A film showing there is more to Buxton than the water

To break up the theatrical reflections, here’s a little film I made a month or so ago about some beautiful, wonderful people I met who run a project in Buxton.  Before I went, I knew nothing about Buxton except the water they bottle. Now I am planning my next trip… The couple who lead it have live in their main care home with their family for more than a decade, totally sharing their lives with the people they’re trying to serve.  So inspiring. Enjoy.

(You can find out more in my other blog about my visit here)

Good News Family Care from Integral Mission on Vimeo.

Healed by the hills of Derbyshire

Why has nobody told me about the Peak district before? All I knew about it was that Elizabeth Bennett was travelling in Derbyshire when she bumped into Mr Darcy at Pemberley, and I remember all those romantic shots of Kiera Knightley standing on a big rock looking at the hills.  But even those happy connotations failed to do justice to how flippin beautiful it is.

I dragged myself out of bed on Monday morning *before 6am* to get the first train of the day to Buxton, and spent the first hour of the journey asleep. But then, oh my, how beautiful the countryside became.  And, even more excitingly, we went out to a real farm when we arrived – one with 500 chickens (I didn’t mention my minor chicken phobia, which is actually more of a beak phobia) and 3 horses.  And no running water or electricity.

We were there because the farm is part of a project called Good News Family Care.  People from the local community can do skills training there in animal husbandry, woodwork, woodland management, drystone walling (all of these would be new skills for me, although of varying levels of usefulness in the city). But the main vision of the place is to provide space for healing and growth (and I feel like I experience a bit of that myself being in such amazing surroundings).  A lot of the people who come along, who connect with the project, have been battered and bruised by life (and some by their partners).  Most of them have no experience of being outside of an urban context. So whether someone wants to come and acquire new life skills, or just watch the horses, they’re more than welcome.

Horses in the yard

The other site they own which we visited was Charis House, a converted hotel now offering supported housing for vulnerable women and children, and families who need help in working through serious problems.

We spend the day with Hazel who set the project up with her husband about 18 years ago, having dreamt about it for the 14 years before that.  For all of the past 18 years they have lived in a flat on the top floor of Charis House, alongside all of the vulnerable and chaotic families who have passed through. Before that they lived in the countryside. I’m seriously impressed by their commitment, and their stamina, but they’re adamant that there have been more highs than lows. (Hazel tells us the hardest thing to give up was her goats).

I meet a 47 year old woman who everybody tells me has changed beyond recognition since being at Charis House. Some 17 years ago she came with her husband and four children.  Her husband had a drug habit and would sell her to his friends for sex to make money to support it.  She had such problems with anger she would lock up her children and refuse to feed them.  But today she is bubbling over with enthusiasm, telling me how her life has changed, and how Jesus has changed it. She tells me an incredible story of how God healed her blindness (she’d been blind in one eye since birth).

What I love about this place, and in fact so many of the UK projects I’ve visited recently, is the depth of spirituality underpinning and threading through them.  They’re not just people doing great social work which is motivated by their Christian faith.  They are people who are deeply committed to giving others more than a helping hand.  They want to express the depth and breadth of God’s love to people, believing that it is the only thing that is enough to meet them in the deepest place of need.  Nothing is forced on their guests but there is an integrity and honesty about the fact that they believe that there is more to life than just meeting physical needs.  Every morning the team meets and prays for everyone staying in the house and for everything they will be engaging with that day.  It’s not something most people see, but you notice the effect.  There is a sense of peace and trust and faith and togetherness in the midst of all the chaos and pain that they encounter.

So Derbyshire isn’t just good for a holiday and literary sightseeing, it’s also good for the soul.  I’m now trying to plan another trip…

Consola

When I was in Kigali last week, I was sharing a room with a wonderful woman called Consola.  On our last evening she shared some of her story with me and she has very kindly allowed me to tell it here.  She is a couple of years younger than me, but it seems like she has lived twice as long.

When Consola was a child she lived with her aunt for 7 years, a normal practice in many parts of Africa.  Her parents were far away in Kagera.  But the years wit her aunt were unusually brutal: she was made to sleep in the store cupboard and woken with cold water every morning; her aunt beat her with wire brooms and fed her rotting food from the dustbins.  She loved school but was made to walk her younger cousin to a different school further away every day, so that she was only in school herself for 2 hours out of every 8 hour school day.

When she got to 11, her aunt told her she was a girl and didn’t need to go to school anymore.  This is not unusual in Tanzania – it is around that age that girls are taught instead how to manage a husband. There was man, who had a business selling magazines, and her aunt had arranged for him to marry Consola.  Consola had not even hit puberty yet.

And so Consola prayed.  She prayed that God would spare her and rescue her, and she wrote God a letter.  If he would rescue her, then she would give her life to serve other vulnerable young girls in her country.

God did rescue her.  She didn’t get married, and her father wrote a letter to a friend who was an official, which meant she was accepted into a good secondary school without exams, despite having only a basic ability to read, write and add and subtract. Up until then she had been begging for school fees at the town offices, and been refused, and accused of bring a prostitute.

Her aunt found out where she was at school and bribed a few of the teachers so that one day as she arrived at school she was beckoned into a private room where her aunt was waiting.   The teachers locked the door and she was beaten by all three teachers and her aunt for 8 hours.  At the end she was in a horrific state.  She knew she had to leave.

Her only hope was to make it to where her parents were.  She somehow avoided the police who were looking for her, and made it to the far distant city  in the north-west of Tanzania called Mwanza.  In the bus  she met a man who claimed to be a resident of Mwanza, and seemingly trustworthy man who promised to accommodate her in his house where he was living with his family. Instead he took her to a motel where he produced a condom, assuring her that she wouldn’t get HIV if she slept with him. She refused and praying to God for protection. He attempted to force her but when she screamed he pushed her outside.

Miraculously she made it back to the bus station and on to Kagera. She was with her parents only a short time before she was admitted to hospital where she was a patient for six months, to recover from all her injuries.

It’s incredible to believe that the woman I am talking to has really endured this.  ‘I could never tell the story without crying all the way through,’ she says, ‘but now I have been able to forgive.’  It’s amazing.

Since then Consoler has been to university, and completed a BA in Sociology and an MA in Social Work.  She has defied all of the doctors’ predictions and warnings and has married and conceived 2 children, although she is under close medical supervision and still struggles with ongoing head and back pain.

More than that, she has dedicated her qualifications, her time, her energies to setting up a project in Dar es Salaam called New Hope for Girls, which works with vulnerable teenage girls, facing many of the same circumstances she endured.  It’s a small operation and she does not take a salary.  Many of her friends have urged her to find more lucrative work, but in her heart she knows that God has called her to this work and he will provide for them.

If you’d like anymore info on the project, just send me an email – jennyflannagan@gmail.com