As we write in late February, Dave should be in Nigeria undertaking a series of speaking opportunities and visiting A Rocha’s associated project in Jos, the Eden Creation Care Initiative. However, despite applying in plenty of time, the Nigerian High Commission never granted him a visa. He was summoned for an interview, a dehumanizing experience which consisted in waiting for four and a half hours in a chaotic and overcrowded room with no phones or laptops allowed, in order to be seen for less than two minutes, and then informed that the case was being referred to the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Nigeria. Despite constant efforts by colleagues in Nigeria, and lots of people praying, every lead proved fruitless and time ran out on the possibility of going.
Why? There are at least two answers to that. Why did God allow it, when so many prayed? We don’t know, but when Dave shared in church, he felt led to refer to Romans 8:28 – the promise that God works all things together for good for those who love God. Many times in life we don’t understand why heartfelt prayers aren’t answered as we’d wish, nor do we blame God for bad things, but we trust that God can take the mess and make something good out of it. In this case, the unexpected diary space enabled Dave to get some solid PhD work done and enjoy a lovely last-minute weekend away with Anne in Norfolk!
Why Dave’s visa wasn’t straightforward remains a mystery. The only clues were in that brief interview where they asked “Are you a pastor?” and “Will you be preaching?” Despite explaining he’d be lecturing only about the biblical basis for wildlife conservation, there was no progress. Is this the new world of tit-for-tat travel bans?
If America tries to ban those from largely Muslim countries, are there now consequences in a sensitive country like Nigeria, with its Christian majority but Muslim president? We don’t know, but bizarrely Peter Harris, Dave’s A Rocha colleague (also ordained though having worked in conservation for 30+ years), was granted his visa and has had a very fruitful and significant visit.
At the same time, another colleague wanting to attend a UN conference on marine conservation was informed that A Rocha must first replace all references to Taiwan on our website with “Taiwan – Province of China”, because the UN “follows the One China policy”. We’ve since discovered that most environmental charities ignore this with impunity, but it’s another example of the diplomatic confusion in a post-Trump world. Dave is due to visit mainland China to lecture in universities there in June, and then Taiwan in July, so do please pray that he would be able to get visas for these without further trouble.
Of course, the inconvenience and expense of Dave’s visa saga are nothing compared to the experience of so many refugees and migrants. Most of those in the chaos at the Nigerian High Commission were people of Nigerian origin simply trying to sort out passports for their children, and loud in their complaints! Here in Southall we see the heartache and hardship of migration daily. A group of young Iranian men, recent converts to Christ, have been attending St John’s and one has had his asylum case refused. He’s appealing and about to be baptised – do pray for him. Another committed member of our church has nearly been deported to the Caribbean several times and only intervention by our vicar – Anna – along with emergency prayer and legal work have stopped it so far. His wife and children are British, and the stress has caused huge pressure and mental health problems. Anne, as part of her training, is coordinating language classes for mainly Muslim women from Syria, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Along with the “Little Angels” toddler group St John’s runs, many are in heart-breaking situations, terrified of deportation and seeing families being split up.
Overall, Anne is thriving in her ordination training at St Mellitus College. Her average week comprises one intensely full day of lectures, two days of study, two days of placement, plus a flexible day. Her main placement is at our own church, St John’s Southall, where as well as language classes she’s heavily involved in Messy Church, welcome ministry, and leading and preaching (including a recent videoed sermon). She’s just completed a one day a week placement in a hospice, which she found profound and moving, with some really significant relationships developed. Her challenges include finding time for family and rest in such a full programme, and researching and writing essays after a break of 25 years. This year’s course – a Graduate Diploma which will bring her up to degree level in theology – is particularly intense, but hopefully will lead to a two year MA afterwards.
If you’ve ever wondered about studying theology, independently or for recognised ministry, Anne would really recommend a St Mellitus open day. Do contact her if you want to chat about it! Do look at Trinity College in Bristol too, where the principal, Emma Ineson, was superb at a clergy conference Dave attended recently!
In other news…
Dave had his shoulder operation in October. It was pretty major and he’s still having physio. He may never recover all his movement but the good news is that driving, running, cycling and carrying things are fine now. His PhD is on its final furlong, writing the conclusion and revising the earlier chapters. His supervisor’s initiated the process of appointing examiners – one from Cambridge and one elsewhere – and hopefully the thesis will be submitted by the summer with a Viva (oral examination) in the autumn. Please pray for no more delays or distractions, and helpful examiners!
In A Rocha, several of Dave’s international management team colleagues have had major health issues themselves or with their immediate families. We’re also facing our biggest financial challenge for years. Unless significant funding comes in, we’re looking at a bleak situation next year. Lots of work is going into fundraising from trusts, churches and key individuals.
Please pray for God to show us where he’s keeping the funds! We also have major challenges in several A Rocha national organisations, giving extra work and stress to the management team.
At the same time, there’s a wonderful sense of family amongst the international team. We have seen amazing success stories in places such as Ghana where A Rocha is at the heart of a campaign to establish a major new national park around the Atewa Forest, and here in the UK where over 500 churches have now signed up to Eco Church (and St John’s Southall now has its Eco Church Bronze Award!).
Family-wise, the coming months look intense in terms of academic work for all of us: Dave finishing his PhD and Anne with lots of essay deadlines; Hannah with third year exams (it’s a four-year course in Scotland), and Rebekah into an intensive second year of midwifery (she’s now delivered about 15 babies herself!), Rosie with A levels (Art, Biology, Maths), and Naomi with GCSEs.
Please pray, for a peaceful and productive atmosphere at home, and plenty of fun and laughter breaks! In the wider family, both of Anne’s parents, John and Jenny, have had further hospital visits, and Dave’s mum, Rosemary, remains well but her knees are giving her a lot of problems.
Thanks so much for all your prayers and, where possible, financial support. Our CMS income (which pays Dave’s salary via A Rocha) has dipped sharply due to changes in circumstances for several key supporters, so please pray for some new supporters to emerge.
With our love and prayers,