Archive for the 'Scripture Union' Category


LENT 2011

What are you doing for LENT 2011?

I hear lots of conversation about what people are giving up for LENT – chocolate, facebook, phones, TV and although I think some of these are very worthy, I wonder if they miss the point. The idea was that giving up these things is so that we can give more time to focus on God. Hence my real question which is…

‘What are you taking up for LENT that will help you get to know God better?’

Well if you aren’t doing anything here is a chance. As part of Biblefresh why not taking up a personal Bible reading challenge and interact with others via e-mail and/or facebook? My proposal is that we create a virtual group and join in with The Big Read 2011. The idea is to read through the whole of Matthew’s gospel during Lent and share what you learn with others. You can do this by joining the facebook group SU – The Big Read 2011 online here or by sending an e-mail to me with the subject line ‘SU – The Big Read 2011’.

What will happen then is

EITHER: every day you will get an e-mail that tells you what to read, asks a few pertinent questions and offers some other links to explore. These will be posted on my blog ‘To Ephesus and beyond’ and you will be able to comment there.

OR: you will get the same information via a facebook message and you can post your comments on that page.

So why not do something for LENT this year – it could change your life.

John Stephenson – Scripture Union


Fast plane to Cairo – reflections on Egypt part 1: Driving

I have just returned from a trip to Egypt working with the High School Youth Committee on training writers and leaders. There is a lot to think about so in between moving house I will take some time to post some thoughts.

The first impression of Egypt as we were transported from the airport was how crazy the driving is. White lines ignored, regular use of the horn and driving very close. On one trip someone in the car said – ‘this is a one way street’ to which the reply was, ‘this is Egypt’. Additionally it seems that to cross the road you set off and just keep walking , staring the driver down who comes towards you. Driving a bus means one hand to steer and one to sound the horn every 5-10 seconds. You need to watch out for the cars driving at high speed flashing their lights and sounding the horn – not police cars just people who won’t stop. Amazingly we saw no accidents – but there are clearly many. A newspaper as we were leaving said that the statistics are 8000 people die and 32,000 are injured every year On the roads of Egypt.

Maybe the driving test – taken on a bare piece of land where you have to show your ability to drive around comes is part of the answer. If you hit them you fail – miss them you pass!

So having arrived home safely I am grateful to those who drove us – Nader, Adel, Lucy & Mary. I wouldn’t even want to try and am grateful that they kept us safe.


Reflections on 9/11 – 9 years on

9 September 2001 – the day the world changed….. or did it?

There is no doubt that the events of that day cast a shadow over the global community. Relationships between nations are often defined in the light of the perceived forces at work in the events of that day. For me personally there is a particular poignancy in the memory. I had just returned from a Scripture Union International Conference with representatives from all over the world. Worshipping with people from many nations was a reminder that God’s family is global and multi-cultural – not English or British not even Western.

So I watched the events unfold that afternoon (morning in the US) with a different perspoective – there were people staying with me who were a reminder of a previous cold war era – guests from the former Soviet Union and I knew people travelling back to North America. It was hard to believe what we were watching – it almost seemed like a movie rether than real life. It was strangely gripping but it was also horrifying – we watched people die.

Maybe on reflection the media dimension was one of the changes I was unaware of and yet seems really obvious now. In a ‘Big Brother’ world, the global events were watched on TV by millions. The global community was connected in a way that we hadn’t really understood. The place of the media in both reflecting and shaping us was illustrated in a unique way on that day.

In recent events that day has been in the headlines because some people simply want to interpret them in ways that divide people along simple religious lines – I can’t agree in such a simplistic analysis. I wasn’t personally affected directly by the events so don’t want to speak for those who were. However I do know that God calls those of us who are Christians to live lives that demonstrate his character – to shine as his lights in the dark world. I am sure that means caring for all of of humanity regardless of their background, nationality, social status or creed. I simply can’t label thoe who disagree with me as evil – whatever they do.

So how should I respond? When asked by the teacher of the law, What must I do to inherit eternal life? Jesus refers him to the law itself and the teacher replies. The first commandement is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul, mind and strength. the second is like it ‘Love your neighbour as yourself”

That seems like a good place to start – I’ll let you know when I think I’ve managed that one – although it seems like it could take a lifetime! Maybe the world didn’t change – I just saw it differently and began to realise that most change has to begin in me.


God’s heart for the poor

On thursday we visited 3 mission projects in Narobi. The one I went to see was in the Korogocha slum. This is one of the poorest in the city with almost everyone unemployed.

We went to a Medical Centre who have a maternity clinic in the slums. Its like a beacon in the midst of the darknesss. We were met by the doctor who talked about how they charge very little and make a loss in order to help the mothers who come to them.

We were then taken by the mothers to their home where we talked with them about what it is like to live in the slums. The mother that Cristi from Romania and I went with was called Lilian. She had a breach delivery and the baby needed to be resuccitated. They live in a room about 8 foor by 10 foot with a stove, a bed, a sofa and very little possessions. The walls were made of mud and metal pipes. The roof was metal and there was an illegal electricity supply.

Kevin who lives with her volunteers for the Red Cross at times but one of the main ways of getting money is collecting plastic and glass from the nearby rubbish tip and selling it. I asked Lilian if she did that and she said ‘yes she leaves the baby with neighbours’.

I discovered that these people pay rent to live in the slums. This is structural exploitation. The system takes money from them and people get rich on their poverty. This is all sanctioned by the government. Olga  commented ‘people should not have to live like this’ and that is a great summary of what many of us feel

My overriding feeling was initially one of surprise. People were resilient and they were surviving. The clinic offers hope in some areas and is effective in demonstrating word and deed mission. But over time this surprise turned to anger. This is a system that makes it difficult to escape from the slums. Lilian came to the slums as a 9 year old when her father died and her mum could not cope. She is now 19 living there with a 4 month old baby.

In contrast we have seen many signs for churches and there is a massive divide between the rich and poor churches. Alongside that there is the NGO’s in the area. I realise that its impossible to do everything but it’s hard to imagine living here and turning a blind eye to the injustice.

Yet I ask myself, ‘Do I do the same back home?’. What does it mean for me back in England to do something about the injustice I see around me?


Not how I imagined!

On Saturday we were part of a reception here at Brackenhurst for SU Kenya. There were presentatiions from movements around the world – India, Tajikistan and Fiji as well as from within Africa. It was an interesting afternoon although I am still shaking my head regarding the stats from India: 1.3 billion, 4% Christian (over 50 million), 350 million gods, over 400 languages. How do you actually even begin to do mission in that world.

 But the other thing that has changed is my perception of SU International.  I imagined that SU England, Scotland Australia – they would be large. The others they would be small. Of course some are: SU Romania is very small. SU Queensland is massive (just under 600 staff) due to its chaplaincy programme. SU Nigeria employs 345 staff.  The impact of our work has been put in perspective too. SU Ghana has been running for 120 years. They have 40 staff but volunteers run 1566 school groups

 So the challenge for me is making sure that we use our resources wisely. Of course for most movements it’s the empowerment of volunteers that is central and as we look ahead this is a key piece of strategy for us to invest in.


Being a Global Christian

Please accept my apologies that I haven’t posted for a few days. I had some computer problems and access to the internet was proving difficult – all sorted now. Expect multiple postings as I try to catch up.  

I have an increasing feeling of being both privileged and challenged over these few days. Our community consists of enormous SU movements as well as small ones. News off the challenges being faced by Togo after the elections and the violence in Nigeria are impossible to ignore when you are spending time with people from those countries. I have been involved in co-ordinating the worship and I have really enjoyed singing in multiple languages including English (easy that one), Russian, Hindi, Congolese, and French (challenging for a failed linguist). But it’s the same God we serve and although we may express that differently it gives real meaning to the sense of what it means to be a family from every tribe tongue and nation.  

The challenge is in working out how I keep that international perspective in mind when I return home. It needs to be a motivating force for what we do locally.


Contextualisation or Franchise?

We spent this evening looking at some of the stories in the history of Scripture Union. I have always admired the courage of those who met at Old Jordans in 1960. Their decision was that SU International should be allowed to grow to reflect local and regional context. The SU International model was about taking seriously the principles of SU having the opportunity to be truly contextual.  

But that is easy to say and harder to do. I had a conversation with Roar from SU Denmark about this. It is so much easier to ‘McDonaldise’ the ministry of Scripture Union. It is quick and efficient. But how do we allow local and regional movements to grow in ways that reflect their context. We also need to make sure we don’t lose the two-way learning that needs to take place. It’s not that the older well developed movements have the answers. Rather its that we have to learn together – a mutual experience that realises that the best people to respond to local needs are local people.  

Which brings me back to SU England & Wales! Our recent restructuring offers a new opportunity for us to take the challenge of contextualisation seriously. How will we allow the different local and regional expressions of SU to appropriately contextualise the SU principles in their situation?

In the Alps

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