Other people shape our lives and thinking, and it has been a privilege to meet a wide range of people in my world travels over the years, from different social, cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds. Those closest to us however perhaps shape us most, so I’m particularly thankfulI to my dear wife Muriel, brother Martin and sister Mary with whom I have shared many of life’s joys and sorrows. Also friends and leaders in my own Church with whom I have served for more years now than I care to remember. There is one book that has altered the course of my life more than anyone or anything else, and that is The Bible. My Father introduced me to it at a young age and encouraged me to heed the instruction given in Proverbs chapter 3, verses 5-6. This advice surpassed all other advice he gave me, and I have proved the veracity of it over many years.
‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your path straight’
Many of you will be familiar with my my engineering and ‘Christian relief and development’ activities throughout life, and also my hobbies and interests, but if not, you can read, if interested, a synopsis on this blog in the ‘about’ section.
This is a picture of my wife Muriel and I at Pittenweem in Fife, where we got engaged in 1957
This week my wife and I drove from the centre of Glasgow to the Clyde Estuary, stopping off at ‘Lyle Hill’ in Greenock. There I read one of the placards, giving a synopsis of the history of Greenock. It was interesting to read that it had the nickname ‘sugatown’! It’s not hard to understand why, for at the beginning of the last century 400 ships per year were bringing raw cane sugar from the West Indies and Central American sugar plantations into the port, to be refined in one of Greenock’s fourteen sugar refineries. Mr Lyle was a local entrepreneur who invested heavily in sugar, and eventually joined with Mr Tate to form the world famous ‘Tate and Lyle’ sugar business.
All that brought memories flooding back to mind as I served my engineering apprenticeship in a heavy engineering works in Glasgow called Watson Laidlaw & Co Ltd who specialised in the manufacture of centrifugal machines for the Sugar Industry. I would later spend 20+ years working with A & W Smith & Co Ltd. (part of the Tate & Lyle group) who were manufacturers of all kind of equipment for the sugar industry, and were involved in the construction of complete Sugar Factories in some of the world’s remotest places.
Glasgow and the Clyde basin actually became the key hub for the world manufacture of sugar machinery. The photographs of nine company adverts show the companies that were all operating in and around Glasgow when I was an apprentice.
Sadly Tate & Lyle closed its last Greenock refinery in 1997, and today not one refinery is operating in Greenock. Likewise not one engineering company is producing sugar machinery in Scotland, not since A & W Smith (which became Smith Mirrlees) closed its doors in the late 1980’s, the last survivor of Scotland’s sugar engineering companies.
I guess for most this story is just symbolic of the general demise of heavy engineering in the UK, which reached its peak during the Margaret Thatcher era.
For me it is much more than that, because I invested half of my working life in the Sugar business, and it was a career that I really enjoyed, as the work was so varied and interesting. I first worked as a ‘hands-on’ engineering apprentice, then as a draughtsman, an estimator, chief estimator, and company buyer. This work took me to Mexico for a year with my family when we built the Tambaca Sugar Factory, and then to the northeast of Brazil (x 2), and to Thailand for a year with my wife and daughter, and on other shorter visit to factories at home and abroad.
It spite of everyone’s best efforts however, the tide was turning against the Scottish industry, as more and more sugar producing countries set up their own engineering establishments. Shipping charges too had also soared in price, and competition became increasingly fierce. The refining side of the business took a great hit when we joined the European Union, as there already existed a sugar mountain in Europe, as farmers there were growers of sugar beet. So quotas were set, restricting the amount of raw cane sugar that could be imported.
So slowly but surely, companies closed, and thousands of workers were made redundant including the undersigned. It was great while it lasted, but I’m happy to say, that in retrospect God was leading me into a different sphere of work in the Christian Mission sector, which proved even more rewarding and fulfilling than my time in engineering.
None-the-less I still keep a wee stash of items I can’t bring myself to throw out, as can be seen in the photographs. I guess they are of no interest to anyone else in this day of calculators and computers, but I enjoy taking a glance at them from time to time! My drawing instruments, notebooks, rulers and slide rulers, logarithm tables, ‘ready reckoners’, steam tables etc. My wife says I’m a hoarder, and she is right, but to me they are an important memento to a big part of my life.
Now as a Christian I keep pressing forward as best I can with a number of activities, and like to keep in mind the words of Paul the Apostle, (who also dramatically changed course mid way through his life) when he said ‘I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ Phil. 3.14
This week I was asked if I would agree to be interviewed about my knowledge of the WWII Prisoner of War Camp on Stewarton Road, just a short distance from where we now live. This was on behalf of a research group doing an oral history of the camp and its relationship with the local community. The area concerned is now a new housing estate, with some very expensive houses, in stark contrast to the ‘Nissen’ huts that once stood there.
To be truthful, I’m not sure I was hugely helpful to the researcher, but I did relate the fact that the camp when we knew it was full of Italian POW. We knew the camp well because my father and mother were great walkers, and on a Saturday afternoon we would very often take the bus with my three brothers and two sisters, and on occasions with some of our friends, from Shawlands to Newton Mearns Bus Station. (Where the ASDA supermarket is now) After a picnic in a local field and a paddle in the burn, we would then walk down the Stewarton road to Spiersbridge, on what then was a country road, with little or no traffic. This took us past the Patterton POW Camp. The prisoners would come to the wire and chat to us, and would marvel at our very large family! Dad on one occasion had to point out the six who were his. These were short encounters with the prisoners, but always with some friendly gestures, joking and smiles all round.
The questions being asked of me this week by the interviewer evoked memories of a much closer relationship we had with some German POW.
It happened like this. After the war came to an end in 1945, many POW had still not been repatriated by 1947-48, so the authorities decided to relax the restrictions on POW, and they were then allowed out of their camps on a pass. One Sunday evening a British army lorry with German POW from the Cowglen Military Hospital arrived for one of our evening services at Greenview Church in Pollokshaws, Glasgow. That certainly was different! But as time passed, and some of the men kept coming regularly to the church they soon became part of the church scene. Then slowly but slowly they were invited to church members homes. (Some POW attended other local churches)
Three POW started coming to our house weekly on an evening pass. They were called Max, Fritz and Pawl. They played table tennis, ‘push halfpenny’ and other games with us as children. Over time their stories started to unwrap. Max seemed to know that his own wife and family back home had been wiped out, and he was apprehensive of being repatriated to communist East Germany. Fritz and Paul were apprehensive too, but they didn’t know what had happened to their families or what to expect on their return to what was then West Germany. My father would read the Bible and pray with them before they walked back to their barracks at Cowglen Military Hospital. On one occasion just before their repatriation they came on a church bus outing to Oban, and everyone enjoyed the day out. They were always polite and courteous, and expressed their appreciation of kindness shown. Just before leaving they presented my mother and sisters with two sewing boxes from their barracks, (one of which is still with the family today – See pic) After many months of regular meeting, it is true to say that our enemy had become our friend.
Nazi Germany wrought great havoc in Europe and indeed the world, by its cruelty, barbarity and self-delusion, and as I write this, I remember it is ‘Holocaust Remembrance day’. Yes, we remember six million plus Jews, Gypsies and the disabled who were exterminated. I remember too the anxiety and trauma that the war brought to every family in Britain, the Commonwealth and countless families in the USA and the thousands of men and women around the world who gave their lives fighting this Nazi fascist terror. I remember the trauma brought to our family, the sirens that wailed in the night when there was fear of bombing, the prayers in the air raid shelters, the war news bulletins, the threat of invasion, the ration books, and the scrimping and scraping to make ends meet, and the countless hours my dad worked to make plane engines for the war effort. There is no doubt that Germany and Germans were our enemy.
So how come Max, Fritz and Paul became our friends?
I think first of all, it was when we started to talk with them, and hear their accounts of life in Germany, we then came to see that they too were vulnerable human beings, with similar hopes and fears for their families and friends as people here in the UK. They however were caught up on the other side of this same mad horrific conflict,and it was not of their personal making, and not of their choosing.
But of course, as Christians there was a much higher obligation upon the church and its members, for Jesus in his sermon on the mount said to his listeners, who lived under the iron fist of Roman occupation – You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’. Matt. 5.43
And in that prayer Jesus taught us almost 2000 years ago, we have these words ‘And forgive us our sins, as we also forgive those who sin against us.’ And then he went on to say ‘for if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.’
Jesus’ crucifixion however by the Romans and those he called his own, whom he had loved, taught, fed, and healed, and after the trial by a Roman judge who said, ‘I find no fault in this man’, is the thing that really brings you up with a start. Did you hear Him speaking from the cross? Hanging there He looked down on those who had crucified him, and said these unforgettable words ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’.
Saul the persecutor, who became Paul the preacher put it this way – ‘Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Rom 5.7-8
Everyone knows making our enemy our friend is difficult, but it is such a healing process, for us, our families, our communities, and among nations. We all know those who have taken such steps, and even internationally, which of us has not admired figures like Nelson Mandela? The reconciliation process with others would always include the words ‘I’m sorry …’ for those who work for reconciliation tell us that in the breakdown of human relationships there is always blame on both sides, even though that blame may be proportioned 95% / 5%.
The thought of God making it possible for us who were His enemies to be His friends is amazing, and we should grasp the opportunity, it’s beautifully expressed in this song, which I’ll leave you with.
I’m sure my friends are fed up listening to me going on about it, but it is truly amazing! I can’t believe how bright and beautiful everything has become since I had the cataracts removed from my eyes. Now I am without glasses, except for close up reading.
It all started early in October when I visited the optician and was told ‘your eyesight is borderline for driving’. I knew my eyesight had deteriorated quite quickly in the last year, hence the visit to the opticians, but didn’t realise how bad it had become. So that set the ‘wheels in motion’, something needed to be done.
Having a cataract operation is said to be one of the most successful operations performed in the United Kingdom today. Many of my friends have had a cataract operation and most have spoken of its great benefits, so I thought it all sounded quite straightforward!
However, I confess that when I went for the operation I was feeling quite apprehensive, just the thought of someone working on my eye! The operation itself however was not painful, even although I was still a bit tense.
Before the operation eye drops are inserted to dilate the eye and the eye is frozen. You wear a gown over your clothes and a pair of slippers provided before you go into theatre. A mask is put over the top of your face leaving a space for the eye to be operated on. There’s a very bright light shining in your eye and you’re aware of the surgeon moving the instrument above your eye, which provides the sound waves for breaking up your cataract. At the same time someone is intermittently and gently pouring cold water over your eye. The cataract damaged lens is removed through the little slit on the surface of the eye, which the surgeon had already made. Since the eye is frozen there is no pain associated with this at all. After having removed the cataract the surgeon then implants a small lens into the eye through the slit that he has used to remove the cataract. I had opted for a lens that made it a possibility that glasses for distance would not be required after the operation. The whole affair took less than 30 minutes to complete.
This was followed by a nurse providing me with some instructions, an eye patch, (which had to be worn for a few nights), and with two sets or drops that had to be put into the eye 4x a day for 28 days. I was home the same day.
After the Operation(s)
I had read prior to the operation that some people are able to do light work on their computer or mobile phone within hours of the operation. However, when I returned home I found that my eye was very blurred indeed, and this lasted for the rest of the day. I had hoped that in the morning the blurriness would’ve disappeared, but in fact my eye was as blurred the second day. I was starting to feel a little anxious but a phone call from the surgeon assured me things would settle in a day or two. This calmed my fears and sure enough by the third day my eye was starting to clear, and within 4/5 days my vision had completely cleared.
It is hard to describe the difference. My ‘new’ eye was seeing a new world which was bright and beautiful, but when I covered it, the ‘old’ eye saw the much duller drearier world that I had been living in for the last year or so. Now I have had my two eyes done there is only one word to describe it – FANTASTIC!
My house no longer needs decorating, my white car looks as good as new, street lighting has greatly increased in luminance, and the Church looks as if it has had new lighting installed. Moreover my wife is looking better than I’ve seen her for a long time 🙂
I’m so grateful for the skills of the surgeon and the wonders of modern medicine!
It’s ten years since I gave up preaching, but this experience brought to mind so clearly some things the Bible says about our ‘spiritual’ sight. Please bear with me for a minute.
· I was slowly going blind and I didn’t realise it! The Bible says – The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Cor: 4.4 Or as C S Lewis put it –‘Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts’.
· Jesus is the restorer of Sight – He said- The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free. Luke 4.18 When we understand we are ‘spiritually’ blind we need to call out to Jesus, just like blind Bartimaeus did in the Bible story, ‘Jesus I want to see’ Mark 10:46 ‘Go said Jesus your faith has healed you’
· Heaven will be beyond our imagination – For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1 Corinthians 13:12 and “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard and what no human mind has conceived”— the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.1 Corinthians 2:9-10
If you would like to know more fully how you can know Jesus as your Saviour and ‘eye opener’ send for a free booklet to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week we got a glimpse of man’s amazing genius and ingenuity, amidst the doom and gloom being broadcast in our daily news bulletins. We see on the one hand a picture of man’s gift of creativity, and on the other hand man’s greed, selfishness, pride and depravity.
Personally I was blown away as I stopped to consider again the achievements of the Voyager 1 and 2 space craft teams, as they announced that Voyager 2 had now joined it’s sister craft Voyager 1 in interstellar space. Voyager 2 launched away back in 1997, is the only spacecraft to have spectacularly photographed Uranus and Neptune, two planets on the outer edges of our solar system. The photograph above issued by NASA gives some of the mind-boggling statistics.
NASA scientists predict that travelling at 38,000 miles per hour Voyager 2 will go by the brightest star in the winter night sky – Sirius, the ‘Dog Star’ at a distance of 4.3 light years, in 296,000 years time! These predictions are only possible because of the fine-tuning of our universe.
Genesis 1.27 says ‘so God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him’
Man’s fallen nature of course is self evident in our daily news bulletins. When man has such creativity and abilities we are compelled to ask the ‘why’ questions. Why is half the world starving and without clean water when there is enough for all? Why do the rich get richer and the poor poorer? Why the wars and fighting? Why the abuse of men, women and children? Why a lack of education for countless thousands? And so we could go on. ! Genesis reminds us that there is rebellion around, which the Bible calls SIN, and the letter ‘I” is at its centre, as Frank Sinatra once sang ‘I did it my way’! Not God’s way MY WAY! I think we can all relate to that?
I was interested to read that voyager 2 carries a recording of the human voice as it travels into interstellar space! This Christmas we are reminded again of the message coming not from us, but to us from the God who created the heavens! ‘Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord’ Oh how the world needs a Saviour, oh how I need a Saviour – Jesus Christ the Lord. He did not come to judge, but to save!
Don’t miss the voice from heaven this Christmas but find this unspeakable gift, A Saviour in Jesus
I was looking in a drawer this morning and came across an old ‘ARP’ (Air Raid Patrol) whistle, which brought back memories of the ‘Blackout’, which was in place during the last world war. It was a time of German bombings, when we all had air raid shelters to run to when the sirens went off. There were no streetlights then either, and all windows had to have blinds and curtains so that not a chink of light could be seen from the outside. I can still hear the ‘’ARP’ man’s whistle, and his shouts to one of our neighbours, ‘get that light out’. Everyone was happy to comply, as no one wanted to give the enemy any help or advantage. My other childhood memory of the blackout was walking in the dark at night from Shawlands to our church in Pollokshaws. We were allowed a torch as long as it was only pointed to the ground. I remember there was often an ‘ARP man’ at the top of Hector Road who would say to my Dad, ‘make sure the children keep the torch pointing down’.
I never hear anyone talking about the ‘ARP men’ now, but most of them were volunteers, who worked during the day to help the war effort and patrolled at night trying to keep everyone as safe as possible. We knew their job was important because a stray bomb had exploded at the other end of Deanston Drive in Glasgow where we lived, demolishing the building. But as children no one would talk to us much about that.
Wow the Lights are on!
Sometime after the war had ended I remember my mum taking us out at night to walk along to the tram depot to see all the lights – WOW we were amazed, what a transformation light brings! The entrance to the tram depot then was adjacent to the Pollok Football Club ground on the space now occupied by ‘Morrisons Supermarket’ on Riverford Road. Lights have been coming on all over the place ever since!
There are not many people in the UK today who will remember the ‘blackout’, but last night I watched the new TV series on the Mediterranean, and viewed with horror the report from Libya showing the absolute devastation there, due to the fighting and bombing of that on-going conflict. Not to mention the horrors of Yemen, Assyria etc. etc. Blackouts in modern warfare I guess are a thing of the past, but I’m sure you will agree that there is still a lot of darkness around, darkness in the human heart and mind and in his actions! The Psalmist said many years ago ‘’Your Word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path’(Psalm 119.105) and Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8.12) As an octogenarian now, I can say that I’ve found both these statements to be true in my life, and I would commend the Bible to you and the JESUS of whom it speaks.
Today for many people around the world the light is coming on in their hearts and minds as they come to know Jesus as their Saviour and Lord! We are all invited to follow Him.
It has been said that a visit to Africa is ‘dangerous’ because Africa gets ‘under your skin’, and once you have been there you can never forget the people and the sights, sounds and smells of Africa, and you always have a hankering to return. That’s certainly been true for us. And this year we have been particularly reminded over and over again of the five years when we lived and worked there, and about the many visits we have made since.
Early in the year we had a phone call from one of my fellow elders at Nairobi Baptist Church, Mutua Mahaini to say he was coming to Glasgow with his wife. We had not met for 25 years, so what a great evening we had together!
More recently a friend sent us a copy of an old prayer card we had issued when we worked as Tearfund’s East Africa Manager(s) out of Nairobi. A neighbour had brought it to her asking ‘do you know this couple’? Well that brought many memories flooding back!
This summer in Church we enjoyed the company of our young friend Richard from Moshi in Tanzania. He lives in view of the famous Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. He had been studying and training at Tilsley College in Motherwell, but is now back home in Moshi, helping Lucy-Luu in the management of the children’s centre. This is where my son Allan and his wife Jacqui lived and worked for many years. We sponsor a young teenager there and it was good to read her school report telling how well she is doing in her new school. It’s a real blessing to be able to help in this small way. If you would like to sponsor a child at the centre let me know and I’ll point you in the right direction, it’s hugely worthwhile. Our grandson Jonathan and his wife and family were working at the centre for the month of July, (Johnny’s a joiner and Lynsey his wife a teacher) and they did a power of work and brought back news of many folks we have known over the years.
We’ve also heard recently from friends and ex Tearfund colleagues in Kenya and Sudan telling us of their continued work in a variety of fields. One of them was a woman captured by rebels in Sudan back in the eighties, and marched for days and miles through the bush, before being released across the Ugandan border. We well remember welcoming her to the Tearfund guesthouse in Nairobi, to live with us before returning home, and eventually back to Sudan with her husband. Africa under your skin, indeed!
One great item of news from Africa this week is regarding the nomadic Rendille tribe who live with their camels, and other livestock in Kenya’s northern desert. At that time they were completely illiterate. Just last weekend they celebrated receiving the New Testament in their own language, thanks to the sacrificial work of a few dedicated Christians and their support team. I remember being at a men’s literacy class where the men all had feathers in their hair and were being taught in the use of a pencil. Rendille now have their own schools and some have already graduated from University whilst others are studying there. What an amazing transformation! As Tearfund’s representative in East Africa I worked with this people group, and was there just after Tearfund re stocked their camels following one of their frequent droughts. Tearfund also drilled wells, provided water tanks and provided emergency food on more than one occasion.
Visiting the Rendille was always an adventure, as getting there was a two / three days drive from Nairobi, part of which was through bandit country. The alternative was to fly with MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) in one of their small Cessna aircraft, and that was always what we did. Flying north from Nairobi, it was interesting to watch the change in landscape – from maize growing to lush fruit farms, and then skipping around the slopes of snow capped Mount Kenya onto the brown plains as you approached the Matthew Range of mountains and then over the mountains to the desert. Now you can see here and there the Rendille settlements scattered across the landscape, before dropping down to a dusty and bumpy airstrip at Korr, but not before making a low pass over the airstrip to chase animals off before landing.
What would the Mission Community and Relief and Development workers do without MAF? I do not know! They are a literal lifeline to so many of those working in the world’s remotest and dangerous places. Working with hundreds of different NGO’s and flying those in need from all religions and none.
And that brings me to the last bit of news for now – MAF is coming to our church on Saturday 1 September! (see advert above) And yes! They are bringing a full size Cessna and their new flight simulator so you can try landing on a jungle airstrip or sit in the cockpit, and you can watch some of their amazing flying videos, whilst enjoying a cup of tea /coffee in the café. You are most welcome, admission is free, so come and support this amazing Christian Airline, I am sure you will be amazed and blessed.
Last week the Billy Graham Evangelical Association in partnership with about 200 churches in Scotland conducted an evangelistic campaign at Falkirk Stadium. The preacher was Will Graham, Billy Graham’s grandson. BGEA reported that 9533 people attended and 700 people responded to the invitation to make a commitment of their life to Jesus Christ. The‘multi-day’ event, which featured a KidzFest, saw around 200 children make a similar response.
Lee Searle, director of ministry for the BGEA in the United Kingdom, told Premier Radio that the event shows that there is “still a passion for mass evangelism in the U.K.”.
As one who sang in the 1955 Billy Graham choir at the Kelvin Hall, (and who took part in the recent BBC documentary on Billy Graham, ‘Six Weeks to Save the World’) I’m still amazed at the number of people I meet who gave their life to Jesus Christ on that occasion, or at Billy Graham’s later crusade in 1991, or who know someone who did.
Within the last couple of weeks I recorded the story of one man’s life that was changed forever by attending the 1991 Billy Graham Celtic Park event. You can watch his short story here. https://youtu.be/0tQLqc_6aiM
2. On Sunday 24 June I attended the ‘Praise Gathering’event in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall – it was a complete sell out with 3000+ attending. The Choir was made up of Christians from about 170 different churches, and the singing and music were uplifting and inspirational. A junior choir was introduced to the programme for the first time, and it was amazing to hear the children singing their hearts out as they swayed to the music and joined in praise to God.
3. At a different long term level, but also very exciting, was the good news at our Church service on Sunday morning that the FIEC* in partnership with local Christians, had, or were about to, establish four new churches in Scotland! So whilst some of what was once the ’main stream’ churches are still experiencing decline, it’s been encouraging this past week to hear that God is still at work building His Kingdom here in Scotland.
If none of this excites you, it may be that you have not yet come to know personally the risen Lord Jesus Christ. But it is never too late – Jesus invites you to come to Him, so that your sin and guilt can be dealt with, forgiven and forgotten, on the basis of His death on your behalf. Today you can receive a new life and assurance of eternal life, and start to know life in all its fullness. Want to know more? Write for a free booklet, or to be put in touch with a local church. – email@example.com