New BMO website

cgm-front-02The Board of Mission Overseas of PCI launched its new website today. It gives a comprehensive picture of all the work undertaken by PCI around the world and it is full of information about our personnel and partners.

Irish Presbyterians have an impressive record in overseas mission and our own congregation of First Portadown has particularly strong links with the mission and evangelism of the wider church through one of its first ministers. Continue reading “New BMO website”

Ethiopian Famine

ethiopmain_237753cI know I run the danger of harping on one string but I cannot ignore it. This weekend The Independent carries a report on the food crisis and famine conditions in Ethiopia which we saw first-hand a couple of weeks ago. The rains that were due in the spring did not come and the longer rains expected in August have been late. The result is that there are no crops and no food. The last paragraph of this report makes the compelling point that the continent which has contributed least to climate change is suffering most.

It also comes at a time when Western governments are struggling to honour their commitments in terms of overseas aid. The food distribution programme which we visited was originally designed to feed 5,000 people for four months, but because of the overwhelming need, it was changed to help 10,000 people for 2 months. This weekend marks the end of the first month. In a month’s time the store will be empty and there will be no food left. It is all so heart-breaking.

The main practical difference between a food crisis and a famine is whether enough aid arrives to keep the starving alive. So while the scope of the problem can be measured in the number of hungry people, the severity depends on the generosity of those in the rich world. And this year they have been miserly. Despite the promise of G8 leaders at their summit in L’Aquila, Italy, last month to provide $20bn (£12bn) to improve food security in poor countries, contributions have slumped dramatically this year as donor states have shifted priorities to supporting banks and stimulating their own economies. “The international community is not living up to its promise to the World Food Programme,” Mr Kebede said.

The WFP had little trouble raising its $6bn budget last year, but in 2009 it has collected less than half of that. Its Ethiopian operation, which had $500m in 2008, is short $127m this year, equivalent to 167,000 tonnes of food. The Famine Early Warning Network forecast this month that the shortfall would reach 300,000 tonnes by December. Rations for the 6.2 million people receiving emergency food aid have, as a result, been slashed by a third from a meagre 15kg of cereals, beans and oil a month to just 10kg. Even if the shortfall were made up today, it would take three months for supplies to be loaded on to ships bound for Djibouti, then transferred to trucks for the arduous overland journey to land-locked Ethiopia.

Aid agencies are worried about the main harvest this autumn, arguing that the time for action is now, not when the food runs out in November – usually the driest month – let alone when starving children with distended bellies capture the attention of the West’s television viewing public.

Flower Festival

posterwithtimesAs part of the celebration of the 1859 Revival, First Presbyterian Church, Portadown has organised a flower festival entitled “Revive!”

It promises to be an interesting and creative way to celebrate what was probably the greatest religious happening in nineteenth century Ulster when thousands of people were converted to Christ and the whole tone of the community was changed. Even if you are not a flower arranger or a flower festival buff, you will be amazed at the creativity with which key aspects of the revival can be reflected in floral art.

It has been my privilege to serve in three congregations which were affected significantly by the revival: Kells, Carnmoney and First Portadown. Continue reading “Flower Festival”

A Real Hero

20Bde-2006-185-011.jpgThis afternoon I had the privilege of visiting Brenda Hale whose husband, Captain Mark Hale, lost his life in Afghanistan on 13 August, along with two colleagues. He died as a result of injuries received while trying to rescue an injured colleague. In a remarkably heroic way, he laid down his life for his friends.

Brenda, Mark and their two girls had found a spiritual home in the warm fellowship at Legacurry Presbyterian Church, where Rev Bobby Liddle is minister. It was wonderful to listen to Brenda as she talked about the vital Christian faith which she and Mark shared, and the way Mark had sought to live out his Christian commitment in a theatre of war and conflict by praying with his colleagues, and had even on occasions deputised for the chaplain. The MOD website carries eloquent tributes to Mark’s outstanding personal qualities. He was a real hero.

One close colleague described him in these terms:

“As a father he was deeply proud of his daughters, as a soldier he was deeply paternal towards his men. His strong and caring nature came from his close faith and relationship with God.

“Having prayed together, he shared both the joys and frustrations of life out here. He wouldn’t ask anyone to do a task he wasn’t willing to do himself, a fact widely acknowledged by all who knew him and, as such, sought to live out the example of Christ. A legend of a man who will be sorely missed by all.” Continue reading “A Real Hero”

More food for thought

Man is the only animal that cooks. If I had ever known that fact, I had forgotten that cooking was a uniquely human activity. Dr Al Mohler, who writes on many critical issues and presents a consistently biblical viewpoint, in a recent blog post, The Cooking Creature – A Call for Recovered Wisdom, makes the point that even though humans are “the cooking animal” and even though we talk a lot about food and watch many food programmes on TV, we don’t cook as much as our grandparents did.

Mohler is quoting Michael Pollan who wrote an article in the New York Times Magazine at the beginning of August entitled “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch“. Pollan writes of the irony of our modern condition. We build homes with expensive kitchens, buy state-of-the-art culinary equipment, but seldom actually cook. Pollan observes that interest in the Food Network and similar TV programming “has, paradoxically, coincided with the rise of fast food, home-meal replacements and the decline and fall of everyday home cooking.” All this only serves to underscore the great divisions that exist in our world where so many survive on so little food, and many are starving.

Pollan’s article was timed for the release in the US of “Julie & Julia,” a warm-hearted film based on Julie Powell’s best-selling memoir, Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously. The film is a celebration of cooking as experienced through the eyes of Julie, a young woman yearning for a great life project, and Julia Child, the woman who introduced French cooking to America. Julie, happily married to her young husband, is trapped in a clerical position in which he finds no joy. She “borrows” her mother’s copy of Julia Child’s famed Mastering the Art of French Cooking and decides to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s book over the next 365 days. The memoir is based on Julie Powell’s experience of cooking through Julia Child’s cookbook, blogging along the way. The film is another acting triumph for Meryl Streep as Julia Child and the entire project represents a celebration of cooking as a lost art.

Mohler, always alert to the world and life view which underpins human behaviour, goes on to make an interesting theological point:

Christianity contributes a distinctive understanding of the importance of food and, by extension, the importance of cooking and hospitality. We understand that human beings are made to require food for sustenance. Our need for food is a reminder of our finitude. The food in our fields and all in our tables is a reminder of God’s loving provision for us. The Bible dignifies the loving preparation of food as one of the distinctive gifts of women. While cooking is not limited to women, throughout human history wives and mothers, sisters and daughters, have shown their love for and commitment to their loved ones through the careful preparation and celebration of food. When this is lost, something more than culinary knowledge is lost

Cooking is more than a hobby and food is more than a product. Recovering the lost wisdom of cooking will be no easy task but, as “Julie & Julia” reminds us, that which is easy falls far short of a life that is full. If nothing else, all this may remind us to be thankful for those who so lovingly prepare wonderful meals for our health and enjoyment. Beyond this, reflecting on this loss may produce a determination to recover the wisdom of cooking. As Julia Child would say, bon appétit.