Finish Strong

Training going well for my next race. Legs good, breathing good, feeling good. I’ve been having a think back over some of my previous marathons, and was reflecting on the second time I ran the Snowdonia marathon with a mate. This is a tough race, lots of hills and quite a challenge … the second time I managed a time of 4hrs 19 and 54 secs … of course the 54 seconds are important, pushing the time under 4hr 20 makes it sound better. My mate came in er …behind me. But he did a brilliant time and he finished. In previous races they used to list ‘DNF” alongside some numbers. Did Not Finish. Bit depressing that really when you have done all the training and for whatever reason you end up with a DNF. Which reminds me that being a Christian is ultimately knowing that you are going to finish – more on that later. Looking back at myself at Mile 23 I wondered if that was going to happen or whether I was going to just sit at the side of the road, cry like a Royal Marine in a spelling test and give up. But one of the great things about some (not all) marathons is that they give a finishers medal to all who get injured along the way. I like that. If you drop out because you haven’t done enough training maybe you haven’t earnt the medal, but twist your ankle on a carelessly discarded drink cup at a water station … that’s not exactly your fault is it? Life’s like that, if you have any level of faith in God stuff will still come your way that you can’t control … injuries, illnesses etc … that may knock you out for a while … but God being God does not count that against you, in fact he is more interested in how you deal with it than the fact it happens. So even if you do the last few miles in the back of the mini-bus, that finisher’s medal is still waiting for you from God …

Anyway, jumping back to Snowdonia. My mate and I made the mistake of driving the course the night before. Well, I say mistake, it just brought back to me the horror of the course. I had clearly remembered something horrendous occurred at mile 23, but had obviously banished from my mind the long climb at about mile 10. That depressed me seeing it from the car. BUT the worst thing was when we got to the point where the course headed off the main road, I just said to my mate ‘that’s where it goes up that hill, then flattens off’ ‘Doesn’t look too bad ‘. So off we went for a good nights sleep, up early and drove to the start at Llanberis. Now, I know of some Christians who pray that God will give them a car parking space before they enter a busy car park. I must say that I am not one of those sort of Christians … however when we arrived at Llanberis it was evident that we were later than we should have been. No parking spaces to be found from about a mile away from the start. We still drove into the centre, cars everywhere but on the off chance went into a car park as close to the start as possible. Hidden behind a van was … a space. We were not praying about a space, more like dripping and moaning about it …. but God … Makes you think …

We did our warm ups and the gun went. Steady pace up the first climb, moaned like mad at the climb at mile ten, but overall the scenery was amazing and the camaraderie of running the race with so many others was brilliant … enjoyable even! Then came to mile 23. Turned the corner and up the hill, it flattened out just as I remembered, then .. I may have said a vaguely unchristian word as the track continued off road … up and up … ‘Oh Dearie me – I don’t remember this’ thought I. Eventually it did flatten off into the final descent to the finish and that finishers meal (or in fact a slate coaster). You know what? I was so glad that I did not know (or been reminded) quite how bad it was at mile 23. If I had known maybe I would have sacked off the whole thing, or just worried constantly about it and I would have not enjoyed the rest of the run (and I DID enjoy it ) … I am so glad that God doers not tell us what is coming in this life, yes we can make plans, yes we can look forward to stuff, but ultimately we do not know what’s gonna happen the next second, let alone in a years time! If I did I can think of times when I would have probably given up or scrubbed round something or other, knowing what was coming, but having faith in God is being sure that whatever hits us at mile 23 or even tomorrow, God will see us through to the finish line and we will get the finishers medal …. If you don’t have that peace and assurance speak to a Christian mate, drop me an e mail or speak to a friendly (!!??) vicar.

Are “most of the teachings of the major world religions the same at their core”?

Our world is more connected today than ever before. People and information move around with greater ease and speed than just a few years ago. With freedom of movement comes freedom of ideas. People, with their ideas, moving from one area to another introduce new ways of thinking, leading to a cross-pollination of philosophies and beliefs.

In Oxford, where I lived until very recently, there are people who believe in no God, or one God, or many God. Some even believe that they are God. It’s most likely a similar situation to where you are.

With the arrival of new ways of thinking, the incumbent philosophies are challenged and sometimes, as a result, modified. Our belief structures are tested. Now, at its core, a belief structure answers the basic questions of life. Questions like: Where have we come from? Where are we going? What in this world has value? What is my purpose?

You of course don’t need to believe in God, or gods, to have a belief structure. Atheists have a belief structure: they believe that there is no God. The way we view the world – our worldview – is shaped by the beliefs that we hold.

The many worldviews on offer, each with their own founders, holy scriptures, and traditions seek to address our world and our problems and provide us with answers. They all have different answers of course. The questions that we face are common to all but the answers are specific to the viewpoint offering them.

For example, the problem posed by the existence of pain and suffering is a universal conundrum; every worldview must address it. “Why does pain exist?” “If there’s a God, why would he/she allow it?” These questions are dealt with throughout history and across cultures.

I once spent some time in the Far East and in my time there I encountered the belief that pain is ultimately an illusion. With this as the diagnosis, is it any wonder that the solutions offered by that worldview centre around becoming aware of the reality of this illusion, and then seeking to escape from it? Likewise, a Muslim may express to you that the suffering of this world is part of the will of Allah. And Allah’s will is set. We see these religious beliefs shaping whole countries and cultures.

With time and repetition beliefs become habits and habits turn into culture. On one holiday to the Outer Hebrides I saw how the islands all but shut down on Sundays to observe the Christian Sabbath. You can’t buy petrol or pop into the supermarket and until recent changes in the last few years, planes and ferries didn’t run on Sundays either. The practices of the people in the Islands changed because of the belief system.

In this way, perhaps we could say that in some respects religion reflects culture. The way people behave – for example the way they dress – becomes a religious belief about how they ought to dress.

Thinking along this line, we might then be inclined to wonder if the differences in the major world religions are merely cultural, the result of distinct people groups forming their identity over many years?

The late Sun Myung Moon from Korea thinks so. He says this:

In 1984, I brought together forty religions scholars, instructing them to compare the teachings that appear in the sacred texts of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and other major world religions. The book that resulted from their efforts was World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, published in 1991. What they found was that the sacred texts of religions convey the same or similar teachings more than seventy percent of the time. The remaining thiry percent are teachings that represent unique points of each religion. This means that most of the teachings of the major world religions are the same at their core. The same is true of religious practice. On the surface, some believers wear turbans, some wear prayer beads around their necks, others wear a cross, but they all seek the fundamental truths of the universe, and try to understand the will of the Divine One.

– Sun Myung Moon

Moon isn’t the only one to believe this. It’s quite a popular position today.

A Plurality of Beliefs

We live in a pluralistic society. A plurality of belief structures and moral codes can be found in our world; in your town, your workplace, your pub. Pluralism of course, as a reality, exists. But what about Pluralism as an ideal? Should we equally celebrate the many different approaches to life? Are they all equally valid?

Do all paths lead to God?

Throughout the history of the world we observe civilisations going to war because of different belief systems. Our united history of the clash of ideas doesn’t paint a pretty picture. ‘Can’t’ we all just get along?’, we might muse, hopefully. Well, historically speaking, no. Peoples have attacked, mocked, and ridiculed others for their beliefs.

Of course, there is a degree in flexibility with all of this. Some ideas we feel happier to hold more lightly than others. But there are plenty of areas that we just won’t bend on. Even the Romans, who absorbed the Greek pantheon of gods, found themselves at odds with the early Christians. Not because the Christians worshipped one man called Jesus as God, but because they worshipped him alone and didn’t recognise Caesar as a deity. At some point every religion, every worldview, claims exclusivity.

The Buddha, for example, was rejecting Hinduism. It was upon the realisation of the amount of pain and suffering that the young Siddhartha Gautama experienced that led him to reject the views he had in search of a better truth. Islam – coming around 500 years after Jesus – claims Judaism and Christianity were useful, but are now invalid and that the Quran is the only holy scripture delivered by the prophet Muhammad.

Many religions agree on so much. They say, for example that it’s good a thing to treat your neighbour well. Showing kindness to friends, strangers – this is a noble thing. And many people from differing religious find they can work together toward common goals such as alleviating poverty. But they differ on some pretty major points. Such as the existence of God or gods, the afterlife, which sacred text is right, how to obtain salvation etc.

For all religions to be true, all paths must lead to the same destination, however, even a cursory glance at the basic tenants of the major religions reveal that they propose some very different ultimate destinations.

Yes, there are some things that multiple religions agree on. And in addition, from the outside, many religions look like the hold the same structure. They might be formed in the same way, but made up of individual distinctions.

For example, many religions operate on the system, ‘If you’re good you’ll be rewarded with eternal bliss.’ All you need to do is lead a good life and you can be assured of a good outcome. But which afterlife are we promised? An eastern extension of self? A cloud in the skies with all our friends? And what exactly are the good deeds that we need to do? Specifically? And now we come to think about it, what exactly do we mean by good?

The more we delve into the complexities of each religion the more we realise that they offer different and distinct final realities with different and distinct paths that we need to follow to reach these realities.

So, what do we do?

What To Believe: 3 Options

When dealing with the plurality of religious beliefs we have I think three options to choose from.

All Religions are true: relativism

Our fist option is to say that all religions are equally true. There are many paths to take but one is not better than the other. It’s up to each one of us to choose which path we will take

To believe this we have to say that all truth is relative. That is, each viewpoint is equally true relative to the person holding it. We would have to reject the idea that absolute truth exists – that is that there are some things that are true for all people in all places.

Of course, relative truth exists. When I visited Nepal I found, to my surprise, that I was a tall man! If I were to be hanging out with my Nepalese friends and said, ‘Hey, I’m quite a tall person’ I would be completely correct – relative to the group.

But then I get on a plane and visit Norway. Now, if I were to make the exact same statement there I would find that I would no longer be saying something that is true. Even if I used exactly the same words and I was exactly the same height.

Because relative truth exists we might be tempted to place religions into this category. After all, if religious belief is relative to the individual holding it, then we can affirm their right to believe it without the need for us to believe it. This can avert conflict and lead to harmony.

It’s a lovey idea and seeks a noble cause. But the problem is that this position is unliveable. And besides, we don’t really live like relativists even if we want to say that is true.

In Oxford there are lots of bikes and I would cycle around a lot because it’s the quickest way around town. And as I cycled around I noticed that I, and the other cyclists always look for that bus, when the cycle lanes and bus lanes converge because we are absolutely sure that if there is a bus and we were to have an accident will always end up worse off.

Think about it, you always (try to) look before you cross the street because even if you believe that you are special and built like the Incredible Hulk, the truth of reality would correct you very quickly.

If we don’t care about whether our lives correspond to reality then we can choose any story for ourselves. But when our story bumps into other stories we face problems.

What we believe defines how we live. Not what we think we believe, but how we really live. Our actions betray our core convictions.

If there was no evil in the world and nothing bad happened to people, if there were no consequences to our actions, then believing in different narratives wouldn’t be an issue. But ideas have consequences.

Furthermore, to state that all truth is relative is of course to make an absolute statement. To categorically state that all truth is relative means that there is no truth which is not relative. If all truth is relative than that very statement must be relative and therefore not necessarily true for all people and people ought not to take us seriously if we say it!

So it emerges that relativism is unliveable. Well then, can’t we just be tolerant of other beliefs? But have you noticed that even tolerant people can’t tolerate the intolerant.

No religions Are True

Our second option is to declare that no religion is true. It was Ernest Hemingway who said that, “All thinking men are atheists.” This statement suggests that when rational enquiry is held all religions fail because they ultimately are irrational. All we need is a little education, a little science, a little knowledge and we’ll see that we have no need for a God.

But is this true? Oxford University is fortunate to some of the brightest minds in their respective academic fields make their home there. People like Professor John Lennox (Mathematics) and Professor Richard Swinburne (Philosophy) have held the chief positions in their fields in a University of international renown and they are committed to belief in God.

They are not alone. Throughout the sciences, the humanities, and the arts there are men and women dually committed to excellence in their field and at the same time publicly professing belief in God.

The atheist Thomas Nagel shows greater humility when he states:

“I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and naturally hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope that there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”

We simply can’t write off religion because we don’t want it to be true. We need to investigate. That’s the second point.

One religion is true

The third option we have is to come to the conclusion that one religion, one worldview, is true. After investigation we can come to a belief that one of the many are true and we can put our faith in that.

We all put our faith in something. Faith is simply following the evidence where it leads. The atheist has faith that universe is rational and can be understood through enquiry. You don’t need to be particularly religious to have faith, you just demonstrate a commitment to live out your life in accordance with the views that you hold.

If we reject relativism as unliveable, and if we reject an outright rejection of belief as unfair, then we are only left with an examination of what we believe. The major religions of the world differ enough to be distinct, and require us to do more work than glibly asserting they’re all true, or they’re all false.

We believe for many reasons: cultural, intellectual, emotional … To come to a point of committed, enquired-of faith requires us to examine what we believe and why. This might lead us to reject some of our ideas if they fail to hold up to scrutiny, but that is another matter for another article.


As you get nearer to a race you start ramping up the miles and getting into the longer runs …. . It’s always at this stage that I get worried about getting a slight niggle, or something that could get worse and stop me getting those all too important miles into the legs … I think I would rather actually break my leg at this point … then at least it’s clear-cut. Injuries definitely knock us out of the game, and when I got a sports injury on board ship generally I found my mess mates completely unsympathetic. There was one guy on one ship who smoked 80 ‘tabs’ a day … yup no typo …. eighty. Whenever we used to moan about him forever sloping off to have a tab, he would say that sport was bad for you, and that a sportsman spent more time off work with injuries than he did having a tab in the smoking area on board (affectionately known as the ‘Leper Colony’). Interesting point!

One of the worst injuries I had whilst running, was interestingly not as a direct result of the actual run (like tripping over a ‘ring bolt’ whilst running round the upper deck and twisting my ankle, having an upper deck door opened in my face and nearly breaking my nose or slipping on spilt diesel fuel after a Replenishment at Sea and taking all the skin off my leg falling on the deck – you can see my running track on the photo of HMS Chatham taken in South Georgia). I was running in the RN Cross Country Championships for HMS Collingwood. We were expected to be in the top 3 teams, and I was looking at being one of the top 6 Collingwood runners, thus counting in the overall team points. I suddenly got this massive pain in my chest. I had to stop immediately, sure I’d had a heart attack, but at the same time thinking that’s impossible … I’m really fit! I was sat propped up against a tree holding my chest and a marshal came over (young sailor) who suggested I stay there and not continue running for a bit. Helpful. Thanks for that shipmate. The rest of the field carried on running passed, with the Collingwood guys shouting helpful things like ‘stop loafing’ and ‘get a move on you lazy person of dubious parentage’. After a few minutes the worst of the pain had gone, but I (sensible for me) took a slow walk back up to the sick bay. The Doc did an ECG and made me lie still. He said there was nothing obvious on the ECG and told me to go to the sickbay the following day. I was getting ready to get back on the coach when he changed his mind and put me in an ambulance to hospital to get checked out. Good man because it turned out I had something called Woolf- Parkinson-White syndrome – to do with the electrical pathways in the heart – and totally curable. I’d had it since birth. Many people have it and go through life without it ever causing a problem. So a few weeks later I had a ‘procedure’ and it was all sorted.

Life is a bit like that … bimbling along quite happily and suddenly its all going pete tong – you are stopped in your tracks wondering what on earth has caused it …. could be any number of things, finances, relationships, health, career, addiction … for me thankfully the Doc had the courage of his convictions and got me the expert help I needed. If you are facing something that you can’t see any way through, why not get some help or advice? Like the rest of my team a lot of friends / acquaintances will tell you to ignore it, it’s not a problem, but its always best to speak to a close mate, the Doc, or even the Vicar (!!!) … or of course you can talk to God direct (its called prayer … and you don’t have to go to Church to do it … but it somehow helps to join with others to pray). Sometimes it’s not until you are knocked flat that you start to ask for help. As mates to other guys facing challenges though, can I suggest that we are more like the Doc than the marshal? If you are not sure how to help your mate, get some advice or encourage them to see an expert … don’t just tell them to sit by a tree and hope it all gets better. As a Christian I believe that all of us need to look at how we live our lives and that although following Jesus doesn’t take away all the challenges of life it opens up a comms link to God (who is the ultimate Subject Matter Expert on life) and also a network of support and encouragement through other people who follow Him too – (the people who wander through your area at some unearthly hour on a Sunday morning – not all wearing sandals with socks and singing kum by yah by the way …).
So, I have decided not to pray for a broken leg, but to keep ramping up the miles, watching the beer and crisp intake a bit and look out for other runners who I meet on the canal towpath and offer mutual encouragement … go safe and watch out for ring bolts …


Who do we trust to lead us?

Did anyone watch the Olympics ?? After seeing those guys run I am wondering if it’s about time to hang up my running spikes! However seeing they have about 30 years on me, and that they probably can’t put out a fire on a warship, I may keep going for a few more years! Anyway, I’ve got to keep going till the Autumn, coz I’ve got a race to run. In the last couple of years something has changed for me in my running training. Hills. When I open the front door, I now see hills everywhere. But that should help, because the next race I’ve entered is a 10k trail race in North Wales. And I entered this of my own free will! Plonker. But life is like that sometimes isn’t it? Everything’s going along nicely and all of a sudden circumstances change and you are sat at the bottom of a hill, wondering how you got there! As I said in my previous post I developed this passion for running whilst in the Royal Navy, and thinking about hills reminds me of one of the best, yet somehow worst, but certainly funniest, running ‘dits’ (or stories) … It was during the Balkans conflict, 6 months of joyous ‘defence watches’ (heightened state of readiness) and very few ‘runs ashore’. On the way back to the UK we stopped off at Naples for a few days to give the lads a chance to sink a few tins and maybe enjoy the culture of Pompeii (note the spelling is ‘eii’ NOT ‘ey’ .. but then again I did say culture … culture and Pompey (Portsmouth ..) … hmmm). Three of us decided that we wanted to run up Mount Vesuvius, so we agreed that we would go for it as soon as ‘secure’ was piped on the first day in (in fact it was 1200 … a hard life but someone had to do it!). So we worked out how to get the few miles from the dockyard down to Mount Vesuvius using public transport. However a young Petty Officer had just joined, and had spent 2 years drafted to Naples. He said that he would get hold of the ships transport and drop us off at the base and collect us afterwards and bring us back to the ship. Great stuff! No need to worry about buses or trains.

So we were dropped off and began to run up the hill. He had told us that it was an easy route, straight up the road. After about 20 minutes the road became a track and when it became a pathway we knew we had gone wrong. So we started to retrace our steps. We were nearly back down at the bottom, when we saw some locals sat on a wall. In his best pigeon Italian one of the other guys (in fact he was my boss) said ‘How do you get to the top?’ ‘Que?’ ‘Top – how do we get to the top of Mount Vesuvius?’ ‘Mount Vesuvius???’ ‘Yes’ at which point the local man pointed at another mountain in the middle distance ….. our PO had dropped us off at the base of the wrong hill ….

How did we miss a volcano I hear you ask? Well, we trusted someone we didn’t know well, who had no known track record and in fact made a cock-up (and boy did we let him know he had made a cock-up when we got back on board, having run the few miles back, as we had no money for a bus or even water!!!!)! And that is a great life lesson isn’t it? Who do we trust to lead us … to give us advice on this journey of life? I trusted God with my life over 30 years ago, and can honestly say that He has never dropped me off at the base of the wrong hill! I have had loads of hills to climb but they have always been for a purpose, never the wrong hill! So if you are facing a hill at the moment spend a few minutes asking God if its one he wants you to climb, or whether you have been dropped off at the wrong hill by someone else who thinks they know best. If you are facing the wrong hill its not too late to change direction, and if you sense you are half way up the wrong one then ask a trusted friend for some help and guidance. It may involve retracing your steps and taking a different path – one where God is leading you.


Sweat more in Practice, Bleed less in War

Over the past few months I have been looking at intentionality in most of the areas of my life. One of the truisms that I have been coming to understand is that life doesn’t just happen. It really doesn’t. Woody Allen once said: “eighty percent of success is showing up” and whilst Woody Allen is a very intelligent and funny guy, on this occasion I think he is very wrong. I’m sure we can all look back on moments in our own lives where we did show up but the results were far from successful. One of the greatest gifts that God gives to each and every one of us is total and unconditional acceptance, and this is through the work of Jesus Christ. However, another gift He gives us is increased blessing and favour, and the way this blessing and favour increases is by following Jesus, being gripped by Him and, well yes, living with the same intentionality as Jesus did throughout His life on earth.

A great friend and mentor once said to me: “…victory is never in the outcome, it is always in the choosing!” So there are no promises here for an easy life, but there is the promise of Life.

Recently I have had a Facebook cover photo on my page and on that photo it has had the following quote from the Spartan Warrior Credo: “Sweat more in practice, bleed less in war”. I have to admit these words have gripped me since the first time I read them. They made me think about every discipline that I commit to in my life, and some of the disciplines that I know I need to commit more to as I follow Jesus. Take one example, reading the Bible and praying at the start of each new day. This is one of the hardest disciplines for most of the blokes I know, and it is certainly one of the hardest disciplines in my own life. Have you ever asked the question: “Why do I need to get up that bit earlier to read the Bible and pray?” Or, “What’s the point of it anyway?

Well let me share some of the personal observations I have been noting in my own life. When I do get up that little bit earlier to read the Bible and pray, I have intentionally stepped into the battle for my family and my own life. When I do string a few days together with this discipline I know that my family and I bleed less in war. I am a better husband, and a better dad, so I love my family much more more than I hurt them. The resources that I need to change the world around me, for the better, begin to increase significantly and I start to look a little more like the One I follow. To truly follow Jesus requires strength and intentionality. There is no other option, we have do the hard routines, we have to go into training, we have to practice knowing our very lives depend on it. Then, when we are called upon to fight for our faith, our families, the world and ourselves, we fight with God on our side and we bleed less.

What difference do you think it would it make to your life if you began to see your time in the Bible and in prayer each day, not so much as a religious chore, but so much more as training for the inevitable spiritual battle that we are all called up into?

And what difference would it make if we applied this thinking into all areas of our lives. As we often say at CVM, ‘…it’s time for a new kind of man’.

The accidental life is not worth living!” – Neil Postman

Image Credit: Nathan Anderson


Our Epic Adventure

A few days into our ‘dad & son’ trip to southern Africa this summer, I realised I’d never been in this situation before. I’ve been a dad for 10 years, but this was the first time that I’ve had sole responsibility for any of my children for such an extended period of time. Here I was on a 21-day trip with my 10 year old son and we were spending every waking moment together, and then sleeping in the same tiny room too. The thing that surprised me was that I really enjoyed it! OK, there were times when the sole responsibility for his safety and well-being were all consuming, but we had a great time sharing some very special moments and building memories that will last a lifetime.

The main part of our trip was to be part of a Mission Direct volunteer team in Zambia, where we were decorating a newly-built rescue centre ready for a group of girls to move in and make it their home. However our ‘epic adventure’ started a bit further south, in Zimbabwe.

We were visiting ‘The Michael Project’ which was established about 20 years ago as a result of the needs of children at risk in Zimbabwe. Children make up half the population and 1 in 4 are orphaned, largely through HIV-related deaths, so the need is huge!

We visited several places where The Michael Project are working including a maximum security prison, a children’s home and a community based preschool. I recently became a trustee of the charity so this was a fantastic opportunity for me to see what they do first-hand. I met some of the children whose lives they have such a major impact on, as well as the staff team who make it all possible.

In Chikurubi Prison I met several children of the inmates in the female section who come to the day-care centre. The Michael Project provide a uniform, two meals a day and a pre-school education. The children live in the cell block with their mothers but the prison do not provide any food or clothes for them. Normally it is only children up to the age of 6 who are found here, but we met one boy who was 10. His mother had been killed in front of him and he was being cared for by an auntie who was imprisoned for being an illegal immigrant. He was malnourished, didn’t speak English and only had the clothes he stood up in. Tinashe, who heads up the centre, is finding him some new clothes and helping him to learn English and get a basic education, along with the other younger children.

If you would like to help support the work of The Michael Project, as a one-off gift or a regular donation, you can do so via ‘’ on The Michael Project website

Before leaving Zimbabwe, we were able to go camping with our friends, the Hobbs family, in a safari park a few hours drive away. We saw buffalo, impala and monkeys, as well as hippos and crocodiles in the river – what a fantastic experience!

After a one-hour flight we arrived in Zambia and were taken to a church compound in an area of Lusaka called Chamba Valley. We were staying in some guest cottages along with 16 other volunteers who had just arrived from the UK. This was all arranged by Mission Direct who offer volunteer trips to about 8 different countries around the world, in partnership with local churches, to help build schools and accommodation in the poorest communities.

Our main project was finishing ‘Vision of Hope’, a rescue centre that will house at least 30 girls who had previously been living on the streets. The staff try to reunite them with their families, get them back into education and give them a better future to lift them out of the hopelessness they have found themselves in. The new centre will replace an existing unit that is too small and lacking in basic facilities. There were window frames to paint, floors to scrub and lavender colour to apply to the outside walls – very distinctive! Each morning we spent several hours there and my son really enjoyed the decorating and being part of the team effort to prepare the building for its new inhabitants.

In the afternoons we were able to visit several local projects and churches who were caring for the many poor, homeless and orphaned children in Lusaka. One afternoon we went to ‘Chisomo’, a drop-in centre for street boys, we spent some time with Crispin who was the same age as my son. He had lived on the streets for quite some time and had recently started visiting Chisomo. We read a book to him about dangerous animals and showed him some pictures of our family and friends back home. We then went outside and played frisbee and catch. The more they played together, the more they both opened up and they were soon having a great time playing and inventing new games. Crispin came and gave my son a big hug when it was time for us to leave – we hope and pray that Crispin is able to find somewhere to live, get into a school, and be surrounded by people to love and care for him.

One morning we headed into the centre of Lusaka and walked around behind the inter-city bus station. There we found a group of 10-15 boys who called this alleyway ‘home’. They emerged from doorways and derelict buildings sniffing rags soaked in some kind of solvent that makes them ‘high’. We started talking to a boy called ‘Bright’. He was the same size as my son but was probably a few years older. He had lost his parents and had been kicked out by his grandmother because she was unable to accommodate him or feed him. Many grandparents end up caring for a large number of orphaned grandchildren, but with meagre incomes and very small houses, they are not always able to offer a home to all of them. We were able to tell Bright about Chisomo and encourage him to visit it to give him the opportunity of getting off the streets. Soon we were surrounded by a few more boys, they found my son’s fair skin and blonde hair fascinating and were all reaching out to stroke his hair and touch his arms. One boy even tried to take his shoes off to put on his own bare feet!

Before returning to the familiarity and relative opulence of home, we had a chance to visit Victoria Falls on the Zambia/Zimbabwe border and had another opportunity to see more animals in the wild. This time we also saw elephants and giraffe as well as a wide variety of birds that live along the Zambezi River.

After 3 weeks away, neither of us wanted to return home. We had experienced the beauty and wonder of Africa, but also the hopelessness and despair in which many people exist. We know that our brief visits will have brought a glimmer of joy to the people that we met, and our efforts with a paintbrush have helped create a home for the girls who have now moved in to Vision of Hope.

If you’re a dad and would like to experience a volunteer trip with your child, you can join CVM and Mission Direct in Moldova next July. More details on the CVM website.


What’s Distracting You?

On last year’s Christmas list I mentioned to Santa that I’d like a copy of Focus by Daniel Goleman. 2016 was going to be a year of concentrated effort, where I pick off one task at a time and get things done. Goleman was to be my tutor in single-mindedness.

10 months on and I’ve read Part I (out of VII) and the book sits alongside a dozen or so other books I’ve dipped in and out of. This is no slight on the author – whose Emotional Intelligence is a must-read – it just turns out that I needed Goleman to read Goleman. I am perhaps as some might say, distractible (I prefer to think of this more as allowing my creative processes to be engaged by new ideas.) Jumping from book to book, idea to idea, keeps my mind inspired, sure, but, alas, also distracted. It turns out it’s harder to hit goals when the goalposts are frequently moving.

Current trends indicate that distraction – and especially digital distraction – could soon reach epidemic levels. From social media, to online games, to TV, constant news, and photostreams – our minds don’t ever have to sit still or chew over a single deep idea if we don’t want to. In all this noise it’s easy to become afraid of the silence. Asking questions of ourselves may be painfully hard, if we don’t like the answers, so we turn on and tune out and the big questions remain unexamined. As 16th Century French mathematician Blaise Pascal put it, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Blaise Pascal on humanity's problems

If I’ve had a particularly distracted week I may look forward to the weekend, which affords me the chance to rest my brain, reset, and start afresh on Monday. I have come to learn that distraction, or avoidance, or “multi-tasking”, is incredibly tiring. Facing what we’re dodging, invariably takes less effort than we fear it might, and much less than what we would spend trying to avoid it.

Sometimes what we are manoeuvring around can’t be tackled by a weekend off. When anxiety churns deep within we need a greater comfort than a lie-in, a late lunch, and a few beers. The Bible tells us that real respite for the soul is not for the put-together and perfect people only (if there are any) but for those struggling and tired: Jesus said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

If we let multiple distractions run amok in our minds we will weary to the point of exhaustion. We have the technology now to satiate our schemes of avoidance, the motives of which are themselves as old as humanity. So let’s not let distraction abound unchecked, but rather make it our guide, leading us to ask why it is we can’t “sit quietly” and then, turning to God, be led into true rest.


Last time (for those repeat offenders) I talked a bit about my time in the Royal Navy, this time I want to tell you a bit about how that linked in with my being a Christian … Some people who call themselves Christians can remember the date or moment they decided to ‘follow Jesus’, but for some it’s been a gradual journey of discovery.  I was looking through some boxes of papers when we moved up to Chesterfield a few years back, and found loads of stuff including my joining and leaving forms for HMS Fisgard back in 1979, my first pay chit from HMS Collingwood (£124 for a month), my original ‘pay book’, my first Divisional Officers report and loads of other stuff, anyway in amongst this stuff was this:

Hopefully you can read it … its a form I signed when I ‘became a Christian’ whilst at HMS Fisgard … I had no idea of the date, I remember the event, but if I’m honest it was not like St Pauls experience in the Bible, where everything changed instantly on the ‘Damascus Road’… it has been a gradual process ever since then, with ups and downs, challenges and times when I’ve really let God down, but since that moment I have known that God is real, he loves me just as I am, and as a result of that I want to live my life to tell others about him … this whole journey thing was brought into sharp focus by something else I found.

This is a genuine Deputy Sheriffs badge from a bloke I hooked up with when HMS Southampton was alongside in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1984 on our way back from a Falkland Islands patrol. The few days were quite amazing … for example, we were in his unmarked police car, when he said to us ‘anything you guys would like to do?’ … my mate said ‘yeah, I’ve always wanted to get pulled over by the Highway Patrol’ … OK says Pat, and off he went accelerating to over 100 on the highway, we were soon being chased by a couple of motorcycle cops, who pulled us over. Patrick flashed this badge and said ‘these are two Brit sailors who just wanted to be pulled over’ … of course we had a chat, invited the two motorbike cops on board for a beer and that was that. As we arrived with Pat at the gangway one day, we pointed out that he should not bring his gun down the mess … so he opened the boot and casually tossed it in … with the shotgun, rifle, and box of what appeared to be stun grenades. We also were looking to get into a club late one night, but the place was full, and there was a queue … Pat just waltzed us straight to the front of the queue and we were in …. and I have to confess a few beers were consumed during that 5 day period … a classic run ashore, which resulted in me swapping a pair of ‘pussers’ (RN) overalls for his genuine ‘Starsky and Hutch’ style magnetic blue cop light the sort that you stick on the car roof (had an interesting few moments explaining it to a MOD Copper who searched the car one day at the dockyard gate …) … I still have all the memories … but I had completely forgotten about the badge … it brought it all back  …

But its that little card that has served to not only bring back memories of a particular moment back in 1979, but it has highlighted a difference … that badge was great at the time, but I had completely forgotten about it. The physical card too I had forgotten about, but the decision I made that day changed my life ….  although like the badge, I put the card away with other stuff, I could not put Jesus in the box as well … he has journeyed with me all the time .. are you journeying with God every day, or have you put Him in a box of memories up on a shelf somewhere? If so its never too late to take him off the shelf and make him part of your life today …. Don’t hesitate if you want to find out more … contact me at the CVM office or your mate who wears sandals with socks and sings kum ba yah …




When I started my Ironman training the first thing I did was get the right gear I needed: trainers, shorts and spent hours looking at bikes. (Didn’t buy one don’t panic!) Before I had even started to train my swim, ride or run I was online looking at the right stuff I needed to compete.

CVM have spent more than a decade building up the right gear for you to grow in your faith, to build a passion and heart for the gospel and to forge a desire to reach the lost blokes around us.

We have a network of men’s groups that will put fuel on the fire and get stuff really moving. We have seen guys meet Jesus through the resources, the men’s groups and events all over the UK. We know that this stuff works, and getting the right resources, gear and standing with a band of brothers is essential. BUT!

The gear, resources and strategy without the heart and conviction to do something for the kingdom of God will be useless. You need to give a stuff about the blokes you know who don’t know Jesus, and that it bothers you that these fellas are skipping into hell without a voice calling them from that path. Otherwise it’s a bit like me shopping for trainers when I don’t even want to go running.

I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, actually, no I’m not sorry at all. The reality is we need to care, we need to reach our mates with the good news that Jesus is alive. I remember hearing our Scottish Director, Stephen, telling me his testimony over a cheeky Chinese meal. He said ‘all these Christian fellas would talk to me about the weather, football, cars but never tell me about Jesus!’

We have got the best news guys, our saviour is alive! Here at CVM we want to resource you, tool you up for the fight and plug you into a group of guys that have caught the evangelism virus and are sneezing over everyone. (sorry, awful illustration!)

Our heart is that you stand with us, build that heart for the lost men around you and commit to being part of the team reaching out. We can do it, we can see the culture shifting, with the amount of men saved in the UK impacting this country incredibly. We can see families gospel, communities, towns and villages impacted with the Gospel and set ablaze with Jesus people.

Don’t do what I did with the Ironman! Count the cost, get fuelled up, be transformed and with the right gear, together we can see a million men introduced to Jesus!

Image Credit: Martin Kníže

Check out our new Team CVM Podcast that we launched TODAY!!!



A few times when I was at the gym training for the half Ironman, I would be on the treadmill and just give up. I would be running well, and be on around 45 minutes, slight knee pain, bit of discomfort but ok, then I would just literally stop running, switch off the machine and go home.

After thinking it through I realized I was actually losing the mental, mind battle that you need to train for the long haul.

I would start this inner Q and A in my head whilst running through the boredom. ‘Why am I doing this? This is enough, I have run far enough today, I need to get to work, quick shower and I can go home, it’s nearly lunch time, was that my phone ringing?’

Once that Q and A had started the inevitable happened and I just stopped, it was so powerful that all the work getting to gym, all the food I had eaten for that training session, the time and energy spent just getting this couple of hours to train was wasted. Weird, or is it?

A section in the bible I love is this:

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Romans 12:2

I think that when we give ourselves over to Jesus, to his plans, his power and his will, even our minds can be transformed. When you get pitched a curved ball in life where does your mind go? When the wheels come off and the toys have all been thrown from the pram where has your mind gone? Sounds silly but even when we don’t get things our own way or in our preferred timing, when our favorite team loses or we suffer some sort of defeat, where does your mind go?

‘That’s it! I can’t do it anymore.. I have had enough’ (That’s where mine can go.) How about when you try something, you step out and stick your head up and friendly fire knocks you back? You take criticism and ridicule for being that bloke who tried something. Then where does your mind go?

I think that this transforming of our minds is gradual but so vital in forging gospel men, a new kind of man who can take defeat and get up again. A new kind of man who can lift his head and know that the field he fights in, the strength he has and the identity he carries is more than his own. When our minds are transformed to be like that of our saviour we take on a new way of thinking, a new way of being us. When that happens we are able to begin to test and see what Gods will is! Instead of our mind folding inwards and imploding, we can see beyond and get a glimpse of the bigger picture being formed.

Image Credit: Martin Kníže

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