Looking back at 2015

I’ve started to write this on December 30th, sitting on a train in Lincolnshire at 7:30am, on my way to work. It’s still completely dark outside, and half the country is still on holiday. I feel slightly jarred, like the alarm clock went off, but no one else has had to get up.

Feeling disjointed is somewhat appropriate – it aids my reflections on the last 12 months.

2015 has been a year of experiences. We’ve lived in three continents; I’ve had an epiphany in healthy living, exercise & weight loss; my medical skills, for the first time, feel formed; and, as a family, we’ve started to have some clarity about how we want to live.

Home

This year has shaken my understanding of home. In many ways, “home” still means “Epping” to me. My parents live there, I grew up there – the streets feel familiar, comfortable and safe.

“Home” is any place that has touched your heart.
Leaving doesn’t stop that.

But in a much more practical way, our lovely house on Woodthorpe Avenue in Boston is home. It’s the place we can best exhale. We can kick off our shoes, settle comfortably onto a high chair on the breakfast bar, and watch the chickens, dogs and children flap around in the garden.

YEditedGroupPhotoet Restore Church, full of our friends, is also home. We seek the heavenly realms together, we drink moderately bad cups of tea together and we laugh about the projector turning everything purple again. This whole year has been a mess of realising that “Home” is any place that has touched your heart. Leaving doesn’t stop that.

If you’ve read Harry Potter, there’s a concept where Voldemort tears apart his soul and stores it into objects that have emotional value to him. That’s not quite how I’m feeling – home is not a horcrux – but there’s no doubt that putting roots down involves investing a part of oneself.

Now I’m coming home
I’m coming home to you again
I hope things haven’t changed
New Found Glory

Many homes

This year, “home” has been Mseleni hospital in South Africa. It’s been Sea Point in Cape Town. Jackson in Missisippi. Alterna community and Koinonia Farm in Georgia. QC Family Tree in North Carolina. Grace & Main in Virginia. The Simple Way and Inner Change in Philadelphia. A little bit of us still lives in the homeless shelters of the Catholic Worker movement in New York City

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Returning to the UK has brought us face to face with the contradiction of “home”: it means a state that is temporary and yet, somehow, extraordinarily enduring.

Our idea of home is shaped by the setting and society we live in. This year it’s meant our children sitting naked, in dusty mud, next to the road. It’s meant seeing giraffes on the drive to the shops. Getting excited about a visit to the town café that pretty much only sells chips. Friends who have never had – and will never have – the life opportunities that I take for granted. Patients who have never slept in a bed, and thus don’t know how to sleep when they are admitted to hospital. Evenings without a TV, without electricity, without water, spent cooking pizza on a wood fire, and laughing. So much laughing.

John M PerkinsAnd it’s meant eating sweet potato wedges with John M Perkins. Jugs and jugs of sweet tea. Contemplative silence in LaGrange, and board games late into the night. Cooking pizza for the entire residency of Koinonia farm. Shaving heads and eating chocolate.

In Charlotte, it meant reincarnation through recycling, through gardening, through relationship, through reimagining an unloved locality. And a little girl doing a poo in a public water fountain. It’s meant permaculture, community gardens, ultra thick milkshakes and sitting on porches in Danville. In Philadelphia it meant pizza (home == pizza), and gunshots, and an understanding that all of us need our home to be sustainable. New York meant $1 pizza slices, enjoying glorious mess surrounded by healing people, and my first ever visit to a board game cafe!

Returning to the UK has brought us face to face with the contradiction of “home”: it means a state that is temporary and yet, somehow, extraordinarily enduring. In common with many others who have crossed cultures, there will always be a discomfort in us, even in situations that have been familiar to us for years.

wp-1451644198031.pngHealth

Alongside learning more about the mental framework we use to fit into the world, I’ve also come to terms with my physical existence here.

For the first time, I can say I genuinely love exercise. I even hate running a bit less!

Sure, 2013 was the year I decided to start losing weight. And 2014 was the year that I realised healthy eating is going to be a life long commitment. But 2015 was the year I started to understand the link between health and happiness.

For the first time, I can say I genuinely love exercise – I even hate running a bit less! I’m more aware than ever how rubbish I feel after an episode of gluttony – Ben & Jerry’s, I’m talking to you here – and I’m starting to have the self control to just not go down that path.

I’ve hammered out a few personal milestones, such as my first Triathlon, my first sub 25 minute 5k, and consistently dropping below 70kg. I’ve also managed sustained periods of exercise, accountablity and weight management – see my blog series: six kilos in six weeks.

Medicine

babychris-800x817Working in South Africa was a privilege – a scary one at points. Having a baby named after me was a highlight, as was being signed off as competent to perform caesarian sections without supervision. It was also the first time I’ve ever worked with a degree of autonomy, and the only time I’ve been at a grass-roots level in the midst of the community I live. Being a doctor… at home.

When I was 17, I made a decision to apply to medical school. I’m now 29.

As I look towards the end of my training, I know that the only way I’m going to be able to sustain the enthusiasm and purpose I need is for my career to have integrity. When I was 17, I made a decision to apply to medical school. I’m now 29. It’s only at the end of this year that I will no longer be on a training scheme. I’ll actually be an adult, able to apply for a job where I get told in advance where I’ll be working, what hours I’ll do and how much I’ll be paid! I’ll be able to raise concerns and suggestions for improvement without putting my entire career at risk! Brill.

In 8 months, I’ll be able to choose my hours, select my workplace and start to explore my sense of vocational calling. Medicine needs to line up with our life goals, my heart and my sense of home. Who knows exactly what shape that will take, but its an exciting prospect.

Next

The bible is full of phrases like this:

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”
Mark 8:34-35

When I read a passage like that, I think: “I’m not really doing that”. I’m not saying that I believe God calls us all to martyrdom; but I do believe a luke-warm 50% lifestyle simply doesn’t cut the mustard.

SAM_0952I’ve become certain of one thing this year: we desire to live out the gospel. Really live it. Not half live it, tacking on a bit of grace and love to a plastic Western lifestyle, but LIVE it. Our hope is to explore, sacrifice, pray and practice until “The Kingdom of Heaven is near” starts to resonate with us.

“Home” this year has meant common threads: friends, community, adoption, Jesus, vegetarianism, pizza, board games, fitness, laughter… shared values in others that reflect the hope we have for this life.

One of our mentors, Colin, recently said to us “You need to find your tribe“. As we continue to explore what and where “home” is for us, I think God will make it clear to us who our tribe is. Maybe it’ll be through pulling on some of those common threads, and more importantly, following back to the heart behind them, one that says “My God; my neighbour; our life together.”

Thanks for reading this, and thank you to everyone who has been part of home for us this year. Have a great 2016!

PS. I leave you with a song that is very much on the same page as us…

Harvest ready, workers needed.

Chris with boys from Hope houseKatherine, Joen and myself have been on the ground in Harrismith for just over a week now, and things are starting to get busy. We have more than 2 weeks left here, and we are involved with:

  • Volunteering at Hope House children’s home.
  • Organising a party for those with no family to stay with over Christmas.
  • An end of year event at the bible school in Makgolokoeng township.
  • Running a men’s and women’s social for Freedom Church
  • Volunteering at the local hospital and clinics.
  • New charity and church websites with videos.
  • New computers for the charity and children.

God is giving us a real opportunity to celebrate and build relationships here, with 3 parties at Hope House over the next 2 weeks, bonding socials at Freedom Church, an end of year celebration at the Makgolokoeng Bible School, and a week long art fair at Rheola’s (our generous host who runs income generating craft projects in the township).

Photo of Joen in a Wendy house, with a quizzical expressionToday we visited Hope House, where the children immediately took my phone and started taking photos: tw0 of which you can see on the right. The level of love the children need is very intense: they run into your arms at the first opportunity, and both of us found our eyes moistening throughout the afternoon. Joen, on the other hand, was fairly shocked, having never been borderline attacked by 27 black kids. They loved him, although we did have to stop them putting him in the sit on car that they raced at breakneck speed aroudn the concrete. Over the next few weeks, we are going to take them out in groups for ice cream, or round to our house for DVDs, for cooking: general family time they miss out on.

I am finding the work in the local hospital very Gift, enjoying the Wendy Houserewarding: my smattering of Sesotho is already coming in useful, and I love the air of friendly faith in the hospital. Last night around 2am I was dancing around the kettle with the senior sister, singing “Ke a bina hobane Modimo o motle” – “I am singing because God is good.

We currently do not feel any closer to knowing if this is our long term home: for now, we are focusing on thanks and praise, and trusting that He will reveal his will to us.

Love you all,
Chris, Katherine and Joen.

An update, and finances…

Hey there. Been a fairly long time since the last update. First of all

New Housemate

Marian has moved in, which is exciting for all of us. That now means there are 4 of us (plus two dogs and two chickens). Please pray she settles in okay, and is happy.

Finances

We have been discussing the best way to deal with our finances as a community. We aim to live a life of community, as exampled in Acts 2, and thus the subject of money has to come up at some point.

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.

44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

The difficult question, is how to have “everything in common”? We are looking at everything from pooling all our money, outgoings and debts, to just being more open about finances. Prayer appreciated, as well as any opinions/discussions on the subject…

Names Not Numbers

Myself and my wife now help run a charity – called Names not Numbers. Please check out our new website! See it at: www.names-not-numbers.co.uk

That’s about it for now.
Thanks for reading!

Christian community, web design, medical revision and things of a personal nature…

Obviously it’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve posted on here. I set this up as a brief diary of my last trip to Africa, for my girlfriend to read whilst I was there. She is now my wife, and I’ve been back for about 10 months, and frankly, I could just tell her how it was face to face now.

I have many other project, including this medical revision website, and this web design and web hosting website. I am also a member, with my wife, of a Christian community in Sheffield, UK. Check our community page at Community of Communities, or read our new blog on blogspot.

I am keeping this page as a personal blog, but it may not be updated frequently!

Bless,
Chris

PS. Wedding photo below: