Have you ever had a love bite?! No, I’m not talking about the hickey variety…
Below is last Sunday’s sermon from St Mark’s Battersea Rise as part of their series ‘Love Justice’. After so long in lockdown, it was lovely to be back preaching in the flesh. Have a listen, it’s challenging stuff:
Here are some quotes that I shared:
Anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Edmund Burke: “All that it takes for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing.”
The Reverend Martin Niemöller, a pastor in the German Confessing Church who spent seven years in a concentration camp: “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the labor leaders, and I did not speak out because I was not a labor leader. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.
A harried vicar was too busy to help a homeless lady needing help. He fobbed her off with a promise to pray for her. She subsequently wrote the following poem and gave it to a local Shelter officer:
“I was hungry, And you formed a humanities group to discuss my hunger. I was imprisoned, And you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release. I was naked, And in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I was sick, And you knelt and thanked God for your health. I was homeless, And you preached a sermon on the spiritual shelter of the love of God. I was lonely, And you left me alone to pray for me. You seem so holy, so close to God But I am still very hungry – and lonely – and cold.”
Today we’re launching a new podcast: ‘Inspired… with Simon Guillebaud’.
Upbeat and uplifting, ‘Inspired’ introduces us to a stunning variety of people from all walks of life. It celebrates perseverance, overcoming, and costly faith. Stories of adventure and risk-taking stir the listener to imagine new possibilities.
I’ve loved recording the first few episodes already, which have included tales of dramatic answered prayers, Mai Mai militias, a 6-ft pet cobra, punch-ups, a melted face, witchdoctor and drag queen conversions and more. I have so many crazy/courageous/resourceful/faith-filled friends whose stories will be told over the coming months, and I’d love you to join me with them.
I’ll record a new podcast every week, so do subscribe on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts and I’d be so grateful if (with integrity) you could do two things:
Give us a 5-star review on iTunes here so more people can discover us. Spread the word by sending a friend to our podcast webpage!
The aim is to point people to Jesus, and to celebrate and promote what the Lord has done through His people – what’s not to like?!
This first week, my old mate Ed Walker interviews me so you get more of my own journey with stories you’ll definitely not have heard before, and then I interview him on his award-winning work through Hope into Action, which has seen beautiful fruit amongst the most broken people of society.
An extraordinary phenomenon has taken place over the last few years in Iran – or, to give it its full title, the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the context of the strict application of Shariah Law and in a climate of severe persecution for anyone who converts to Christianity, a steady stream of people are risking life and limb in their declaration of allegiance to the way of Jesus. To become an apostate of Islam is extremely costly, and there are plenty of documented cases of rape, imprisonment and torture of those brave enough to follow their convictions. Yet the Church in Iran has become the fastest growing in the world.
So when an Iranian Christian couple managed to emigrate to the USA, it was their ticket to safety in the ‘land of the free’. Of course, they seized the opportunity. Unsurprisingly. Yet what was surprising, was that after living in the USA for a while, the wife said to her husband: “Please, take me back to Iran. There is a satanic lullaby in this nation. All the Christians are asleep, and I feel myself falling asleep.”
Here was a woman who had escaped the very real probability of sexual violence, loss of income and separation from loved ones through incarceration or worse, and yet she was saying that that risk was worth taking because of the greater danger to her very soul of the insidious and deathly lies she was (and we are) being steadily drip-fed in the Western world.
Think about that for a minute.
A satanic lullaby… can you hear it?
. . .
A church leader in London asked me to give this prickly sermon before lockdown, addressing some key cultural issues that most steer clear of. So I’ve just re-recorded it, if you fancy a listen.
Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich was asked whether it was more effective to change society through violent revolution or gradual reform. He replied: ‘Neither. If you want to change society, you must tell an alternative story.’
Here’s to telling the best alternative story in the world!
You will be healed if you have sufficient faith. Still sick? It’s your lack of faith! That loved one of yours who died? It was because they sinned.You can have anything you set your heart on… Just claim it by faith, and God’s Word says it is yours! Amen?
I hate false teaching, heresies, lies like the above. Sadly, they are very popular and common in Burundi.
The Church is growing – you could say exploding in growth – which is wonderful. But the challenge of that growth is the prosperity gospel drivel disseminated on the radio, from the pulpit, or in the classroom.
And why is this nonsense spreading? In large part because of a lack of access to the Word of God.
A vibrant Christian Union may have 100-150 members, but only one or two (and sometimes none) of these students will own a Bible. That’s not enough!
We need to get more Bibles into the hands of students who are often passionate but hugely susceptible to these lies. Will you help us?
Thanks to the huge generosity of a few supporters, we’ve got matched funding of £20,000 to get Bibles into the hands of school children and college students.
Each subsidised Bible costs us £5, so our goal this Easter is to provide 4,000 Bibles, which will be doubled to 8,000 Bibles – beautiful!
Through Scripture Union’s Bible Project, we go into schools and provide Bibles at great discount, which the students purchase through a savings club with affordable increments. The students treasure the Bibles they’ve saved so hard for, and the money raised gets recycled – enabling more students to access Bibles. We’ve done it for years and it works!
Here’s us doing it last week in a school upcountry.
Would you consider making a donation, all the more knowing that it will be doubled?
This is a guest blog by my Norwegian friend Arne. It’s something we’re looking to get involved in. It is so strategic, so empowering, so beautiful.
This short film (under 4mins) explains the concept:
Over to Arne:
Why do we think that the solutions for those who are poor in Africa are different from the solutions in the UK, USA and Norway? Every human throughout the world has God-given talents, as well as needs.
The need for a job, to feel wanted and valued, to provide for the family, and to have a relatively predictable and secure future – it’s the same for all human beings no matter where they live.
And the children need good role models of how to work to provide for the family, how to save and plan for the future, how to use and develop their own talents, how to be involved in community development and wealth creation, and finally how to submit to rules and authorities, and to God.
A transformed and sustainable Burundi is in need of transformed mindsets – a new way of building value-based foundations and strategies. We need to use methods bringing skills and a good character resulting in hope and a good future, one with dignity. If not, the next generations will find themselves in the same helplessness and hopelessness as is the case for many today.
So how can a bank (microfinance is like a small bank, but for the poor) be a tool for such a transformation? We say that everything we do, we do to improve the livelihoods of the rural poor people in Burundi. And to glorify Jesus by using our God-given talents as for God (Col 3.23).
We’ve been doing this in Burundi now for 10 years, training people and providing loans to start up new small businesses. We’ve learnt plenty of lessons, and now have just under 20,000 beneficiaries, with a loan repayment rate of 96%. That is truly wonderful and amazing, and so many lives have been empowered, transformed and given dignity. I have no doubt it is the way forward. Not handouts, but hand-ups. Not giving out fish, but teaching people how to fish. Not short-term but long-term.
“My biggest joy is that I now can afford education for my children,” says Odette. She lives in a remote village in Bubanza province where Hauge now is operating. I have never seen such a smile from people receiving aid, only when being enabled to climb out of poverty with new skills, with a strong character, and in a solidarity group with courage, hard work and unity.
Etienne is one of our customers in Hauge Family Microfinance. His village is cheering when he is showing the furniture he has made and is selling in his shop. He has become an entrepreneur and a leader for development in his local community. Three years ago, he received our training and a loan to buy logs. Today he has hired five people in the village to chop wood for him. A stable income has also made it possible to pay for his five children’s schooling.
This is just the briefest of messages feeding back on your beautiful response to our Christmas appeal to provide health cards to several thousand desperately needy folks. £2.50/$3 was what it cost to provide them and their immediate families three years of access to medical care. We filmed this at one of the handout events where a thousand people received their card. So we say A MASSIVE THANK YOU on their behalf.
Oof, there will be fewer senseless deaths! With guaranteed healthcare provision, they’ll have deep peace rather than crippling anxiety!
Last Friday in Bujumbura, CIP was shut down, wound up, put to bed. Let me explain why that is probably GLO’s greatest satisfaction to date in our involvement in Burundi:
In April 2015, a political (and therefore national) crisis came to a head as the sitting President announced he would indeed stand for a third 5-year term in office. The constitution stipulated a maximum of two 5-year terms elected ‘by the people’. His first term had been elected by parliament as Burundi ended its 13-year war. So can you see how both sides would interpret the situation differently? His side insisted he’d only had one 5-year term elected by the people (which is true), whilst the opposition (and most of the international community) said he’d definitely already served two 5-year terms (which he had), and therefore should step down for the good of Burundi’s fledgling democracy.
That’s when it kicked off. Burning barricades, demonstrations, and fear became a daily reality in the capital.
Within a week of the crisis, all our key leaders met together and had the holiest meeting of my life. We went around the table, with the sound of gunfire and in sight of a burning roadblock, and counted the cost of active engagement in the crisis. For context, we remembered how after the genocide of 1993, someone wrote a tract entitled ‘Abantu b’Imana bagiye he?’ – ‘Where did the people of God go?’ Essentially in 1993, the Church hunkered down in fear, and failed in Her mandate to stand courageously against the onslaught and violence. Would such a tract be re-written in 2015? Not on our watch, we decided!
That was the birth of CIP: Christian Initiatives for Peace.
CIP consisted of a dozen or so strategic Christian organisations (mostly GLO partners). It tapped into their different specialties and constituencies to mobilise people on whichever side of the divide to embrace key accepted shared values: the sacredness of life, compassion, community, and personal responsibility. There were no egos, no jealousies, no rivalries – just total unity. “You’re best at social media, go for it!” “We’ve got the strongest network through schools, so let’s take the lead but we need your input on strategy and content.” “You three are the most coherent expositors and debaters, you go on TV and radio.” “You invite all the pastors as key influencers, we’ll provide the venue and food.”
In a relative vacuum of trusted information, CIP provided a clear voice and framework on how to respond to the crisis based on the teachings of Jesus. In all our attempts to contribute to the process in Burundi, consistently espousing non-violence and dialogue, we very intentionally trod the middle ground, so as to be accessible and trusted (or not) by all sides. The scope of our engagement was significant.
Writing in 2016, i.e. a year later, here are some of Onesphore’s thoughts on that period:
Let me tell you it was scary at times to stick our necks out, on TV and radio, using tens of thousands of tracts, at conferences, bringing youth leaders together, mobilising churches, trying through every means possible to stand for non-violence during violent times. People recognized us wherever we went, and as things became ever more polarized, radicals on each end didn’t like what we were advocating. I often wondered if I would pay the ultimate price of my life for what we were doing, but I (and the others with me) considered it worth the cost as followers of Jesus and because we love our nation so much.
We have so much work to do. But what I love is that GLO is intentionally unknown behind the scenes – not seeking credit for these initiatives, but simply working to facilitate powerful meetings that lead to reconciliation and healing. Some of what we’ve been involved in is too sensitive and can’t be talked about. Maybe we’ll be able to share those stories in a few decades’ time!
Indeed, some of the juiciest stories can’t be shared! But thank God, dire predictions of Burundi imploding never came to fruition. That’s not to belittle the suffering of many, with hundreds of thousands fleeing the country, and a shattered economy. I have to be sensitive in how I communicate this. Burundi has a long way to go to bounce back fully.
However, CIP completed its mission. On Friday, we wrapped it all up. Sadly on my part, covid stopped me flying out to join the last group evaluation and celebration meeting. Honestly it’s hard to quantify the impact, because the aim was to stop bad things happening, and we don’t know how many bad things would have happened without CIP. Suffice to say, we have myriad stories of individuals, like the young man who said: “I’m only alive because I came to your meeting. You told us throwing stones wasn’t the way. I stopped, whilst my friends carried on. They’re dead and I’m still here.”
One of GLO’s key mantras is ‘Everything is about relationship’. As I reflect, we were able to achieve what we did (under God’s grace) because in what was a very distrustful and suspicious climate and culture, we had met intentionally together for years every month to have team breakfast together, pray together and plan together. We’d been on retreats with our spouses together. We saw across ethnic and political divides. Together… indeed, it was all about relationship.
And it still is.
So I write this to praise God and salute my precious Burundian brothers and sisters who formed CIP back in 2015 and did whatever they did in the ensuing years. Instead of the 1993 tract ‘Abantu b’Imana bagiye he?’, the 2015 equivalent could be ‘Abantu b’Imana ni bo basutsemwo mabisi!’ – i.e. not ‘Where did the people of God go?’ but ‘The people of God threw water on (the fire)!’
As we look to the future, there are huge challenges to overcome. I’m encouraged by so many passionate and committed Burundians who are desperate to see the healing of their nation. By faith, with costly action, it will come. But for now, it’s RIP to CIP, 2015-2021!
On this day last year, my dear friend Caleb Meakins graduated to glory after days battling to overcome injuries sustained in a car crash in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His death left many of us reeling, because he had so much love, energy and passion to give, and it all felt so wrong.
To understand Caleb, you had to know the defining moment in his life. His English father worked for Tearfund and had married his Ethiopian mother. In 1996, his Dad’s plane was hijacked and crash-landed in shallow waters just off the Grande Comore Island in the Indian Ocean. As the plane was losing altitude, his father stood up and shared Jesus with the screaming passengers. Not all of them died, and that was how Caleb came to know through the testimony of the survivors that his earthly father had been consistent in his faith and courageous to the last.
As a student at Loughborough university (coincidentally the same one I attended fifteen years before him), Caleb had contacted me after being impacted by a book I’d written. I wasn’t part of his inner circle, but I was keen to help nurture and encourage this supremely talented younger brother in any way possible. He came out to visit us in Burundi and my kids absolutely loved him. Later on, we shared a twin-bed for several nights together whilst speaking at a conference in Northern Ireland. I got some hilarious footage of him snoring loudly, so he wasn’t the best room-mate if I’d wanted a good night’s sleep! In fact, the flu he had at the time, he duly passed on to me, which meant I remembered him with a distinct lack of fondness for another fortnight!
But how we laughed! And how we dreamed together! Caleb was a beautiful blend of big dreams, creative ideas, entrepreneurial nous, winsome ability to connect, deeply kind and caring, empowering of others, self-deprecating, adventurous, willing to take risks, the list goes on.
I’ve just had a nostalgic look through a few of the films on his YouTube channel. One of the many things he did was take on a challenge of doing 40 days of failure – i.e. taking on something that he knew he’d probably fail at, to see how it worked out. It was about overcoming the fear of failure, and invariably ‘failure’ was a great learning experience!
Simple things like getting on a train and doing his first ‘live’ song! (He talks about it in this TED talk starting at 4mins 45secs) Caleb had a truly dreadful singing voice, but he stood up, introduced himself, and blasted out the song ‘Stand by Me’.
Stone silence and heads down from all the passengers.
“OK, that didn’t go so well… could any of you join me if we try again?”
The second rendition saw a builder and another woman join him at the chorus. Progress!
“Hey guys, come on, let’s do it! Let’s try one more time!”
And the whole carriage sang together with gusto, and clapped and cheered at the end!
He said he went from 0% to 100% confidence. And that experience was repeated time and time again.
Seriously, if you’re going to waste some time surfing the web this week, why not check out him getting dressed up as an Arab sheikh and trying to test-drive a Lamborghini; or embarking on giving a lecture at UCL in front of several hundred students until the actual real lecturer arrived; or blagging his way onto the red carpet with Sarah Jessica Parker for her movie launch; the list goes on. Friends posted him challenges, and he rose to them, showing us all in the process that taking risks and stepping out usually turns out just fine. This led to a few TED talks where he spoke as an ‘expert in failure’ (see the one mentioned above and this one).
I love it that Caleb was courted for a job in the UK by an outfit that always got who they wanted – they saw how good he was – but he turned them down! He then decided to go (back) to live in Ethiopia, and had his finger in so many creative pies there when the accident happened. Indeed, there’s so much more that I could share about that chapter, but this needs to come to an end.
I last saw Caleb when speaking at the summer Shift event on the Troughton farm near Cheltenham. Shift was a movement he’d started with the aim of seeing his generation captivated by God and impacting culture. Several hundred of us laughed and worshipped and dreamed together over several days. He was only 31-years-old, and he didn’t seek the limelight in any way, but it was clear everyone looked to him as the leader.
I have to say, he packed more into those 31 years than many do in their three score years and ten. Certainly, he wasn’t one whose highest aspiration was to arrive safely at death. But now he’s gone. What a spectacular loss he is to the many, many people he influenced – most immediately, of course, to his wonderful mother Ruth, and his sisters Lydia and Abi, who have lost the two closest men in their lives. Lord, comfort them!
There was so much more to come from Caleb, as we saw it. Yet it wasn’t to be. Many things happen that we simply can’t understand. Trying to muster a satisfactory explanation is futile. His death was a tragedy. Today is the first anniversary of his passing. But because of the timing of his death, with the onset of the pandemic, there was no memorial service in England and we didn’t get the chance to come and grieve together.
That’s why I wanted to write this. To remember our precious brother. Mercifully, ‘we do not grieve as others do who have no hope’ (1 Thes 4:13). The last talk I gave on that Shift weekend was from 1 Cor 13:12, where Paul writes: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
Well, dear Caleb, you’ve beaten us there! Now you know fully, even as you are fully known. How amazing that must be! We miss you, we honour you, we remember you. And as we thank God for your life, we vow to step up and take risks, embrace ‘failure’, and be part of a movement that shifts our culture in the right direction.
I’m gutted to say my old friend John Riches passed away this morning.
I first met John 24 years ago. I was living in the North of Rwanda doing language study, and he swung by to greet my Aunt and Granny for ten minutes on his way back to Burundi from Uganda. Off the cuff, I jokingly asked if I could hitch a ride with him to visit Burundi. He gave me three minutes to pack my bag, and we were off!
So began a great friendship. The war in Burundi was ongoing, and there was an international embargo as well, so he was generously bringing in lots of goodies for friends in his beloved Landrover. At regular intervals, on what was just about the most dangerous road in the world, he told me of previous close escapes, through ambushes, of charred dead bodies in the wreckage of taxis that had blasted past him a few minutes earlier… He lived by faith, was ready to die, and was a kindred spirit.
He had arrived in Burundi as a divorcee in his 40s. Brilliant with his hands and a methodical problem-solver, he was as good a mechanic and electrician as anyone I know. He saved us many thousands of dollars in our construction projects by sending back faulty materials or creating cheaper and more effective complex solutions.
Meeting and marrying Nadine gave him a second chance at creating a happy family. She was a few decades his junior, and kept him young. Their mutual love was deep and genuine. They had six children together, and their home was full of noise, chaos and laughter.
In obituaries (which I guess this is), the tendency sometimes is to exaggerate or overstate the deceased’s qualities. To avoid that happening here, let me just say that John was perhaps the least linguistically-skilled person I’ve ever met – after thirty years in Burundi, his Kirundi vocabulary extended to about a dozen words, and to listen to him attempting to communicate in French was sheer comedy! But despite the language barrier, he always got his point across eventually and got the job done.
About five years ago, he was working on our roof, setting up a solar panel. It was pouring with rain. I was sat reading a book when I heard the most almighty crash. Fearing the worst, I ran into our bathroom to find torrential rain pouring through a gaping hole. John had slipped and come smashing through the ceiling. He was hanging precariously from a metal beam, that stopped him falling fifteen feet onto the concrete below – which a 70-year-old surely wouldn’t have survived. I rushed him to the hospital to the X-ray machine (the one that he kept in working order!). Thankfully nothing was broken… and in his dazed bruised state he insisted he needed to go back and finish the job on our roof. “No John, you’re going home!”
That’s the kind of workhorse he was. He spent the last thirty years tirelessly keeping sound-systems working at churches, concerts, schools. I preached from the prison to the palace with him in the background overseeing the sound desk and rescuing the situation when things went wrong.
Unfortunately, he was such a soft touch that he seldom got paid for his work. Be it a medical centre, a school, or a friend, most had tight money situations and so John let them off or the bill got lost in his pile of disordered paperwork. I used to hassle him in frustration on behalf of Nadine: “John, you’ve got to charge for your services. You’ve got to take care of your family!” He would reply: “I just can’t. The work needs doing, they haven’t got any money. God will provide for me, He always does.”
And this morning, after three weeks of battling against Covid, John has graduated to glory. He would rank right up there as one of the most servant-hearted and kind people I’ve ever met.
Nadine is now left with six children in her charge. They have significant hospital bills to pay (hopefully mostly covered by insurance), have been asked to vacate where they live, and a future ahead of them without the main bread-winner. Please be praying for them all in their grief.
As John has blessed so many people over the years, I want us to bless him (and them) back. When he said: “God will provide for me, He always does”, that usually happens through His people.
So I invite you to be a part of his story and testimony. It’d be wonderful if we could raise enough to help Nadine own a family home, have funds to get all the kids through school, and start-up capital for her to exercise her entrepreneurial gifts.
But honestly, there were times when I doubted we would we ever get to this point. Let me explain:
We helped Scripture Union launch the King’s Conference Centre in 2009 (See this video). It’s a sustainable success story and a hit with locals and international guests alike. Not only do several dozen staff receive a good salary to provide for their families, but profits are ploughed back into Kingdom projects like pastor-training, youth camps, and Bible distribution, etc. Beautiful!
But then to our horror, the neighbouring land was going to become a nightclub – this would have massively damaged our plans (who wants to sleep next to a nightclub?!). However, in the end, the owner agreed to sell the land to us if we could find $80k in a week. We prayed and fasted and the funds were miraculously provided that very week!
Owning the neighbouring land meant we could now plan on ramping up facilities. But after some years of plenty, the 2015 political crisis kicked in. Many fled the country. 30 of the 53 staff had to be laid off. It was desperate. Other hotels folded. Our staff took salary-cuts and we hung on in there. Indeed, KCC was the venue for some critical nation-shaping meetings during those tumultuous days, even as roadblocks burned and demonstrators were scattered.
And slowly but surely, through the testing years – including this year when hotel and conference bookings have been affected by the covid crisis – we carried on building Phase 2 one brick at a time… It’s a huge, beautiful project and we believe it has strategic significance in the nation – bringing together ministries and influential people from across all social, political and ethnic groups under the Lordship of the King! On the top floor, overlooking the city of Bujumbura is a dedicated 24/7 prayer room where a constant stream of believers from across the city will be seeking the Lord for peace, protection and national unity.
And this last week, we were able to do a soft opening of the first two floors for business – especially the two big conference rooms which are the talk of the town in this stunning new facility.
So the point of this blog is simply to…
GIVE GLORY TO GOD and to THANK YOU FOR JOURNEYING WITH US!
Am I allowed to be proud and boast about Goretti as Manager and her team?! They’re top-notch! KCC is the No.1 Hotel in Burundi according to Tripadvisor.
I love it that so many customers talk of the special atmosphere they experience – it’s because it’s the King’s Conference Centre!
One of our core values excellence in Jesus’ name – Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as for the Lord, not for people.” Other hotels might be bigger and better on different metrics, but we can be the best at customer service because we’re doing it for the King!
Please keep praying and journeying with us. There are 30 more hotel rooms and three more floors to equip. With your help, we’ll get there!