The big smoke

It’s been a few weeks since we last trekked out on a Friday night to a city centre. Then, it had been Nottingham and we’d taken our new outreach vehicle (the ‘untamed’ bus) with us and gotten back at 5 in the morning. This week the word was London. We had guys there already doing some scheduled monthly outreach and some of our boys wanted to join in on Friday night. Wasn’t massively looking forward to it it must be said. It had just gotta be done, the lads needed to follow their hearts and feel supported – besides I need to get out more!
So we’re in the gate at the farm, we’ve just had tea and the 4or5 of us going down assemble there with our dear old Maria hovering around with her little bottle of ‘annointing’ oil ready to pray for us before we leave! She does so, going round the circle in the way she’s done here on a Fri night for as far back as I can remember. Legend.

Then we’re off, grab a box of our new JesusArmy street wear (modified Ecko jackets) on the way and bundle into the mini-bus picking up various other keeno’s en route, finally hitting the M1 about 8.30pm.

The journey was an event in itself! My guitar was on board and someone picked it up and started a song and we didn’t really stop that flow until we’d reached the city.. singing, praying, tongues & interpretations, faith getting released all over the place.. it was gonna be a good night! The infectious excitement was beginning to rubbing off on me. Some of these lads are still carrying it from the whole youth camp thing that went down this summer when a bunch of em totally found God, got baptised and now live seemingly raring to go and looking for every available opportunity to express their faith and push their boundaries. Reminds me of a radical young man I once knew!

We get to London, it’s nearly 10. Elco navigates me in to Leicester Square (after all these years of going down I still run the risk of getting lost!).. The ‘untamed’ bus is already there doing it’s thing. The lads (& Ruth) pile out and a couple of us disappear off to try and find parking. On to a semi-pedestrian side street, crowds parting round our slowly moving vehicle like the red sea! Once again it’s Elco to the rescue and we stick it in a side street somewhere. I squeeze the bus into a gap and jump on to the pavement. The guy immediately walking past nods at us and I say ‘ello’ and grab the moment. He must have recognised the bus (all liveried up in our JesusArmy stuff) cos he says he’d met someone earlier that day too. Turns out he’d lost his job, his place & his girlfriend the previous week and was completely down on his luck. I liked him instantly, friendly, genuine, outgoing, Polish lad, I’d invited him back to stay with us before I’d even thought about it! He jumped at the chance to help him out and that was it, he was with us.. we hadn’t been out of the vehicle 5minutes!

‘Gosh we can go home now’ I turned to Elco laughing.. ‘our jobs already done..’

God moment #1

But nothing could have been further from the truth!

We picked up our crew once back at the ‘untamed’ bus, took a while cos it was so hectic and they’d already begun to disperse but then we were all together (bar one, didn’t see him again till we were going!) and made our way up to Piccadilly with the vague idea of making some noise by the statue or something.. Got as far as Maccy Dee’s on the corner of Leicester Square (someone was desperate for the loo) and hung outside for a minute. I was jamming out a few chords on my guitar as you do and then suddenly there was this black girl standing in front of us trying to finish her mouthful, it looked like she was about to say something she seemed real interested and then a couple of her mates appeared out of the crowd and tried to drag her off..

‘not right now… common.. we gotta go..’

She’d been pulled down the street but then broke away and came back pointing..

‘I wanna sing with you-oooo-ooh’ she blurted out and in the most divine voice I think I’ve EVER heard face to face!

Think cross-over between Whitney and Rihanna….!

We were all like ‘Whohhhh..!!

She’d grabbed hold of Ruth for like 2seconds and then that was it.. whisked away into the crowd, we’d never see her again..

I was shocked. Moved in an instant! What just happened there?!

I couldn’t get it out of my head.. couldn’t get that voice out of my head!

Ruth told me later that had been the highlight of her night.. That briefest of exchanges, that touching of hearts, that human connection.. She said that as she’d reached out to her, the girl had instantly teared up..

God moment #2

Piccadilly statue. Lots of people despite the cold.. Everyone got stuck in.. There were some boys hustling, doing their business one in particular caught my eye. Had a good chat, seemed kinda conscious, prayed with him.. he carried on doing his thing. Little bit later I intro’d him to Sam and got him to tell him his story of finding Jesus, pretty fresh stuff, it did the job. We prayed again, this time I put my hand on his chest and invited the Holy Spirit to come into his life.. Something was going on. We swapped numbers. Good kid, definitely something there, we liked him.

God moment #3

Lots of good interactions going on all over but we called it a day about 12. I was conscious some people had to work the next day and didn’t want to style it out. Jack announced that he wanted to buy everyone a McDonnalds so back we went. The place was heaving even at this time of night. Probably one of the busiest restaurants in the world I’d guess, right on the corner of one of it’s busiest streets.

We managed to secure a table and crowded round about 8-9 of us, while some of the boys went to get food. Out of nowhere there’s this guy in front of us, he’d just picked up my guitar without me noticing and now proceeded to try and give us a show! (The thought had already occurred to me that here was a ready made audience but I’d dismissed it on the grounds of likely eviction.. but now this guy was proving me wrong!)

His efforts were.. interesting!:) Then he passed me the guitar.. my turn apparently!

No pressure then, what a moment.. ‘which song..’ (scanning internal database.. search engine whirring.. ‘song with grip and atmosphere)

Ah.. ‘His blood is precious’.. perfect!

The singing guy had now managed to squeeze himself in at our table along with his mate who’d given up trying to extricate him and joined the party!

I launched into my song complete with soaring chorus at high volume!

…’And so I worship Jesuuuuusssss… Laaaammb of God….’

The guys now sitting down were joining in with the rest of us.. heads began to turn, people gather round.

I played another song cos they wanted some r’n’b ‘You’ve made a difference in my life’ a testimony song, then we got down to it..

‘I wanna believe but the rational part of me wants proof’ my man was saying..

‘Right, we’re gonna pray right here right now for you to experience Him’ I replied.

That was it, hands laid on, find the words, focus on God’s spirit, God’s love.. that’s it, that transfer of life, of energy..

I’d finished praying and went to take my hand away but he didn’t move.. sat there, eyes closed lost in the moment, oblivious to the hubbub all around him.. I left my hand there.. just let him receive, drink in that sense of presence. Finally he sat up.

‘I felt it’.. he said.

God moment #4

We swapped facebooks, he’s at PricewaterhouseCoopers.. You can meet anyone and everyone in London.

It turned out this was the second time he’d bumped into Christians that day and been prayed for I think. Amazing.

It took quite some time to get back to our bus, by now we were buzzing hard and kept stopping to talk to people, stopping groups of people as a group, singing or whatever. You just know when you’ve got it (and when you haven’t incidentally!) cos you’re like gliding on this confidence that isn’t really your own, the life of the town, in charge of situations, able to merge with the moment as it presents itself. God moments.

I point to the red cross on the back of the jackets as we leave the last group of black lads open mouthed on the pavement having just worshipped with them..

‘Remember.. it’s Jesus Army’ I tell them

We won’t forget.. they reply..

Once again I’m in love with London, see the potential for movement, ache to make stuff happen in this great people centre, alive with possibilities..

Once again it strikes me how incredible it is to be the Jesus Army. Never more obvious than when it’s doing this kind of stuff. A church for its time, resourced, ready, relevant.

We’re waking up to our future. Let’s do this

I’m increasingly conscious of our need to communicate far more effectively.

John Griff (local Beeb radio presenter) – who actually has me on his show this coming Monday – told us recently

‘You guys need to get your message out there.

You have a great ‘brand’ and a great ‘product’ but first and foremost people need to know what you’re doing.

Good works speak for themselves.’

Orphanage

The road from the city turned at last into a track winding through the semi-village suburb. There’d been heavy rain during the day and our 4wheel drive was sloshing about in the puddles and navigating around more cattle in the road than was usual. We’d passed many Hindu shrines along the way out here, even if they were little more than glorified gazebos at the roadside. Bright colours, enhanced in this day and age by flickering LED’s and invariably blasting out punjabi dance music through hugely distorted speakers. There was no doubt which faith was asserting its right to be king of the jungle here. This was in-your-face marketing and atmospheric entrainment in one! I’ve realised I’d become used to finding these sights macabrely compelling yet tonight as I saw groups of young lads, 12-15yr old boys crowding their doorways, my heart was in my mouth. Lured in by the noise and hysteria only to be further entranced by the heavily fragranced air of these places, these festivities were surely the greatest excitement of their lives. What an age, so impressionable, so galvanic and with probably very little chance of any other doorway opening to them, their fate, their indoctrination sealed. The sight troubles me, indeed I’ve often bumped into lads their age in the street who on seeing me with my camera insistently try to draw my attention to their particular idol, already fanatical and proudly loyal to the cause.. How much there is to be done! I understand Colney’s sense of burden for this place the longer I am here.

Now my mind snaps back to the present as we pull into the turning for the orphanage we were about to see for the first time. Having met the lads the previous day we’d been overwhelmed by their simple enthusiasm and innocence and now couldn’t wait to surprise them! The plan had been, ever since we’d known about this trip, to raise funds in order to be able to contribute to the orphanage in some way. They were all kids from majorly disrupted backgrounds. Some had lost parents altogether. Some who would have been taken into care (if such a thing existed out here). There were some whose parents were missionaries and whose lives were in danger, the list went on but all were welcomed and cared for, principally by the ‘house family’ (an ex-missionary family) who lived in, along with various other workers.

Colney had told us the story of how one night the guy on duty had run to the ‘house father’s’ quarters and officiously reported that he’d discovered all the boys stealthily listening to the radio once they’d gone to bed. Somehow they’d managed not only to build a radio from scratch but also to connect enough earphones that would reach round to every mattress! The warden was suitably miffed that all this had gone on under his nose and wanted retribution. Some of the boys feared the consequences and even tried to run away, but the next day found to their amazement that their house father was full of praise for their achievement, recognising their innate talent and ability for enterprise and instead of telling them off announcing he would try and get them a workshop! Great story this, and had got us thinking, inspiring us to raise funds for video and photo editing software and equipment for them. Earlier in the day we’d been into neighbouring Bhubaneswar and found a Sony dealer to purchase all the kit we needed. We could also including the laptop and projector we’d been using on this trip too so now we had a full rig to set them up with.

We were met at the gates, even outside the gates by some of the older lads, ushering our vehicle in then holding umbrellas for us in the rain as we made our way to the door. What a welcome. A gauntlet of love! 70-80 young lads. They lined either side of the hallway and up the stairway clapping and cheering as we entered, eyes shining with happiness. We’d arrived just in time for their evening devotion and so ten minutes later we could join them in the main room as they began to sing. At first, they were seated on the floor, in rows, youngest at the front and despite their palpable excitement at having visitors were instantly lost in their worship, eyes closed, singing with fervour and ardour. By the next song they were all on their feet and the beauty of the singing washed over us, so compelling, so musical! Before long their arms were in the air, expressing their love for God and simple unabashed joy, so amazing to feel such uncontrived passion in ones so young. Later as I was interviewing some of them and asked them in turn what they liked best about living here, they invariably said it was the worship, the singing.

”Sometimes I see the tears running down their faces” their House Father told me.

I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed anything quite so special before with children and their relationship with Father God, really amazing. You realise they don’t need to somehow come of age before these experiences are open to them, To love and commune with Him is the most natural thing to us all, common to all humanity in all it’s different forms.

The moment came for us to present our gifts to them and so we explained simply our desire to bless them and help develop their talents, Sam bought the stuff in and oh my gosh, what a reception! Just so thankful, so happy.

”You do realise what you’ve done for these children is beyond their wildest dreams?” Colneys daughter asked us later

”Really, I expect some of them won’t even sleep tonight they are so excited!”

And so Sam and I have had this most amazing experience, being able to give without any way of return. What a joy, what a privilege, just to give like this. I suppose in this way we give directly to God, this sort of stuff is His kingdoms currency and after all, in quite a special way these are His kids!

We had some more time with them after the formalities were over, getting to know them a bit as they crowded round us eager to make eye contact, exchange huge smiles and a few words of broken English. A mass games of blind-mans-buff, a human pyramid, some chaotic group photo’s and then the bell had gone for dinner and we all piled downstairs. Here they grabbed themselves a dish and went to where their slop was being dished out from a few huge pans in the middle of the room. Once everyone was seated, they sang again briefly, one lad stood to bless the food and away they went, all chatter, clatter, noise and laughter.. Then we had to go, a couple of the lads had made us cards.. It was hard to leave, we really needed longer with them. One feels that something has begun now that will be continuous. Many needs there, as seemingly with all Colneys faith projects! They all require beds for instance, we didn’t see their sleeping arrangements but know they are very basic and the authorities are breathing down their necks.. So our commitment to support them is ongoing, Sam particularly felt a definite pull to stay involved. Maybe we can find sponsors for them individually to sort them out with their basic needs.. we’ll have to work it all out when we get home but there’s no doubt we can make a difference. These kids will grow up into all walks of life and some no doubt enter into the ministry with Colney and others, future leaders, but they’ll never forget these amazing times of their childhood, this sense of God, this bond with one-another. Wonderful to witness it. And what a contrast from the lads in the streets outside. But in this state, a drop in the ocean. And with India’s massive 1.3 billion… One takes away a little more sense of perspective, urgency, of mission. Maybe that’s why some of the guys we’ve met out here are so driven, this great yearning sea of humanity is right on their doorstep after all.

We were leaving India the next day. A final whizz round to pick up a few bits for people back home, some more amazing food with Colneys family and then off to the airport for our long haul home. We had to change at Mumbai for the big flight and here Sam and I were on our own at the airport for the first time. Bad move. Very nearly missed the plane! Not entirely our own fault I might add. The airport was a nightmare. Def the worst one we encountered. We had an hour and 40min gap between flights and should have been fine. But, it went something like this.. Firstly queueing in the int. transfer bit for ages. Check boarding pass, weigh hand luggage (I have 3 items, bag, laptop, camera) get scanned, get on shuttle bus to elsewhere in airport, suddenly realise I’ve only got 2 items with me.. dash back off bus, back to the scanner, retrieve camera, dash back on bus.. close one! 10min ride across airport. Dumped out into a crowd which we slowly realise is simply queueing to get back in the airport. More checks, scans. Look for our departure lane, get directions, get lost, queue, reach front of queue discover we needed to have filled in a form, back to forms, need contact detail and address from our last residence there., ring Greatheart for Colney’s number.. ring Colney (1am) no answer, write something on the form for an address, back through the queue, then another round of checks and scans.. off to the departures bit, grab a coffee, hear our flight being called, find our departure lane, (stuffing down a subway and coffee asap) so, get to the back of our queue as it’s boarding, reach front of queue.. discover we both have somehow lost tags on of our bags.. Can’t board. Get escorted back to security by hostess, back through scanner, new tags, there’s the final call for our flight, and then we’re running though the airport (baywatch stylee) back to our departure lane. We make it.. just! Mission accomplished. Now for that costa at the other end!

Thanks for coming with us 🙂

Last stop – Cuttack

Another day, another city! We’re def getting better at this travel malarky.. by which I mean we don’t have to empty and re-pack our hand luggage multiple times as we used to and we can rip the hostesses when they do their routine safety demo cos we know it off by heart – they love it! – After all we’ve done 6 flights in 10 days now.. We flew back to Kolkata en route to Orissa, our final destination of this trip. 65 languages spoken in this state and still very tribal.

So back to ‘India-proper’, back to 30º+, to crazy roads and crowds, to dilapidated housing and pungent smells.. ah India! #LOVE.

We touched down in the evening and made the short road journey to Cuttack where we’ll be staying, Colney’s permanent base. The city is also the home to the orphanage they run, housing about 80 lads and was the main reason we’d been fund-raising before we’d got here. We were really keen to check it out.

Cuttack, said by some to be the oldest city in India, the ‘millennium city’, ‘city of temples’. It has a massive Hindu majority and over recent years the embers of Christian persecution have burst into flame here as they did all through the state of Orissa. Colney speaks of the time in 2009 when his home; a three story office, cum-appartment, cum-worship venue suddenly became the only place of refuge for 300+ Christians in the city, fleeing for their lives, their homes burnt to the ground – I wonder how they managed to get them in cos the place isn’t that big and it went on for months! He ended up with an armed guard on that occasion.

Dramatic first impression of the city, crawling through the streets, road traffic, bike-type things, pedestrians, farm animals all clogging them up even at 9pm and then we rounded a corner into a wall of sound. Ahead was a Hindu procession in full swing, cavorting worshippers, frenzied kids, huge grotesque idols pulled by hand and lit garishly by massive floodlights. There were pick-ups filled with costumed drummers and people drunk and dancing in the street. I was hanging out the window and virtually on the roof of our 4wheel drive trying to film it all and getting ecstatically greeted and grabbed at in turn. But most noticeable in all this fiesta of noise and colour was the change in atmosphere. Strangely dark, aggressive, it felt like it could explode at any moment.. Still we remained transfixed until we pulled off the main street down a narrow lane in into our driveway. Whew!! What was that!!?! Sam and I shook our heads at each other in disbelief.

Colney’s residence, it has to be said is an impressive place, Large ornate colonial iron gates, tower-style corners to the building and a flat roof terrace. I don’t know how they managed to get hold of the place – apparently originally a missionary base – cos they live pretty hand-to-mouth, but then they do seem to trust God for everything. Greeted at the door by Colney’s daughter and ‘spiritual son ‘Moye’ we were made to feel completely at home.. wi-fi and a shower are like major luxuries now!

The following morning it was church held in the upstairs floor. To be honest I completely lose track of time let alone days, still only got GMT on my fone so that’s not much help. Also we didn’t really have a Sunday last week, think we were in the air most of the day.. Anyway Colney had asked me to prepare something today for the gathering and so with half an hour to go I thought I’d better get into gear. I closed the door of our guest room and climbed out on the ledge outside the window to give myself a moment.. It was already oppressively hot but there was a lad out there in a Jesus Army t-shirt with one of those traditional reed brooms sweeping the forecourt.. good shot, I thought and darted back inside to get the camera (we’re been filming a lot of stuff to make a documentary or something later). When I re-appeared there was a couple of his mates with him, also with the T-shirts on! More came out of the woodwork and I suddenly clicked.. ‘These must be the lads from the orphanage, here for the meeting’ but we weren’t expecting this, we presumed they’d just be infants, young lads, whereas these guys were clearly teenagers!

Suddenly all thoughts of preaching went out my mind.. ‘I know, I’ll show them a video of our youth camp type stuff and give them some inspiration.. ‘

Mission! now had only 5mins to set the projector up.. and they’d actually started singing by the time we got up there with the gear, 70 or so lads filling the room with their loud, intent voices and clapping! Brilliant. They were all ages actually but it was soon evident that they were all clearly engaged showing great respect and concentration, a real credit to those looking after them. The vid went down well and Sam’s little demo that followed it. Then toward the end on came a dancing song and then, my gosh didn’t they go for it?! Brilliant sense of rhythm and co-ordination,they were actually busting some moves! I love the indian dancing thing. Someone ushered me in amongst them, naturally I couldn’t resist, great fun, though poring with sweat at the end! There’s fans all over the house but they only take the edge of this stiflng heat. To think it gets up to the mid-40’s in April/May time.. whoh!..

They had a wicked set of conga’s with them which I jumped on at the end and got them all going again, can’t wait to get over to see them tommoz! We just chilled the rest of the day though, popped out for a little recce around our area and managed to bump into another procession but apart from that we just had great meals with the family etc and enjoyed being here. Fortunately the weather broke in the afternoon and the heavens opened, clearing the air and reducing the temperature a little. I got up on the roof with the camera; too good an opportunity to miss, love a thunderstorm This was a corker, swaying palm trees, rolling thunder, the lot!

Later that afternoon Colney was filling us in on his background, indeed like his Father had at the mission centre the day before. They’d both had such interesting lives, lives of real note and worth. men who’d achieved. Inspirational stuff…. He told us more about his organisation here, how he’d come here 20yrs ago after an initial spate of evangelism and been engulfed by the need.

‘One of the hardest places to be a Christian on earth’ he said

‘Massive Hindu majority and all kinds of atrocities committed to Chriastians out in the sticks. So with approx 100 missionaries now under his direction he oversees this operation to get the message out there. They see about 100 people saved every month and a new church formed every two months. I was sounding him out on the possibilities of our guys in future being able to join mission teams out to the villages when suddenly the room we were sitting exploded in an almighty ‘CRACK’ and a patch of red light flashed above of heads.. LIGTENING! very loud. That was scary! Sam looked like he’d just seen someone get shot! We seriously expected the building to have split in two.. Crazy climate!

I’m not sure if we even managed to finish that conversation after that. All the power drops out when this stuff happens, pretty chaotic. Worth noting it’s actually way to hot to sleep at night with even as much as a sheet on! Fortunately our room has a big fan.. maybe we’ll be on the roof tomorrow night though, that’d be fun!!

Ring the mission bell

Friday 13.09 our last day in Mizoram and Colney was taking us to visit his Jesus Centre here. It was nearly a 2hr car journey along the treacherous mountain roads, snaking our way 30km way from the city. Still at high altitude and with very little room to pass in places, sometimes our path was almost completely blocked by landslides from the recent rains. It was easily the hottest day we’d experienced so far, up in the 30’s somewhere, not too bad when moving in the car but when we alighted it hit us hard. Our set down point was a village out in the sticks, very poor, traditional woven bamboo housing etc and from there we had a 1km trek to our destination along a narrow mud track through the jungle. At last we were getting to see the place! Incredible vegetation, huge banana plants, very little else I can name but amazing leaves, shapes, varieties. And the noise.. wow! A constant high pitched tone from the insects, unbelievably loud considering their invisibility with all kinds of other sounds – unnatural to our ears – thrown in. When the track reached a clearing the large old Iron gates of the "Jesus Army Restoration centre” came into view. We were on the top of a hill top within this jungle clearing and a large multi tiered concrete building stood ahead. There were various other outbuildings too, all incredibly basic and all but unfurnished.

One of the lads who met us us at the car had attached himself on to me on the walk here. Speaking good English he now proceeded to give us a tour of the place, proudly showing us into every room and introducing us to everyone. There were maybe a dozen guys staying at the place at the moment and several ‘staff. All from crisis backgrounds and either addicts or maimed/diseased, the youngest a 15yr old lad. Pretty full on then. This was a last ditch, meeting need attempt, fuelled purely by compassion with little to no funding and a few incredibly sacrificial people. Ramdina (the lad escorting us) turned out to be a team leader and he described his daily routine including dressing wounds, educating, hunting and performing a myriad different tasks of service with very little time to himself. He showed us into his shared dorm, concrete floor, no glass in the windows, iron bunk and a few ‘Readers Digest’ next to his bed for comfort

"I want to keep self-educating” he said.. ”keep my mind alive”

He was early 20’s and a graduate. His father was a banker but he’d got himself into drugs and had come here as an addict. It was here that he’d found Jesus and now sitting on his bed and listening spellbound to his description of salvation, my heart began to melt. Clearly he’d had a massive infilling of God’s love and power that had transformed not only his life but his whole mind-set too.

”At first I didn’t want to come back here to work” he went on

”It’s hard; extreme conditions, strenuous, isolated, but I found it’s where my heart was. I just have to serve, pay back what He’s done for me. How can I walk away? this is my life now.

I was blown away, completely overwhelmed by the genuineness of his testimony and the extent of his sacrifice. In someone so young, such a simple radical heart.. I was lost for words.

We gathered on the top floor for a service of sorts. Everyone was there, even a handful of people from the nearby village. It seemed a big event to them that we’d come, looking forward to our visit for 3 months! First a couple of songs were sung accompanied with a beat up guitar and traditional Mizo drum, then Ramdina got up to speak, having hastily thrown on his best clothes for the occasion. So warm, humble and loving.. I could feel myself crumbling. We’d seen a lot over the last few days. Poverty, need, desperation but nothing had moved me like this was doing now.

Next up was the 15yr old lad. Taken from a background where his family were making illegal wine, (liquor is outlawed in Mizoram) he was already addicted with absolutely no way out. He’d come here 5months previous and was already being transformed. He was to read out a Psalm in his newly learnt English and off he went, eyes squeezed shut as he racked his memory for the words, stammering, faltering and then gripping the lectern and willing himself through to the finish.. A lot going on in that moment as he symbolically struggled to prove himself. This was getting to me. Soon I was asked to speak and fighting to control my emotions I sought to express the extent of my admiration for these guys, affirm the simple giving of their hearts. Thinking back home to our Jesus Centre’s and recognising the same ethos and yet our/my limitations when it came to serving in them. This had to be an overflow of gratefulness from those who’d experienced this amazing grace in their own lives..’love so amazing so divine, demands my soul my life my all…’ It had to be this way for us if we’d see such miracles too..

Soon we were back out into the sunshine and the heat. Food was on the agenda, cooked in a pot over the fire and Ramdina continued to show us round outside. The tank of cold water, run-off from a nearby gorge that they used for bathing, their veg planting and attempts at irrigation, mango trees and bamboo stocks. He told me more of their daily struggles too. Almost entirely self-sufficient, the battle to make ends meet is continuous, often paying for medical supplies from their own meagre funds. The jungle from which they need various essentials like wood and food leaves them always at the mercy of leeches and preying insects but they win through no matter what, living by faith, pooling all their resources and always making it work.

”What we really want” Ramdina explained ”is the ability to provide aftercare for those that come through and we are hoping eventually to get a wood-processing and furniture making business going a) to facilitate training and skills for those who leaving to build their own lives and b) to help self resource the centre”

Great vision but seemingly a long way off. I determined to get some facts and figures off him.

”maybe £5000” he told me, ”that’s the machinery and tools”

‘Well that’s definitely do-able’ I thought, ‘we could the raise funds somehow..100 ppl giving £50 quid etc.. Hmmmm…’

We set off back to the mission centre and our last night in Mizoram.. Later we’d be out looking at the stars and the beautiful lights of Aizawl of course. There’s a viewing platform at the top of the mountain not far from us and you can see the whole panorama spreading out below, a flickering display that no camera can capture. We just breathed it in trying to file it away inside for ever.. What a moment!

‘Breakthrough believers’

So the pattern of the week was to be a conference on Monday and Tuesday after which Greatheart was due to fly off to Myanmar Tues evening leaving Sam and I to run a mini-RAW’ type youth event (if you know the lingo) on the Thurs/Fri. What actually happened was quite different, as apparently things invariably end up being on these jaunts. For a start, when we arrived there we found out there was to be a planned political strike on Tuesday which would affect everything, all the transport in the town (no conference therefore possible that day) and including the airport. So, Ian wasn’t going anywhere!

He went to bed early that Sunday evening, prob thinking about preparing himself for the morrow and having to condense two days worth of spiel into one. I think we did try to creep into the into the room later and keep the noise down when we were getting into bed but then we must have ended up talking in discreet stage whispers or something and not noticed the breathing in the corner getting lighter! Light was off but I was on my fone writing my blog and at one point burst out with..

"how do you spell ‘queue’?

"Q.U.E.U.E.. came the droll voice from the corner as Ian gave in and joined the party..

Both of us exploded in laughter. The next hour or so was absolutely hilarious, I mean it was 2 o’clock.. but even Greatheart was hilarious!

He was bemoaning his plight re the flight cancellation and between us bouncing around every conceivable alternative. But whichever way we looked at it, it appeared bleak and for some reason, at that particular point in time, it was very very funny!

By the next day it was all sorted. Colney had managed to procure a special pass to get Greatheart out the country, signed by some important dude. The conference had gone well, short and punchy (a bit like our host), or so the guys seemed to think! They’d included a couple of local Mizo choirs – always a treat – and the worship band had thrown themselves into it etc but it was at the end of the day it all came alive for me.

I’d noticed this young chap in the conference covered in tattoo’s and excessively loving God in the worship, standing out against the mostly dour background of his contemporaries. He was accompanied by another youngish chap who’d come out with some really searching questions during the day. I got chatting to ‘tattoo’s’ over chai later and he introduced me to the other guy, his pastor Dr Dennis.

Dennis cut to the chase.

”So how could ‘multiply’ (our network) help break the deadlock the denominations had over the city?’ he wanted to know. He earnestly wanted to know!

I tried at first to give him a reasoned answer and encourage him but that wasn’t enough. I began to get the picture, Dennis was the ad-hoc leader of a new movement that had sprung up in the city over the last few years, growing very fast, all young people and breaking into spiritual life and power. A wonderful story.. (even whilst we were talking some of his guys had started to come over to us and gather round) the trouble was perhaps inevitably, this new thing had been condemned by the established churches who exercise a well meaning but cultural stranglehold over society here. At some point over the next few minutes we just ‘clicked’ and I connected with the man’s passion for Jesus and his frustration at the obstacles in the way.

Within minutes we had built a rapport and began to plan stuff to do. There had been talk of running an open air event in the city centre on Wednesday, where we’d hire a soundsystem etc and organise a full on demo similar to the type of thing we do annually in London. Dennis was immediately up for it. His crew turned up at the mission centre where we’re staying on Tues evening and we got down to it. Sam had already been recruiting and training some of the guys and girls staying with us in the day learning a couple of skits and we had more idea’s up our sleeve. The first thing these guys did when they arrived though, was worship. Dennis just gripped it and they were immediately into a song and I do mean ‘into’ a song! It was like flicking a switch on. Must have been about 15 of them and of course our guys were right with them. There’s about a 50/50 split of songs between English and Mizo so Sam and I are good for a lot of them.

"We always start everything with prayer and worship” Dennis told me.

I was shocked. ‘We just charge right on in at home’ I thought. This is good!

It became clear as the week went by that it was worship – by which I mean a passionate exchange between us and God – that was these people’s lifeblood, their fuel, their delight. We were having to re-learn ‘release’ to keep up!

And so we got got on with preparations, a testimony style demo (with placards) in addition to the two skits we’d prepared, ‘Get-up, get-down’ (our tried and trusted ‘go-crazy’ song), a street dance from Dennis’s crew, a couple more solo’s and we’d nailed it. So then it was back to the music of course. They had a little band between them and started to run through a set-list and everybody was off again.. Wonderful atmosphere, food appeared from somewhere and we just went on onto the night, now firm friends.

Wednesday dawned loudly, heavy rain hammering down on the corrugated iron roof just feet over our heads. Noted that it’s actually quite a nice sound when you don’t really have to get up, but I did so anyway cos sleep is boring, generally, but especially when in India! The running water in our ‘bathroom’ had seemingly stopped running altogether so I decided to go for a roof-top shower, venturing out on to the terrace with my shower gel.. It was quite a furtive affair though as there were people around within eye shot – everyone sleeps and rises so early round here – and I didn’t want to get locked up!

Fortunately by the afternoon the rain had gone. We set up in a perfect location in the plaza area outside the big shopping centre. The guys turned up from the music store with the kit to run the sound side of things, that was great. Colney produced a ‘Jesus Army’ flag from his office and dispatched someone off to find a long bamboo pole, that was gonna be our ‘prayer point’. We were in a natural amphitheatre with the surrounding buildings overlooking us on one side and the glass windows of the multi-floored shopping centre on the other. The band was up and running and now our guys were turning up there was quite a sense of expectancy developing. Soon the windows all around were filled with onlookers, I was surprised by the size of the crowd forming before we’d even played a note. Genuine interest and anticipation, I wasn’t used to this..

We got going, the band launched into a few Mizo worship songs and our guys needed no encouragement. It’s like someone just flicks a switch, suddenly animated into life and expression about 30-40 people began worshipping with passion, throwing themselves into the singing, arms in the air, full of energy. Quickly circles began to form at the front as they began rotating in a kind of conga dance. Dennis grabbed hold of me and I jumped in! Later I found out that this was a form of traditional Mizo dancing, which naturally created an instant rapport with the onlookers and further charged the atmosphere!

The program rolled on, everything went well, great sense of interaction – the skit’s were hilarious and Sam’s testimony gripping. I gave a brief gospel message translated by Dennis and many people responded at the prayer point. In fact people kept approaching us well after things had wound up and the tropical dusk abruptly descended. Such an openness to the gospel, we were completely bowled over; people needing to know they were forgiven, wanting prayer, wanting healing, wanting the Holy Spirit.. We were in full flight, this was pretty unprecedented, especially for Sam but he was rising to the occasion magnanimously, speaking into people’s lives, joining them in their tears, being Jesus to the need.. Awesome stuff!

Now for some quality time with Dr Dennis as he’s affectionately known round here. Good to bond, good to work together in the cause, now to get to know the heart of the man. He came over to pick us up that evening with Peter the tattoo guy and we went over to his place. We were soon lost in conversation. He’d begun ‘Breakthrough Believers’ almost by accident as he’d started to meet with others at the home he still shared with his Mother, back in 2007. He’d found God during his time at university and interestingly that was where he’d first heard of us, somehow finding Jesus Army magazines at medical college in India! Then, back in Aizawl after graduating he’d been longing for more, feeling frustrated at the lack of spiritual life in the major denominations of the city (a strong legacy of the missionary traditions) and things began to snowball. Now under considerable opposition they were meeting as a fellowship every week in a hired hall in the town and filling the place – approx 300ppl. Nearly were all teens and twenties, Aizawl’s fast Westernising youth.

As the pace of things increased Dennis had given up working as a medical doctor and was now was full on into ministry. He’s 35. Living celibate for the last few years and totally devoted to what was growing under his nose, he strikes quite a character and is clearly being used by God. I was very inspired, this raises the bar some what!

Just then a bunch of youngsters pile into his place and just hang out..

”They’re here cos you guys are” Dennis told me.

”They knew you’d be here tonight”

Great though that was and further impressed by the clear sense of movement that was going on in this group still I couldn’t tear myself away from the conversation.

”So what’s the secret Dennis.. why do they come.. how do they become so into it?”

”Oh.. he laughs.. there’s not many strategies, I just set myself ‘on fire’ and get them to do the same”!

He does give one little insight however, in fact it’s soon clear that this is his real passion..

”it’s about time spent with Jesus” he said

”I try and spend 3hrs a day with the Lord.. I just know it’s the only way.. It’s not by might, nor by power..” He went on..

"’It’s about feeding your spirit so that that feeds your soul and not your default carnal nature..”

I let his words seep in to me.. Sam and I silently vowing we were gonna start by doing an hour..!

"I say to my young people, do 3hrs a day for 3weeks and then see the results”!

I mean .. woh!

We get to talk about ‘multiply’ and linking up. Him coming over to the UK, possible exchanges etc..

”We’re your sort of people” he said.

Indeed they are. We need what they’ve got but interestingly he was picking up on what we’d got too. ‘Brotherhood” he said.

”From the moment you guys walked in here tonight you’ve been ‘imparting’ it.”

He started using words like ‘warmth’ and ‘flow’. I had to acknowledge it was all sub-conscious. Sure we know it’s true, amazingly so, it’s in us and so just comes out.

At such times you realise the beauty of what we’re into. It’s all about ‘winning hearts’ whether it’s in friendship, in evangelism or building relationships and real jesus brotherhood. This is the building genius God has given to us. Whenever I’ve been called on to speak or sing this week I’ve ended up on this subject and then singing songs like ‘I need you my family’ that just smash it every time! I love our church, the peoplehood, the collective, the one-ness, the humanity of it all and love the fact that it is becoming ‘sought out’, a ‘praise in the earth’ amongst those worldwide now who are reaching for more. Thank you God!

The people: Mizo culture

A change of culture for us again then here in Mizoram. Took a couple of days to adjust. Very simple living conditions. Apparently the mission centre we’re staying at, set up and led still by Colney’s 78year old ‘father’ runs entirely by faith. This man is clearly a legend amongst the local people and his place here held in very high esteem.

We eat with Colney’s family in the kitchen… full on meals, help yourself from steaming dishes in the middle of the table job, always three times as much as we can eat.. (they certainly don’t skimp on food and I fear it’s entirely for our benefit). Took a while to get used to always having rice and chilli on the table along with 2 meats and multiple veg for every meal, even breakfast:-/

We have near panoramic views of the surrounding mountains from our 1st floor rooms, the hillside houses of Aizawl falling away beneath us and at night their myriad lights appearing like a ruffled robe bedecked with twinkly L.E.D.’s! A stunning landscape, often swirling in cloud and then abruptly erupting into sunshine and in this season just as swiftly into monsoon rain or a thunderstorm. A wonderful climate, mostly around the mid 20’s at this time of year and that’s a constant, whatever the weather and even during night hours. Verandas surround all our doors and windows and we simply step outside at whim (including for a shower as I attempted in the sheeting rain yesterday morning)!

Very sparse inside though and even more so for the lads missionary accommodation in the rooms next door to us, just hard reed bunks in empty dorms. No frills. There are a handful of trainee’s living in at the mo, guys and girls, and they undergo an intensive 3 month course including learning the language and customs of the country/district they are heading for. There is a ‘house family’ team who look after the place and a couple of others who take care of the orphanage on site. When the community gathers in the evening something amazing occurs; they do this thing where everyone prays simultaneously and out loud for about 5mins! That’s when they lift up the many prayer requests that get sent in from local people, prayer for healing (they see miraculous results) and meeting real need as well as the outpourings of their own hearts.. what a good way to do it!

The first thing that hit me about the Mizo people was their passion in worship. Whenever they sing, they simply connect! There’s no embarrassment to let their feelings show, just an unabashed release of emotion and desire. Wonderful.

I’ve discovered more about their history and background along the way. Descended from the Mongol race with roots in China they quite simply fled to the hills at some stage, migrating to this corner of what is now N.E. India. Dates and facts are hard to come by as nothing has been written down but clearly there was no desire to be associated again with China when the maps were being re-drawn in the aftermath of the British Raj here last century. Links with their origins were severed when they’d fled, apparently escaping an unhappy oppression low-down in Chinese society; so here they stay. A little enclave of Chinese culture in the mountains of North India.
A humble servile people, almost embarassingly so but tough and ready to make the best of life. Apparently it’s only recently they have begun to open up their borders and you can see the tribal nature of the society is still present. Very poor, especially in the countryside but hardworking for survival. Lots of cottage industry, it lines the roads of the towns and villages and it’s all completely manual labour. To give you an idea of the nature of the work here, we were looking at a new build going up next door to us yesterday. Of course everything is built partially on stilts against the hillside and the 3 concrete pillars that supported this place were sunk 18ft into the ground. Those holes had been dug out by hand, no machines! 1m wide 6m deep. When they hit rock it has to be chiseled out. Now that is serious graft believe me! Their wage, well the builder guys get the equivalent of a fiver a day and their labourers half that and when I compare that with the working standards and expectancy of our culture, of my working life, I begin to realise we’re on a different planet. Some of their costs are less of course but the price of electronic goods etc isn’t deflated. I had to buy a 32gb pen–drive the other day, a standard 15quid. So it would take one of those guys digging all day for three days in the searing heat, squashed into a tiny shed at night with 10 other guys who are also living on site, just to buy a pen-drive. Rich and poor divide. Sobering.

They really are in it together though. The other night, late, about 1am we heard a loudspeaker crackle into life outside somewhere and something that sounded to us like a a newsreel start to echo round the hillside. This went on for some time, then later on when getting into bed I could hear singing and drums wafting through our open windows. I lay awake listening to them into the early hours, 2-3am.. lovely way to drift off as it goes! In the morning we asked our host about it – he hadn’t heard a thing! Firstly the loudspeaker…

"Oh that would most likely have been an announcement to say that someone had died and an explanation as to where all the relatives were gathering..”

So apparently the custom is that whenever someone passes away all the local people go to their home and the music and singing will begin by way of comforting the relatives. Then the community will make sure they are always accompanied in the grieving period even arranging domestic help for the family and rallying round to provide financially etc. Now if that was in our neighbourhood you’d have the council banging on your door for breaching the peace.. Oh the contrasts! (might be a bit annoying to have everybody piling in your house under those circumstances though it must be said!)

From riches to rags

Early start from the hotel, after an amazing exotic buffet breakfast there it must be said, then out into the stifling Calcutta air. Incredibly humid and fiercely hot, this place is a cauldron for humanity. By far the worst stench we’ve met, a cloying fug of sewage, hanging furtively above the streets, oppressive, corrosive. Hanging over people’s lives.
And how many people! 16million of them. Certainly the biggest city I’ve ever been in. A seething mass of humanity. Again vicious inequality, the have’s and have not’s. I’d been out the previous afternoon and returned, aghast at the contrasts, shocked at the poverty.

Mother Theresa, yes I completely get why she did it. What a woman. The only way to win surely has to be to identify. And she’d done it!
We’d reached out a little to the serving lads and girls working in the hotel, spurred on by a directive from someone on Facebook. Had some beaut connections actually and prayed for people.. £12per wk for a wage there in the hotel. No life, little future. Bleak, massive need for hope, for love..

The flight to Aizawl was straightforward, frisbee in the waiting area is now the method of choice for relieving airport boredom! A small propeller plane this time but still fun. We’d got seats right at the front and had even managed to get in the cockpit for a butcher’s! So now leaving India-proper behind when the land came back into view we were over the paddy fields and mountains of what is really South Asia. This north Indian state Mizoram, is positioned next to Myanmar (Burmah) and tucked under China and with its Indo-Chinese race is just like everything you’ve seen in the films. Mountainous, jungle-like, rich green vegetation, swollen brown rivers.. Then the plane was coming down and rushing along the runway and once close up we could scarcely believe our eyes!

Excited as puppies we fly down the steps, (Greatheart following behind, wagging his tail like a pleased old Labrador)! Together trying to inhale this incredible feast, snapping furiously at everything and anything! Then we were through customs and in the arms of Colney our host, or at least in the back of his truck, taking the snaking mountain road up to the city in the sky.

Aizawl. Quite simply the most beautiful place we’d ever seen. Eden like, pounding waterfalls shooting over cliffs, exotic shrubbery, palm fronds rising, houses jutting out on stilts from the hillside, everywhere a sea of green, lush fertility. What an amazing journey! We hardly spoke, I remember just singing softly to myself, lost in the wonder of the moment, silenced by sheer overwhelming beauty.

Once in the city we stopped for fuel and immediately leapt from the car and into the street, into another world! Down some steps cut in the hillside we ran, befriending some kids on a terrace and then beckoned on inside by their Father, before we knew it we were sat down and waiting to receive a cup of chai.. The hospitality had already begun and our tank had not yet finished filling! Colney had to come and dig us out of there (prob a good job as Sam was now being accosted by one of this fellows daughters because of his lovely white skin)! We set off again, climbing higher through the streets, first and second gears only, eventually reaching the ‘foreigners office’ to register. This guy had quite simply the best office view I’d ever encountered! He took our details, occupation, fathers name etc and then as we signed the book we realised there had only been 4 other foreigners here before us this year! Wow, we felt so privileged, like we’d stumbled across some well kept secret. No invasive tourism here, a little enclave of preserved culture. A state already 70% Christian, though admittedly much of it nominal, but fruit of the missionaries that had established the place 150yrs previous.

We reached Colneys mission centre where we’ll be staying for the next week and were greeted warmly by all. Here was community, a basic staff and always transient missionary trainee’s but people living together with the same spirit we have at home. We sat down and ate, worshipped together, (I’d missed that this week) and of course started jamming! Out came the guitar and keys, teaching and learning songs, making friends and ‘touching down’.. We’d been assigned a section of the top floor of the main building to ourselves and soon our luggage was spread out over it as we began to unwind. No more travel for Sam and I for a week, a week in paradise! Greatheart was flying to Yangong in a couple of days and had already got his head down before I’d come upstairs that evening, needing to shower as usual before bed. And the shower was….. A small tap connected to the toilet cistern! Wow. Had to laugh at the contrast..

You could fill a jug and tip that over yourself, and that was about it! 5star power shower 24hrs ago to my humble jug now. From ‘riches to rags’ or maybe I’d say better ‘from rags to riches!

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‘Trapped’ in the airport

It’s 4am Sat morning and we’re bouncing along the pitted road out of town leading to the airport. Laughter, excitement, high on the adrenalin of an all-nighter, or at least we are, Greatheart’s loving it too, so relaxed, the next leg of our journey beckoning. Surefoot’s stayed in Bangalore, his flight not due till the morning. We pull in toward the airport. Sam and I have been joking about that feeling you get when you keep thinking you’ve left something behind.. but we can’t have, we emptied the place, surely. And then, it flashes into my mind like a thunderbolt. Always happens too late and always completely at random.. ie my memory decides it probably ought to function and joins the party! ‘Where’s my laptop’?
… ‘it’s not here’.
My mind does instant acrobatic U-turns that any CSI forensic would be proud of. … ‘under my bed!’
Indeed, I’d stashed it there before going out earlier that day in a moment of caution, and there it had remained, out of site from any potential thief or any owner that relied upon sight for his memory.
‘Sometime’s it’s hard being me’ I blurt out ruefully to the gobsmacked car who’ve just been eyewitness to my crime disclosure.
So now we have less than an hour to rectify the situation. We are at the airport. No time for the taxi driver to go back and return but fortunately he is already on the phone to his mate.. Half an hour..
It’s doable! The arrangement is for Surefoot to give the new driver the laptop and for him to meet us outside in the taxi rank. We have the taxi number and the drivers phone number. Phew!
We check in. Usual luggage re-packing palaver. Still time. We go to the exit, guarded as through all India by the gun toting police or military or whoever they are. However they weren’t having any of it!
..’Once you’re in, you’re in. No way back out the airport unless you wanna abandon your flight,’ That was the message or their gesticulation to that effect!
‘But the taxi driver won’t know how to find us’ I explain, anxiety rising in my voice..
Nothing against the Indian constablary but I wouldn’t say they excelled at customer service at this point. Sam and I are left to scan the crowds milling the entry points the other side of the plated glass doors, fidgeting nervously. Time passes. Precious time. The clock’s ticking. My mind’s whirring..
That laptop has all my tunes on it. All the stuff prepared for the concerts. All the visual stuff prepared for the presentation we’re doing at the youth event next week. Besides which.. it’s got all our music making software on it! All our projects, countless hours of work.. It’s backed up but.. Jonny’s words bounce around my head as I said goodbye to him after our last prep session.. ‘well I won’t be seeing this again will I!’
I can’t entertain that, refuse to let the thought in.. He’s got to come, surely..
And then, then the white coated taxi driver appears! Sam spots him first, and yes he’s carrying the white box of the Mac.
Relief washes over us. It’s all cool. We pay the driver. Drama over. Now where’s that plane?!
Greatheart raises an amused and relieved eyebrow on our return to our place in the queue. We board ok but takeoff is delayed. Result, we arrive in Calcutta too late to catch our connecting flight on to Aizawl. The next flight is not until the same time next day. Drama no.2 begins.

We’re learning however, it’s only when in a position of risk that you create any space at all for God to come through for you. Ironic then that we spend our whole lives trying to protect ourselves! Brilliant.
And so we’re finding it’s in these such situations stuff seems to work out. In this instance we happened to talk to the right lady at the right desk who had a mind to help us (as the airline aren’t obligated to sort anything out for you in these situations) and she put us in touch with a place in the city that the airport had a special arrangement with. Within an hour or so we were unpacking in a 5star hotel at a reduced rate and covered by our travel insurance. Wow! Great to get a decent shower, workout, meal and proper nights sleep, except we were now making a prayer of agreement at tea for Surefoot who’d arrived at his destination in South India with no sign of or contact with his fellow leader there and no ability without him to proceed. The adventure continues.

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