TORCH
vision for people with sight loss

TORCH NEWS SPRING 2014

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

Christian activities and resources for blind and partially sighted people worldwide

Contents

True love – on a Torch Holiday

From meeting on a Torch Holiday to a proposal while watching X Factor and a fairytale wedding.

Meet Philippa and Will

Love blossomed for Philippa (25) and Will (29) when they went on the annual Activities Holiday – a highlight of the Torch calendar of Christian holidays for people with sight loss.

'Two or three days into the holiday we were getting closer and closer,' said Philippa. 'We had to play a game passing a hoop around the circle without breaking hands, passing it over our bodies. We got a bit tangled up and Will says that's when he first thought, I like this girl!'

After the holiday, Philippa from Bedfordshire and Will from Wolverhampton, both blind from birth, continued their friendship via email, texting, Skype and phone. After Will met Philippa's parents, they started dating.

How did Philippa know that what she felt for Will was real love?

'Because I could be myself around him. I could be me, I didn't have to pretend or anything. I grew to love him so much.'

So how did Will propose?

'It was really romantic,' said Philippa. 'We were visiting friends, watching X Factor sitting on the sofa, giving out sweets. Someone said, Don't put your wrapper in your pocket because it will go through the washing machine. I said, I dread to think what Will's got in his pocket. And he said, I'll show you what I've got in my pocket. He likes to play jokes so I thought it was going to be a tissue or something. But he made everyone be quiet, got down on one knee, produced a diamond solitaire ring and asked me to marry him!'

The girl said yes!

'I was a bit stunned but said yes straight away!'

How do two blind people go about planning a wedding? Are there issues to face that sighted people don't have to deal with?

Will says he felt real sadness that he wouldn't be able to see his bride walking down the aisle, while Philippa struggled most over choosing the dresses for her bridesmaids.

'Now so much is online, you can only see one or two styles in the shops. That took the pleasure out of choosing the dresses because I couldn't feel them. I came home quite discouraged. There was lots of discussion about colours and I felt I couldn't be part of that. I can't see or imagine colour. In the end, my bridesmaids' dresses were Cadbury purple, which was other people's choice. I wish I could have been more involved.'

Philippa's charity shop dress

But Philippa felt completely happy about the choice of her own dress, which she found in a charity shop. She describes it as having 'a fitted bodice, lace sleeves with diamante decorations, roses dotted around the waistband, a massive train and huge skirt.'

'When I walked, it rustled – and I think a wedding dress should always rustle!'

The couple were married in Potton Baptist Church in Bedfordshire, Philippa's home church – an easy choice since the plan was for them to start life together locally, living not far from her family home.

For their honeymoon, Philippa and Will chose the RNIB hotel in Bognor Regis, Sussex.

'A volunteer guide came every day, taking us shopping, on a visit to the cathedral, on a canal boat, to a wildlife centre. And we swam in the hotel pool.'

And why was it important for them to get married?

'We both believe that's the right thing to do in the eyes of God,' says Philippa. 'It was really important that we didn't live together before marriage. It was a bit harder for Will because he was a new Christian – he accepted Christ as his Saviour on that same Torch Holiday and was baptised the year after. I believe God has blessed the fact that we've waited.

'I will see Jesus ...'

'From a young age, I knew that God was there. As a child I remember talking to him, knowing that he was my best friend, knowing that he'd forgiven me. I've tried to follow him as best I can.

'I won't ever see in this world. But I will see Jesus and he's perfect and that's what I'm looking forward to.'

Philippa works as a youth ambassador for the Christian disability charity Through the Roof (a partner with Torch Trust in the Churches for All network), meeting young people and talking about inclusion. She's been to Guatemala three times with the organisation. Will is currently volunteering for the Citizens Advice Bureau and for RNIB and looking for employment in customer service.

Torch Holidays – where friendship matters

We can't make any promises that you'll meet your own life partner at the Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre in Sussex. But we can assure you that the real friendship on offer is one of the most valued aspects of these specialist breaks for blind and partially sighted people, which share the Christian love and care characterising all that Torch does.

Gail Millar, Torch Holidays Leader, says, 'Our guests may arrive as strangers – but they quickly become friends. They describe our centre as a real home from home. Many come back year after year because of the warm friendships they make with the team and other guests. Many of our guests live alone – and the relationships they make on a Torch Holiday bring such love into their lives.'

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The unfolding future: time to 'take hold'

Now more than half way through Torch Trust's current strategic plan, CEO Dr Gordon Temple reports on progress

The strategic development of the work of Torch Trust which began following the celebration of the organisation's fiftieth year continues apace. Our new focus on getting alongside blind and partially sighted people at their times of greatest need – often at the very start of their sight loss journey – takes on fresh energy in 2014 as we move into implementing initiatives that have now been trialled and improved.

Moving ahead in a time of change

We live in an age of formidable, fast-paced, relentless change – change that both challenges us and opens up new opportunities. With more than 100 people in the UK diagnosed every day with sight loss – often unsupported – we know that there is an urgent, widespread need for the compassionate and practical presence Torch can provide. You will see that vital friendship and companionship echoed throughout the articles in this issue of Torch News.

In 2010 our Torch trustees prayerfully adopted a five-year strategic plan, believing this was the way God wanted to grow the work through to 2015. Excitingly, what was envisaged then is now becoming reality – for which we thank God. We've been through an intensive time of organisational change to equip us to handle our refreshed objectives. We've trialled, modified and are in the process of implementing new ways of working in many areas. We're ready for 'full steam ahead'!

As well as providing an effective Christian response to the emotional, spiritual and practical needs of people facing sight loss, our new initiatives will enable us to strengthen regional teams of staff and volunteers, giving Torch a more tangible presence in local communities and a closer relationship with local churches.

We won't, of course, be neglecting traditional Torch areas of work – commitments which have been part of our engagement with people since the work began. Our Christian literature and fellowship activities are being strengthened with a range of new ventures such as telephone friendship groups, book groups, specialist Moving Forward breaks, and our Journeying With befriending scheme. All this will be complemented by our radio work, our Worship for All transcription service for churches, and an improved web presence with the launch of our new online shop for accessible Christian literature.

Pressing on to take hold ...

As we wholeheartedly embrace the challenges of a changing environment, we rejoice in the unchanging nature of the God we trust to sustain the work. And our Torch values - Christian, people-focussed, open and creative – remain unchanged and pivotal to all we do.

We have decided prayerfully to call 2014 our Year of Taking Hold, recognising the need to consolidate new ventures and incorporate them into the core of Torch's mission. We rejoice that the foundational work of grappling with change has led us into new and productive contacts with many blind and partially sighted people. As Paul wrote in his New Testament letter to the Philippians (3:12): '... I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.' Our love for God gives us a desire to share the life-transforming and life-affirming power of the good news of Jesus.

And by the way ...

Have you noticed the refreshed look of Torch News? We appreciated all who contacted us with positive feedback following the last issue – readers like Charlotte, who wrote to commend us for the 'upbeat and hopeful tone of the writing'.

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Torch people news

It's thank you and farewell to Heather and Daphne, and all change for Sheila!

Two much-loved stalwarts of the Torch team are moving on to well-earned retirement after many years as staff and then volunteers. Heather Williams (78) and Daphne Johnson (77) were presented with flowers and gifts by CEO Dr Gordon Temple, ahead of their retirement to Hunstanton, Norfolk.

Heather, who previously worked in rehabilitation with RNIB, got involved with Torch when she moved to Nottingham in 1984, three years later becoming the housekeeper when Torch was based in the village of Hallaton, Leicestershire. Over the years she's also been involved in the audio library. Alongside Brian Nokes and Eleanor Logue, who also bow out now, hers was the voice of Every Day With Jesus daily Bible readings for 20 years, and she has also served as a trustee and volunteer.

Daphne's work with Torch goes back a similar number of years. After volunteering at home in recording and editing work, she took early retirement from teaching to join the audio library, later becoming part of Client Services. Heather and Daphne were both in the Torch Singers, the group that goes out to churches and Torch Fellowship Groups around the UK.

'We'll miss the fellowship of our morning prayer times,' says Heather. 'And,' adds Daphne, 'going out with the Singers and chatting to people with sight loss.' Both witness to what they describe as 'a real sense of God's presence, leading and guiding' during their time with Torch.

Blind staff member Sheila Armstrong has spent 27 years working in transcription – working to turn print text into braille. Now she moves to become Client Services Leader at Torch House, while still maintaining her role as Torch's guru in all matters braille. The vital Client Services team provides the warm, welcoming and increasingly well-informed voices answering phones and is generally the first point of contact for anyone getting in touch with Torch.

'I'm really looking forward to the direct interaction I'll be having with people using our services and thinking about how best to meet their needs,' says Sheila.

We are grateful for many who pray for our staff and volunteers and apologise that the updated Daily Prayer Guide people rely on for this is not yet available.

Team openings

Our main needs for staff at the moment are for the Torch Holiday & Retreat Centre in West Sussex. And we also need to recruit a large number of church-based volunteers and pioneering organisers across the UK for our Journeying With befriending scheme. Do contact us for details.

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New Torch group an inspiration!

A Torch group for adults of working age, recently launched in Northern Ireland, is proving to be an inspiration – not just to members but to the church where it meets.

'Meeting the group has been absolutely brilliant, but also overwhelming,' the Revd Pauline Lorimer told Torch News. 'I can't believe their courage and spirit, and their refusal to allow their disabilities to affect them. Their lack of self-pity is fantastic!'

The group meets at Whiteabbey Methodist Church on the main A2 road from Belfast to Carrickfergus.

Different and flexible groups

'I'm so happy that the church has opened up our doors to them,' added Pauline. 'I want many more sighted people in the church to get to know them and be inspired.'

Ireland Regional Networker Leonard Campbell explains that the group is one of many different and flexible styles of groups Torch is developing. This group – so new it doesn't yet have a name – is choosing its own varied programme of activities with a distinctively Christian character, meeting every other month and keeping in contact between through social networking.

'A higher percentage of people with sight loss live alone. It's so easy for them to become isolated and withdrawn. Torch, working in partnership with caring churches, wants to reach out. It's not just about what we can give them in terms of friendship, but what they can give local congregations out of their own God-given gifting,' says Leonard.

Dave (37), blind from birth and currently unemployed, first came across Torch in 1999. Out walking with his long cane, he bumped into someone involved in running the Torch Fellowship Group (TFG) in his home town of Bangor. Moving to Belfast 10 years later, he was keen to link up with Torch locally and now enjoys being part of the Whiteabbey group. Though he has a number of sighted friends, he says it's really important for him to have opportunities to meet other blind people.

God at the centre

'My hope for the group,' says Dave, 'is that it will grow, that God will be at the centre, that we'll get to know him better and also get to know each other better.'

Gareth (33), also blind since birth, was made redundant three years ago from his job as a receptionist. He really values the Whiteabbey group. Though he lives alone in his Belfast apartment, he describes himself as a socially outgoing person who doesn't have problems making friends, especially since he throws himself into lots of church activities. 'The challenge for me is to show people what I can do,' he says. 'So often you meet the attitude How can you do that when you are blind?'

Caroline sees the group not only as a place for friendship but for 'extra spiritual support'. She started to lose her sight in her mid 40s and also has Charles Bonnet Syndrome – a condition among some people with sight loss which causes hallucinations. She came to the group after hearing about Torch events on the audio Torch News. A recent meeting of the Whiteabbey group was devoted to technology as a way of accessing the Bible. Caroline describes it as a 'really brilliant' time when she was able to introduce the others to her solar-powered MegaVoice audio Bible.

'We can get together and have some all-important prayer as well as share in the activity on the programme,' says Caroline. 'Even though it's just got off the ground, it's a good group to chat and share in.'

Friendship and spiritual support

The group is also important to Darren (37). He's currently doing IT courses to help him job hunt. 'Meeting people can be challenging at times, especially when you are blind and unemployed,' he says. 'Torch is my main way of meeting people at the moment. The group also gives me additional spiritual support.'

David Palmer, Torch Regional Outreach Leader based at Torch House, explains that the Whiteabbey group is just one of many new types of Torch groups being formed alongside the 100 or so traditional TFGs.

'In Leicestershire, for example, we have launched a walking group,' says David. 'I am following up interest in other groups in Shrewsbury and Stoke on Trent. Our TorchTalk telephone befriending groups are also growing. They are popular for people with sight loss who don't live within reach of a group or who have other disabilities which make it difficult to leave their homes. Other TorchTalk groups being discussed include one based in Scotland, one for people who have been on a Moving Forward break, and one based on the well-known Alpha course covering the basics of Christianity.'

Yorkshire TFGs go to the coast

Fun and fellowship, sightseeing and spiritual input are all on the programme for a short break at Sneaton Castle, Whitby, on the east coast of Yorkshire. Blind and partially sighted people will be coming together from a number of TFGs in the area, from 28-30 April. The speaker will be Dr Mike Townsend, a Torch trustee. 'Other friends are welcome to join us,' says organiser David Judson of Leeds, Regional Co-ordinator for Yorkshire TFGs. He can be contacted by phone (0113 2166411) or email (manddj@gmail.com).

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God is our provider

The very morning that staff had been called to a half day of prayer for Torch finances, two visitors arrived on the doorstep with a cheque! What an encouragement! Jane Emerton, who's partially sighted, and her friend Marion Welch, brought a gift of money from the Trefoil Guild of Northampton, along with several bags of beautifully knitted blankets, jumpers and hats to be taken to blind people in Malawi. Andrew Nicholson, Torch's Chief Operating Officer, received the gifts.

'As a Christian organisation, we always strive to be open about our finances,' says Andrew. 'Our policy is to go first to our generous God in prayer with the needs of the work. At this opening quarter of 2014, we find ourselves in a particularly challenging time, after a sustained period of unusually low legacy income. Our general fund balance is well below the reserves level considered prudent by the trustees. We are trusting God for the 'daily bread' income to pay our staff and run Torch. Meanwhile, of course, we are looking carefully at everything we spend. From February, staff have taken a cut in pay. To adapt to the situation, Torch House is currently closed on Friday afternoons from 12.30pm – typically the quietest time of the week. We do apologise if this causes any inconvenience. We hope and pray these measures will not be long-term.

'We are very grateful for supporters who donate to Torch by standing order or direct debit,' adds Andrew. 'Regular giving like this really helps us manage our finances.'

Meanwhile, in an amazing answer to prayer and through the generosity of individuals and some trusts, Torch is able to proceed with several projects vital to the future work, for which funding has been specifically given. Under way is the first phase of the extension and improvements to our Holiday & Retreat Centre in Sussex; and work is going ahead on a new online way of obtaining braille, large print and audio items.

Please pray with us for God's provision for the day-to-day work at this critical time.

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Expressions of friendship in Africa ...

A Bible on audio, help through college, a roof over your head

Torch Trust despatches over 50,000 braille, large print and audio Christian magazines annually to over 90 countries worldwide, large numbers of them to Africa. The production base of Torch (Malawi) in Blantyre sends out braille Scripture portions in Easy English and nine African languages, as well as leaflets and hymn books. Along with accessible Christian materials, practical aid is distributed through a network of around 80 blind fellowship groups. Torch International Leader Janet Stafford brings three recent stories of encounters around Africa.

'The Bible on audio – it's like having a friend with me.'

I took eight audio New Testaments with me when I visited Thika Primary School for blind children in Kenya. I wasn't surprised when I discovered that there were eight blind teachers, since God often directs in this way. One teacher said, 'I am very happy because now I can walk almost anywhere and listen to the Word of God without any struggle. It is like having a new friend who goes with me everywhere.'

'I thank God for Torch ...'

I met David in Malawi, who told me: 'I went to Bible College along with two other blind men. The lecturers wanted us to study the books in the library, but this was no good for us as there were no braille books at that time. Then we were sent some audio books from Torch in England, which were of great help, and we got some braille books from the library set up by Torch at Konzere – a village community in the south of the country. We did well in our exams, without having to ask sighted people to read for us. I thank God for Torch, which God has raised up to help blind people. Through receiving my braille Bible and regular braille magazines, I'm always encouraged. The problems in my life are taken away and I'm always adding to the knowledge I gained at Bible College.'

'God has heard my prayers!'

Mr Zuze is a man in his 70s living in a village in the Mozambique bush. He told me that he lost his wife and children during the civil war. Being blind, he encountered many hardships, one of them being homelessness. When he became a Christian, his church built him a hut. Although the roof leaked, he was thankful for it. When he was told that a proper house was to be built for him, he said, 'I have been praying and hoping that one day my God would do something wonderful for me, as I was living like an animal under the shade of a tree. He has heard my prayers and I praise him.'

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We will remember ...

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.

Throughout 2014, the outbreak of the First World War will be commemorated in countless acts of remembrance national, regional and local. Torch Trust will be remembering too, as we make available free on request a specially-written booklet in braille, large print and audio.

We Will Remember contains fascinating facts, stories of deliverance and sensitive reflections on the price paid for our freedoms.

Written by Revd Graham Jefferson, who has many years' experience as a pastor of local churches, We Will Remember is a fitting tribute that we believe many will want to read.

The Archbishop's choice for Lent

Also new to buy or to loan free from the Torch Library is Looking Through The Cross, the Lent book choice of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. This book, written by Revd Dr Graham Tomlin, is available in braille, large print and audio. It's ideal to read reflectively – individually or in a small group - during the weeks leading up to Easter.

For We Will Remember,Looking Through The Cross, or anything else to do with Torch resources, see the website or call Client Services on 01858 438260.

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Dates for your diary

Torch CEO Dr Gordon Temple is excited about the way plans are coming together for the next Enabling Church conference. This significant, large-scale event, organised by Dr Temple and put on by Torch Trust with support from its partners within the Churches for All network, takes place on Tuesday 3 June at a superb disability-friendly venue – Bethel Convention Centre in West Bromwich – and with an impressive line-up of inspirational and knowledgeable speakers. Make sure you book early.

Torch will have a stand at CRE (Christian Resources Exhibition) Wales taking place at All Nations Centre, Cardiff, on 26 March; and at the International CRE at Sandown Park in Esher from 13-16 May. We're hoping to see you there! Contact us if you would like free tickets for either event.

Disability Sunday this year is Sunday 6 July. It's not too early to plan how you can use this date to bring the inclusion of disabled people to the attention of your church. Contact us for ideas.

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God bless you at Eastertime!

'Our Lord has written the promise of the resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.' - Martin Luther

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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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