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Posts from the ‘Uganda’ Category

20
Feb
LOTR return home banner

Returning home changed to an unchanging Shire

Sabbaticals bring many benefits. One is obviously time for reflection: on the past, present and future; on what matters; on what has made us who we are. And I can say without hesitation that, for good and sometimes perhaps for ill, our Uganda years made a far greater impact on me than any other four-year period as an adult. Of course, one never realises it at the time. Life goes on, you blithely persevere from one thing to the next, you never stop to think. Read more »

19
Feb
ZAC1

Bishop Zac, the Black Monday campaign in Uganda and putting yourself in harm’s way

This is important. Bishop Zac Niringiye used to be my sort-of boss for the 4 years we worked in Uganda. He was the secretary of the trustees of the college I taught in and had actually been someone I consulted about life there before we moved in 2004. His advice to me was simple then. “Don’t try to be a Ugandan, Mark. You’re not. You’re a Brit.” Superb – of course cultural sensitivity is essential – but it is only works if it is accompanied by authenticity and integrity. Zac is a strong character with strong passions and a good mind (he was a Langham scholar, doing his theology PhD in Scotland). He’s not always easy! But he’s someone with real integrity and gospel concern. Read more »

10
Feb
British_Empire

The British Empire was never quite what you thought: John Darwin’s Unfinished Empire

Nearly 10 years ago, a dear friend of mine was addressing a gathering of Ugandan MPs in the Parliament building in Kampala (around the 40th anniversary of independence). It included those from all shades on the political spectrum, including not a few post-colonial firebrands. My friend is certainly no great apologist for imperialism, but he posed two simple questions.

  • “Which Ugandan regions (of those that the British failed to develop) have we since developed?”
  • “What aspects of public life, government and rule of law have we improved on or done better in than the colonial regime?”

Read more »

19
Oct
Dawn view from just above our house, looking out towards Lake Victoria

Friday Fun 28: Aural Nostalgia for an African Day

This is a random Friday Fun. It’s not especially funny, although some will probably think this makes me seem very funny, putting me in the same bracket as collectors of birdsong CDs. Too bad. It just so happened that I was searching for some old files on my computer and came across these – I’d completely forgotten I’d made them. But in the few days before we left Uganda in the summer of 2005, I took my rudimentary digital recorder out into the garden and just let it listen. Read more »

4
Jan
Rue de Catinat SAIGON

The Saigon School of Missiology and Graham Greene’s QUIET AMERICAN

It is not just the victims of imperialism who easily identify its sins and blindspots. Those who have wielded and then lost empires are quick to spot the parallels in others’. Perhaps that was partly why Graham Greene was such a caustic critic of what he perceived as the twentieth century’s new imperialist incarnation: the United States. Of course Greene had strong left-wing sympathies and was openly anti-American, which provided  convenient filters by which the right could ignore his perspectives. It’s no surprise that he was under FBI surveillance from the 1955 publishing of The Quiet American until his death in 1991. Read more »

18
Jul
corruption kills - kampala

Hackgate, Corruption and African perceptions of the West

During the 4 years we worked in Uganda, I would have this conversation with students all too often. They would despairingly deprecate African states for their oh-so predictable corruption, nepotism and despotism. It would be shrugged off and perhaps accompanied by a green-eyed comment about western political systems. And indeed, when chatting with friends back home, they would often enquire whether X or Y countries were doing ‘worse or better these days’ – shorthand for whether their respective rulers were now more, or less, openly corrupt and oppressive. Such is the caricature many outsiders have of Africa – and of course, there’s no smoke without fire, etc etc. Read more »

18
Apr

The joys of Ugandan English

Not quite sure how I came across this wonderful Wiki page - but for any who have ever lived or visited Uganda, or East Africa generally for that matter, it is a treasure trove. Definitely worth printing out as a precautionary measure to keep in your back pocket.

Which reminded me of some things we wrote in our monthly newsletter when we were living there… exactly 7 years ago  - simply can’t believe it was that long ago now.

Read more »

20
Oct

Provocations and Grace from Tim Keller’s Generous Justice

I have been waiting for years for someone to write this book. And so I’m hugely grateful to Tim Keller. He’s clearly the man for the job – his years of ministerial experience, academic ability and personal integrity well qualify him to write of the crying need for Evangelicals to engage with issues of justice and poverty. He’s done it before in his celebrated Ministries of Mercy, but this book seems to have a greater apologetic edge.

And he knows his audience. Or rather his audiences. For he is well-aware, no doubt from heated interactions, that there are various groups out there who are profoundly sceptical of this passion. The problem is that they are coming from such conflicting starting positions; so it takes a masterly lightness of touch to engage each without alienating another.

A complex battleground

But part of the approach is to identify his interlocutors from the start (from page xi) and then interact with each as he goes along – I’ve tried summarise them like this:

  • The Instinctive Advocate: those Christians with the gut feeling that poverty and justice are important but who have never been able to integrate that with their faith. To them, Keller seeks to give a thought through, biblical rationale for why this instinct is god-given.
  • The Sceptical Evangelist: those who fear any journey down this road will inevitably lead to doctrinal compromise and the ‘social gospel’. We’re here just to evangelise, aren’t we? To which Keller challenges by articulating both Old & New Testament motivations and commands to love the poor, and to question what a reluctance to such love might indicate about their ministerial context and personal spirituality. He doesn’t think they are the same thing - and this is important to what he goes on to say – but he does argue that we can’t have one without the other:

… to consider deeds of mercy and justice to be identical to gospel proclamation is a fatal confusion. I propose a different way to understand evangelism and social justice. They should exist in an asymmetrical, inseparable relationship. (p139)

It is also impossible to separate word and deed ministry from each other in ministry because human beings are integrated wholes – body and soul. When some Christians say, ‘Caring for physical needs will detract from evangelism’, they must be thinking of only doing evangelism among people who are comfortable and well-off. (p141-142)

  • The Revisionist Campaigner: frustrated by evangelicals’ sluggish or avoided engagement, these go further than Instinctive Advocates and blame what they perceive as the ‘individualism’ of protestant orthodoxy. Their solution is to water down or distance themselves from it. To them, Keller is resounding in his appeal to evangelical orthodoxy – not just because he seeks to prove its biblical faithfulness, but also because he sees it as the fundamental bridge to a changed life and ethical behaviour, when it is properly understood. This quotation could serve as a summary of a point that he frequently returns to:

But as we have seen, doing justice is inseparably connected to preaching grace. This is true in two ways. One way is that the gospel produces a concern for the poor. The other is that deeds of justice gain credibility for the preaching of the gospel. In other words justification by faith leads to doing justice, and doing justice can make many seek to be justified by faith. (p140)

  • The Atheist Accuser: those who follow the likes of Christopher Hitchens by claiming that ‘religion poisons everything’. Keller has interacted with such issues before, most notably in The Reason for God. But the focus is narrower here. His approach is to question the ethical basis for human rights in the forbidding frigidity of a godless universe, and then to suggest that talk of human dignity is an inevitable corollary of divine creation and redemption. He even seems to have Derrida on his side on that point! (p167) It is a trenchant argument – proving that far from being poisonous, religion, and Christianity in particular, is pivotal for the protection of the vulnerable and the weak. This is, of course, why it is such an affront and scandal when Christians don’t do that.

I suppose for a number of years I fell very much into the first camp – troubled by the world’s injustices, but unable to articulate an integrated theological response. Many friends, whom I hugely respect, were in the second – and part of the problem, I think, is that they would not read or engage with many who think differently on this issue (because of their lack of orthodoxy in other areas). What is so refreshing therefore about Keller’s approach is that he is explicitly and deliberately approaching the question from the vantage point of the classic reformed doctrines of creation, substitutionary atonement, justification, sanctification and so on. Some attack him because his social involvement leads to suspicions that he has gone soft on these. But Keller retorts by saying that it is precisely this gospel that drives him to it. And he enjoys great precedents in reformed luminaries as diverse as Jonathan Edwards, Murray M’Cheyne and Abraham Kuyper (all of whom he quotes at various points).

Getting back to the Non-Question

Having lived in the two-thirds world for a number of years, it was impossible to ignore the  appalling conditions and social realities of people’s lives. It would have been callous to do so. That, in part, is why very few African friends understand the western church’s hang up on social action and evangelism. It’s a non-question for them. But in Generous Justice, Keller convincingly argues in a coherent, accessible and readable way why it should be non-question for us all. I sensed when we lived in Uganda, and I sense all the more strongly having read this book, that one mistake is to get lost in the intricacies of working out theoretical priorities (a necessary activity, of course). You start pitting this life against the next life and … well … it seems no contest.

But suppose we take the concern for justice out of the mission equation, just for a moment (don’t panic – I do think that it is an integral part of what God is doing on earth, which is why we should be involved. But bear with me just for a moment.) Instead, place justice and poverty in matters of holiness and discipleship and suddenly the landscape changes. It’s not then primarily a question of priorities. It’s a question of godliness. We don’t ask, ‘is it more important to be honest, humble or generous?’ That would be ludicrous. We shouldn’t expect to have to choose – we should strive after all three.

So it is with seeking justice and loving the poor. And as that is God’s heartbeat, so it should be ours. As Keller points out, it’s fascinating that God introduces himself as

‘a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows’ (Ps 68:4-5). This is one of the main things he does in the world. He identifies with the powerless, he takes up their cause. (p6)

To be like God is to do the same thing – to care for what has been called the “quartet of the vulnerable” (the widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor cf. Zech 7:10-11). (p4)

Grace changes everything

The thrust of this book’s argument is that grace is the heart of everything. And so Keller returns to the well-worn but crucial paths on the dangerous road to Jericho. His earlier book Ministries of Mercy was subtitled the Call of the Jericho Road. And here he is very clear why we should:

Before you can give this neighbour-love [e.g. as the Samaritan does], you need to receive it. Only if you see that you have been saved graciously by someone who owes you the opposite will you go out into the world looking to  help absolutely anyone in need. (p77)

This is why the gospel of grace is absolutely pivotal – both for motivating and modelling an all-round holistic ministry, and for reminding us of our own deep needs and equality with those we serve and love.

In the next post, I’ll pick up some of the more practical and political aspects of Keller’s case.

16
Sep

Circling the wagons: an aerial perspective on protecting what we esteem?

I recently surfed (via StumbleUpon) to another random photo compilation, this time of the inestimable Yves Arthus-Bertrand (he of the amazing Earth from Above photos). His images are always stunning. And the compilation is certainly remarkable. But this one stood out, even though it is by no means one of his more spectacular images. It gave me this weird sense of deja-vu – and I couldn’t place it for a while. (If you’re interested, it’s of some very unusual suburbs in Copenhagen.)

Then it came back to me. But a few years ago, while we were still living in Uganda, I had the chance to go on a day’s flight around Uganda with an old friend, Laurie, a pilot with MAF. Every few years, they need to fly to each of the airstrips in the country to measure them (to make sure they’re not shrinking because of weeds and other growth), to check coordinates are right and other tests. As it was not possible to use this to take passengers, I was able to go along with them.

As we were flying over the remote and underdeveloped region of Karamoja (near Uganda’s border with Kenya), we saw these Karamajong villages far below us. Ring any bells?

The Karamajong are a people group whose lives revolve around cattle. Their wealth is measured in heads of cattle; their diet is built on the staples of cows’ milk, cows’ blood and beef; their lifestyles entirely revolve around the care, protection and health of their herds. And as you can see vividly from the air, their social planning does too. For in the centre of each settlement is an area to keep the family’ herd at night. The reason is simple – one of the other activities they get involved in is cattle rustling. Feuds with the other clans, and with the other people groups across the border like the Turkana, go back decades even centuries. This social phenomenon, probably more than any other factor else, drives this sort of town planning.

It’s especially interesting when placed alongside one I took on that trip in another area of Uganda – this time Busoga, the area around the source of the Nile at Jinja. As you can see, this is a very different arrangement. This time the protective ring is not dwellings around the herd, but trees around the dwellings. This is a fertile area of the country, as you can tell by the greenness, and these are arable farmers.

I’m by no means a social anthropologist nor do I have anything particularly profound to say. But it did provoke some thoughts about how we go about protecting what we value. Are we then to assume from the Danish image that their most important possessions are their cars? Probably not because the innovative plan is not designed to keep outsiders out as an experiment in forming new units for community.

However, what do we invest in protecting? And more to the point, what do we not invest in protecting? Simply looking for clues like what gets locked up most rigourously or protected most assiduously might just reveal something about where our hearts lie…

29
Jun

Dar es Salaam street level drawing

Came across this site via Creative Roots (a site I’ve grown to love): Dar Sketches, is a project set up by a London trained artist, Sarah Markes, who has lived in the Tanzanian city for a few years. She works to encourage the arts in Dar es Salaam, and these sketches are tied in with creative writing she’s hoping to provoke.

Fantastic stuff. For anyone who’s lived in an E. African city, these scenes will be VERY familiar indeed – and I found myself immediately whisked away to the bustle of Kampala. One to keep an eye out for, when these get published in book form.

29
Apr

Ministry maxims – advice along the way.

Further to my suggestion a few weeks back that people should get hold of Carson & Woodbridge’s Letters along the way, I started thinking about the pieces of advice that various bods have given us down the years. So here is a little anthology.

On your first assistant ministry post:

Choose the boss, not the job!

This is crucial because you learn far more on the job in your first job than you ever did/could at college. The models you pick up from your first boss can bless or curse you for years to come! But there is a wider application – because we ALL imitate someone. The question we should always be asking is ‘who actually are we imitating?’

 

On life and ministry:

Take Jesus seriously; but don’t take yourself seriously.

The key to survival and sanity.

 

On pastoral temptations

A congregation’s greatest temptation is to place their minister on a pedestal; a minister’s greatest temptation is to want to be there.

Ouch. Too true. I first learned this from David Jackman (though don’t know whether or not it originated with him). The next one is related, by someone called James Crook (though don’t know anything about him).

A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.

 

On working cross-culturally.

Never go with a preconceived idea of HOW you’re going to work. Never go with a preconceived idea of WHAT you’re going to do.

This was the advice of Martin Goldsmith (formerly of All Nations College) to us just before we left to work in Uganda. It was the most important and telling piece of wisdom we were given. The first half is what they always say to you about cross-cultural work – in other cultures, people do things differently and you need to go with the local flow so often (‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do’ etc). But the second is harder but for us was prescient. I went to be a lecturer and teacher. I then became academic dean and was doing a third of the teaching I’d done. Then I became Acting Principal and was teaching only 1 hour a week – spending my time getting stressed with admin and fundraising and quietly going nuts. But it was right for a season season. What Martin had said kept me going and encouraged the right service attitude.

 

On feeling overwhelmed

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try spending the night with a mosquito.

Bit of a cliché this one, but it particularly appeals to anyone who has lived in the tropics. A helpful reminder.

 

Do you have any other nice one-liners to share?

8
Jan

Q’s AFRICA week: 4. Fun signs and sights

Here is something a little more light-hearted. I’ve uploaded to my Flickr page a number of classic signs and sights that I’ve spotted on my african travels. Some I’ve shown before (mainly from Uganda), but I’ve added a few from the South Africa trip. Check them out the whole set after this little excerpt:

 

 

 

 

1
Dec

World AIDS Day & REDWire

The problem with ribbons, bracelets and t-shirt campaigns is that they are two-a-penny which dilutes the impact somewhat. Which is why they’ve become politically correct. And that is a crying shame. But today is World AIDS day – and so here is a virtual ribbon to make the point. Without being politically correct. Because AIDS is still an issue. Of appalling proportions, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

I’ll never forget organising a 2-day workshop at the college i taught at in Uganda to help these potential pastors know how to care for those with HIV/AIDS. The main trainer started the seminar off by asking how many people had seen family members die of AIDS related illnesses. EVERY HAND WENT UP. Knowing people who have since died of it, has brought it home hard.

Here are some stats (courtesy of the World AIDS Day website):

In the UK

People living with HIV:

  • More than 80,000 people living with HIV in the UK
  • One in three people with HIV are undiagnosed
  • One in every 360 pregnant women in the UK is HIV positive

New HIV cases in 2007:

  • 7,700 new diagnoses in the UK in 2007
  • 2,700 new diagnoses among men who have sex with men
  • 3,500 new diagnoses among people from black and minority ethnic communities

In the World

People living with HIV:

  • 33 million people living with HIV worldwide
  • 30.8 million adults
  • 15.5 million women
  • 2.0 million children under 15

New HIV cases in 2007:

  • 2.7 million total new cases
  • 2.3 million adults
  • 370,000 children under 15

HIV-related deaths in 2007:

  • 2.0 million total deaths

Here is something quite cool that will help a little bit. Check it out… Sign up, get music, help the work…

10
Jun

Ugandan (in)justice & US presidentials – and what people are doing about it…

Two very interesting articles to point you to…

Peter May has written an article about the work of the UCLF (Uganda Christian Lawyers Fraternity):

Uganda cries out for justice.

Knowing both the Prices and some of the other folks involved in the UCLF, it is great to hear how things are going, building on previous work and taking things forward in what is a very difficult situation.

And while we’re on the topic of social and political involvement, I’ve just finished reading a really helpful article about who to vote for in elections in Christianity Today (although, of course, the focus is very much the American presidentials). There is a lot of wisdom here:

How to Pick A President (Why Virtue Trumps Policy) by Daniel Taylor and Mark McCloskey

Especially helpful was the exploration of the relationship between the classical virtues of prudence/practical wisdom, justice/fairness, fortitude/courage and temperance/moderation and the Christian ideals of faith, hope and love. Mediaeval scholars embraced all seven of these as what they termed the cardinal virtues. The article is full of political realism and good sense, without appearing (to an outsider at least) too partisan. Anyone in leadership (of any sort) would do well to learn from this stuff, I’d have thought.

29
Jan

Kenyan complexities – community, tribalism and the cross

It is STILL going on – I can’t bear it. And now around 800 are dead, including a specifically targeted opposition MP. Africa and Africans have SO MUCH to offer, and indeed teach us Europeans. There is a holism and integration to the ways in which the world and life are understood that have much to challenge us in the west. In fact, I was preaching about precisely this on Sunday night – as part of our annual Partnership Sunday focus.
The sermon title was one of those that had seemed a good idea at the time (i.e. 4 months ago when we had to come up with something for the termcard) but when it came to prep last week seemed a bit of a nightmare: I BELIEVE IN AN UPSETTING CHURCH (from 1Peter 2:9-12). It sort of worked out OK in the end (I hope). But it constantly strikes me that one of the challenges we have in the western church is to build a real sense of community – the problems are exacerbated when it comes to a central London church like All Souls, which draws people from every corner of London within the M25 and some beyond (I know there are issues about that – and those advocates of the small church get sent into paroxysms by the thought). We need a greater sense of inter-dependence and mutuality. As I was saying on Sunday, this can only come about when we recognise our SHARED dependence on God’s mercy. Who am I to look down on anyone else when I know that I am just as much in need of mercy and grace as they are? The ground before the cross is level as we all (whether we are presidents or paupers) come before it on our knees. As CS Lewis once wisely wrote:
Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.’
But in our middle class, private and protective way, we usually stop there. We usually think OK, I’ve got to accept others – but I’m not going to expose my vulnerabilities or failures. I’m certainly not going to let others help me in the battle with my own selfishness. And this is where 2 fascinating African proverbs rattled in my brain (both from the Ibo in Nigeria). The first is wonderfully absurd:
No one buries himself; if he does, one of his hands will have to be outside the grave!
Then there is this one:
Both hands become clean as each hands washes the other in turn.
We need one another even in our own personal battle with sin. As Proverbs 27:17 puts it:
as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another
But here’s the irony – and perhaps it is the nature of interdependence. The greater the mutuality, the clearer the boundaries we erect. Could this be why tribalism is such an issue in Africa? For being open and anti-individualistic does create a vulnerability (which is one of our preoccupying fears in the west), with the result that we don’t feel that we can extend it too far (understandably). And so the flip side of Africa’s great positive in terms of community life is tribalism. After years of Kikuyu power in Kenya, other tribes are fed up and marginalised. (See this very helpful tribal map of Kenya from the BBC news site).
How do you correct the imbalance? With the machete. Simplistic, I realise. But this, I fear, is a key factor. It’s what went so wrong in Rwanda. It’s part of the problem in DRCongo; in Darfur, in Zimbabwe; and my fear is that it is precisely what could rear it its ugly head in Uganda – after years of President Museveni favouring neighbouring tribes in Uganda’s south-west.
True community is incredibly costly – and crossing human boundaries and divides requires considerable effort. We can learn much from Africa about how to be inter-dependent better. We don’t get anywhere near in the west. But what we ALL need to learn from Christ, is that we all alike depend on God’s mercy – which means that no one tribe is ‘better’ than another. Oh that the power of the unifying and purifying work of the cross would do its work amongst those who feel so enraged that they need to kill. Oh that it would shake us up in London so that we are not too proud to learn lessons from others around the world, including those who know how to live as a community. What we mustn’t do is use the violence we see on the news as an excuse for rejecting the need to do this.
4
Oct

They will believe you: you are a white man

Just had my new review on the film Last King of Scotland posted on the Damaris Culture Watch site. I think it is a fascinating film – thought-provoking and challenging. For me, one of the more interesting characters is Dr Junju, played by David Oyelowo (known to Spooks addicts as Danny). He is the one who says the acerbic line to protagonist Garrigan: They will believe you: you are a white man. That seems tome to be one of the keys to what it’s all about.

[For transparency's sake, i should add that i was actually an extra in the movie (in the press conference scene) and so of course am completely unbiased - see previous posting Cinematic Breakthrough - however this does not in anyway affect my objectivity as i didn't even get a credit - can you imagine?]

 

21
Sep

Zimbabwe: a despotic shrug, but at least things are happening

Making a stand

It’s always difficult to join a bandwagon – but then, if that bandwagon is heading in the right direction, then not to join it is itself problematic.

  • So good to see Gordon Brown making a strong stand for the EU-AU summit (yesterday)
  • Also inevitable to see Mugabe shrugging it off (today)
  • Also, in case you missed it, is the news that China is withdrawing backing from Zimbabwe (report 31st Aug) after years of propping up the decrepit and discredited Mugabe (see photo).

Perhaps this humble blog is making a difference after all… And perhaps our beloved Prime Minister will get the prize from Quaerentia’s very own Spot The Difference competition.

__________________________________

Art imitating life?

Incidentally, I am acutely sensitive to the way that Africa gets portrayed in fiction and on screen (i have a forthcoming review of Last King of Scotland coming soon). So much is patronising, ignorant or profoundly unhelpful.

So I had my antennae out on stalks last night when we watched Season 5, episode 4 of SPOOKS (known as MI-5 in the US) - the new boxed set happily arrived last week! After a pretty iffy and unrealistic concept and start, it did improve – not least because of its portrayal of the moral dilemmas inherent in involvement with African politics. Read the synopsis here if you’ve not see it and don’t want to. It revolves around a G8/AU (African Union) summit to deal with fair trade deals for Africa – obviously a perennial and knotty issue. It is obviously tv – and real life is much more complex than could ever be conveyed in a spy thriller. But dare i say it, i couldn’t help wondering whether or not there were any deliberate similarities between the fictional President Sekoa of West Monrassa (played by the excellent George Harris) and President Museveni of Uganda – both lauded in the west as African pioneers and leaders, while getting up to all kinds of dodgy stuff behind the facade.

And while we’re on this tack – one of my favourite West Wing episodes, and one which really breaks the heart, is Season 2 episode 4: In This White House. While all kinds of different plot lines are being followed (in true TWW style), the primary concern is that of a dialogue between the CEOs of major US Pharmaceuticals and an African president looking for ways to get cheaper HIV/AIDS drugs to his continent. Played by the brilliant South African actor Zakes Mokae, President Nimbala of Khundu comes across as a sympathetic leader doing his best against impossible odds – but thwarted at every turn. The ending is simply tragic – but not implausible (which makes it all the more affecting). And yet without being patronising or generalising, the episode realistically and movingly conveys the agonies of the continent. There are no glib solutions here – and that is precisely the point.

27
Apr

Happy Birthday Uncle John – John Stott 86 today

stott_john.jpgToday John Stott is 86 years old. Today also marks the day when Uncle John will formally retire from public ministry. It is for the rest of us a sad day – but for him perfectly right, reasonable and proper. He certainly deserves the rest from the public eye!

Last Sunday (22nd April), he read the Bible reading at our 11.30 service at All Souls, Langham Place (a church he has been associated with since his birth, quite literally). It was a very moving moment – he is of course frail (not surprising at 86 and after a fall and hip replacement last August) and needed help to get into the pulpit which he dominated for so many years. But his voice – unique and unmistakable – was as strong, crisp and clear as ever. There was clearly no way he could sustain it for long so it is no wonder he’s cutting back. But there is no doubting the commitment, conviction and passion that still remain despite the frailties – which is why he is determined to speak at the Keswick Convention this year as the one exception to his public retirement.

I’ve been trying to think of the things that i most appreciate about him and stott-at-arocha.jpeghis ministry (even though I’ve only recently got to know him a little bit having only met a few times before joining the All Souls staff). This posting is not hagiography, guru-worship nor a form of evangelical papism! He is the first to deplore from such thinking and is quite open about being fallible and flawed – and inevitably there are issues about which people disagree with him. But there are some things that are simply undeniable and that need articulating because he is such a wonderful role-model for us younger Christians:

  • A profound love for God and love for people whatever their backgrounds and nationalities
  • Clear biblical convictions combined with a wide generosity of spirit (especially to those with whom he disagrees)
  • Academic and scholarly rigour combined with pastoral sensitivity
  • An enviable crystal clarity of thought coupled with the ability to communicate engagingly and relevantly (and often with remarkable precision and brevity)
  • A teachability and hunger to learn (which is still present) coupled by a fascination and love for a huge breadth of interests (not just birds!)
  • A seriousness about the things that matter but a twinkle in the eye when humour is required to deflate the puffed up or the intense. In fact only last week he described me as an ‘ignorant fool’ for having the temerity to describe all gulls as ‘seagulls’ in a sermon and for not being able to discern which are the ones that we can hear from our central London home every morning.

During our time in Uganda, it was clear John Stott was still hugely influential even there. In fact, he is regarded as one of the most influential Christian leaders in Africa in the 20th Century – despite never actually having lived anywhere outside W1, London (unless you count boarding schools and university)! As a result of his international travel and personal friendships, his speaking and writing, he truly has a global family – which is why he is universally known as Uncle John – a way of showing respect in many countries while also showing huge affection and friendship.

high-leigh-whole-group.jpg

This photo was taken in 2003 (at High Leigh conference centre) at a consultation for those involved in setting up Langham Preaching conferences around the world. I was there almost by accident really (was back from Uganda for a couple of weeks anyway) – yet it was one of the most extraordinary and special 48 hours i’ve ever experienced. 25 people from India, Lebanon, Egypt, USA, UK, Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Burundi, Philippines, Hong Kong – all of whom owe so much to Uncle John (by his example, encouragement and for many there, through the Langham Scholarship programme enabling them to do PhDs). Now Langham Preaching is operating in many other countries as well, headed up by Jonathan Lamb, far left. (Before anyone comments, I’ve absolutely no idea why i’ve got my eyes closed – it was in February and not exactly bright – ho hum)

stott-living-church.jpgDespite slowing down, he’s not stopped thinking. And last year his wonderful series of Quiet Time notes (Through The Bible Through The Year ) was published, and his 50th Book The Living Church is out any minute! Can’t really say much about it yet because i’ve not read it! But i’ve no doubt that it’s worth a read.

But let me finish by quoting from someone who knows him far better than I do – Timothy Dudley-Smith.

To those who know and meet him, respect and affection go hand in hand. The world-figure is lost in personal friendship, disarming interest, unfeigned humility—and a dash of mischievous humour and charm. By contrast, he thinks of himself, as all Christians should but few of us achieve, as simply a beloved child of a heavenly Father; an unworthy servant of his friend and master, Jesus Christ; a sinner saved by grace to the glory and praise of God. (Who is John Stott? – All Souls Broadsheet – April/May 2001)

I hope and pray I’m like that when i grow up. Happy Birthday Uncle John!
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Here are some Links to find out more about him:

John Stott’s Life:

John Stott in the pulpit:

You can download 100s of John Stott’s sermons from the All Souls church website for FREE (though any donations are gratefully received). Click here for Uncle John’s talks and see what you can dig up. There’s a lot to choose from – the recordings go back 40 years to 1966 (when England actually won the World Cup!).

NB You have to register on the site (requiring just an email address and password) before you can download a maximum of 30 a month (to protect our servers). After all, that is still one a day if you stop to think about it!

John Stott in the public eye:

John Stott in print:

  • A Comprehensive Bibliography – Timothy Dudley-Smith’s mammoth reference work for everything he’d written before 1995
  • Timeless Classics – To see a list of some of his key books still in print with his favourite publisher – IVP. Many of these will be read for decades to come. My favourites are:
    • The Cross of Christ
    • The Incomparable Christ
    • Calling Christian Leaders
    • Evangelical Truth
    • 2 Timothy & Ephesians (Bible Speaks Today)

    A fuller list can be found at Langham Partnership’s site

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