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Bible School in Kazan

Anna and Iain MacDonald visited the Russian Bible School at Kazan on 10-17 August 2019. There were 140 present, split by age into Sunday School, Teenager sessions, Youth Week, Foundations class and main studies.

There were many memorable moments: 6-year-old Polina singing in the concert, hilarious water-balloon games organised by the Youth Week, a song written and performed by four friends (one Russian, one Kazakh, one Ukrainian and one Belorussian) thanking God for the Bible School…

Towards the end of the week, there were three baptisms. Nastya came to Youth Week a year ago but hadn’t given the impression she was interested in the gospel – she seemed more interested in having fun, whatever the consequence. So we were slightly surprised this year that she returned, obviously having undergone a transformation during the year, saying she wanted to go to the Foundations classes and be baptised. She was true to her word and was baptised, along with Danil and Ilya, the two older sons of our friends Dima and Natasha. Dima and Natasha contribute hugely to the Russian Christadelphian community by their good example. It was lovely to see six family members from three generations smiling so happily together after the baptisms (see the photo).

Weekend at Slimbridge

On 5-7 July 2019 many of us gathered for a weekend of rest, relaxation and meditation in the sunshine and peaceful surroundings of Wild Goose Lodge, Slimbridge.

On Saturday we went to Tyntesfield, a spectacular Victorian Gothic Revival house with garden and parkland. Home to the Gibbs family, who amassed their fortune as cloth merchants with trading links to Spain and the Americas, the house was a treasure trove of exotic and expensive possessions. It was great that Hazel could join us on the long walks around the grounds on an all-terrain mobility scooter, to the great envy of many. Saturday evening brought exercise for the memory and all the senses in Ollie and Charli’s quiz evening.

Sunday morning was our opportunity to remember our Lord together, and then we enjoyed a delicious picnic in the sunshine at the top of Birdlip Hill.

Hazel on her scooter

Visit to Ireland

On 3 July 2019 Stephen and Wendy went to Dublin for two weeks to support the five members there, with Breaking of Bread, Bible class and Sunday school activities. From there they also made visits to our churches in Bangor, close to Belfast, and Waterford on the south coast, as well as to other isolated members. It was a very full two weeks and they travelled nearly 1,500 miles and met nearly all the members on the island of Ireland. We thank our Heavenly Father for safe journeys and good health.

At Waterford

Woodley carnival

We had literature stall at the Woodley Carnival on 8 June 2019, together with activities for the children, including a sand pit and archaeology dig. There you could find some realistic-looking items such as pottery shards with Hebrew lettering and oil lamps, as well as some stones, each with a single letter, that had to be arranged to spell out Nebuchadnezzar’s name. Very strong winds proved too much for the gazebo and we had to abandon the idea of using it. However, the sand pit and archaeology dig proved very popular with the children, and the strong winds did at least keep the rain off.

Bekah's baptism

We were delighted that Bekah Ball, Robert and Melanie's youngest daughter, was baptised on 18 May 2019. The congregation was swelled by many family members, including some from across the Atlantic. It was a happy occasion for everyone who was there.

Church and Sunday School Outing

For our outing on 18 May 2019 we visited two interesting places near Nettlebed in south Oxfordshire – the Warburg Nature Reserve and Nuffield Place.

Warburg Nature Reserve (named after the Oxford botanist Dr E F Warburg) is well off the beaten track: from Bix you head north on a single-track road – it’s only a couple of miles but as you wind around the country lanes it seems much longer! There is a good car park and a visitor centre with information and amenities. At 11 o’clock we set off for a walk around the nature reserve. The children had a nature trail to follow which showed them what to look out for along the way, and this was useful for the adults too! We saw the last bluebells of the season and a field full of daisies and buttercups, and we listened to the birds singing, although no one was very good at identifying them!

Back at the car park we enjoyed fish and chips before travelling a couple of miles down the road to Nuffield Place, which was the home of Lord Nuffield from 1933 to 1963. And what a remarkable man he was! Born William Morris in 1877 he set up a bicycle shop in Oxford at the age of 16; then he progressed to motorcycles and cars. At Cowley, he set up the first mass production car factory in the country, Morris Motors. He became a very rich man, but he gave most of it away to good causes. He made iron lungs and gave them to hospitals, saving the lives of thousands of people who had suffered from polio – a disease now rare, thankfully.

The weather was good and it was a pleasant day in each other’s company.

Visit to Czech Republic

On 9 to 12 May 2019 David and James visited the Czech Republic. We gave a Bible talk and had a Breaking of Bread in Prague, and made a 400-mile round trip to visit sisters scattered across the country.

The Bible talk was on ‘The Story of Eden’ (the first of a series of four talks this year). There was some discussion, particularly on the snake in the Garden of Eden, but everyone was courteous and friendly.

We drove in a hired Škoda Citigo with our translator Kateřina to visit our sisters in isolation. First to Jarmila, who is 95 and lives in a care home in Seč, a village in a picturesque location in the mountains; she was looking rather frail and was in a wheelchair, but was very pleased to see us. Then to Dagmar K who is 76 and lives in a home in Nový Jičín on the east side of the country; her younger sister Alena was with her and we heard some stories about their younger days, when their mother was put in jail for a while - such things were common in the communist era. In Brno we visited Dagmar P, with her 15-year-old son Erik and her boyfriend Jaroslav; Dagmar suffers from MS and has great difficulty getting around - she rarely leavers her flat, so we took her to a nearby hotel for lunch and afterwards around the local park so that she could enjoy the sunshine.

The photo shows the sisters in Prague with James.

May Day Fête

The May Day Fête on 6 May 2019 was something completely new. About 50-60 people followed the footprints chalked on ground leading into the car park and hall, where all sort of attractions were to be found. There was a plant stall, and, inside the hall, a second-hand bookstall, a cake stall, and a literature display, as well as a continuous presentation about the Meal-a-Day Fund.

Outside there were lots of activities for children: a coconut shy, a football shooting range, a fishing game, a test of strength, a jenga tower, face-painting, and stocks where Rob bravely withstood the wet sponges thrown at him. It was a good time to connect (and reconnect) with our neighbours.

Murder mystery walk

On Saturday 6 April 2019 we enjoyed a lovely, peaceful walk in Wargrave - at least until we discovered that a brutal murder had taken place! Apparently, Eliza Gibson had been found dead in her house, slumped over her mop and bucket. The police needed our help to find out who, out of 20 suspects, was the murderer. We helped the police by finding clues around the village which told us who could be eliminated from their enquiries. For example, "Look carefully in the gardens for an unusual flower container": in one of the gardens was a bath tub filled with flowers, which meant that Jenny Cleanbottom was innocent. After 19 clues, only one suspect was left. Our instructions led us to the house of "Robert Williams", actually Richard Walker from our Maidenhead church, who was surprisingly hospitable and offered us cakes and drinks. Thank you to all who organised the walk!

Welsh evening

This year's Candlelit Dinner on 2 February 2019 had a Welsh theme. Despite the rather forbidding names of some of the dishes, everything was delicious: beautifully cooked and charmingly served. The fearsome-sounding starter Cregyngleision proved to be some excellent mussels, while other diners seemed no less delighted with their leek and potato soup or their Welsh rarebit tartlet. The cawl (slow-cooked lamb) was excellent, and so was the rabbit casserole, both served with a splendid choice of vegetables. And the sweets! Welsh cheesecake, the splendid Pwdin Marmeled Cymreig (a Welsh amber cake), Barabrith and an excellent flummery rounded off a truly splendid evening.

And there was entertainment too: music from several instrumentalists and a vocal duo, and an introduction to some fairly unpronounceable Welsh words from a native now exiled in Reading. We may have been fairly ignorant about Wales and its delights before, but came away with a new respect for the ‘land of the dragon’.

Visit to Liberia and Guinea

In January 2019, Stephen and Wendy Sykes visited our churches in Liberia and Guinea. The work in Liberia was our main priority but we knew how important it was to visit the churches in N'Zérékoré and the Forest Region of northern Guinea. The most sensible means of access to this area is by road from Liberia: Sanniquellie is only an hour from the border and it is a further two hours to N'Zérékoré, Guinea’s second largest city. We knew that people were waiting to be interviewed for baptism in N'Zérékoré and the village of Kankore about 45 minutes away. Additionally, there was a group waiting at Boma Sud.

Stephan Kama, the elder of Kankore, mentioned the night before we were due to visit his church that he had a great surprise in store for us. I had no idea what this might be, but as we approached the village we were met by a welcoming party. Stepping down from our vehicle to reciprocate the greetings and join in enthusiastic handshaking we became aware they were standing in front of a building of substance (see photo). Stephan, with the help of others, had built a hall for their church from proceeds accumulated from a pig-farming project. The building was complete, apart from doors and windows and plastering of floor and walls, which CBM will support.

Since our last visit the teaching of relatives and friends in the village instruction has been thorough and eight were ready for baptism. They have also gone out of their way to welcome those on the fringe of village life, the weak and the disabled, so often neglected in African society. We think of Jeanne’s withered hand, Joseph’s spinal problem, and Paul’s twisted legs and hand; the three courageously went down into the waters of baptism and came out rejoicing. All were accepted into the worldwide family of God, where there is no difference of status and all stand equal before him.

Sunday School Party

This year for our Sunday School party on 12 January 2019, we invited anyone from Junior Youth Club who wanted to join us, and were joined by Kirsty, Ellie and Amy Sykes from Bracknell, Ellie, Nia and Hue Pitman from Guildford, and Mia Tarry from Maidenhead. We played ‘Tadpole’, a ball game involving lots of running around, and ‘Monkey, elephant, mouse’, a version of ‘rock, paper, scissors’. Next, we played a game where you had to cut up a banana and, with the materials, stick it back together. We were judged on how robust it was and how much it looked like a banana! Then we did a crisp-tasting challenge, followed by pass the parcel.

After the games, we had tea, which was delicious: fruit kebabs, sandwiches, salad, Indian snacks, meatballs and mini corn dogs. After that, we sat down to watch The Pink Panther.

The play was ‘Burglar Bill’, performed by the Sunday School teachers. It was really exciting because the room was dark except for the burglars’ torches. The audience didn’t know that the baby was hidden in a box right from the start until she was found by Burglar Bill, who had stolen her from a doorstep. Also, Burglar Betty actually climbed in through the window. At the end, the burglars agreed to be honest and they gave us all presents instead of stealing things.

New Year

On New Year’s Eve we met at Tom and Pam’s house for chat, fellowship and food. We had a choice of rooms to sit in: the extension where Norman and Betty used to live, the kitchen where all the food was, the lounge with a roaring fire, and the piano room – and we spread ourselves out. Andrew arranged a quiz where we had to identify items in the meeting room from close-up photos – surprisingly difficult, and I don’t think anyone managed to identify all 20 correctly. Then everyone had a glass of something sparkly to toast the start of 2019.

The following morning, we met near Mapledurham golf course for a 3-mile walk led by Graham. As we hadn’t had much rain on previous days, the ground was amazingly un-muddy. Graham set a steady brisk pace, and though Harley the dog would’ve loved to have kept up, he was kept in hand by Rob and Mel. A few were left behind and had to make up the route as they went along, but no one was permanently lost. Then we went back to Stephen and Janet’s for a tasty cooked lunch, with a variety of puddings and cakes – and more chat.

Frugal Lunch and Carol Service

The Frugal Lunch was arranged for the last Sunday before Christmas (23 December 2018). Bread, soup, cheese and apples were consumed and a collection taken for the Meal-a-Day Fund before settling down for our afternoon carol service, led by David, who took the theme of ‘Christmas visitors’. Many Christmas carols, both old and new, were sung accompanied by the band: Steph, Mel and Abi on the flute, Lowenna on the recorder, Ruth on the clarinet, Anna on the cello, Charli on the piano, and David on the organ.

Carols at Woodley

On Saturday 8 December 2018, some of us sang carols at the Pavilion in Woodley shopping centre; we were fewer in number than in previous years and the cold weather chilled us to the bone after a few hours, but still we were able to collect money for Launchpad, the charity for the homeless. We are hoping that next time, we can find a better location – and a few more singers!