Wall Building Heroes of the Week: John and Mollie Oldfield

In this blog I’m giving you a chance to honour some great leaders in a tangible way, so please read on to the end to find out how.

My Privilege

As the Lead Elder here at Grace Church I am privileged to work alongside a high quality group of leaders at all levels: worship leaders, site leaders and leaders in all of our different ministries – there far too many to list them all – you know who you are!

The team I personally spend the most time with is our eldership team – a group of men for whom I am so grateful. This group, who oversee the life of our church, set the vision and bring pastoral care and direction, are a joy to serve with.

Changes are afoot

Those who were with us at our Prayer and Vision night on Wednesday will know already that, among other things, we had a mix of stepping up and stepping down on that evening:

  • Simon Taylor stepped up to join the site team for Bognor Regis
  • Greg Bell and Jez Cooper stepped up to join the Midhurst site team
  • and we announced that John Oldfield has decided that the time has come for him to retire from eldership

Honouring a fantastic couple

John and Mollie have been huge blessing to us – personally and as a church – since they arrived at Grace Church back in 2013, serving in so many ways and bringing blessing to so many. The good news is that they are not moving on, they will still be living here and serving the church:24410_103853996323857_7087165_n

  • John will remain on the Bognor Regis Site team
  • They will still be looking after the Life Groups in Bognor
  • They will still do much of the pastoral work that blesses so many
  • They will still be involved in mentoring some of the younger couples in the church
  • And we will still hear John preach from time to time

However John has decided that, before he hits his 75th birthday (what a shining example of faithfulness!), the time has now come to lay aside the eldership role. We want to thank and bless him for all he has done, and to thank Mollie for all that she has contributed too.

Honouring this couple

Those who don’t know John and Mollie well may not realise the huge variety of things they have done in the past. They have served God and the Great Commission in many ways, including:

  • Church planting in India
  • Being the lead elder at a church in Dartford
  • Being the lead elder at a church in Chatham
  • Leading mission work and teams in Yemen
  • And, of course, helping us establish a congregation in Bognor Regis

This is a couple who are a great example and deserve to be honoured by us all … and here are three tangible ways we can each do that:

13872818_10210674583684508_4335022635123051522_n

1. Keep listening to them

Although John may be stepping down from eldership, this couple still radiate a passion for God and His church, and they carry a huge wealth of experience. Please keep pressing in to learn from this couple.

2. Say “Thank You”

We are all grateful to this couple, and because they are still here and serving it could be easy to forget to say, “Thank you”. Please don’t just assume they know you are grateful … tell them. This moment, when John is significantly changing his role, is a great chance to show them your love and appreciation.

3. Help them on their way to India

We will soon be waving them off on a six week trip to India, to visit some new places and to revisit some of the people and the works they were so involved with. Commission has a lot going on in India, and John and Mollie were a foundational part of that for many years. They are so well loved over in India, that everywhere I go there people ask if I know them and how they are!

Because of their health, and because we love them and want to honour them, there is a small thing we want to do for them as they go – something we can all do together:

let’s send them business class.

This will really help them to make the most of the trip, and to start and end it well (it’s a long and tiring journey!), so we are inviting anyone who wants to show their thanks to give financially towards this. Anything over and above this will also be passed on to John and Mollie.

emirates777

If you feel inspired to say thank you to them in this way, please give it via Grace Church in the usual ways and mark it clearly so we know what it is. (And if you’re not part of our church and you’ve been blessed by John and Mollie and you also want to give to this, you can do it via our website here – and please send us a message so we know who you are and what it’s for)

Finally – be inspired by scripture

1 Timothy 5:17 says this,

“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour”

here is a great chance for us all to put that into practice.

Back from India – impacted by mercy

 

IMG_0497I’m pleased to report that Jo and I have returned safely from India this week after a great time with friends from some of our Commission churches. It was a very worthwhile trip and we will tell you more as time goes by. First though, we want to say thank you Grace Church for your prayers. It was a joy to be there and we remained healthy throughout, although it is monsoon season so we got very wet! I am trusting that we have been a blessing to our Indian friends; certainly the trip was a blessing for us.

 

Time with friends

IMG_5829

Sydney and Cheryl at the Gateway of India

Without going into too much detail, the first six days were spent with Sydney and Cheryl, based in Bandra in the south of Mumbai. Sydney is lead elder at Living Word Church, and it was our privilege to meet people from the church, making some new friends, and to spend time with some of the church leaders too. Sydney also invited me to speak at their two Sunday morning meetings. It was such a joy to be with Sydney and Cheryl again – they are great friends to us – and also to revisit this church which I have been to once before in 2014.

 

 

 

IMG_5947

Lunch with Jennifer and Praveen

In the middle of our trip we caught up with our friends Praveen and Jennifer. Praveen leads a church called ‘The Life’ which is also in Mumbai. As a church they do some incredible works among the poor in the slums, one of which we visited.

 

 

 

IMG_6139

Vinu and Julie

The final leg of our trip was spent with Vinu and Julie, based in Borivali in the north of Mumbai. Vinu is lead elder at Living Hope Church, and also leads the Commission churches in India. Once again we were privileged to make new friends, spending time with leaders and being invited to speak in various contexts, including at three different Sunday morning meetings. Vinu and Julie are already good friends, but this was the first time we have had the chance to visit the church.

13903170_10210758312737682_7687863385657367142_n

A thoroughly Indian experience

In addition to some excellent times with these friends and their churches, Jo and I also enjoyed seeing various tourist spots including the Gateway of India, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and the Khaneri Caves in the Sanjay Ghandi National Park. We enjoyed meals out and time with friends old and new, trying new foods and experiencing a different culture … and Jo enjoyed a fair amount of shopping too.

The most impacting thing

The most impacting thing for us though was the opportunity to visit some incredible works among the poor being run by some of these people. These works included:

  • The Krupa project – caring for abandoned elderly women in Nashik
  • The Chaiim project – rehabilitating female victims of human trafficking, rescued from sex work
  • The Raah street kids outreach – an incredible work to teach and feed street children
  • A project in the slums to provide nursery education and day care to slum children

I’ll write bit more about these projects in subsequent blogs, but I do want to write a few words about the Krupa project first.

Krupa

IMG_5905

Jo and Clara – and a Christmas Tree

This amazing work was set up by a woman called Clara, from the church in Nashik, to provide dignity and care for elderly women who have been abandoned by family and friends. This is the church where John and Molly from Grace Church were based for some years; it is a church they helped to plant with Sydney and Cheryl.

On the wall of the Krupa home are photo boards of some of the elderly women who have entered the home, listing their name, their date of arrival, their age and the day they died. These are women who had nothing. They have been rescued from begging, or from extreme poverty. Some have experienced violence or rape. One lady, who is both blind and deaf, had been left to live in a sewer pipe, surviving on food left by strangers.

The Krupa project has taken these women in and given them a bed and food. They are washed and cleaned. They are fed and clothed. Their hair is cleaned and freed from lice. They are loved and prayed for. Birthdays are celebrated. They are given the care and dignity they had been denied. This is God’s church in action!

I was struck by the joy and gratefulness these women showed. Most smiled; one sang for us; one just sat quietly on her bed and wanted to show us the small photo that she treasured of her dear friends from England – can you see who they are?

God’s church in action

It was certainly impactful for Jo and I to visit this project. It was inspiring to see God’s church in action, providing such direct love and care to people, and there may be some things we are able to do to help this project in the future – we will let you know.

One final thing I noted is what Sydney said to us afterwards, “These women are not all what we might call deserving.” Some of their life stories are certainly sad, yet others are somewhat mixed – but all have been abandoned and needed help and grace. In that way they are a just like us: none of us deserve God’s love or favour; all of us need grace.

Here is the church, showing the love of God to those in need. And Krupa is the perfect name for this project.

Krupa is a Hindi word that simply means “Mercy”

Compassion in the slums of Kenya: Trauma and Transformation

Returning from my trip to Kenya with Compassion has left me with a lot to process. I’m not a total newcomer to situations of poverty, and I’ve visited both slums and a refugee camp in the past, but what I saw in Mathare slum in Nairobi was well beyond my previous experiences. At a personal level I would sum the trip up in two words: ‘traumatic’ and ‘transforming’. I am still processing what I saw and heard.

One leader, returning from visiting a slum family, remarked that he felt like he had been on, “a walk through hell”. Entering the slums to visit people in their iron sheet and tarpaulin ‘homes’ gives a fresh perspective on life. (We were escorted by armed guards).

The Compassion Child Development Centre

The Compassion Child Development Centre, run by a local church based in the slum, is turning child sponsorships into real life action. They are doing a fantastic job putting their faith into action and transforming lives and families, but the issues they face daily are hard to think about.

 On one wall we spotted a poster that teaches children how to respond to rape:

Compassion Child Sponsorship | Mathare Nairobi Kenya | Steve Petch Blog

A friend asked a development centre worker about the poster, and we thought she replied, in a thick Kenyan accent,

17% of the girls growing up in the slum will be raped.”

Stunned we responded,

“Did you say seventeen percent?”

The worker replied,

“No! Not seventeen percent. It’s seventy percent. Seven Zero.”

I had to walk away and regain my composure at that point; just one of several occasions.

Trauma

That evening we heard testimonies from students who have graduated from the Compassion Leadership Development Programme and are now looking to be a blessing to their country and community. The final testimony was very moving. The young woman told us how her single mother had worked as a prostitute to provide for her and her sister; she told us about being homeless and sleeping in shop doorways and railway stations; and then she told us how she and her sister were sexually abused from 4 years old by an uncle who supplied food … and demanded to be paid.

Transformation

Compassion Child Sponsorship | Mathare Nairobi Kenya | Steve Petch BlogEnrolment in a Compassion Child Development Programme, with a sponsor from the USA, created a context for her whole family to be lifted out of extreme poverty. It also created a safe place where the abuse could be understood for what it was, and be disclosed to someone who could help. She told us how, when the centre taught them about STD’s, she realised what was wrong with herself and her sister. She was able to ask for help and both sisters were taken to a doctor and successfully treated. And now she has graduated from university. Trauma … and transformation.

Grace Church’s role in Compassion

Compassion Child Sponsorship | Mathare Nairobi Kenya | Steve Petch BlogAnd one more thing to add. As a church, between us so far, we have sponsored around 170 children in the Philippines. Seeing projects in action in Kenya, similar to the ones we support, was a great opportunity. Let’s keep up the sponsorship and the letter writing.

In a quiet moment I asked one of our Compassion representatives from the UK if this was the worst poverty she had seen. Worryingly she replied that the only place she had seen worse poverty was … the Philippines. Our trip there leaves in April 2018.

Let me know if you want to come and see not only the trauma, but also the transformation we are playing our part in achieving in that place.

Visiting a Compassion Child Survival Programme in Kenya

I’m writing this blog entry from Kenya.

As a church, for several years, we’ve funded a Child Survival Programme through Compassion in the Philippines. They send us regular news updates and you can check out what we do and what they say about it here.

Kenya Compassion Sponsorship and Child Survival Programme | Rift Valley Kenya | Steve Petch's Blog

Me in front of the Great Rift Valley, Kenya

Yesterday I visited one of these projects in action in Kenya. It’s not the actual project that we fund, but it’s delivering the same thing in a rural area of Africa. To say it was an emotional experience is to understate it.

Compassion’s Kenyan project

This project is currently helping 35 mothers and 36 babies (one had twins). 7 are single mothers. The others are not single, yet only 6 of the fathers are actively involved with their children.

The project is at full capacity

Kenya Compassion Sponsorship and Child Survival Programme | Steve Petch's Blog

Mothers from the project greeted us with singing on arrival

Since they started, maternal deaths have been reduced from a high rate to almost zero, and childhood deaths from preventable illnesses have fallen dramatically in this area too. These reductions are not just among the mothers receiving direct help, but among the wider community as mothers are urged to pass on to their friends some basic encouragements: have their baby at hospital and get your children vaccinated.

Local Church delivering Compassion

One thing that encouraged me was to see that the project is not being delivered by Compassion, but by a local church who they partner with. You won’t find a Compassion logo anywhere – just the local church in action, led by Pastor Paul. The whole community, people from all backgrounds, are being helped as this local church delivers good news to,

the neediest of the needy

Kenya Compassion Sponsorship and Child Survival Programme | Steve Petch's Blog

Enjoying baby cuddles

I enjoyed cuddling babies, eating Kenyan food and being sung too. I loved the incredible African dancing. I was amazed at the way they teach the mothers practical skills to help them earn money. I was inspired by their levels of faith. I was challenged to hear about how they select only the very worst situations to help and about how many others would benefit if they had the capacity. I was moved by the gratitude the project staff showed towards us for visiting them.

A home visit to one of the mothers from the project was even more challenging – to say that this home was poor was an understatement (you can see her and her children and home below). Three children … husband gone … the project has been a life saver here. The food growing here is from seed that the project provided too.

Kenya Compassion Sponsorship and Child Survival Programme | Steve Petch's Blog

A mother of three supported by Compassion

Kenya Compassion Sponsorship and Child Survival Programme | Steve Petch's Blog

The house she shares with her children

Against a backdrop of the incredibly beautiful Great Rift Valley, is the horror of some serious poverty.

And against the backdrop of this poverty is the incredible beauty of Jesus’ church being what she is called to be:

good news to the poor

And that’s what we are funding in the Philippines too, so let’s press on in faith. We are doing good.

And in 2018 some of us will be able to go and visit that project too.

Personally I wouldn’t miss that for the world.

A genuinely life-shaping experience of answered prayer

When I was 11 years old I was taken to a Christian concert by a relative. It was a fundraising event run in aid of a famine in Kenya. Half-way through the evening a video showed the situation in the country. It was shocking footage and sitting in the dark I was quietly moved. Afterwards, I overheard my concerned relative, who I guess had spotted a stray tear on my face, saying quietly to my mother that perhaps I was, ‘a bit too young’. At the time I believed they were wrong, and with hindsight I still believe that; we are never too young to start to care about the needs of others – especially the poor.

Following this event I had one prayer:

“I want to visit Kenya and do something for the poor.”

That prayer never went away.

Bottle-caps

Panda Pops trip to Kenya | Life changing tip an answer to prayer | Steve Petch BlogWhen I was a university student the Panda Pops company (remember them?) did a special offer: win a safari in Kenya. You had to find a bottle with a winning lid. I don’t know how much I spent on Panda Pops that year, but I know it was a lot. Every bottle was bought and opened with prayer and every lid examined. I even pulled empty bottles out of public rubbish bins and checked them. Surely this was God’s chance to let me go to Kenya! Surely he could see that!?! But I didn’t win, and to be fair, a safari was not the goal.

Only passports

My answer to prayer came via another route just a few weeks after the competition ended, but ten years after I had first started to pray. I was visiting a church with Jo (my fiancé then, wife now) and we ran into my old Sunday school teacher and her husband, now in retirement, who were also visiting the same church that week. After hugs and greetings she asked if we would come and visit them in our summer break, and we said, yes, – not understanding what they really meant.

It turned out they were using their retirement to work as missionaries with the poor in rural Kenya, and I remember her saying,

“I mean visit us in Kenya … we are able pay for everything … you just come … you only need your passports.”

Talk about an answer to prayer! It turned out they were in their last year in Kenya and wanted to use that year to connect young people to God’s mission to the world – and it worked; Jo and I had a life-changing trip.

1993: A life-changing trip

So in 1993, Jo and I stayed with them for several weeks in rural Kenya (no running water or electricity or toilets.) We spent time with local people in their mud hut homes. We led some Bible studies. Jo (vegetarian) almost managed to avoid eating goat. We kept pigeons off the roof (our water supply) with a catapult. We helped to vaccinate rural Masai children against polio. We learned to drink Chai (sweet tea) flavoured with rancid goats milk and charcoal. We visited a local medical clinic and with funding from our home church were able to pay to connect that clinic up to the newly established mains electricity supply and buy them a fridge to store medicines. I was able to give basic pharmaceutical advice to the clinic and to a local doctor (having just graduated). We even ended up with a quick safari at the end of the trip. And it was also in Kenya that I preached my first ever Sunday sermon and felt God calling me to that ministry.

Steve Petch's First Preach | Life changing tip an answer to prayer | Steve Petch Blog

The detail of God’s care

Jo and I went to Kenya genuinely expecting God to call us there, or somewhere similar, more permanently, but that didn’t happen. We came home and got normal jobs with a sense of surprise that God hadn’t spoken to us in that way. But he had spoken to us and shaped us in lots of other ways. Not least he had shown us that we have a Father in heaven who hears our prayers and gives us the desires of our hearts; the detail of God’s care is awesome.

This week I am in Kenya again, this time at the invitation of Compassion UK to see the work they do. We’ve done lots of things with Compassion as a church as part of our GraceWorks initiative. Next week I’ll let you know how I got on.