Ny-Alesund – The World’s Most Northerly Permanent Settlement at almost 79 degrees North!

One of the most fascinating places we have ever visited was the island of Spitsbergen in the Svalbard archipelago. Sitting almost halfway beween the north of Norway and the North Pole, it’s a land of the midnight sun and the polar night. Svalbard they say, is home to more polar bears than people!  There are countless glaciers and dramatic mountains and fjords to be wondered at, and even in mid summer the remains of winter’s icebergs can still be seen. It’s also home to the white fox and reindeer and the rock ptarmigan, the only landbound bird that stays for winter.

When we put our clocks back on the last weekend of October, I thought of the shortening days and dark nights ahead, and then remembered Svalbard and its residents. That same weekend for them was the start of the polar night! This means that they will not see the sun again until 8 March 2021.

When we visited there a few years ago our first port of call in Svalbard was Ny-Alesund on the island of Spitsbergen, which is home to a number of international arctic research stations. Most are active throughout the summer months, but some 30+ researchers remain throughout the year. It was a rainy day when we arrived, but somehow that just added to the feeling of wilderness, isolation and the sheer ruggedness of the place, and indeed caused us to consider the tenacity of the people who live and work there, summer and winter! Here are a few photographs .

We then sailed further north to the Magdalena Fjord, where once there was a British whaling station, but now it is completely abandoned, just the graves of some seamen are there, who died in this cold unforgiving place.

After Magdalena we moved south to Longyearbyen, a small mining town and the largest populated settlement in Svalbard with over 2000 residents. It is also the administrative centre for the Norwegian Government. Here you will find hotels and tourist organisations offering a variety of adventure holidays, and also a very interesting museum. Fortunately the weather had inproved when we arrived, and again the scenery was spectacular. This however, was the wrong time of year for seeing the ‘northern lights’ for which this place is famous!

What is it like to live through a polar night winter in this cold dark place? Christiane Ritter’s book entitled ‘A Woman in the Polar Night’ would make a great read during ‘lockdown’, you’ll be caused to consider how well off we are! Here’s Muriel reading an excerpt!

REFLECTIONS: Winter for us has always invoked memories of cosy nights around the fireside with family and friends, laughter, games and story telling, and the sharing of good food and drink. We also associate it with streets lined with ‘fairy lights’, brightly decorated shops and town squares, not to mention Christmas markets, Christmas trees and shopping! At Church we think of choir practices for the coming carol services and youth events, and of children’s Christmas parties. The women folk are always busy with sewing, knitting, and craft making activities for the ‘sales of work’ in support of missionaries and charities. The Church community cafe is in full swing bringing in local friends including the walking and photography clubs. And quietly and consistently the Bible is being taught at Sunday services, and in house groups, strengthening Christians in their faith, and also sharing the good news about Jesus with those who are searching for answers to life’s big questions.

However this year, many in Europe are fearful as we approach winter, because of the increasing threat of Covid-19. Some of us have family and friends who have been infected with this disease, and indeed others are still grieving the loss of loved ones. We are all doing our best to cope with another partial or full scale lockdown, with the restrictions and mental anguish and economic hardship that they entail.

I have wondered, how I would cope living for months in a land of permanent gloom and darkness with not a chink of sunlight to cheer the day. I guess that people will sometimes ask in their hearts ‘will the sun ever rise again?’ It’s the same with this pandemic, people are asking ‘will things ever get back to normal again?’ Well, people do persevere and live through the polar night, and celebrate the day when above the horizon the sun dares to raise its head and shine again. We too need to look foward with hope to a day when we will celebrate together as this pandemic is at least neutralised. But the fact is we can be joyful and at peace in our current circumstances, perhaps that’s the hard lesson we need to learn from this pandemic. Life can be enjoyed at a less frenetic and different level. Jesus offered to the people of His day ‘Life in all its fullness‘and that offer is still open. How about reading a good book, telling the kids a story, going for a run or walk, gardening indoors or out, starting a hobby, baking or cooking etc. etc. Jesus brings daily hope and joy into our lives if we come to Him and seek His forgiveness and help. I find singing or listening to some of my favourite Christian songs in the morning, and then reading the Bible sets me off for the day, for as the Psalmist says ‘Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path‘. Of course speaking to God in prayer is also a must! That is truly an anchor for the soul!

For those feeling uncertain and concerned about dark days ahead, I like the poem quoted by King George VI on Christmas Day 1939 at the start of the last world war. It reads, “I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.'” How true! When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:32

If you are reading this, and feel that you are living through a period of gloom and darkness, then please seek professional help now, (SAMARITANS Telephone 116 123, or The National Christian Lifeline telephone 0300 111 0101) there is light and life and hope to be found.

Let’s all keep looking up, like those in Svalbard, we may not see the sun yet, but it is still there, and Jesus the Light of the World is still there, inviting us to come to Him.

Matthew

 

New Direction and a History Lesson!

For those who follow this blog, you will know of our regular travels around Scotland’s many beauty spots. When we leave our home here our preference would normally be to travel North, or West or sometimes East. Recently we took the notion to try a new direction and go South, and we were so impressed by our first trip that we followed it up with a second, just a few weeks later.

We started by heading for the small town of Strathaven and then took the B743 signposted for Muirkirk. We had been out this road once or twice before, but just as far as the Dungavel Holding Centre for Refugees, people who have been refused permission to remain, and were awaiting repatriation.

It’s a beautiful winding country road and we pulled over for a coffee and stretch of legs at a parking spot overlooking the forest and river. There Muriel spotted a ‘Wayside Pulpit’ with the words ‘Be Strong in the Lord‘, these ‘pulpits’ were very common in Scotland at one time, but rarely seen now-a-days. We continued on to the lovely little town of Muirkirk set amongts the rolling hills of the Borders. There we turned left onto the A70 and headed for the heritage village of Glenbuck, a place we had never visited before. It was once famous for its Iron Ore Mill and Coal Mine, but is now remembered especially as the birth place of a certain ‘Mr Bill Shankly’, dear to the hearts of all Liverpool football supporters!

The Village dates back to the Bronze age, and between 1786 – 1813 was a source of iron, coal and limestone. It reached its peak in 1900 with the opening of new mines, and then the population reached 1700 persons and the village thrived and bustled with all kinds of sports activities. It also had a Co-operative store, a school, village hall and church.

THE SHANKLY’S – The story of the ‘Glenbuck Cherry Pickers’ football team, and the Shankly family and their huge impact on the world of football is now legendary. That such a small village should be home to men of this fame is in itself quite extraordinary. I’ll let you enlarge the above photos so that you can read the story for yourself. It was good to meet a few Liverpool supporters during our visit.

We then enjoyed a beautiful evening drive along the A70 until we joined the M74 for our return to Glasgow.

There is another memorial stone at Glenbuck commemorating another hero of an earlier time. You probably have never heard of him but here is the memorial plaque to John Brown Richard Cameron

This man from Glenbuck was among countless others, both men and women, who in the late 1600’s were part of ‘the Covenanters’ who fought for freedom of religion in Scotland, rejecting all interference from the King and Government in relation to belief, proclamation and practice. A freedom still enjoyed today, but one many consider to be under threat, in our growing secular society.

SECOND TRIP TO MUIRKIRK – On our next visit to Muirkirk we visited the cemetery and the ‘Heritage Lay-by’ for some more interesting facts about this Scottish village and its history. You can read the boards below by enlarging the photos.

We made our way home driving west on the A70 in glorious sunshine passing through the village of Sorn and the town of Galston, on almost empty country roads. It’s amazing what you learn when you get out and about! 🙂

ON REFLECTION I was thinking not so much about our change of direction, but of the dramatic change of direction enforced on all the refugees and asylum seekers who have passed through ‘Dungavel Holding Centre’ that we saw from the road, of their shattered hopes and dreams of happiness and prosperity. But who knows what that dramatic change would teach them or where it will take them. Who would have thought that the Shankly boys from the wee village of Glenbuck would find that their change of direction into football, would bring them fame and fortune? Lots of people have found that the Covid 19 pandemic has brought a dramatic change of direction into their lives. The question so many troubled and anxious people are asking today is ‘where do I/we go from here‘?

I personally have found that life has many challenges and disappointments, that have forced me to change direction. But I love the story Jesus told which rings true down through the generations. It’s about the man who leaves his Father’s home with his inheritance and big ideas of fun, fame and fortune. After sometime he hits the skids, his friends desert him, and he finds himself ‘in a field feeding the pigs’. When he comes to his senses, he decides to go back home, apolgise to his dad and ask if he could employ him just as a servant. So what does he find? A Father pointing a finger and yelling? No, a Father running to meet him with arms outstretched – and while the son splutters out his confession, the father is planning a celebration! So if you gave up on God thinking ‘I’ll manage fine on my own thankyou’ Just remember that your Heavenly Father is waiting for you to come to your senses and come home! You can read the full story in the Bible – Luke 15:11-32

It is possible to know God personally, I can testify to that. He offers forgiveness for sin, because of what His Son, Jesus, has done for us on the cross, He brings peace in life’s storms and promises never to leave us, and to take us safely to our heavenly home! That is such good news, that’s why it’s called the Gospel! All we have to do is come to our senses and make up our mind to come home. It is possible as the wayside pulpit said ‘To be strong in the Lord’.

God bless – Matthew

Staycation, Staycation!

The Highlands of Scotland – some history, landscapes and seascapes

Summer was ending and we had decided not to bother with a holiday away this year, but when we spotted a break in the weather coming up, we changed our minds. After trying a few places we managed to find accommodation at Inverness, so headed there for a short 5 night break.

It’s a 3 .5 hours drive from Glasgow on the A9, but since we were in no hurry we enjoyed a days drive, visiting and stopping at a number of places along the way.

We had not been in this area for a number of years so visited again the ‘Black Isle’ where we once acted as leaders at a Christian Youth Centre camp for a 100+ teenagers at Fortrose / Rosemarkie. Here you can visit the remains of an ancient Cathedral dating back to the 1200s. We enjoyed a walk around the ground. This area was, and perhaps still is, a stronghold for the MacKenzie clan.

We then drove to Cromarty and Nigg bay, home to many redundant North Sea oil rigs, before joining the A9 and crossing the Cromarty Firth for a drive to the beautiful village of Dornoch. and a walk and picnic on one of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches.

Our hotel was very near to the Culloden battlefield so on another morning we visited there. Here the Jacobite uprising of 1745 was finally crushed on the 16 April 1746. It is a very emotive place to visit. Many of my ancestors from the clans Cameron, McLachlan and McKinnon fought and died in this bloody and ferocious battle, which brought to an end not only the Jacobite cause, but also saw the beginning of the end of the clan system. Retribution was fierce, even the wearing of the kilt was banned, and it seems inevitable that the Highland clearances were to follow. Thankfully this was the last battle to take place on the UK mainland.

We also managed a forage along the Moray Coast visiting many places where we had spent holidays in the past. Here is a selection of some of them.

We travelled home on the single track road from Daviot to Whitebridge and then on to Fort Agustus, before reaching Fort William. The last leg took us through Glen Coe, down past Loch Lomond and then to Glasgow. There were many photo opportunities along the way.

There were certainly more people around at the main tourist attractions, especially for this time of year, due to folks having a ‘staycation’ this year , but you could not say the place was busy!

REFLECTION: It was great to be away even just for a few days, and switch off (literally) from the continual bombardment of bad news, and the potential bad news diet, fed to us daily by the media. It’s true however, that there is lots of bad news around! Covid-19 pandemic, economic crisis, education crisis, health service crisis, business crisis, refugee crisis, racism incidents, wars and rumours of wars, ‘super powers’ vying for supremacy, arms build up, environment crisis ……….. Do you ever feel like saying, ‘stop the bus, I want to get off‘? Sadly even our trip around the beauties of Scotland, with its memories of Culloden, and its many war memorials and broken down cottages from ‘the clearances’ etc. reminds us that the ‘falleness of humankind’ is an ongoing problem. Even although most people would relate to the Psalmist who said ‘Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war.’ Psalm 120:6-7.

But isn’t it true that within our hearts we long for the day when the world and it’s people will at last be at peace and their will be justice and equity.

As a Christian I believe that day is coming. The prophet Isaiah envisages such a day after the return of Jesus Christ. He says:

In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD. Isaiah 2:1-5

‘Let us walk in the Light of the Lord‘, now if only we could all learn to do that!

Stay safe, save lives, and God bless.

Matthew

Green Grows the Garden – but how green?

Summer is almost over for another year and the garden is starting to show the signs. The heather is out and the apples are ripening on the apple trees, just in time for the apple and bramble jelly, and the flowers are just past their best.

This year we spent more time in the garden due to the virus pandemic, and as always we derived much pleasure in watching everything grow and flourish. The weather was mostly dry and sunny from mid March to mid June, but then reverted to a typical Scottish mix of rain, followed by sunshine and showers, and at times blustery winds.

Here are some of the flowers and plants that we grew this summer.

This seemed to be ‘the year of the Gerainiums’ as they have been flowereing profusely in pots throughout the summer. My ‘Cosmos’ were rightly called ‘Sensation’ as they grew over five feet tall and were like bushes. Still the bees loved them. A new plant for me was Gaillardia, and they seemed to take forever to flower! Some are very beautiful, some quite dramatic and others seemed a bit odd! Ive got mixed feelings about them, so they are on the ‘maybe ‘ list for next year!

The greenhouse was also in full production as floweres were mostly grown from seed, along with three types of tomato (Shirley F1, Tigerella and Sweet Success) and four or five types of peppers. (Golden Bell, Antohi Romanian, Frigitello, Red Cherry and Hungarian Hot Wax)

All the plants produced well, and we have been eating the fruit from the beginning of June, now the small cherry tomato plant is the last one which is still cropping, well named – ‘Sweet Success’.

It was good to have some visits from our grand-children and great grand-children as the lockdown was eased, they are always keen to help ‘GG’ in his garden 🙂

I hope my fellow gardeners have been encouraged in their gardens, its been good to see photographs from other friends and bloggers.

This year our visits to National Trust gardens and properties have been curtailed, but we may manage to squeeze in a vist even yet!

Matthew

PS: Talking about ‘brambles’ we got these today from ‘God’s Wild Garden’ free of charge, and just across the fence!

Missed Destinations!

Missed destinations, and the ultimate destination not to be missed!

Since as long as I can remember I have gone somewhere on holiday every year during summer. As a child I was brought up in a working class family living in Glasgow, but my mother and father always managed to save enough money to take the children to the ‘seaside’ every year. And what happy memories I have of these holidays. Even after I got married it was always the talk around the table at the turn of each New Year ‘where will we go on holiday’? 

This year we planned a holiday in Oban and Tiree, made all the arrangements, booked hotels and ferry, only for it all to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 virus pandemic. So like countless thousands of others we were disappointed. The Isle of Tiree on the West Coast of Scotland was our ancestral home, so we were particularly keen to revisit the island after many years. I’ve been reading T C Smout’s book ‘A Century of the Scottish People – 1830 – 1950′ in which he describes the potato famine of 1846 which devastated and decimated the people of the Western Isles and Ireland, and which brought our branch of the McKinnon clan over to Glasgow in search of work. Potato was the staple diet of the people, and Smout records the story of the little boy being asked, what he had to eat for his three meals each day? to which he replied ‘mashed potatoes, mashed potatoes, mashed potatoes’, when pressed further by the enquirer, and with what else? He replied with great artlessness and surprise – ‘a spoon’. We were hoping to get something more with the potatoes when we revisited, but it looks like we will have to forego this destination in 2020, and will just need to hope for another opportunity to arise!

One other destination in life that I missed, which I always look back on with some disappointment was a visit to Machu Picchu in Peru. I was a Sugar Engineer, and back in 1980 I was asked by my company to spend some months in Peru assessing the equipment needs of the nationalised sugar factories in Peru. Since I was going to be there for sometime I had set my heart on visiting this famous world heritage site. 

Machu Picchu is the remains of an Incan citadel set high in the Andes Mountains above the Urubamba river valley at a height of 2430 metres. At the last minute my trip was cancelled, and I was sent to another destination in the opposite side of the world. But last year my great nephew Joe Mackinnon set off from Scotland on a tour of Central and South America, and, yes you guessed it, he got to visit Machu Picchu! He arrived by train from Ollantaytambo, and then followed part of a traditional trade walking route between Cuzco and Machu Picchu, before visiting the village of Zurite near Ancascocha. He got some really interesting angles of the site and surrounding area. With his permission you can see some of them below. Well I guess this is a destination that I will now need to write out of my ‘bucket list,’ but how good to see it tho’, through the eyes of a family member – Thanks Joe, great pics!

There are many routes to the worlds destinations, and its great if we have time and opportunity to explore them. When it comes to our final destination it’s a different story. We are told there are over 2300 religions in the world and 2500 gods to go with them, not to mention the faith of the new atheists and humanists, so humanity is treading many different roads, some like to think they all reach the same destination.

One Destination NOT to be missed: As a Christian I am ultimately looking forward to a heavenly destination. Jesus said to His followers ‘I go to prepare a place for you‘ and He also said that He alone is the Way to heaven! Now that reduces the options! But why else would God send His Son to die for our sins if there were many other ways?

So to finish, may all your dreams of travel and visits around this amazing world come true, and be sure not to miss the way to the final heavenly destination, as alternative routes Jesus warns will lead to eternal disaster!  (The Gospel of John – Chapter 14 verses 1-6)

If you know this Jesus, we surely will get the opportunity one day to review the way He led us to our heavenly home – it’s going to be an ‘out of this world’ destination, with the ultimate host!

Matthew

It’s the Glasgow Fair!

‘for most of us, holidays overseas have been put ‘on hold’ this year’

In Glasgow the last two weeks in July have been traditionally known as ‘the Glasgow Fair fortnight.’ In the past shipyards, engineering works, factories and businesses all over the city closed for the annual holiday, with only a few ‘skeleton staff’ being kept on to deal with any urgent phone calls or business. It was ‘lockdown time’ while the populace at large went off on holiday, mostly to venues along the Firth of Clyde coast. That tradition has changed over the last thirty years with the introduction of the ‘package holiday.’ Holidays at Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, have given way to venues in Spain and around Europe, where people fly off in search of sun and adventure. And so holiday times now have become much more flexible.

But for most of us, holidays overseas have been put ‘on hold’ this year, so many are returning to nearer home destinations. For us, the ‘Glasgow fair’ holds many memories of happy holidays all around Scotland, and in fact my wife and I met at a Christian Youth Camp (CYC) during ‘the Fair’, and we got engaged to be married on ‘Fair Monday’!

So this past weekend we celebrated with a couple of special day trips, to some of our old haunts on the Clyde Coast. Our first trip was on Saturday, when we visited Cove, a little village on the edge of Loch Long, just where it reaches the Clyde estuary. We drove from Glasgow, crossed the river Clyde at the Erskine bridge, and down through Dumbarton and Helensburgh to Gareloch (home to the UK’s nuclear submarine base). Then we turned along the southside of Gareloch and over the hill to Cove. About and hour and fifteen minutes from Glasgow depending on road conditions. It was a warm day with a fresh breeze and intermittent showers. You never tire of the beauty of the Scottish scenery and when we reached Cove the place was, …. quiet! We came home via Glen Fruin and Loch Lomond.

‘Fair Monday’ was another showery day, but armed with the proverbial picnic lunch we headed in the other direction, keeping on the southside of the Clyde Estuary and headed for the small village of Dunure. The council there had recently upgraded the toilet block and park entrance, but had not bargained for the onset of the Corona virus! Park entrance fee and entrance to the toilets called for cash, with no facility for paying by card. Since few people had cash we were graciously allowed entrance without paying, enough to warm a Scotsman’s heart! 🙂 Dunure is beautifully situated with a pretty harbour and spectacular castle, home to the Kennedy clan.

From there we drove on to Maidens, passing the ‘electric brae’ and Culzean Castle on the way. The weather was continuing to improve as we moved along the coast, and at Maidens we had a lovely stroll to the end of the long pier.

Maidens village and harbour!

Lastly, we continued south west to the town of Girvan, passing on the way Turnberry lighthouse and Mr Trump’s famous golf course and hotel. The sun was now shining bright and the place was displayed in all it’s splendour, just as I remembered it as a child. Girvan has an amazing beach against the backdrop of the Byne Hill. Here the beach was again, …. very quiet!

After finishing the remains of our picnic, we had a lovely walk on the beach, then drove the 60 miles home, hugging the coastline for the first 21 miles, with spectacular views across the firth. It was a great way to finish the day as we celebrated 63 years since our engagement, and praised God for his faithfulness throughout the years!

Looking towards the isle of Arran from the Girvan to Ayr coastal route

I trust you are all keeping safe, and can find a quiet place to enjoy the beauties of God’s amazing creation. Matthew

Derbisaka the centre of the world, right?

Thank you – Google Earth Map

Well for the people who live there that is certainly true, and our home patch is usually the centre of our world also! But Derbisaka is somewhat special, because if someone was asked to stick a pin in the fulcrum point of a map of the African continent, the chances are that they would stick it on the map on or very near to Derbisaka! ‘So?’ I hear you ask!

Well for someone who has always been used to travelling I have found this ‘lockdown’ in Scotland getting to me recently. But then my mind turned to some of the lonely and isolated places I have been in the world in the course of life and work, and I thought – Derbisaka! Most people there have never been more that a few miles from their village!

*On 9th June 1992 my wife and I travelled there for a week long visit to a Christian nurse who had gone to help set up a Community Health Programme at a place called Rafai, in a remote region of Central African Republic. She had been there 3.5 years, but for the previous nine months had been working without any expatriate support. With little communication with the outside world, we went to encourage and support her, and to assess the local situation. You’ll catch the picture when I say that the plane we were flying in was bringing her some mail from the previous December / February period!

Getting to Rafai is no easy business even from Nairobi in Kenya from where we were travelling. We left Wilson Airport in Nairobi early in the morning flying in a small Africa Inland Mission 5 seater Cessna aircraft to Bunia in what was then Zaire, where we stopped for toilets and refuelling. This was a 780 Km long stretch in a cramped noisy aircraft, flying over the northern tip of Lake Victoria and then over Lake Albert to Bunia. Then we were off again flying over the jungles of Zaire hour after hour looking down on the occasional hamlet and jungle river, and skirting around a tropical storm, we eventually reached Zemio in C.A.R. just before dark. The following morning we were off early again on the 100 mile stretch to Rafai, where our friend warmly welcomed us to her home in this Afica Inland Mission Station.

Flying around a tropical storm.

It was then that we had the surprise announcement, that we were leaving immediately on a vacination safari to Derbisaka some 220 Km from Rafai. ‘Don’t worry, all the camp beds, sleeping bags and mosquito nets and drinks have already been packed so we are all set to go’. So off we went in the Toyota Hilux, three in the front and two local helpers in the back, down to the river, across on the ferry and on with the vacination safari. The main road was like a ‘Forestry Commission’ road for the first 60+ kilometres, then near Dembia we turned left onto a track which was almost indecernable, with grass taller than the vehicle and branches blocking our way at times. These were quickly dispensed with by our panga yielding helpers who travelled with us. All day we stopped at various villages to weigh and vacinate children and before dark we reached the village of Kossa where we were to spend the night.

The Rafai and Zemio region of C.A.R. showing Derbisaka – Google Earth Maps

The villagers were amazing, extremely friendly and kind. We were allocated an empty round African hut, and were given assistance to put up our camp beds and mosquito nets. A large fire was burning in the village square where we sat and chatted with those who were gathered around. The women of the village then asked Muriel if she would like a shower, as they had built a shower cubicle with some poles and banana leaves at the edge of the forest. Muriel was about to turn down the kind offer, but when they said you can take your husband with you, she readily agreed. At the edge of the forest, there was the three sided cubicle, banana leaves also on the floor, and two basins of hot water. How long does it take a woman to shower? This one was over and done in no time at all, and mine was just as short! We didn’t need any rocking to sleep, but when we woke in the morning we discovered we were sharing the hut with a hen and a brood of newborn chicks!

We spent the next day on the bumpy track to Derbisaka continuing with clinics along the way. We were blessed and encouraged to see the love and concern shown to so many women and children, and to meet some of the village health workers and church leaders. We marvelled at the courage and tenacity of our nursing friend, who worked in this isolated and remote place, and praised God for the grace that sustained her. We then returned to Kossa for the night.

Before bed some of the villagers gave us a lesson on how to catch termites, as we were told they were ready to leave their large hill nest! A large basin sized hole was dug near to the termite hill, and we all gathered round. Then they lit a kerosene soaked rag on a stick, and held it over the hole. The termites (about 1 inch long with a wingspan of 2.5 inches) then came in their droves, some flying and others walking straight into the hole, where one of the mamas stirred them with her hand to knock the wings off, until the hole was filled. A ‘termite pate’ we were told would be prepared in the morning, which was considered to be a local delicacy.

It was humbling that night just lying there in the silence and darkness of an African hut, praying and recalling the experiences of the last few days. Thinking of the lifestyle of the villagers, some who were our brothers and sisters in Christ, and of our friend who served them all in the name of Jesus. I knew that in the morning we would be up and off again, on the journey back to Rafai. But for them, this was their life, so dramatically different to ours in almost every aspect. But in the morning as we prepared to depart we were greeted by a line of happy, singing, grateful mamas thanking us for our visit and presenting us with gifts of mangos, a live chicken and other local produce, but fortunately no ‘termite pate’!

On Sunday we were at Church in Rafai and the place was packed with about 500 worshippers, evenly split between men and women. During the service there was a medical emergency and our friend was called away. The surgeon was a local pastor who had no formal training but had worked for years with the missionary doctor and took over from him when he retired. He evidently had a good reputation among the people. The following week we were off on another vacination safari to Banima some 75Km in the other direction. By mid week we flew home via Nyankunde hospital in Zaire where we had a water engineer working, but that’s another story.

It’s good to recall such experiences when life is not going the way you want it. I do know the war in Sudan was to lead to thousands crossing the border to refugee camps in C.A.R., and then of course there was the civil war there recently, so I don’t think life will have become any more stable for the folks there.

In comparison we are blessed beyond measure, which should make us truly grateful, and mindful of those in far flung places who need our help financially and prayerfully, and the pilots of these small planes who continually take their lives in their hands to serve others. So I’ve been singing an old children’s song this week ‘Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done‘. I trust you too feel encouraged this week.

Matthew

*Compiled from a report sent to Tearfund HQ on 22 June 1992

Note: The film ‘Mama Luka comes Home’ is freely available on Amazon Prime, and illustrates the flying and logistic conditions prevailing in the region at that time. The amazing story of Dr Helen Rosevear and her work in the Congo near to the C.A.R border, and her earlier capture and brutalisation by the Simba rebels, is another story of faith and endurance well worth watching.

Turn on the sun!

It’s been the sunniest May on record here in Scotland, which has been a blessing during lockdown. It’s also been encouraging in the last few days to hear the announcements regarding a gradual release from lockdown, as slowly the number of casualties and infections from the corona virus decrease.

One thing this unprecedented period has taught me, is to open my eyes and ears to the beauties of God’s creation, to be seen and heard all around us. We have blackbirds in our hedge that seem to be singing non stop, and we have blue tits and coal tits, sparrows, ring necked doves, crows and the ‘not so loved magpies’ all coming to our garden’s bird bath. I have not photographed them or recorded them, but here are some photographs I did take of the land and hedgerows within a few hundred yards from our home

Then of course we have the garden, which is always a delight at this time of year, even although it does now and then remind you of your age! 🙂 Having breakfast outside is unusual for this time of year.

Now that we can travel 5 miles from home, we have also enjoyed driving again on the network of small single track roads not too far from our house, in the southside of Glasgow. We even took the flask and some biscuits for a picnic one afternoon!

Turn on the Moon!

With all these cloudless skies in the past months I couldn’t resist pointing my camera upwards as well, it’s always good to look up! So here are some pictures of God’s creation looking heavenward!

It’s easy to become despondent in times like these, especially when heartache and sorrow touch us, or those that we love. We so often ask the ‘Why’ question, why me? But Jesus invites us in our despair to turn to him, he knew what it was to suffer, it was said of him ‘he was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief‘ but still he pressed on to Jerusalem and Calvary to die on a cross to purchase our freedom! Freedom from sin and despair and to give us new life and a hope of heaven, where there will be no more suffering and tears and sorrow. If we come to Him as he invites us, we can then slowly start to move on to ask not the ‘why me?’ but the ‘what now?’ question. Here is the last photograph for today. If you are weary may you find your rest in Jesus. Matthew

As always, I am happy to hear from you, or to try and answer any questions you may have. matthewmuriel@aol.com

Hezekiah’s Tunnel

Well, we are still on lockdown, and like others I have been looking back on some of life’s adventures. 

Many years ago my wife and I and young daughter were returning home from a one year engineering contract that I had been working on in Thailand, and we decided to stop off in Israel for a holiday. It was a visit we had often talked about, and since we were ‘passing by their door’ as it were, it seemed the right time to do it.

We stayed at ‘St Andrew’s Guest House’ near to the Jaffa Gate of the old city. It was early March and we expected warm weather, but in Jerusalem the sleet was blowing across the Judaean hills and it was freezing cold.  We had ten days to tour Jerusalem and Israel, and thankfully the weather warmed up. Below are some of our photos of places we visited on this trip.

Prior to arriving I had read an article about ‘Hezekiah’s Tunnel’ and so was determined to see it. Hezekiah was an ancient King of Judah who reigned approximately 700 years before the birth of Christ. In the Bible, 2 Kings 20:20 we read of his reign – ‘’As for the other events of Hezekiah’s reign, all his achievements and how he made the pool and the tunnel by which he brought water into the city, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah?’. (see also 2 Chronicles 32.30) 

So we walked down to the ancient city of Jerusalem, outside the old city walls, and were directed to the location and entrance to the tunnel by a guide. Down a steep set of stairs and soon we could hear the water running, still coming from the Gihon spring, mentioned so may times in the Bible. The water was running about 10 inches deep at the narrowest parts of the tunnel. UNFORTUNATELY THERE WAS ONLY ONE TORCH! It was impossible for the ones at the back to see properly and the rock beneath your feet was uneven so my wife and daughter thought it safer to go back. The entrance to the tunnel was low and narrow at places, and I just followed the guide through this chiselled rock, hewn by Hezekiah’s men 2700 years ago! The height and width of the tunnel vary as you walk through, and the water is running quite fast. The tunnel was dug through the rock from both ends, one starting at the Pool of Siloam and the other from the Gihon spring. Towards the southern end where the two teams met there is now a replicate plaque on the wall, copied from the original that is in a museum in Istanbul.  It reads:

When there were still 3 cubits to be excavated, there were the sounds of a man calling to his companion. On the day of the (completed) excavation, the stone-hewers struck out, each toward his opposite number, pick toward pick.”

The tunnel is about 600 metres long and takes 20 minutes or so to navigate. As you approach the pool of Siloam it was good to see ‘light at the end of the tunnel’. And there waiting for me was my wife and daughter. Wow, that was for me a great adventure – the Bible text certainly is seen in living reality with a visit to Israel.

Hezekiah had ordered the tunnel to be built because Jerusalem’s water supply was outside the city wall and the people would be in grave danger in the event of an enemy attack or siege. In actual fact the city was later besieged by the Assyrian Army and the water tunnel was hugely significant in their survival. They were on lockdown, but lives were saved by Hezekiah’s foresight.

Sometimes we like to blame our politicians for their lack of foresight, perhaps justifiably at times, but this Corona virus lockdown shows that we too need to think ahead. So many of the things that we took for granted are now on hold and life seems somewhat frightening, uncertain and confusing. Figuratively, the pools that we drank from, for our security, pleasure and satisfaction have dried up! It reminds me of Jesus’ words to a woman at a well one day – “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14) Eternal life? That sounds like an offer worth serious consideration, as we cope with lockdown and read of the growing fatalities of the Corona virus!

On another occasion Jesus standing in the temple court on a Jewish Feast Day, cried in a loud voice ‘If any one is thirsty let him come to me and drink.’  He wasn’t speaking of physical thirst, but of a thirst for meaning and purpose in life, indeed for God Himself! I came to Jesus many years ago, I can’t imagine life now without Him – He said, ‘I have come that ye might have life in all its fulness’ and I have proved that to be true -‘a well of water springing up to everlasting life’ is a great description.

He invites us all to come – so will you come? You could use the words of this hymn, which came to mind this morning as your prayer

Stay safe, God bless -Matthew

Fancy a walk through the tunnel? Click here:

Curtailed, but not Contained!

Sadly we had to cancel our planned visit to Oban and the isle of Tiree, which we were very much looking forward to during the next month or so. Caledonian MacBrayne have promised to refund our ferry charges, and also the cost of a day trip we had booked with them to Mull and Fingal’s Cave, but we may need to wait sometime for that to happen. Hopefully we can re-arrange the trip later.

Here in Scotland we have been experiencing an unusual spell of dry sunny weather for almost the whole month of April, so for those of us with gardens it has been a great blessing during this time of lockdown. The greenhouse is always busy in Springtime and there is never enough room for all the plants that are growing. Soon it will be time to replace the daffodils and tulips with other summer flowers, and of course there are a variety of tomatoes, lettuce and different types of peppers growing as well. Today my grandson Lewis arrived and helped by finishing off the power washing of our drive and patio he started last week, for which we were very grateful. Here are a few pictures.

Recent Travel: Some of you will be aware of the fact that my wife and I try and get away regularly for a day trip to some of Scotland’s beauty spots, but that has not been possible since mid March, so much more time has been in the garden. One trip that we did make just prior to the lockdown was to Killin in Perthshire, and Balquidder in Stirlingshire, on a rather cold and at times wet / snowy day, but none the less we did see something of Scotland’s beauties in spite of the weather.

We stopped at The Falls of Falloch just north of Loch Lomond and before Crainlarich for a coffee.
At Crainlarich we turned right and headed towards Lochearnhead, and watcched out for the Killin turn off sign on the left.
The village of Killin and the Falls of Dochart – Killin is at the western end of Loch Tay.
Inchbuie Island on the river Dochart – and the MacNab ancient burial ground!
We stopped here for lunch, unfortunately the Long House was not yet open!
Balquidder Church and churchyard, where Rob Roy MacGregor was buried and also David Carnegie
Balquider Churchyard – the cross and snowdrops speak of new life!
Muriel at Rob Roy MacGregor’s grave.

We travelled home via Calander and Aberfoyle enjoying some magnificent scenery along the way. Total distance travelled approx. 140 miles. We left Glasgow around 12 noon and were home for dinner by 6pm!

In spite of the lovely weather and garden however, our thoughts are never far away from those on the NHS front line, doctors, nurses and carers, ambulance drivers and so many others, who are battling this virus. Perhaps especially our prayers are with those who grieve the loss of one they loved. Some of our friends are in these categories and perhaps your friends are too. At this time of trouble, I love the verse of an old hymn that says,

‘Have we trials and temptations? is there trouble anywhere
we should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer
Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorry share
Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer.’


Take care, and God bless
Matthew