TORCH
vision for people with sight loss

Torch News - Autumn 2014

Enabling people with sight loss to discover Christian faith and lead fulfilling Christian lives.

Christian resources and activities for blind and partially sighted people worldwide.

Contents

From bitterness to joy!

Tibor Miklós grew up in an orphanage in Romania in the 1960s, days of grey and repressive Communism. He knew nothing of his parents. One of his vivid childhood memories is of crying through the whole of Christmas Eve night, knowing there would be no presents or festive meals for him.

From the age of eight he began to lose his sight, due to the inherited condition retinitis pigmentosa. He doesn’t know why it was three years before he was transferred to blind school. When he left school at the age of 20 he was determined to work hard as a physiotherapist to make lots of money to heal his loneliness and bitterness.

“But I found out that money did not help me at all,” said Tibor. “Money gave me bad friends and bad relationships – and the bitterness and anger became worse.”

Desperate for change, Tibor moved to Budapest in Hungary in 1991.

“I started my life from zero,” said Tibor. “I was 26 years old. I thought marriage would help. I married Marta, who had just become blind – and I found she was even more bitter than me! She was expecting me to encourage and help her but I had nothing to give her. Life was no better. Honestly, I was thinking there was no sense in living. I was ready to give up.”

That was when two strangers turned up at the door of their hostel room, asking to discuss the Christian faith. Tibor invited them in.

“I wanted to ask them, how can God be good if he allowed me to have no parents, he allowed me to become blind?”

Tibor was totally unprepared for the kindness and patience of the two Christians.

“I told them we couldn’t continue talking, because I couldn’t see to read the Bible. I was thinking, how can I get rid of these people! I thought they wouldn’t come back because I was not too polite. But they surprised me the next week by bringing a recording of the Gospel of John, which I listened to for the first time in my life.”

For the next three months Tibor continued to challenge his visitors.

“With all my questions, they were so kind to me, listening patiently and helping. I began to experience light in my mind, helping me understand that God loves me and has a plan for my life. It was wonderful good news! For so many years I had wanted to get rid of my bitterness and they told me I could by believing that Jesus died for my sins and asking him to come into my life. So in the spring of 1993 I accepted Jesus, asking him to take away my bitterness and loneliness and give me his peace and his joy – and I can tell you, it really happened!”

Marta also became a Christian, and they have a sighted daughter Noémi, named from the Hebrew word for “consolation”. Tibor now describes himself as “the most happy man in this earth!” He is a pastor of a church of 90 people in Budapest, sharing the Good News about Jesus that means so much to him. His main concern is to leave a legacy of eternal value through encouraging others – especially other disabled people – to know Jesus for themselves. Tibor is now eager to build a Christian foundation that reaches and serves blind people across Hungary.

Torch staff and volunteers prayed for many years for Romanian orphans with sight loss living in desperate conditions – so it’s been a joy to connect with Tibor and encourage him in his ambition to share both his story and the good news of Jesus.

If you’d like us to pass on a message of encouragement to Tibor or would like to take a deeper interest in our international work, please contact us.

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Finding encouragement in creative Torch Groups

June Barnett is new to Torch services – and she’s found TorchTalk Groups in particular to be really encouraging and spiritually enriching.

June (80) started to lose her sight in 2007. She has AMD – age-related macular degeneration – which is the leading cause of visual impairment in the UK, affecting up to half a million people. June’s AMD is the “wet” kind, which is more serious. By the time it was picked up, she’d lost the central vision in her left eye to the point where nothing could be done.

“Then one day,” says June, “when I was dusting the metal grille at the top of the log burner, the horizontal lines began to look like snakes. And I knew I was losing the sight in my right eye too.”

June’s had over 40 injections to halt the decline in her sight and it’s finally begun to stabilise. But in the meantime she’s developed cataracts which can’t be treated until the AMD is stable for longer. She’s finding it more and more difficult to read, even with a magnifying glass.

Three years ago, June’s husband Norman died. She realised that her independence was under threat, particularly as she could no longer drive. The only public bus service was withdrawn from her Cotswold village and she was spending a small fortune every week on taxis. So she moved to a village near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire to be close to her married son and his family.

“My biggest problem since losing my sight is lack of mental stimulation,” says June. Coming from an academic family, she’s had a varied career and even went to university at the age of 58 to take a full-time German degree. She tries to keep her mind active by listening to music, audio books and radio. She attends an art class, and plays Scrabble every week with a friend.

She heard about Torch last year, and is part of a new Torch Group in Melton Mowbray. She’s also been part of two six-week TorchTalk Groups – one at the end of 2013 leading up to Advent, and one this year leading up to Easter. Each week, June was linked by phone to others with sight loss around the UK to discuss faith matters, which she found interesting and helpful. And she describes Torch volunteer Sarah Brookman who facilitated the group as “marvellous”.

“My family rarely went to church, although as children we were brought up with Christian principles,” says June. She started attending a Presbyterian church in Wimbledon aged 23 and she recalls her baptism there as a real high point of her life.

Looking back on her faith journey, June can see that at many crisis points – such as losing a baby at full term and later when her first husband left her with a seven-year-old and a mountain of debts – she turned to God. She describes the “tugs” that kept bringing her back – and she says she has found God faithful.

“I find my faith is an incredible help to me. Each day I place myself in the hands of the Lord and thank him for the blessings he gives me. My faith continues to get stronger and deeper. I couldn’t get through without the Lord by my side.”

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Torch Groups – trend towards greater creativity

TorchTalk Groups that come into existence to mark a particular season of the year, such as the two June has been part of, are typical of a trend towards greater creativity within Torch’s regional ministry.

Take the Motherwell Torch Fellowship Group. They decided that Easter was a good reason to try something different. So they held an Easter bonnet parade – with some very elaborate headgear they made themselves. First prizewinner Cathy Young made a hat which featured miniature models of many traditional symbols of the Easter story, such as a piece of unleavened bread and a goblet of wine, with the banner “He is risen” above them. Second prize for her predominantly pink creation went to Ellen Simpson. And third, sporting bunny ears, was John Wallace.

Also new are a number of Torch Book Groups. The Torch Library provides books in audio (for DAISY player or memory stick) to groups of four to 12 people who choose the same title to read and they get together informally each month for discussion, usually accompanied by tea and cake. Torch can even supply some questions to get the conversation off the ground.

“Many people who are blind or partially sighted find books to be great companions – and at Torch we believe that loss of sight shouldn’t mean loss of reading or of fellowship,” says Torch Groups Leader David Palmer.

“Our free postal lending library has a wide range of Christian books, including over 1000 biographies, around 400 Christian fiction titles and many others on Christian living and spirituality. The Torch Client Services team are always willing to help groups find what’s just right for them.

“Other models of Torch Groups are available, as they say! A Torch Walking Group has started, and so has a new Torch Prayer Triplet.”

Is your Group doing something creative? Or have you creative ideas for different Torch Groups? Do contact us. David’s email is davidp@torchtrust.org or you can ring our Client Services Team on 01858 438260.

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What matters most?

Torch CEO Dr Gordon Temple shares his perspective

On busy days, when there’s just too much to do, the question of what matters most often runs around inside my head. When we make choices and plan, it’s the question we have to address time and time again. Our Torch values help us here. The first two of those are “Christ-centred” and “People-focussed”.

The first of these leads us to pose the question, “What would Jesus do?” often abbreviated as “WWJD”. The second flows from it, since it’s clear that people mattered more to Jesus than things, institutions or petty rules; and from the way Jesus spent his time we see that people in trouble mattered more to him than people in power.

What excites me most? It’s when I hear about people with sight loss being helped and blessed by the activity of Torch Trust or other Christians, at home or in other countries. Journeying With is a new initiative of Torch Trust that mobilises and trains church-based volunteers to bring them alongside people going through the trauma of losing their sight. We are getting really encouraging feedback from people supported by the pilot scheme in Northern Ireland. One said of her befriender, “She’s been a real friend - somebody I could speak to about the way I was, the way I felt.” Asked how Journeying With had helped in her journey of faith, another observed, “It helps to talk about your faith ... it comes back to you when you are talking about it.”

Whether it’s through our accessible Christian literature, our local or telephone groups, our Journeying With initiative, or our Torch Holidays at our Centre in Sussex – now being beautifully upgraded due to earmarked donations and grants – our aim is to be there for people with sight loss, especially at their times of greatest need.

Finance

Back in mid-June we all but ran out of general funds and the income forecast looked bleak. We had to delay ordering the next “making” of braille paper – something that sadly disrupted our braille distribution. We called a half day of prayer and I’m pleased to say we have seen gradual modest improvement since then. We have received a number of donations and legacy gifts that were either unexpected or not expected for some months.

In the middle of the crisis, I found reassurance from these words from Isaiah 45 that “just happened” to come up in my daily readings: “I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

We are grateful to God and to all who have sent gifts to support the work of Torch at this critical time, received by us as “hidden treasure”. We are still operating hand-to-mouth, and a long way short of restoring our reserves. So tight control of expenditure and special weekly times of prayer for finance are continuing, trusting God for his provision.

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Open house!

Torch Holidays Leader Gail Millar sends this report from Sussex

“The story of the first phase of renovation work of Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre will be retold for years to come, because every chapter abounds with miracles and answers to prayer. The hard work by professional tradesmen and volunteers is complete and our beautiful home from home is open for blind and partially sighted guests and carers.

“Barely had the paint dried, the last bit of carpet been laid and the final piece of furniture been moved out of store, than the 2014 10-day Activities Holiday was under way. The 24 guests arrived with their suitcases and were soon marvelling at the beautiful bedrooms, the gleaming en-suites, and the comfortable lounge with its donated baby grand piano.

“God gave us a Bible verse back in 2013 as we stood and prayed this project into being. It was ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain’ (Psalm 127:1). God has provided the finance for this first phase, through specifically designated gifts and grants, and we’re looking to him to provide for the second phase. God has blessed all those who have done the work and I believe he will bless those who come here in the days and years to come. It all looks amazing, from the new carpets and curtains to the specially embroidered pillows on every bed!”

Hope’s blindfolded seafront walk

After volunteering with the Neath Torch Fellowship Group in South Wales, 17-year-old Hope Jones felt she wanted to do more. She completed a sponsored walk along Aberavon seafront, raising an amazing £900 which she donated to the renovation work then in progress at Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre – a walk she did blindfolded!

“I didn’t realise how difficult it would be to be blindfolded and led,” said Hope. “It was disorientating. I felt like I was walking in circles instead of a straight line! And after two hours of being blindfolded it took a while to readjust to the light. The experience has made me more thankful for my sight.”

Hope’s father, Rev Steve Jones, is chair of the TFG which meets at Ainon Baptist Church in Neath. Hope enjoys chatting with the members of the TFG and helping with refreshments.

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Braille Bibles received with joy in Nigeria

While in the West, Christians have many Bibles in many translations, there are still parts of the world where it’s a real event to have even a Gospel in your own “heart language”.

Over a number of years the small team at Torch House in Blantyre, Malawi, have been producing braille Bible sections in Hausa for distribution by the Nigerian Bible Society.

Janet Stafford, Torch International Leader, says that it’s challenging to reach many people in need of these Hausa books because of the religious and political upheaval in the northern Nigerian states.

“For example, schools in 11 states of Nigeria have benefitted from these Hausa portions,” she says. “But in one school it was reported that hoodlums broke into the library and destroyed them.”

Despite the difficulties, encouraging stories have been filtering back to Torch, many from Hausa-speaking blind people who have never had any Scriptures in their own language. Here are some of their comments:

We have a prayer meeting every week and the leaders used to talk on whatever they could remember because we didn’t have braille Bibles. But things have changed now that we have the New Testament in Hausa. The leaders have materials to prepare with. Praise God!

I memorised Romans 6 today. I am very grateful for Torch giving me the opportunity to read the Word of Life.

The braille Bible has built my confidence as I teach Sunday School. My joy is full!

I received a complete set of New Testament books in braille for the first time. I read four or more chapters every day. As a pastor, this helps me in the area of sermon building and personal meditation. I am blessed beyond words.

When I am downcast, I go to the Beatitudes and find relief.

“Please pray for our blind brothers and sisters in Nigeria,” adds Janet. “Many are facing persecution, intimidation and even death because they love Jesus.”

Hausa is one of nine African languages in which braille Bible portions are produced in Blantyre. If you would like to support our Braille Bibles for Africa Fund, £4 covers the cost of a single Bible volume; £50 pays for a complete braille New Testament (14 volumes).

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Meet Oxford, Zena and Fifi!

Visitors to Torch House are always keen to meet the dogs in residence – all, of course, supplied by Guide Dogs. Since we have three new dogs this year, all black Labrador retriever crossbreeds, we’d like to introduce them.

Torch trustee Mike Townsend’s new dog is Oxford.

“I decided at school that I would have a guide dog,” says Mike, “and I got Beatle in January 1967 during my first year in university in London. He transformed my life. It’s more relaxing to have a dog than use a cane because the dog does so much of the thinking for you, especially when you are on the move and in crowds.”

Two-year-old Oxford is Mike’s sixth dog, following on from Beatle, Vanda, Eden, Carl and Tom. Tom is still with Mike and his wife Edith, but now retired.

“Oxford is a dog that loves to please,” says Mike. “He loves people and he’s the fastest dog ever. He’s playful but knows when to stop playing. And he worked out quickly that when I’m preaching he needs to sleep!”

Three-year-old Zena guides Sheila Armstrong, Leader of the Client Services Team at Torch House. She’s Sheila’s third dog, successor to Fern and Mist.

“I had never wanted to look after a dog, so I was a long cane user,” says Sheila. “But when my town became more open plan, with a pedestrian precinct, I began to struggle. It wasn’t as easy to walk in a straight line! So at the age of 40 I took the decision to have a guide dog. It was quite a different way of walking. With a cane you feel for the edge of pavements or use landmarks like lampposts, but a dog is trained to take you past them.”

Did she find the trust difficult? “Because I’ve been blind all my life and used to being guided by people, I didn’t find it difficult to trust a dog. Actually I found a dog more attentive than most people who guided me! I had a few problems with Zena at first. There’s always a settling-in period. But now we get on well together.”

Long-serving Torch staff member and now volunteer, Nessa Graham brings three-year-old Fifi to work. Previously she was guided by Ishka for nine years and then Shannon for 10 years.

“I wouldn’t be without Fifi. We bonded very quickly. I’ve been without sight since I was born and at first I used a cane. But seeing the relationship a close friend had with her dog made me want one – and it’s definitely given me more independence.

“Fifi likes to be very close to me. She’s playful but quite submissive and she’s very quick at learning routes.”

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Conference “a resounding success”

The recent Enabling Church conference organised by Churches for All (of which Torch is a member) and held in Birmingham, was “a resounding success” said the Bishop of Wolverhampton, Clive Gregory.

The focus of the conference was on enabling churches to include and encourage people with disabilities – not just to attend, but also to use their gifting.

“Honesty demands we say that the Church has not always been on the side of people with disabilities,” said Bishop Clive in his opening speech. “Like many other institutions in society, we have succumbed to prejudices ... But we are here as part of those ... who are passionate in our belief that the Church ... should practise a generosity that reflects the abundance of God’s grace.”

Over 400 people, many of them disabled, gathered for the conference. A total of 17 organisations including Torch were represented in the range of speakers and exhibitions.

Michael Sharkey, a Paralympian with sight loss, was one of the programme hosts for the day. And the sensitive and engaging worship was led by blind musician James Bowden.

Sound recordings were made of the speakers and are available on the Churches for All website (www.churchesforall.org.uk).

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Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!

Our Annual Thanksgiving Day will be an Open Day at Torch House in Market Harborough on Saturday 20 September – and you are warmly invited to come and join us. From 2pm to 4pm there will be an opportunity to visit displays around the building and to meet staff and volunteers. As well as celebrating 55 years of Torch we will also be marking 10 years in the present Torch House. The doors will be open from 1pm so if you would like to come earlier and bring a packed lunch you are very welcome. Strawberry cream teas will be served throughout the afternoon. From 4pm to 5pm there will be a time of worship and celebration. If you are bringing a group, it would be helpful to know the numbers in advance.

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Reading for All

Reading for All is the title of a new quarterly magazine brought together by Torch Publications Leader Lydia Tebbutt. If you are interested in reading in braille, large print or audio and in staying in touch with what Torch has to offer to people with sight loss, then this is for you.

From September we’ll also be producing a quarterly audio version of the popular Christianity magazine produced by Premier Media. We’re working with Premier on being able to produce braille and large print versions in the future. Also new is a quarterly edition of the top stories from Evangelicals Now, available soon in braille and large print.

Do contact us if you’d like to receive any of these, or to discuss your Christian reading needs.

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Join the Torch team!

We are looking for a finance-oriented leader and part-time radio producer and writer to be based at Torch House. We also have two vacancies for staff positions at Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre in Sussex: for a live-in Assistant Leader, and for a cook to work about 24 hours a week. We also need volunteers at the Centre in the areas of kitchen work, housekeeping and guiding blind and partially sighted guests, as well as volunteer drivers to transport guests to and from the Centre. If you are interested, do contact Beth Bromham, our Personnel Co-ordinator (bethb@torchtrust.org).

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Keep in touch

The Daily Prayer Guide we produce to engage our supporters in prayer for our staff is now on the Torch website. If you need a printout of this, please call us.

You can also keep up to date with and comment on what’s happening at Torch online – because every day we post a Bible verse, prayer topic or news item on Facebook. If you’re already a Facebook user, search for Torch Trust.

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Christmas Cards

Torch is one of 32 charities benefitting from the sale of Christmas cards and gifts produced by Gospel Cards. We invite you to consider their range. Either go to their website at GospelCardsEtc.com or request a catalogue by calling 01656 647551.

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Information

Here to help you

Client Services: 01858 438260

Library: 01858 438266

Holidays: 01273 832282

Prayer Line: 01858 438277

Reflections: For responses to our radio broadcasts: 0333 123 1255. Go to www.torchtrust.org/reflections for details of how to listen to Reflections.

Torch News Is also available in audio CD, braille, email, standard print and large print (17-, 20-, 25- and 30-point) and can be viewed on the Torch website.

Torch Trust

Address: Torch House Torch Way Market Harborough Leicestershire LE16 9HL UK

Tel: +44 (0)1858 438260

email: info@torchtrust.org

website: torchtrust.org

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Chair: Marilyn Baker

Chief Executive: Dr Gordon Temple

Council of Reference members: Rt Revd Richard Atkinson OBE; Revd Dr Steve Brady; Revd Dr David Coffey OBE; Revd Malcolm Duncan; Jonathan Lamb; Revd Roy Searle; Dr Elaine Storkey; Revd Dr Derek Tidball.

The Torch Trust for the Blind

A charity registered in England and Wales no. 1095904; a company limited by guarantee no. 46165260

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