Looking back on another year of our heavenly Father’s amazing grace and generous goodness, Christmas reminds us that only praise, thanksgiving and renewed commitment suit our situation and prepare us for the coming year. So may we all enjoy a Happy Christmas and God’s rich blessings in 2020!
In our last year’s Christmas letter we shared how Elizabeth was still suffering from her sub-dural haematoma. Happily that is now all in the past and she is doing well. But both of us have now reached the advanced age of 85, and so appreciate a rest in the afternoon and a considerably reduced programme. But we are still very grateful for some speaking and teaching engagements, appreciating the stimulus and encouragement of a ministry beyond our little village church.
This year’s fixtures have only included one overseas trip. In January I was asked to teach and preach in the church we had served as new missionaries back in 1960. Then it was just a small church of some 80 young people, but now it has about a thousand adults in their normal Sunday worship. They also have a wonderful new and modern church building. It was a joy to stay with a lovely couple; the wife had been in my Bible class in 1960! Thank you, Frances and Pui Ying (and old friends Julie Kuah and David) for all your friendship, generous hospitality and kindness in taking me round the fantastic progressive city, while feeding me also with superb Chinese dishes. They are now also going to do the same for our daughter Margaret who is currently there for work, but will also have a few days to see some of the places where she lived as a small girl. Exciting for her and a dream come true!
While I was in Singapore, the church we have related to more recently (6,000 adults on an average Sunday) invited me to go with them to Sarawak and Java to teach on mission among Muslims. It was particularly heart-warming in Sarawak to meet up with various people I had met in the revival there in 1974 – revival fellowship is something different!
Our diary this year has been much lighter than in previous years, but we have appreciated preaching and teaching in a couple of Anglican churches and two Baptist churches. Jubilee Centre in Cambridge invited me to teach at their conference on Relationships in the Bible. My subject was “Relationships in the Gospels”, while other people gave interesting teaching on Relationships in other parts of the Bible. Towards the end of November I am invited by our St. Alban’s diocese to teach on a course for clergy and other church leaders. They have given me the topic “Preaching on Matthew’s Gospel”. I hope my book “Matthew and Mission: the Gospel through Jewish Eyes” may also encourage them.
Studying in preparation for my weekly blogs (see our website) keeps me on my toes and hopefully enlivens what remains of my brain. It also refreshes my knowledge of New Testament Greek. Having now completed both John’s Gospel and his three letters, it is a challenge to get to grips with Jude. Hopefully we can then go on to Peter’s two letters. It is exciting to know that people from various countries and backgrounds are ‘following’ these blogs regularly and many more just ‘access’ them. Modern media has its advantages!
All Nations Christian College
It is a great joy and privilege still to have close relations with All Nations. Each term I much enjoy doing two mornings teaching for their excellent 10-week En Route course (might this course be something for you or for others you relate to?). One morning is given over to “Dealing with evil spirits”, the other morning races through two thousand years of Christian mission with up-to-date lessons concerning mission today both here in Britain and overseas.
We also so enjoy it when students come down to our home for a coffee and chat. We specially value visits from the Chinese students. This year the college has ten Chinese students, of which four come from China itself. We have been particularly fascinated to discover that one of them lives within easy reach of where Elizabeth was in Japanese prison camp during the war. In fact, this student’s youth group have an annual outing to the site of the camp! A memorial garden has been built there to honour all the missionaries who worked in that area, especially Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire) who died there.
All Nations is always an encouragement and stimulus to us and we realise increasingly how relevant their cross-cultural training is for multi-cultural Britain as well as for service overseas. It is also a beautiful and restful place for those needing a sabbatical. Do come!
St. Andrew’s, Stanstead Abbotts
For some years our village church has been steadily losing numbers. Now after almost 20 years our vicar has retired, and we very much hope that we can begin to grow again in the new era of having a Vacancy. Of course the church has begun the important process of looking for a new vicar – do pray for the right person who can relate well with us all and lead us into growth.
As a Lay Minister, Elizabeth is more active in the church than I am. She preaches and leads Services regularly (I just preach once a quarter) as well as being a member of the PCC and Worship committee. Every fortnight Elizabeth leads a Home Bible study. Preparation of families wanting their child to be welcomed or baptised is also her responsibility and opens the door for a clear explanation of the good news of Jesus. In the Vacancy she also gives home Communion to one family. We much appreciate a totally informal coffee morning each Thursday at the local garden centre. We feel the selling point of the church is our loving fellowship together. As I John 1.3 declares, our witness to Jesus has as its aim “that you may have fellowship with us”, so that your/our joy may be complete. “And our fellowship is with the Father and his Son”. So we believe firmly that coffees together play a vital role in the life of the church!
Each of our three children seems to have inherited the travel bug! Andrew has for some years wanted to trek in Nepal. He has just returned from two weeks with Bel and Ellie trekking quite high up in the Himalayas with beautiful scenery. As I write, Margaret is fulfilling her Singapore dreams by visiting her childhood home and experiencing the warm hospitality of good friends of ours there. Ruth in her role as a Tear Fund director has cut back on her overseas travels for ecological reasons. She has the honour of being asked to write the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book for 2020. Rachel, Andrew’s oldest, has been looking at possible universities as far afield as Edinburgh and Durham, while Ruth’s Mali has started her first year at Exeter University’s Cornwall campus. Chloe has been with her parents to different places too, including a very special holiday on a friend’s catamaran in the Caribbean. She is coping well with working three days a week.
In October we had a special day with Ruth. She invited us to be her official guests when she was awarded an honorary doctorate – her third doctorate, one earned and two honorary ones! The ceremony was held in the splendid majesty of Winchester Cathedral. I had not been there since 1955 when I was the interpreter for a Soviet naval visit to Portsmouth and we took coach-loads of Russian sailors on day outings to Winchester and other places. It was lovely to see Ruth being so honoured and dressed up in her doctoral gown and cap.
As we get older, our loving family become even more precious than before. We are so thankful for them all and it is a real joy too to see how they not only love us, but also love and enjoy each other. Now we look forward to the Christmas days together.
With our love and best wishes,
Martin and Elizabeth