blessings for which to be grateful, and 6 concerns for which to be prayerful. His blessings were three times greater than his needs. Doug discovered that what he had in God was greater than whatever he didn’t have in life. Have you?

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Manna Publications

by David Page

One morning recently, Janet Stafford (Torch Trust International Leader) sent an SMS message from Malawi at 6.45 am to wish God’s blessing on the Manna Publications UK strategy meeting that same day. She knew that plans were being discussed for growing Torch’s literature ministry of easy-to-read Bible teaching commentaries in print, braille and audio formats. In her message, Janet broke the news that 120 sets of Manna books (960 volumes) were being produced in English braille at Torch House in Blantyre.

Twenty-five years before, newly-retired CLC missionary Fred Morris had the vision to print a range of 40-page Bible teaching commentaries at the point of need in Africa and Asia where he and his wife had served as missionaries. Knowing the popularity of books in plain English and the hunger for Bible teaching in places where there are few teachers and a shortage of teaching material, Fred began typing up his books. He acquired page layout and A5 book makeup skills and he manually pasted in place the maps and pieces of artwork. He then rolled up his print masters and sealed them in cardboard tubes to send overseas to trusted contacts to print 500 or 1000 books at a time. That was in the days before emails and electronic PDF files. Today, Fred, now 92, and his volunteers, send out by email “Manna Bible teaching commentaries by Fred Morris” from their home laptops for printing anywhere in the world – 40 countries to date, in as many languages, including Chichewa in Malawi.

Two years ago, Torch House in Market Harborough began transcribing some of the Manna teaching books into braille (in the Chichewa language), with help from Paul Wood and David Shepherd. Then Michael and Janet Stafford arranged the printing of 80 copies each of eight titles through Stanley Mayo at Torch House, Blantyre, for distribution in Malawi by Lapson Mbewe and others. Soon there was a demand for braille commentaries in English to send to blind Christians in 12 English-speaking countries in Africa. It was clear that more and more braille books are needed.

Recently, Manna audio recordings have been made by Carol McAllister, Kettering Torch Fellowship secretary, assisted by James Brookman from Torch House, Market Harborough. These are now under evaluation in various locations in Africa on personal computers and on smart phones. The final decision to add MP3 audio recordings to the range of Bible teaching products in print and in braille will be made at the November Manna UK Annual General Meeting.

Thanks be to God for the amazing network of committed and willing worldwide workers who enable scriptures to be distributed to sighted and visually disabled Christians in the developing nations.

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My Story

by Sheila Armstrong

The last time I wrote something about myself for The Torch I wasn’t married and I did a different job for Torch. My name then was Sheila Officer.

At my boarding school for blind and partially sighted children there were a few Christian ladies who prayed for us and taught us about Jesus. God certainly answered their prayers as one after another of us put our trust in the Lord Jesus. We went along to a Torch group in Edinburgh, Scotland’s lovely capital city, where we mixed with older people, many of whom had recently lost their sight. We hope we encouraged them, and that they didn’t find us a nuisance!

I came to work at Torch House in 1976. Robert and I married in 1984. Soon after this, I was asked to look after Torch’s transcription of braille and large print books by computer, whilst Robert worked on tidying up some of the audio books which had been read in people’s own homes for the Torch library.

Just over two years ago, I was both surprised and delighted when I was asked to change my work at Torch to heading up our Client Services. Client Services is where all your letters, emails and phone calls to Torch are answered. Lots of other work goes on in this area too, helping to make sure people can receive the books and magazines we can send. If someone’s in difficulty, we’re happy to pray with them over the phone and to ask others at Torch to pray for their situation too – if that’s what they’d like us to do. In this and in other ways we can share Christian friendship and support with blind and partially sighted people. Apologies, though, that we can only phone people within the UK; however, we can write or email you anywhere in the world.

Robert and I have not been blessed with children, but we are blessed with my guide dogs becoming part of the household, one at a time. The current black lab/retriever I now have is called Zena. My three dogs have taught me a lot about trusting and obeying – that is, I trust the dog, but the dog must obey me, so that we can stay safe when we’re out and about. It’s not quite the same with the Lord Jesus, as in that case I must do both the trusting and the obeying if I am to stay safe in his plans for my life.

I’m keenly aware that many people connected with Torch are praying for those of us who work here. If you’ve prayed for me, thank you very, very much; we’re praying for you too as you read this magazine.

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Old Testament Characters

by Michael Stafford

31. Esther

Esther is another lady who stands out in the Old Testament record as being an important part of God’s purposes for his people. She lived in the time when the Jews were in captivity – originally in Babylonia, but later in Persia where they had been taken, following the defeat of Babylon by the Medes and Persians.

Xerxes was the mighty king of the huge Medo/Persian Empire and was all-powerful. His word and command was law and woe betide anyone who defied it. Thus his queen – Vashti – was stripped of her position when she refused to obey him, and the king began to look for a new queen!

This is where Esther comes into the picture. She was a young Jewish girl, an orphan whose uncle, Mordecai, had brought her up. She was among the young girls who were brought into the palace to be set before the king so that he could choose one of them to be his queen. Mordecai kept a close watch over her welfare, and told her not to mention that she was a Jew, as this might have prejudiced the king’s choice.

The king had no difficulty in choosing Esther to be his queen, as she was more beautiful than any of the others. In order to keep an eye on her, Mordecai stayed each day near the palace and observed the comings and goings of people in that area. One day he overheard two of the king’s officers discussing how they might assassinate their master. Mordecai informed Esther of this and she informed the king. The result was that the two men were executed, but nothing was done to reward the informant – Mordecai.

At this time, Xerxes promoted a man called Haman to be chief of all his nobles. This man was very vain, and sought glory for himself, insisting that the king’s officers should bow down to him and honour him. Mordecai, however, because of his Jewish upbringing, would not bow down to anyone except the one true God. His refusal to honour Haman brought down on his head the fury of this vain man, who decided that Mordecai and all his people must be destroyed. That was one of a number of attempts at genocide of the Jewish people over the centuries, and in recent history was attempted by Hitler in World War Two.

A date was set by the king for the Jews to be killed, but when Mordecai became aware of it he told Esther to go into the king’s presence and beg him for mercy for her people. She was very reluctant to do this, as no one was allowed into his presence unless he had called for them, and she had not been called into his presence for 30 days. She could have been put to death for daring to go in uninvited.

Mordecai sent a message to Esther which said, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape ...who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13, 14). At last Esther agreed to plead for her people, but asked that all the Jews should fast and pray for three days and nights.

So Esther ventured near to the king, who was so pleased to see her that he invited her into his immediate presence and asked what her request was. She cleverly avoided asking outright for deliverance for the Jews, but instead asked him to come with Haman to a banquet the next day. This was readily granted by the king, and Haman was delighted to be invited as a guest. The only thing that marred his joy was the presence of Mordecai at the gate, still refusing to bow to him. At his families´ suggestion, he had a very tall gallows built on which to hang Mordecai as soon as possible!

The situation for the Jews looked very threatening, but God was in control. We may note that the name of God is not mentioned anywhere in this book, but his presence is very clear in the way he intervened to protect his people. Thus God caused Xerxes to have a sleepless night which gave him the desire to make himself sleepy by reading up all the events of his reign! In the records he discovered that it was Mordecai who had exposed the two assassins and thus saved the king’s life. ‘What honour and recognition has Mordecai received for this?’ he asked. ‘Nothing has been done for him, was the reply of his attendants´ (Esther 5:3).

The King consulted his trusted adviser Haman, asking him, ‘What should be done for the man the king wants to honour?’ Haman in his vanity assumed that he was the one the king would want to honour, so he laid out an elaborate way of glorifying this favoured man! As a result the king, to Haman’s horror, decreed that Mordecai should be paraded through the streets in splendour!

Haman was hurried away to Esther’s banquet, during which she pleaded with the king to spare her and her people. She revealed to the king that she was a Jew and would be under the same edict as her people. The king became angry and asked who was responsible for making him decree such a fate for her people. Then Esther revealed to him that it was Haman. In a furious rage the king commanded that Haman should be hung on the gallows that he had built to hang Mordecai on!

There was, however, a problem: the king’s territories were so vast that it would be difficult to inform everybody that the edict was annulled. Therefore the king’s messengers were sent out in great haste to instruct the governors of the 127 provinces and the Jewish communities of a new decree. This proclaimed that the Jews now had the right to defend themselves, in any way they chose, on the appointed day when they were to be killed. The enemies of the Jews greatly feared them and were easily overcome, so the threat was never carried out.

Mordecai was honoured and given the position that Haman had occupied, together with all his possessions. Esther’s triumph was complete; her people were saved from destruction, and God had overruled the whole situation.

If there is a lesson for us to learn from Esther’s experience it is that God has put us in our particular circumstances for a purpose, and we should not be afraid to carry out exploits for him when we are aware of a particular need which we could help to alleviate.

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