Guest Post Klaxon. I read this last week and loved it so much I wanted you to read it too. Timmy gracious let me re-post it - thanks Timmy!
“And, if you’re a coffee lover, there’s a place you must go to – it is called “CORALLO” and it is located at Principe Real – the very best coffee in town can be found there!! :o)”
This was the message I received from the Airbnb host I had just booked to stay with in Lisbon last summer. I had mentioned my affection for coffee and she swooped in with a suggestion that I duly took her up on when I arrived a few weeks later. Not only was the coffee exquisite, it also came with a small slab of chocolate of my choice. An excellent combination. And if that wasn’t enough, all it cost me was €1.
The fun did not end there, either. The coffee house was located near a quiet park where locals and tourists alike lingered contentedly. Some painted or read or sat, others walked or talked or worked. I happily joined them for a while. I then took to the nearby steep, cobbled streets which brought me to another park, this one much smaller, which was surrounded by tall, colourful houses and a cluster of restaurants. There I grabbed lunch. It was all such a pleasant, nourishing morning as new sights and smells and happenings greeted me – and my camera! – at almost every turn.
And all of this begun with a suggestion, a passing comment from someone I hardly knew.
It caused me reflect on how our routine interaction and engagement with others sometimes – both online and offline – has a tendency to surprise us by what they prompt and inspire. A friend uses Twitter or Facebook to beam about a book they are reading. We happen to come across the book in a bookstore and, recalling our friend’s ringing recommendation, buy it. We later open the book’s pages and find it difficult to put down. The content or style of a picture on your Instagram feed unleashes a wave of creativity into one of your followers. Someone shares with you in conversation an answer to prayer that profoundly resonates with you.
And isn’t it lovely when someone unexpectedly says to you how helpful something you said in passing years ago has been for them? We don’t even remember what it was we said, and if even we do sometimes the impact was far different and greater than we first thought.
There is a magic to our everyday exchanges that so often eludes us. That’s not to say that every suggestion or comment or post we share carries impact. But I wonder if by underestimating this there is a danger that we stay silent when there may well just be someone for whom your input will inspire something special. How often it is we keep our mouths shut or delete that thoughtfully-constructed tweet or Facebook post because we feel no one wants to listen? I am a firm believer that more people are listening to us than we realise.
“Does anyone dare despise this day of small beginnings?” God said to the prophet Zechariah (4:10, The Message).
It’s a sweet thought to wander into each day knowing that it could hold a small and beautiful beginning, all because of something hidden in the normality of conversation and social media feeds. The small beginning maybe for us. Or perhaps it will be for someone else – an aspect of their lives warmly affected by a suggestion we offered in person or online.
So, if you really want to, I say tell others about the countries, places, shops, restaurants and the like you have frequented. Instagram that quote that speaks what you’ve never been quite able to articulate yourself. Share what God is doing in your life. Talk about the book that you are currently lost in. Enthuse about the song that strikes a chord with you. Be it online or offline, if you feel the urge to raise your voice, to share about the goodness of something, do so. Whole new worlds lay ready to be explored and often it begins with the smallest of beginnings.
Oh, and if you do happen to visit Lisbon and like coffee, may I humbly suggest Corallo. The coffee, chocolate and its accompanying surroundings are a joy to savour. I can also recommend a good AirBnb host…
This post is a variation of a blog post written in May 2017 for Premier Christianity called What can we learn from this record breaking, nugget winning US teenager?
You can read more from Timmy here: www.timmybech.com/
It’s been 6 months since I went to Tanzania.
Which means it’s also been 6 months since I visited Agnes. I don’t think I ever got round to telling you about my visit. Too many words and not enough brain space to form sentences but here goes.
This is Agnes.
She’s 5, turning 6 in May. She lives about 6 hours’ drive west from Kilimanjaro.
I’ve been her sponsor for a few years – being a child’s sponsor means you pay a set amount each month which goes toward their healthcare, education, family and community development ( I sponsor through a charity called Compassion. Find out more about their child sponsorship programme here). As a sponsor you get sent letters from your sponsored child a few times a year and also an annual photo. You can also go and meet the child you sponsor. So once I decided to climb Kili I googled the district where Agnes lives (God bless google) and as it was supposedly only a few hours away I figured it would be rude not to visit. I'm, so thankful for friends with just as little sense as me, who are wiling to forgo comfort and comfort zones in exchange for grand adventures (give me a shout if you want to be part of the next one) because I don’t know if I could have survived this on my own. The following photos may look cute but it was, by an easy mile, one of the most awkward experiences of my life.
Fear not, you can’t just rock up to Tanzania and demand to be taken to the child - there’s a whole process to go through including a whole bunch of forms and a DBS check. Compassion also arrange for one of their in-country staff to meet you and host the visit.
So, two days post-mountain Ruth and I found ourselves hastily rearranging a meeting point with our host as our taxi driver refused to drop us off at the bus station. He was certain we’d “be stabbed and robbed.” Something we also thought quite likely but had chosen to ignore (sorry Mum). Thank you Jesus for taxi drivers who don’t want their clients getting murdered. Suffice to say, we eventually met our host and traveled 4 hours to the town nearest Agnes.
The next day we hired a rusting 4x4 and it’s driver to take us down dusty and bumpy dirt roads to Agnes’ village. I am no mechanic but even I could tell the suspension was somewhat lacking. Never have I wished I’d been wearing a sports bra more in my life.
An hour and a half later and we reached what felt like the middle of the Tanzania bush – though I have a sneaking suspicion that the actual bush is far more wild and intense – but what do I know, I live in Zone 6, which pretty much is the countryside.
We eventually arrived at Agnes’ village. Our first stop was to the Compassion project to meet the Pastor who runs it and see all the files they keep on the kids who are sponsored – at first I wondered why they were so keen for us to see all the paperwork. But actually, it’s quite interesting to see all the admin that goes into it. Each child has a file detailing staff visits to the family, health checks, school progress etc. For Christmas and birthdays sponsors can send a financial gift and the project staff help the child pick out something that is useful for them/their family. They then send you a photo of the items chosen. The project had several photo albums filled with pictures of these gifts. Each kid with a different combination of items - chickens, clothes, mattresses, metal sheeting for roofs, books, food etc.
After a quick tour of the project (church, small office, classroom, toilets) we went to the market to buy some food as a gift to Agnes’ family. And then another bumpy taxi ride to Agnes’ home.
At the project they has told us how excited Agnes was about the visit but I had just shrugged it off as something they had learned to say to visitor But it turns out she really was excited to see us.
She didn’t stop smiling.
She also didn’t say a word the whole visit.
But she didn’t stop smiling. Until we took photos that is.
We sat inside her home - Me, Ruth, Agnes, her parents, one of her brothers, our host, two project staff members, a neighbour and a few chickens. Agnes, Ruth and I were on chairs around a table. We all looked at each other. Agnes stared at Ruth - the real Muzungu. I doubt anyone with white skin had ever been in her home before. As Agnes and her family spoke no English and my Swahili was limited to jambo (hello), asante (thank you), hakuna matata (no worries - yes, like the Lion King), azuri sana (very good), lala salaam (goodnight/sleep) and karibu (you’re welcome) our host translated everything .
Host: You can ask them questions now.
We started asking standard questions – who lives here, where do you go to school etc.
Turns out there’s 6 people in the 3 rooms of Agnes home – Agnes and her two brothers (her mother tells us they had had another child who had died), her parents and grandmother. There’s no running water or electricity, no glass in the windows, no furnishings – no lights, no wallpaper, no carpet, no picture frames. They had a little kitchen hut outside that can just about fit one person inside to cook over the open fire. There’s no fridge, no freezer, no kettle or toaster. Through Foodbank here in London and YWAM in South Africa I’ve met people with very little, but this level of poverty was something else.
I have never met people with so little in all my life. And the scary thing is – Agnes and her family have a home, there is another level of poverty below theirs’.
After a while we ran out of questions to ask and making a conversation was impossible with each answer being one or two words only. Silence.
Me: Does anyone have any questions for us?
Turns out no-one had anything to ask us. We sat and looked at each other, moments of silence getting longer and longer. I tried to comfort myself with the knowledge that some languages and cultures don’t have a word or concept of awkward. It just doesn’t exist. I desperately hoped Swahili was one of those languages. But maybe Agnes and her family found the whole situation as weird as we did. Our host kept mentioning that it was such an honour for Agnes family to have us visit them - all my internal organs cringed every time he said it.
I did get a few laughs though by managing to mix thank you and you’re welcome up – despite managing to use them correctly nearly every day on Kilimanjaro.
After what felt like an eternity of silence we went outside to take some photos, and then walked back to the centre of the village to get lunch. Agnes and I walked most of the 20 minute journey in companionable silence.
Lunch was chapattis and beans in cornershop/restaurant with no running water and food that had arrived so quickly it had definitely been sitting around for a while. However, the handsoap by the water barrel did bring some comfort #everyblessing. We ate in silence - our host seemed to have given up on translating.
And then, just like that, the visit was over. We said our goodbyes and found another 4x4, this one slightly less aged but still without seatbelts or a working speedo, to take us back. Again, I wished I'd the foresight to wear a sports bra.
Despite the awkwardness and feeling the full guilty weight of the reminder of my nice privileged life I am so glad we visited. Agnes really was happy to see us. She didn’t stop smiling and that made the whole trip worth it.
Interested in sponsoring a child? You can find out more about child sponsorship here.
And if you thought I was nuts for climbing a mountain, my friend Margetts is even more so – she’s running a half marathon in Indonesia to raise money for Compassion. I don't know if I attract the crazy friends or if I'm just drawn to them. You can cheer her on through donating here.
People often ask me how I'm doing now that I'm exiled in Zone 6.
I tell them "it’s ok, I’m ok." And I am.
But I am also scared.
I am scared that before I know it I will slip into a living coma of a comfortable & complacent suburban life.
I am scared that I’ll begin to confuse the lines between want and need.
I am scared that I won't even notice when I begin to think that neighbours parking outside the wrong house is a crime punishable by getting lost in IKEA for an eternity.
I am scared that I’ll have a 9-5 office job that I don’t really like but am too afraid to leave – because without that I wouldn't know who I was?
I am scared that living in anything but a house with a garden will become unimaginable.
I am scared that I'll start reading the Daily Mail.
I am scared that as I get lulled into a false sense of security my dreams will start to shrink, as will my reliance on the God I love and try to serve.
I am scared that Waitrose will become the norm not a luxury.
I am scared of a life of No Adventure
I am scared I will get Stuck.
I am scared that one day Jesus will put me in a group with my fellow goats – Matthew 25 y’all, I don’t actually think I’ll turn into a goat, bah!
I am scared that I’ll become a goat and not even care.
I am scared that one day I will realise how comfortable I have become and be too afraid to change it.
I am scared that I will no longer believe that Jesus is enough.
I am scared that I will trivialise the concerns and worries of my fellow suburbanites.
I am scared that I will blame the suburbs for my own laziness.
I am scared that I don't really understand the meaning of perfect love casting out fear (1 John 4 v18).
I am scared that I over dramatise everything.
BUT I do know that God is with me always, even until the end of the age (not infact a LOTR quote but Matthew 28 v 20). So really what is there to be scared of?
What about you, are you scared of anything?
Remember the days when the smallest thing was the most fascinating thing ever?
Remember the days when what is now commonplace was o so amazing?
Remember the days when what is now a nuisance was actually something you excited talked about for weeks?
This week I had a twenty minute conversation with an 8 year old about the wonders of flying economy class...
"You have a TV in the seat in front of you! And you can watch anything you like, even Horrid Henry. And there's a thing for your drink by your arm. And tray that goes in front of you like this. And they bring you really good food - two lots of food. Lunch and dinner. And they bring you pillows. And they bring you drinks. And there's even something to put your feet on."
All this from a child I who usually only answers my questions with "Yes" or "No." It's in the detail.
Remember when the world was fascinating?
This week I'm looking into the detail of everyday life to rediscover childlike wonder.
When we are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.
When with the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst for the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.
To dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas,
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.
Who is Jesus Christ.