I hear you

(Photo: Irene Bom)

I’m subscribed to the GOODNEWSLETTER – a weekly dose of five good news stories to counter cynicism and despair, to awaken hope.

This week’s GOODNEWSLETTER opens with a wonderful story from Zimbabwe about the Friendship Bench, a groundbreaking mental health programme based on evidence-based talk therapy, offered for free by trained grandmothers in more than 70 communities around the country.

Here’s an excerpt about one of the grandmothers serving her community as part of this programme:

Chinhoyi, who is 72, has lost count of the number of people she has treated on an almost daily basis over the past 10-plus years. She regularly meets with HIV-positive individuals, drug addicts, people suffering from poverty and hunger, unhappy married couples, lonely older people and pregnant, unmarried young women. Regardless of their background or circumstances, she begins her sessions the same way: “I introduce myself and I say, ‘What is your problem? Tell me everything, and let me help you with my words.’”

After hearing the individual’s story, Chinhoyi guides her patient until he or she arrives at a solution on their own. Then, until their issue is completely resolved, she follows up with the person every few days to make sure they are sticking to the plan.

On the BBC Future website you can read more about the Friendship Bench and how the programme is spreading to other countries.


I Do Believe

I believe in God whose light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never smother it.

I believe in the Word who has become incarnate,
our very flesh and blood,
yet full of grace and truth.

I believe in the blessed appearing of the salvation of our God,
that is for the happiness of all people.

I believe in his name as Wonderful Counsellor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of peace;
of the increase of his rule and of his unique peace
there will be no end.
The zeal of the God of hosts will do this.

This I surely believe!

~ written by Bruce Prewer, posted on Bruce Prewer’s Homepage. (adapted)

From the blog
Turn to the light
Theme: Good news  [prayer sheet]
Show me the way

Guest post: Memories of the hurricane

Beltway, Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey hit (August 2017)

Another guest post, this time from Brian Turnbow, one-time student on placement in Rotterdam (2007) and later returning as locum during Rev. Robert Calvert’s study leave in 2012.

Brian lives and works in Houston, Texas. After Hurricane Harvey hit the city at the end of August, I thought he might have something meaningful to contribute on the theme of refuge (September’s theme of the month). Here, instead, a post in our remember series, as Brian reflects back on his experiences before and after the hurricane.

Brian writes,

Like most residents in the city of Houston, Texas, I watched the televised news reports of the approaching hurricane at the end of August with a mix of fascination and concern. Should I join the throngs of residents at the local supermarket – with increasingly empty shelves – to stock up on food and water? Or should I drive two hours north to a safer location, get a hotel room, and wait for the hurricane to pass? Would I be able to get back to the city if I left?

Like the hurricane, my memory and impressions of the aftermath are a swirl of images and encounters: two women with no place to stay, knocking on the door of a small neighborhood church; helicopters flying overhead seeking people stranded on rooftops, escaping the rising waters; Good Samaritans in motorboats and canoes patrolling the neighborhoods, in search of stranded residents; my own car under a meter and a half of water.

My apartment, attached to a larger house where my landlords live, became a small peninsula as the water effectively isolated it on three sides from the rest of the neighborhood (the one side that remained accessible by foot led to nowhere). Sealed inside the relative safety of the house for three days, my ears became attuned to an unusual sound for such a large city: shear silence. No cars. No people. No movement. Only an occasional wind.

On the third day, signs of life slowly emerged in the city and the true extent of the devastation became clearer: houses with debris in front of them; abandoned cars, many having floated to their final destination; and entire sections of roadway still covered in meters of water. As my landlords and I ventured out of the neighborhood, we discovered – could it be?! – a small restaurant, open! Within an hour it was filled to capacity, customers and staff grateful for the time and space to gather, eat, and feel human again.

And then the process of rebuilding. Ordinary residents helping each other with food, water, clothing, and shelter. Volunteers moving from house to house helping with salvage efforts. Relief agencies pouring into the city.

When it was safe to return to my office at Fuller Seminary’s branch campus in Houston, we discovered that one of our students had lost everything in the floodwaters and had given birth at the same time. Another was on his way to visit family in Puerto Rico (and would be stranded there for a while after the next hurricane). One colleague lost his car, while another lost everything except his car.

But there’s one memory that stands above all others: the “Arkansas Baptist Men” with an armada of barbeque grills near the First Baptist Church, downtown, serving up pork sandwich plates to passersby. The memory of people taking and eating captures for me the one act that defines the city after the hurricane: hospitality.

Litany and a Prayer

We remember before God all who cry out for peace in the storm.

For those recovering from disasters of earth, wind, fire, and water:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For those rebuilding from nothing,
and for those who rebuild the lives of others:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For orphans and the elderly, refugees and the homeless,
for trafficked women, and for all who depend on acts of compassion and mercy for their survival:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For those in positions of power and authority,
who direct the flow of relief and aid:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For the ark of your Church, a shelter in the storm:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

Eternal God,
in the beginning your Spirit hovered over the waters of creation, and now calls us out of the chaos of despair and into the hope of new life.

Give us, we pray, such a vision of restoration and the world to come, that even in the midst of disasters and strife, we would know more fully your peace which surpasses understanding and the depth of your love for us in Jesus Christ, our Lord.


Before and After Hurricane Harvey, New York Times

God of grace

The World News in Prayer entry for this week weaves together the particulars of current events with the John Newton song Amazing Grace in a prayer to the God of grace, relief and safety.

You can find the prayer here.

Why not use one of your favourite hymns as an inspiration for prayer this week?

See also: Balm to heal the world

Environmentally water-wise

River Kelvin, Glasgow, where Rev. Norman Hutcheson grew up

Rev. Norman Hutcheson served 2 terms as locum during a recent vacancy in my home congregation in Rotterdam. During his second stint in September 2015, with the Paris Climate talks due to take place in December 2015, he chose as overarching theme for the month “Climate Time”.

The Paris Climate talks proved ground-breaking. “Representatives from 196 nations made a historic pact … to adopt green energy sources, cut down on climate change emissions and limit the rise of global temperatures — while also cooperating to cope with the impact of unavoidable climate change.” (http://www.npr.org)

On a local level, Norman inspired us as a congregation to consider our environmental footprint, and we’ve made good headway in that regard, with 48 solar panels on order (as we speak), and other measures in place to reduce energy costs.

Recently the Paris Climate Agreement was once again in the news when President Trump announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement. How this will all pan out in the long run, we will have to wait and see.

What can we do to play our part for the good of the planet water-wise?

Norman’s reflections:

Haves and have nots

For years I took water for granted – always pure, straight from the tap. I now know that safe water to drink and adequate supplies for sewage and irrigation remain a far off dream for half of the world’s population. Often it’s the result of the rich and powerful taking more than their fair share of the water resources.

Will we play our part to work for equity and justice where water resources are concerned?


Two years ago I represented the Church of Scotland at a meeting on Environmental matters organised by the Church of South India. I was astonished to learn that it takes 600 gallons (2500 L) of water to produce a 6-ounce (150g) hamburger. A hidden cost we should be aware of.

Will we play our part to use the earth’s resources in a responsible way?

Signs of hope

Where I come from we have little experience of water scarcity. I do know about the effects of water pollution, though. Until the mid-19th Century the River Kelvin in Glasgow where I grew up had salmon swimming up the river. Then industrialisation ruined their habitat and the fish disappeared for 150 years. In recent years there have been initiatives to restore the habitat and to bring the salmon back, with success.

Will we play our part to promote good water management where we live, for the benefit of all God’s creatures?

Recommended listening/reading
The inside story of the Paris Climate Agreement (TED talk)
To make a burger, first you need 660 gallons of water …
The Hidden Water We Use


Lord of all, we forget sometimes that your love involves responsibility as well as privilege; a duty not just to you but to the whole of your creation, to nurture and protect rather than simply to exploit it.

Forgive us our part in a society that has too often lives for today with no thought of tomorrow. Forgive us our unquestioning acceptance of an economic system that plunders this worlds’ resources with little regard as to the consequences.

Help us to live less wastefully and with more thought for those who will come after us.

Challenge the hearts and minds of people everywhere, that both they and we may understand more fully the wonder and the fragility of this planet you have give us, and so honour our calling to be faithful stewards of it all.

In Christ’s name, Amen.

by Nick Fawcett, from 2000 Prayers for Public Worship (2008), Prayer #916

See also Water world news

Water world news

BEARING THE BURDEN: Women carry more than their fair share of the world’s water

Below is a sample of news articles on the topic of water published in the last month. Good news, bad news, out of this world news (like the fact that they found water on the moon).

Whatever the news, may the Holy Spirit help us discern if the news story is also a call to prayer. Our planet needs all the help it can get.

Scientists Have Discovered That There is Water Under the Moon’s Surface: New research from Brown University suggests that huge amounts of water may be found under the surface of the Moon. The presence of water in the Moon’s mantle could provide insight to how water got to Earth and help sustain future deep space missions.

Venezuelans Stockpile Food and Water Ahead of Maduro Power Grab: Venezuelans are stockpiling scarce food and water as tensions mount ahead of a widely criticized Sunday vote that President Nicolas Maduro has called to elect an assembly of supporters to rewrite the constitution and strengthen his grip on power.

The Trump administration is ramping up its war on clean water: There is a serious, concerted effort going on to undermine clean water.

Why Some Western Water Agencies Are Writing 100-Year Water Plans: Climate change is causing water managers to think long term about their resources. Several western agencies are planning a century in advance, but that’s not without its headaches.

‘Drastic’ water rationing looms for Rome as drought blights Italy: Some of the driest weather to affect Italy’s in 60 years and Rome’s notoriously leaky pipes has left the city’s residents fearing water rationing.

India’s Water-Energy Nexus: India’s water crisis is impacting its energy supply. What can be done?

New, reusable filter cleans heavy metals from water: A chemist from Rice University and a high school student have developed a filter that can remove toxic heavy metals from the water.

Women carry more than their fair share of the world’s water: The task of providing water for households falls disproportionately to women and girls.

Murray-Darling Basin Plan: SA Water Minister ‘shocked’ by upstream revelations: SA’s Water Minister has launched a scathing attack of the New South Wales Government’s conduct of Murray-Darling Basin water management and repeated calls for a judicial inquiry.

Thirsty city: after months of water rationing Nairobi may run dry: The rains have been poor while demand for water grows along with the city – there are solutions but they will mean radical action

Sweden’s water shortage: What you need to know: It may not be something commonly associated with a northern European nation, but Sweden is currently fretting over water shortages in several parts of the country, and there are already visible consequences. Here’s everything you need to know about the situation.

How Conservation Helps Keep Water Costs Down: Water rates may be rising in some places, but new research shows that they don’t rise as much with conservation, says Mary Ann Dickinson of the Alliance for Water Efficiency.

Israel, Palestinian Authority reach water-sharing deal: Israel and the Palestinian Authority have reached a water-sharing deal to bring relief to parched Palestinian communities, in a breakthrough announced during the latest visit to the region by the US Middle East envoy.

Global hotspots for potential water conflict identified: More than 1,400 new dams or water diversion projects are planned or already under construction and many of them are on rivers flowing through multiple nations, fueling the potential for increased water conflict between some countries.

Forget Sharks: 7 Things in the Water Swimmers Should Actually Fear: Shark attacks are rare, but watch out for these nasty parasites

How then shall we live?

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord
and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
and they never stop producing fruit.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 (New Living Translation)

All month I’ve been publishing posts on the theme of water.
Here’s an overview.

Guest post #1 : Fire reflections

Wildfires have been raging for days in central Portugal, 90 miles (150km) north of Lisbon, with devastating effect.
Reflections and a prayer from Stewart Lamont who is currently serving as locum in our sister church, St Andrews Lisbon.



20 June 2017

Most of us shuddered with horror when we saw the Grenville tower block in London become a raging inferno with helpless humans struggling inside. Then last weekend a heatwave hit Portugal and created the conditions for a conflagration in the tinder-dry countryside such as they have seldom seen, with dozens of lives lost. Now the landscape north-east of us here in Lisbon is decimated and scorched. The stench of fire is everywhere in the air. These events remind us that not all will go according to plan and that without warning the climate can turn ugly.

Such events are not a judgement on the people of the Portugal any more than they are an “act of God”. No doubt they will inspire fanatics to claim that it is another sign of the End Times, such as is found in Luke chapter 21: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.” Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.” (v. 8-11)

My interpretation of this passage is that it stands as a metaphor for the cycles of devastation which have happened so many times in human history. The point to be taken is that such tragedies WILL happen but we need to be prepared that they will happen and do what we can to avoid them, whether by avoiding war or damage to the environment or making our houses fireproof. When we do nothing to prevent disasters, or ignore the needs of those who suffer, then – in that sense only – the disaster becomes a judgment upon those who had the responsibility to act. The innocent still suffer and alas will go on doing so. Each incident affords us to respond in an appropriate way.

We are consoled by the rituals of mourning, but sometimes they deepen our sense of helplessness or we want a public enquiry and someone to blame. Moments of silence should go alongside moments of reflection on how such events can be prevented. It is long way from the flap of a butterfly’s wings to the creation of a tornado, and a long way from our recycling rubbish to the prevention of global warming, but the link is there. Each small act and each small prayer does not go unheeded by the Jesus of the Scars.


Let us remember in our prayers those who lost their lives in the fires of London and Pedragao Grande.

Gracious God, fire warms us in winter and cooks our food; it powers the machines which are now integral to our way of life and burns away our waste. Yet fire can consume innocent lives and damage the planet on which you have placed us.

We pray for:-

those who have lost their lives in the recent fires and those who mourn them;

those whose peace of mind and way of life has been consumed in the fires;

and those who will struggle to cope with the aftermath of disaster.

Loving God, grant those who survived such healing of mind and spirit that they may never be haunted by the horrors they had to endure.

May we, amid the ashes of such disasters, rebuild our resolve to ensure that we do all that we can to harness the power of fire and prevent it bringing disaster upon our communities.

We ask these our prayers in the name of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.


Bonus: a parable

The Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, tells a parable of a theatre where a variety show was taking place. Each act was more fantastic than the last, and was applauded by the audience. Suddenly the manager came forward. He apologized for the interruption, but the theatre was on fire, and he begged his patrons to leave in an orderly fashion. The audience thought this was the most amusing turn of the evening, and cheered thunderously. The manager again implored them to leave the burning building, and he was again applauded vigorously. At last he could do no more. The fire raced through the whole building and took the fun-loving audience with it. “And so,” concluded Kierkegaard, “will our age, I sometimes think, go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators.”

More on the fires:
from The Guardian

Footnote from Stewart (26 June 2017):
St Andrews Lisbon held a retiring collection for the victims of the Portugal fires yesterday and the Kirk Session topped it up.

Balm to heal the world

Balm definition from dictionary.com

The World News in Prayer entry for this week is pretty moving in the wake of recent attacks in Manchester and London and the fear and anger these attacks inspire in us and in our leaders. I want to commend it to you.

You can find the prayer here.

I was particularly taken with this paragraph:

“So again I turn to all the pieces of my faith – to hymns and scriptures, to prayer and worship. Maybe there is a Balm in Gilead, or a Blessed Assurance, even an Amazing Grace.” (World News in Prayer June 8, 2017)

The reference to the “Balm of Gilead” (Jeremiah 8:22) really resonated with me since I was inspired to use the phrase “balm of Calvary” in one of my recent songs, a song called All is accomplished.

Verse 1
All is accomplished,
He bowed his head.
The man, the crucified
His name be blessed.
He bore the blame,
became accursed.
He is the the balm of Calvary
that heals the world.