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…

I love Paris in the Springtime, especially when people get healed.

“I love Paris, oh why, oh why do I love Paris? Because my love is there..” sang Ella Fitzgerald, and she was right – here he is!

Last week I got to travel with the husband, which was exciting, and not just because Paris is the city of love, or because it was also the city of brilliant sunshine during our stay (both of which helped)…but because of what we were there for.  We spent three and a half days at the L’Eglise Reformee du Marais, a beautiful old church right by Place de la Bastille where there is some amazing and beautiful work afoot.

We were invited by our friends Bob and Gracie who are living there for a year.  They’re an inspiring pair themselves.  They used to live in community in rural Honduras alongside campesinos, where they taught sustainable farming, preventative health and led Bible studies. Then they’ve mainly lived in Washington State since then, working with Central American Immigrants, prison inmates and people who are homeless. (Check out Bob’s excellent blog) But they’ve moved to Paris for a year because they’ve been so inspired by what Gilles Boucomont and his team are up to at the church.

I love France.  I love the wine and the cheese and the baguettes.  But I have rarely heard anything especially exciting or inspiring about the modern day church in France.  There is of course the amazing priest Jean Vanier who set up L’Arche (people living in community with those with a mental disability). but after him I get stuck for inspiration.

But what we experienced was amazing.  And I’m trying to work out how to describe it because it’s totally un-pc and irrational.  They pray for people to be delivered from all kinds of things that lock them up. Addictions. Cancer. Abusive relationships. Generational patterns. Curses. And they have incredible stories of people’s lives being completely changed. We met people who had been healed of brain tumours, and others from deep emotional wounds which were defining their whole lives. The team pray out evil spirits, like in the Bible, but not in a hyped up, scary kind of a way; or a ‘quick, he’s gay, he must have a demon, cast it out’ way; more in a compassionate, unforced, down-to-earth ‘we think this stuff is real and so we’re going to confront it’ kind of way.  And starting with the Jesus-like question – do you want to be free?

I’ve been around some of that stuff in poorer parts of the world; I’ve heard it shouted about a lot by Americans; but in Western Europe, the heart of rationalism and secularism, it was more unexpected.

This is a bit different to previous blog entries.  It’s easier to write about less controversial or overtly spiritual things.  But these things we heard and saw in France genuinely give me hope, even in spite of knowing plenty stories about how this kind of thing gets twisted and misused.  I think that there’s more to humans than our appetites, our education level or even our relationships, and I think profound change affects more than just individual lives, it affects families and communities and societies.  I’m not about enforcing something spiritual on people, but I can’t write off the enormous change I’ve seen in people which has come about through seemingly inexplicable supernatural means (well, I guess it’s only inexplicable if you don’t believe in God).

I don’t think just praying for people is the answer, any more than I think just feeding them or giving them computer lessons is.  Change is  complicated. But I think the French team we met, and the thousands of Christians working in similar ways, are seeing extraordinary and wonderful things happen – things which have left me feeling more full of hope and faith than anything else for a long time.

“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”   John Wesley