Sightseeing in Hyderabad

Since we were in Hyderabad for Taryn’s Thatha’s ninetieth birthday celebration, and we had a free morning, I thought we should go see some of Hyderabad’s sites! Hyderabad is the sixth most populous urban agglomeration in India, (isn’t ‘agglomeration’ a good word?), and with almost eight million people, it is about the size of London.

in-an-auto
We were staying on the OM site, on the opposite side of the city (technically in Secunderabad, not Hyderabad), so to get to the old city we had to take an auto for about an hour. Which brought back all the old memories of having to guess at what a fair price might be to go to a place you’ve never been before, and trying in vain to persaude the auto-wallah to just put on the meter and let you pay the standardised rate.

chaarminar
The Chaarminar (the name just means four (‘chaar’) minarets) is a beautiful building, but somehow in flicking through the tourist info I had been expecting something similar to Delhi’s enormous mosque the Jama Masjid. Which it is nothing at all like, nor was it ever intended to be. It’s pretty–but unfortunately my main impression was just how small it was, compared to the misinformed expectation that had formed in my mind.

We climbed half-way up one of the towers to the viewing platform, from which you could see the nearby Golkonda Fort. ‘Could we please go all the way to the top of one of the towers?’ I tried asking the guard. He shook his head, and pointed to the rusty padlock which ensured that inquisitive tourists would ascend no higher. Why not? ‘Suicide’. Well, in that case, fair enough, I suppose.

golkonda
We returned to the bustling street and finally found an auto that was willing to take us to Golkonda for a price we were willing to pay. As we traveled, we realized that if we were to make it back home in time for lunch (and we couldn’t be very late because we were getting the train back to Bangalore that afternoon), we could spend about two and a half minutes at the fort.

We decided to call it twenty, and make a swift tour of a place that was the polar opposite of Charminar’s petite perfectly preserved prettiness. Golkonda is a huge, sprawling ruin–and if we had had time to climb its ruggedly chiselled steps, then we would have been gifted a glorious view of Hyderabad’s old city. Unfortunately, no time for that! We didn’t waste too much time haggling with the auto driver home and arrived just in time to join everyone for lunch!

pio
Probably the thing that I enjoyed the most was that my Person of Indian Origin ID card (which I have by virtue of being married to Taryn) entitled me to pay the nominal five-rupee entrance fee for Indians, rather than the inflated foreign price. It slightly baffled the guys at the ticket booth–but it’s nice to feel like I’m a part of this country :)

Petworth_House

A week in Petworth

Our friends Tom and Alix were going away on holiday and asked if we would like to house-sit for them. And since Tom works for the National Trust, and they live in Petworth House‘s Cowman’s Cottage that meant a lovely little holiday for us–in the very week that Isaac was celebrating his birthday!

Petworth House is a magnificent seventeenth-century mansion surrounded by seven hundred acres of landscaped park. The House itself is a study in stately symmetry — its triple-deckered lines of long windows and speckled alabaster brick seem almost spare in their Classical simplicity in comparison to the sprawling Gothic turrets of Tyntesfield.

Within, the House overflows with the National Trust’s largest collection of art-works. The Gallery at the House’s North End is filled with marble sculptures and a bewildering array of painted landscapes, portraits, and scenes historical and mythological. But the artistic highlight of the house is not to be seen in the Gallery, but rather the ‘Carved Room’.

Here a visitor is met by the unflinching gaze of Henry VIII looking every inch the medieval monarch as he stands, hands on hips, in white stockings and a fur-lined black cape. His portrait is flanked on either side by two more full-length homages to Petworth’s aristocracy. Under each of these four accompanying portraits is positioned a luminescent Turner landscape, the skies of which glow golden with the captured light of their setting suns. And framing all these paintings, winding around them like some persistently creeping vine, are the carvings that give the room its name. The work of Grinling Gibbons, whose sole surviving portrait hangs inconspicuously in the corner of the room, the carvings are an elaborate reproduction of ripening fruit, blossoming flowers, musical instruments and heraldic insignia.

carved-room

Outside the house there is a fairly large garden (the ‘Pleasure Garden’) which you would walk through if you had driven to Petworth House and parked in the car park before beginning your visit (but since we were staying in the Cowman’s Cottage, this was not our experience). As well as the flowers, there are a couple of pieces of faux-Classical garden architectural ornament — an ‘Ionic Rotunda’ which provides both shelter from the weather and a pleasing view into the village beyond the garden’s walls, and a ‘Doric Temple’ adorned with a sentimental verse of poetry.

I describe the Garden only as ‘fairly large’ only because of the adjacent seven hundred acre landscaped Park, the geography of which has been very deliberately arranged for maximum viewing pleasure from the windows of the House. Indeed, two of the Turner paintings in the Carved Room are of the view that one would have if one were to be looking out of the window on the opposite side of the room. And apparently they were placed at precisely the right height so as to be at eye-level; the reason being that, in the days when the Room still functioned as a dining room, one could lose oneself in the beauty of Turner’s art without even having to glance upward from the conversation with whatever overbearingly dull visitor one was sat opposite.

The Lake, Petworth: Sunset, Fighting Bucks c.1829 Joseph Mallord William Turner

As the painting shows, the Park is home to what is, in fact, the largest herd of fallow deer in England. They are an impressive sight to behold, and well worth however long it takes you walking through the Park before you catch a glimpse of them. The walls of the Park are cleverly hidden behind trees to give the impression, at least until you get up close, that the Park is boundless and without limit, stretching eternally on.

Outside the walls of the Park lies the village of Petworth, whose charming air of matchless quaintness owes much to the thirty-some antique shops that have established themselves here. Here you can buy authentic antique furniture, 1920s Belgian chandeliers, elaborately engraved Victorian silver, military swords from last century’s world wars. Driving through the narrow streets of the village you will find the wealthy of South England puttering along in their fancy cars: an odd mixture of vintage automobiles and fancy sports-cars.

But even if all of this feels somewhat beyond you — I’m certainly not in the market for an antique mahogany dining table, and I don’t think I’ll be driving a Lamborghini anytime soon — there’s still plenty of amusement to be had in strolling into the different antique shops and asking what their most ancient item on sale is. When I asked the question they invariably didn’t have a clue, but generally gamely made something up, in an uncertain hope that in spite of appearances I might after all turn out to be a prospective customer. (And I did actually buy a Victorian milk jug — but that’s another story.)

So if you’ve never been to Petworth, I encourage you to visit! I’m certainly looking forward to the next excuse we have to stay chez Tom & Alix!

Seven Devon National Trust Gems

I just about managed to refrain from titling this piece ‘Seven Devon Glimpses of Heaven’. But you have to love the National Trust, and the beautiful places they steward for the enjoyment of generations still to come. On our recent retreat in Devon we became members and immediately managed — within just over a week — to squeeze in more than the value of our whole year’s membership!
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Watersmeet
watersmeet

After giving in to the possibility the NT tea-shop offered of scones, jam, clotted cream, and a steaming pot of tea, we walked along the East Lyn River to Lynmouth, then made the steep ascent to Lynton, before continuing along the coastal path towards the Valley of Rocks. We then made our way back to Watersmeet along the other side of the river.

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Killerton
killerton


Killerton is a funny peach-coloured building, which struck me as somewhat reminiscent of a Nilgiri Hills guesthouse (though obviously far grander). Apparently it was intended as a temporary residence, but the family never got round to actually building the neo-Gothic mansion that it was waiting for, and so it became their permanent home — until his conscientious socialist instincts led Sir Richard Acland to bequeathe it to the National Trust.

Upstairs the house houses an exhibition of fashion — focussed when we went on the theme of innovation, and full of fascinating titbits of information about the genesis of zips.

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Arlington Court
arlington-court


We arrived at Arlington Court less than two hours before closing time, and there’s such a lot to take in that we were forced to rush round with eyes agoggle. The house is a treasure trove of amusing artifacts, including a painting by William Blake and an apparently endless collection of minutely-detailed model ships — one of which was apparently given by the ship to the parish church that had committed to pray for it, as an aid to their intercession!

As well as this, the old stables now house the National Carriage Museum — which collection includes the magnificent State Coach that was used (from the late 17th Century until as recently as Princess Diana’s wedding) by the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Museum guidebook is actually available online, and is well worth at least a quick flick through.

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Knightshayes
knightshayes


We tried initially to squeeze Knightshayes into the same day as Killerton — an error that left us standing forlornly in the rain as we were told that we had arrived past the time that they allow the final visitors to the house to enter. We decided to return a few days later — an excellent decision that was well worth it. The house is full of story and character: there is a tiger-skin rug with the head still attached lying in one of the bedrooms; the elegant but inconsistent interior decoration testifies to the conflict of vision between the architect and the family; and there’s the great backstory of how the family fortune was made from the invention of a machine that revolutionised the production of lace, and when an actual Luddite rebellion destroyed his factory in Derbyshire and led the original Heathcote-Armory to move to Devon in search of a more peaceful existence, his factory workers made the journey on foot so that they could continue to work for him.

On top of all that, there’s a walled organic vegetable garden, with a little wood of pine trees behind it.

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Heddon Valley
heddon-valley

We parked next to Hunter’s Inn, and then walked down through Heddon Valley, up through the woods towards Woody Bay, and along the sheer coastal path beside a sparkling turquoise sea.

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Baggy Point
baggy-point


Our final afternoon in Devon, and we went for one last walk along the Devon coast — this time around Baggy Point. Not for us the Croyde beach — just one blast of the wind at Westward Ho! (the exclamation mark is part of that village’s name!) had convinced us that we weren’t interested in subjecting ourselves to the sea. Instead a final scenic stroll — except that the walk we were trying to do wasn’t as straightforward as I’d hoped (at least not without the instructions to hand), and after hopping over a couple of stone walls but deciding in the end not to put ourselves in the middle of a field of cows of uncertain disposition, we got back to the car just in time to make it to Jim and Mary’s for dinner.
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Tyntesfield
tyntesfield


Okay, this one isn’t actually in Devon. But since it’s situated conveniently midway between Barnstaple and Harpenden, we decided to stop for lunch at Tyntesfield : another fantastic masterpiece of a Victorian Gothic family home.

I think this would be the outstanding example of all the National Trust sites that we visited — but the problem with the final place that you visit is always that its glories begin to blur into the tangle of memories of exuberant architecture and perfected gardens.

Report: A Week @YWAM Herrnhut

We had a great time last year taking our DTS to Norway for the School of the Circuit Rider, and so this year were again trying to work out a similarly awesome opportunity to leave British shore for a first foray into the nations! So when at the YWAM Western European DTS Staff Gathering (hosted by the King’s Lodge in August) I connected with Ian Gosnell, leader of YWAM Herrnhut’s Revive DTS, and he mentioned to me that they were having Dan Baumann to come speak and we would be welcome to bring our team– needless to say, I seized the opportunity with joy!

ywamherrnhut

The Journey
Herrnhut is not a straightforward place to get to, particularly when you’re trying to do it as cheaply as possible. Travelling from Cambridge to almost anywhere in Europe is usually fairly simple, as budget flights go to most major European cities from London’s Stansted Airport, which is just a short train journey from Cambridge. But although getting to Berlin was quite easy, we then had to get the bus from Berlin to Dresden, and the train to Löbau, before finally being picked up by someone from YWAM Herrnhut who could take us the remaining distance to the ‘Water Castle’ which is now the YWAM Herrnhut training base. And since the buses from Berlin to Dresden don’t run through the night, and our flight arrived at Berlin Schonefeld Airport late in the evening, we had to spend the whole night in the airport trying to get whatever sleep we could. (Or, if you’re me, using the opportunity to at last write up some blog posts — about this, this, and that — and a prayer letter.)

To make matters even more interesting, every single time some official needed to check the non-European visas, there was great confusion about Taryn’s status. Now, on the VFS website for Germany visa applications it states simply that you don’t need a visa if you are a partner (married or civil partnership) or child of an EU/EEA/EFTA national, if you hold a British “Residence Card of a Family Member of an EEA National” or a “Permanent Residence Card” – and only if you are travelling together with the EU/EEA/EFTA national. And so we had concluded, ‘married to EU national–tick!’, ‘Permanent Residence Card–tick!’, ‘travelling together–tick!’ — and assumed there should be no problem. The first official to check our documentation was persuaded, although it did take her fifteen minutes of behind-the-scene consultation. The second official, checking our documents before we boarded the place to Berlin, was not persuaded at all–but eventually his superior told him to let us through, and we were given a gruff non-apology and allowed to board the plane.

Now, it might be that this second official was actually right, for when we arrived in Berlin and tried to go through immigration, again we were met with confusion. ‘It doesn’t say Married on your Residence Card!’ — ‘No, but we could only get it because we are married! and the spouse visa which it replaced is still in Taryn’s passport with both our names on it’. We were told to follow a stern-looking black-shirted official down an empty corridor, and taken into a little upstairs office. We were the object of impenetrable glances, and some debate. (Though whenever the official would catch Isaac’s eyes, his sternness would melt, and he’d give Isaac a little wave!) Eventually they concluded that if they gave us a free one-day Schengen visa, to cover the moment of Taryn’s entry into Germany, then it wouldn’t be a problem once she was actually in Germany. ‘But,’ and finally they found a copy of someone else’s British ‘Residence Card of a Family Member of an EEA National’, ‘next time you should have one of these’. It had taken an hour after everyone else had gone through immigration–but praise God that we were all let into Germany!

YWAM Herrnhut’s Castle
Anyway, at long last we arrived at YWAM Herrnhut’s ‘Castle’ — which you can see in my photo above. The ‘Castle’ might not have battlements, but it is surrounded by a twelve-foot ditch which was once a moat, and can house more than a hundred people. We were treated to the full story of how YWAM came to own the place from Toni Bragg, one of the original pioneers of YWAM Herrnhut, and now the Western European DTS Coordinator.

It’s an amazing story which started with just a few of them responding to God’s call to start a YWAM training location in the same place where Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians had maintained a one-hundred-year prayer vigil. They prayed and sought God for a permanent location–but the first place that seemed suitable was also being considered by a Charismatic group wanting to use it for a House of Prayer. So the little group of YWAMers gave that group their blessing (that place is now Jesus Haus, and there is a great relationship between them and YWAM Herrnhut) and continued seeking the Lord for a different place.

Their attention was drawn to the ‘Wasserschloss’ (‘Water-castle’) in Ruppersdorf, an enormous manor house that was being used by the Red Cross as a children’s home. The YWAMers approached them to ask if it was for sale; they were told ‘No’–YWAM could rent the place, but the Red Cross wanted to continue to own it. Again the YWAMers prayed, and this time the picture God gave them was the simple image of someone going into a shop and buying some milk. They received this in faith–God was going to make it possible for them to buy the building, and buy it outright! They went back to the directors of the Castle to tell them they weren’t interested in renting, they felt God had told them to buy the property. They were told its value was 2.1 million euros, but they could make an offer and it would be considered. The YWAMers went away and prayed again, and felt they should offer 230 thousand euros (less than an eighth of the suggested value!) Miraculously, this offer was accepted!–but even after having negotiated such a bargain, they still needed to raise 230,000 euros! The story continues with them praying, and pursuing various strategies to try and raise the money, none of which seemed to be working. Someone had offered an interest-free loan of the necessary amount, but going back to the word about buying ‘the milk’ outright, they felt that this wasn’t God’s plan, and so refused. Finally, less than a week before the deadline, a businessman gave about 200 thousand euros to them outright as a gift, and they were able to purchase the property! And the miracle stories continue, because then the place needed some renovation, as well as beds and mattresses for the DTS which was about to begin…

Dan Baumann–just another ordinary guy
I’d heard Dan Baumann speak in Harpenden, while we were staffing the September ’12 DTS there (this was Bethany‘s DTS), and so knew that it would be great for our Cambridge Revival & Reformation DTS to get to here his teaching.

He must have been in YWAM for about thirty years now, but he has a really youthful simplicity and enthusiasm to him. He is also one of the most laid-back people I’ve ever met, which combines in fascinating ways with his energetic excitement. He’ll be calmly recounting the details of one of his personal stories, and as he comes to the bit where God did something unexpected, his upper body will start rocking back and forth with increasing vigour–and then suddenly his eyes will blaze with fiery passion, and his mouth will explode into a delighted grin as he delivers the concluding point of his story:

“God wants to surprise you! He wants to BAM! you with His love!” [Tweet that.]

Dan’s ‘claim to fame’ is that he was imprisoned in Iran, and since the students of YWAM Herrnhut’s Revive DTS had already heard Dan share this story, he gave our team a special session talking about how that came about and what he learnt through it. But when you meet Dan in person, and when you hear his story, you realise that there’s nothing glamourous about him, and certainly not about his experience of being an imprisoned missionary. Yes, there’s the story of how, when he was eventually brought on trial, the Spirit suddenly gave him the words to proclaim that he had come to Iran to share the love of Jesus–and with that he launched into a passionate evangelistic appeal to those in the court-room gathered to accuse him. And there’s the story of him saying to prison guard who beat him each day, ‘Look, if we’re going to see each other every day, then let’s be friends! What’s your name?’ The guard broke down in tears; it turned out his name was Razak; and he wasn’t beaten by him again. And he emphasises the way that the experience taught him about how the goodness of God is present and accessible in every situation. But he does this without shying away from the hard reality of the experience: at times emotionally devastating (Dan almost committed suicide), at times mind-numbingly dull.

Above all, what I love about Dan is his ordinariness. He has been used by God in incredible ways–but in all of his testimonies God gets all the glory. And he manages this quite deliberately, by sharing not just his testimonies of divine success, but of personal failure. And I was struck during this particular week of teaching by the revelation that the incarnation of Jesus makes all the ordinariness of human life sacred.

The Moravian Heritage
The reason I had heard of Herrnhut, before I had even joined YWAM, was because of the hundred-year prayer vigil that took place here. I guess I came across it first in Pete Greig’s book Red Moon Rising. Among those involved in the contemporary prayer movement, it’s an epic and defining moment–but in the wider church Herrnhut and the Moravians are mostly unheard of.

It turns out that even within Germany the place is quite unknown. While we were waiting for Taryn’s immigration situation to be sorted out, one of the officials asked where we were going. ‘Herrnhut’, I told him. ‘Where?’ ‘Herrnhut!’ But he had no idea where that was–apparently he had never heard of Herrnhut.

What this makes all the more astonishing, is that the very first person that Taryn and I met in Germany (a man who struck up conversation with us while we were in the immigration queue), not only knew of Herrnhut but came from a family that was from Herrnhut. His father had been involved with the Herrnhutter BruderGemeine (Fellowship of Brethren), and had been forced to leave Herrnhut because he refused to cooperate with the Nazis. When the Nazis were defeated he had returned, only to find that life under the Soviets was just as difficult for a principled Christian, and so he had moved with his family to Berlin.

Once in Herrnhut it was arranged for our team to be given the tour of the Moravian heritage sites by a member of the local house of prayer. He told us the story of how the Moravian pietists, led by Christian David, first asked the aristocratic believer Count Zinzendorf if they could shelter on his land; then the story of how revival broke out when Zinzendorf challenged the Moravians to sort out their disputes and be reconciled to one another; and the story of how the children came together to pray for this wonderful tangible sense of God’s presence not to be withdrawn, and were praying so loudly that people in the neighbouring village were complaining about the noise. We saw the bell which was tolled whenever someone would leave Herrnhut as a missionary; we saw the graveyard and the simple flat square tombstones which mark the Herrhutters’ graves; we went up the watchtower which overlooks the whole area.

I had not realised before that the prayer watch wasn’t localised in a particular place, but that people would do their hour from home, or even while at work–for example as they were weaving. What this would look like in today’s world, where work is more often brain-work than manual labour? I also hadn’t realised how important handicraft was to the Moravians. Herrnhut was full of the distinctive Moravian stars, and it turns out that the Christingle so beloved by Anglicans was also a Moravian invention!

Coming home
We left YWAM Herrnhut on Saturday afternoon, and had a fairly straightforward car/train/bus journey to Berlin.

In Berlin I was able to taste the glories of the jam doughnuts which are a local speciality — the Ein Berliner made famous (or at least made known to me) by JFK’s speech expressing solidarity with the people of Berlin (which, contra Eddie Izzard, was perhaps not a gaffe). I was also given the chance, in the airport souvenir shop, to purchase a fragment of the Berlin wall. For fifty euros you can have a substantial slab, for five you only get a pathetic little piece.

But these two things made me realise how recently it was that all of East Germany was still behind the Iron Curtain and under Communist Rule. And now look! Where once there was persecution of Christians and intense suspicion of pretty much everybody, now YWAM has there most popular European training base, from whence people are going to share the love of Jesus with some of the most broken people in the neediest places on earth: kids living in the rubbish dumps of Addis Ababa, for one. Praise God for what he is doing!

The Places of my Pilgrimage

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I post this here in response to that frequent question Where are you from?

Being a pilgrim on this earth (as a Christian in general, and a missionary born of missionaries in particular) this simple enquiry turns out to have a surprisingly complex answer: I am a British citizen, was born in the Philippines, was mainly educated in Malaysia and India, and legally I am (by marriage) a ‘Person of Indian Origin‘. And I have had the privilege of travelling to thirty-one of the nations of the world.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For the full (perhaps boringly so) account, read on! And bear in mind that the countries aren’t necessarily precisely in the order in which I visited them.

world(Click here to see a map highlighting the places I’ve visited.)

Philippines
I was born in Manila in 1987, shortly following an attempted coup d’état. And it was here that I lived (with the exception of the year ’89-’90) until I was almost seven, and here also that my brother and sister were born.

So I grew up with tropical sunshine, coconut water, jeepneys, pancit, Bayang Magiliw — and basketball! It was here that I began my first years of formal education, first at an English-speaking nursery rather grandly called The Children’s House of Learning and Developmental Guidance, and then at the American missionary school Faith Academy.

England
Though born in the Philippines, I am nevertheless a British citizen since both my parents were born in England, and have never stopped thinking of the United Kingdom as their ‘home country’. Our habit was to go (back?) to Britain for every fifth year–a rhythm which some people call ‘furlough’, but we called ‘home assignment’–where we would primarily live in a quiet little village called Lindfield, where my parents own a house.

So I lived in England at age two (’89-’90), then again at age seven (’94-’95) when I went to Lindfield Infants’ School, and then again at age twelve (’99-’00) when I started secondary school at Oathall Community College. That was the last conventional year-long home assignment that my finally had, for once the examinations of my teenage years began, it was no longer convenient to completely change school for the odd year. So rather than a full year every five, our rhythm became an extended summer in Britain every couple of years. Specifically, in ’02 and ’04.

Only when I came to university in Cambridge in 2006 did England become a more permanent place of residence for me. And although I am still living in Cambridge, I don’t think I’ve ever actually spent more than a year remaining continuously within England!

Scotland
For the sake of maximising the number of nations I’ve been to, I will count the Home Nations of the United Kingdom separately, glad though I am that the UK is remaining united. My Dad grew up in Edinburgh (after being born in Newcastle, and living in Argentina!), and Charlotte Chapel continues to support my parents. Which of course meant that whenever our family was in the UK we would make a visit, and encounter an army of prayerful old ladies that would tell me how I’d grown and how they’d been praying for me. Praise God for the people who have prayed for me!

Singapore
In 1995 my parents joined the OMF leadership team, and so moved to the mission’s International Head Quarters (IHQ) in Singapore, where they were based until 2010. The mission had bought the site for the IHQ property decades before, when the island-city-state was much less developed (consider that the nation only became independent in 1965), and so we lived on a street of millionaire-owned mansions, with the incomparable Singapore Botanical Gardens literally just across the road.

In Singapore I learned to love ice kacang, chicken rice and char siew pao. In Singapore, my delight in natural beauty was spoiled (and cultivated) by the brilliance of not only the Singapore Zoo, but also the Jurong Bird Park and the Night Safari. In Singapore, I briefly tasted the joy of being a disciplined runner, training and competing with Swift Athletics Club (with some success!).

Malaysia
From 1995-’99, I was at primary school in Malaysia, as a boarder in the Cameron Highland’s Chefoo School. In certain circles I find that the response to my (ten!) years of boarding school is one of at least concerned sympathy if not horror — but the truth is that my years at Chefoo were incredibly joyful. It was like the Garden of Eden: a tropical garden where we lived in carefree childlike harmony and enjoyed the presence of God — but you had to beware of serpents slithering through the branches of the trees!

Apart from schooling, our family has holidayed a few times in Malaysia: climbing Gunung Kinabalu and visiting Penang Island. I’ve also had the chance to return on my own, and again later with Taryn.

Malaysia gave me the delights of roti canai, nasi lemak, and the beauty of the rainforest. It was in Malaysia that I got to go to the Commonwealth Games, I learnt what pewter is–and it was to Malaysia that I first flew without my parents.

India
From 2000-’06, I was at Hebron School in South India. I am incredibly grateful for my time there, as I was able to express when I returned a few years after graduating. Honestly, it take a while for me to learn to love India. But though it might not have happened instantly, it did eventually happen!

In some ways I feel like I didn’t really experience India until after I’d left Hebron — an international boarding school has its own unique culture (and accent!) that is quite different from that of the surrounding country.

But I returned to India for each summer after I left Hebron and went to university in England: to volunteer with an NGO working with drug addicts, to trek in the Himalayas, to research a potential dissertation. I may also have had ulterior motives that weren’t revealed on the travel grant applications: the first summer I asked Taryn out, the second if she would marry me, the third we had a public engagement ceremony, and the next summer we were married.

Coming back to India on my own also gave me the chance to begin trying to teach myself Hindi.

Thinking of India brings to mind a string of delicious dishes that I now feel I learned to love much too belatedly: chaat, idli, malabar parotha, chole bhature, butter chicken. And there’s the beauty of the country: the natural beauty of rugged Himalayan mountain peaks; the man-made beauty of perfectly crafted Indian architecture; the colourful chaos of the crowds of urban India.

I have been to several countries–but I think India is undeniably my favourite.

USA
I love America! I haven’t always–there’s a certain disdain for the USA that is ingrained into British culture. And though I didn’t mainly grow up in Britain I somehow picked this up. But I have repented of this!–and I am continually blessed by the amazing American people that I keep coming into contact with. I wouldn’t be where I am today were it not for my DTS leader John Peachey, my YWAM Cambridge leader Connie Taylor, and Chad Daniel, the evangelist who confronted me with the challenge to fully surrender my life to Christ — not to mention my old friend Will Tanner! And now that my brother has married Noelle, there’s even a family connection (as in fact there already was–my uncle Kevin is American).

I first went to the States (to the state of California, to be precise) for the Christmas holiday of 1995-96. (This was during my first year of school in Malaysia.) I was eight years old. My Dad was doing a doctorate at Fuller Seminary and so my parents were living in Pasadena. And for the two months that I spent there we were able to visit Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Seaworld.

I returned to the USA in 2009, again during a Christmas holiday. My parents had been invited to represent OMF at the Urbana student mission conference, and so our whole family’s expenses were covered to go! We spent a white Christmas in Chicago before heading down to the conference. It was a notable time for me for a number of reasons: Aradhna were leading worship, Mike Bickle (before I knew who he was) prayed for us via live video-stream, but particularly this was a time when my heart was broken for the unreached people groups of India. After the conference we went to Colorado, and our family was able to enjoy together the deepest snow I have ever experienced.

I again returned to America in 2013, for my brother’s wedding to Noelle Tobin. The Tobin family hails from Harrisonburg, Virginia, so Virginia was where we stayed. Firstly in a friend’s house in Harrisonburg–and then in a millionaire’s hunting cabin in a private hundred-acre wood inhabited by wandering deer and black bear! God bless America! Oh, and we managed to squeeze in a trip to Washington D.C. to see the Lincoln Memorial and the White House.

France
Je suis un francophile. I spent seven years learning French all through secondary school, and even after I went to university I initially (and over-ambitiously) attempted to squeeze in some bonus French lessons.

I first went to France with my family at the age of twelve, sometime in the spring of 2000. We went to Paris, saw the Mona Lisa, climbed the Eiffel Tower, and ate croissants. I wasn’t able to return until 2007, when I spent a few days with my Dad in Nice, walking the coastline, enjoying its scenic beauty, and attempting to practise my French with various marketplace vendeurs. And then recently the YWAM Western European Leaders Gathering gave me an excuse to visit Lyon–and once again to attempt to parler français.

I would love to be able to spend more time in France.

Taiwan
My memory of Taiwan is somewhat vague. I can’t even remember the year of my visit.

My parents were going to a conference and so decided to combine the event with a family holiday, for which we joined together with the Seiboth family. I remember beaches, games of Rummikub, and not being as adept with chopsticks as my brother.

I probably need to go again!

Indonesia
My family has been on holiday together to Indonesia twice. First to Bintan, which is less than an hour away from Singapore by motorized catamaran. Bintan is recommended by the Indonesian government as a tourist destination second only to Bali–although the truth is that our holiday there forever persuaded our family that we would rather go somewhere to do and see things, rather than ever again go to a mere tourist resort.

Then in 2007 we went to Java, which Lonely Planet calls “the most complex and culturally compelling island in Indonesia”. We drank Javanese coffee (and even better is the drinking chocolate), enjoyed Javanese dance–and before dawn on New Year’s Day we climbed the volcanically active Gunung Bromo.

Indonesia is awesome!

Cambodia
I visited Cambodia with my family–I can’t remember exactly when.

My Uncle Tim used to work in Cambodia defusing landmines, a fact which meant that I knew a little about Cambodia’s sad history under Pol Pot. We visited a land-mine museum while there.

And we also went to Angkor Wat, a stunningly preserved ancient ruin of a temple, and now a World Heritage site.

Portugal
Our family visited Portugal in the summer of 2002. We were back in the UK, and it turned out that some friends of my parents had a villa in Portugal near the sea. So we took the opportunity to take a cheap holiday in another country! And while we were there we went to see a bull-fight.

Spain
It was during that 2002 holiday in Portugal that we also popped across the border and visited Spain for an incredibly brief hour.

So I concede that I certainly need to return to Spain! But for the sake of numbering the countries I’ve been to, I include it here.

Thailand
I had gone to Thailand for a family holiday with my parents, my brother and my sister. We wanted to enjoy the beach, the delicious spicy food, the unique culture. But we were confronted by the tragic reality of the country’s all too visible sex industry–and had to leave the hotel we had initially booked ourselves into, because the night-time noise from the neighbouring room made it impossible to sleep.

I have some amazing friends from Thailand, and I pray to God that he would have mercy upon Thailand and pour out his Spirit in such a way as to bring transformation to the nation, and to all those who are in bondage to the lusts of the flesh and the bondage of Satan.

United Arab Emirates
I went to the UAE in the autumn of 2005, on a school football tour with our Hebron team.

We played some football but that seemed to be a lesser priority than us experiecing the overwhelming wonderful hospitality of some of the Hebronite parents resident in the UAE. We were given spending money to enjoy the world’s biggest shopping mall, we drove quad-bikes in the desert, and there was even belly-dancing (and to appreciate the strangeness of this, you have to understand that Hebron School doesn’t even allow dancing). And writing that now makes me ask questions which I didn’t ask on visiting–and a moment’s research reveals the less savoury side of Dubai’s economic prosperity.

Dubai is certainly “a city of contradictions: Muslim traditions mixed with capitalism on steroids”. Pray for Dubai.

Hong Kong
Our family visited Hong Kong in — I’m not sure — perhaps the Christmas holiday of 2002-’03? We stayed with some friends of my mother’s who lived up on the Peak. I think I’d expected it to be more like Singapore–an island-city made prosperous by trade and a former British colony. But I was surprised by how Chinese it was–and how challenging it was for us with only English to work out how to buy food.

Macau
While we were visiting Hong Kong we also visited Macau for a few days. My memory of Macau is vague. But I do remember that we saw the gravestone of Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China.

China
I visited China — Beijing, to be precise — with my family in the summer of 2005. We visited the Summer Palace, and we visited the Great Wall. I had, on a whim, died my hair black–and I remember my mother not being able to identify me among the Oriental crowds, used as she was to being able to single out her progeny by the sight of our blonde heads.

Vietnam
I visited Vietnam with my family in 2008–and so we were in Vietnam as their national football team became champions of South East Asia. We spent time in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), in Huế, and in Hanoi.

Australia
I went on holiday to Australia with my family during the Christmas holiday of 2004-’05.

We saw the Sydney Opera House, we went diving by the Great Barrier Reef, we went to Steve Irwin’s zoo, and we saw a lot of kangaroos (but no wild koalas).

It was while in Australia that I first read On The Road, a book which has no connection whatsoever to Australia.

Italy
I went on holiday to Italy with my family in the summer of 2004.

We visited Rome, Florence, and Venice. Somehow God timed it so that we were able to go to see the Palio in Siena, and to see Pope John-Paul II make an appearance in St Peter’s Square. We saw an overwhelming amount of Renaissance art (Michaelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo — and some other artists who didn’t share their names with Ninja Turtles), and we ate a lot of gelato.

Vatican City
The Vatican City is technically a separate state from the rest of Italy, and in fact is the smallest internationally-recognised independent state.

But the Sistine Chapel–wow!

Greece
I went on holiday to Greece with my family in the summer of 2007, after my first year of university. I’d just bought myself a digital SLR and so spent the time trying to take photos. We went to the ruins in Athens, we walked the Vikos Gorge, and we visited the cliff-side monasteries of Monastiki.

I remember being particularly fascinated by encountering Greek Orthodox Christianity for the first time.

Oh, and we discovered Greek salad! Feta cheese, olive oil–what’s not to love?

Egypt
My friend Jonny spent a year in Egypt as part of his Arabic degree. And so I decided to use the break between Lent and Easter terms to go and visit him. (This was in 2009).

We went to see the Pyramids, and we boated up the Nile towards Aswan. But the most significant part of the trip for me was visiting Mt Sinai.

Israel
As someone who grew up reading the Bible, the land of Israel has sometimes seemed more of a mythical place than a geographical reality. It wasn’t until university that I met a Jewish person.

That friendship led to me going with him to synagogue a few times, and celebrating the Shabbat meal — and also to praying for the Jewish people.

And that led to Inge inviting me to join her on a trip to Israel. Which invitation I joyfully accepted!

And so the two of us went on the most incredible journey around the country. We connected with Israeli believers as we went, praying with them and marvelling at their testimonies. We almost spent a night sleeping out with the scorpions of the Negev desert. We were evicted at gun-point (!!) from the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. We mourned at Yad Vashem’s Holocaust memorial.

Now I realise that any informed person thinking about Israel must also consider the plight of the Palestinian people. And I am aware that our trip didn’t engage with that question really at all. (But it was only a short trip). Nevertheless, the question of my attitude towards Israel was one I was seriously wrestling with–particularly in view of the obsession of many charismatic Christians with Israel. And on the trip God spoke to me, through the appointed Torah reading for one of the days that we were there. And the reading was this: How can I curse whom God has not cursed?

Ethiopia
Myself and Taryn went to Ethiopia with our DTS outreach team. We spent three weeks there, working with Ethiopia Arise. We had the chance to go and visit (and pray in!) the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. We were there for Ethopian Christmas–which is on a different date from Western Christmas, and involves a lot more slaughtered sheep!

I really enjoyed the music and the food, and would have loved to have had longer to get to know the country.

Rwanda
The rest of our DTS outreach was spent in Rwanda, where our team leader Immaculee is from. We spent most of the time at the amazing YWAM base in Kigali, but also had the chance to spend a week in the university city Butare.

Rwanda is a beautiful country that has suffered unimaginably. But o! how inspiring to see the way that Christians are rising up within the nation for a vision for reconciliation!

Wales
After our DTS outreach to Rwanda & Ethiopia, we needed a place to escape to for a few weeks of rest and recovery — especially as we were still coming to terms with what a full-time long-term commitment to YWAM would involve. Thanks be to God that we were invited by a family friend to stay in their holiday house on the coast of Wales.

It’s a pretty pink terraced house called Rhianfa, in a little village called Borth-y-Gest, right on the coast and just south of Snowdonia. Inside are bookshelves filled with books, and there’s an old Nintendo 64 in the living room. We spent lazy days reading PG Wodehouse, watching Downton Abbey, and playing Mario Kart. I went running along the coast, Taryn enjoyed the chance to write songs and play music. For us it was a sanctuary and a God-send.

And according to the guestbook, Vaughan Roberts sometimes spends time there too.

Norway
We took our first Revival & Reformation DTS team to Norway for a week of Circuit Riders training that was hosted by YWAM Grimerud. Beautiful skies, brown cheese, and swimming in icy-cold lakes — joy! And my great-grandfather was Norwegian.

Netherlands
I went via Amsterdam to a little village called Bleskensgraaf for the YWAM European Evangelists Consultation in October 2014. My impression then: The Netherlands is stunningly picturesque. Glistening canals everywhere. Flat and fertile fields stretching out into the wide horizon. Beautiful Dutch farmhouses with thatched roofs.

Germany
We took our Revival & Reformation DTS (’14-’15) to Herrnhut for a week, where we joined with YWAM Herrnhut‘s Revive DTS for a week of teaching from Dan Baumann. And we got to hear the story of the Moravian prayer movement in the very place that it all happened! What a privilege.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the full list of the places that I have been privileged to visit in the course of this pilgrimage through life!

Not At Wye? But Why?

Yesterday was Maundy Thursday, the day when the Church Catholic remembers the final Thursday before the crucifixion of Jesus, the day when he famously celebrated his Last Supper with his disciples, commanding them to forever more break bread in commemoration of his sufferings. And last night we had our supper not in the beautiful holiday house just south of the white-blanketed ridges of Snowdonia where we have spent our last week, but rather in Wye, where we are now staying with the Prescott grandparents. But our journey here was not without its share of complication. Nothing perhaps worthy of the word ‘suffering’ — not on this day when we remember that for our sake and for our salvation Jesus sweat drops of blood as he prepared to suffer as none before have. Regardless–my poor grandfather had to drive three times to Wye’s railway station in a persevering attempt to pick us up from the platform. But how were we so late (later, latest…) arriving at Wye? Well, here’s the ‘why’.

The journey from Porthmadog to Wye is a long one. At least it is by British standards–after spending consecutive days crossing the length of India, no train journey in the UK really seems that long. The official TrainLine mobile app claims that the quickest route involves five changes and seven hours forty-three minutes of travelling. In fact, unexpected work being done on the railway line meant that our train’s journey was adjusted and we were saved the trouble of having to change in an unpronounceable Welsh town on the way to Crewe. So we chugged our way through the Midlands to London Euston, and then hopped onto the Underground to get to St Pancras — as instructed by our hi-tech super-informative TrainLine mobile app. What it didn’t tell us was that the 1640 from St Pancras to Ashford is a highspeed train, into the rarefied carriages of which our lowly off-peak tickets will not allow us.

So we blindly sauntered our way up the stairs to the platform for the 1640, thinking that with three minutes to spare we had plenty of time–only to be told by an unsympathetic lady in a fluorescent yellow garment at the ticket barrier that we needed to go over to the man on our left and cough up the excess charge. It was only at this point as we stood in the slowly-moving queue into which we had been directed, that the insufficiency of our off-peak tickets began to dawn on us.

‘But surely there was some other way? Surely it wasn’t right that we be compelled to give up another ten sterling pounds just to climb aboard this particular train?’ The combination of the sloth of the queue and our lack of efficiently total conviction that we did indeed want to be subjected to this transaction was fatal — and as we stood debating with ourselves the 1640 high-speed train to Ashford International drew unflappably away from the platform.

Well, that settled it then. Why pay extra when you’re still going to have to wait another half hour? My trusty mobile app informed me that there was an alternative train to Wye from London Bridge at 1709, and my tightfisted optimism persuaded me that we would be able to make this train if we headed back on to the Underground–immediately!

Towards the Tube we walked then, now at a brisker pace for time was running out. But again the ticket barrier greeted us with an unexpected surprise–the problem this time with my off-peak ticket being that it had fallen out of my pocket! I shoved by rucksack across the barrier to my beloved wife and left Taryn standing on the other side of the gate while I went sprinting back whence we just came. And lo and behold! as I drew near the stairs towards the elite high-speed platform, there was an orange rectangle lying sweetly upon the floor. I reached down and picked it up: it was indeed my very own ticket to Wye. Back I rushed to Taryn and we sped our way down the escalators (God bless the stand-on-the-right legalism of the London Tube!) and onto the Northern Line, southbound.

For fifteen minutes we could do nothing but wait in nervous anticipation. Would we reach London Bridge in time for our 1709? Reaching the previous station with several minutes to spare, it seemd that we might. We stood at the doors, all set, and as soon as we arrived burst forth in a flurry of luggage and shoelaces, sprinting up staircases as we exploded from the depths of the metropolis Underground up towards sea level and the overground Railway. We raced forward towards the platform, not letting ourselves be deterred by the fact that not one but three trains were 1709 to somewhere, nor by the two rucksacks, one guitar, one (pink) travel bag, and one copy of the free Tube paper that had come into our possession. We surged past the other hapless commuters helplessly huffing towards trains of their own, and panting slightly emerged victorious onto the platform with the infallible station clock showing thirty seconds still to spare–

Only to find the platform empty.

‘Where–?’ we asked the railway man on the platform.

He pointed across the track to the platform opposite, where a train was just beginning to move slowly into the distance.

‘Oh.’

This meant we needed to get in touch with Grandpa, who had graciously promised to pick us up from the station, and tell him that we weren’t going to make it to Wye for our announced time of 1736, nor indeed for our courageously attempted backup plan of 1830. But could we get in touch? By mobile? By home telephone? By email? Apparently not. I mourned my failure to succeed at anything by purchasing us a couple of muffins from the platform coffee shop.

Forty-five minutes pass and the next train headed Kent-wards finally pulls up at the platform. And this one even goes straight to Wye, so we won’t have to change at Ashford! Every cloud has a silver wotsit and so on. Grandpa calls to say he’s seen our email and not to worry about leaving him lonely at the platform the first time round, he’ll be there to pick us up when we eventually arrive at ten past seven. All is well: we board the train, find some seats, and settle down to reap the benefit of having brought our free paper all this way.

There is a worrying lack of any ticket inspector and there don’t seem to be any announcements, but come 7pm and we arrive at Ashford International. So no trouble there then, just stand up and get ready to get off as soon as we reach Wye at ten past seven. My watch ticks towards the appointerd time, and the train seems to pause on its journey.

Have we reached our destination at long last?

No–outside there is nothing but blackness, and the doors will not let us out.

The train resumes its movement and immediately passes something which looks suspiciously like a platform. But surely we wouldn’t have passed Wye without being allowed to disembark? Minutes pass and slowly melt away our hopes that our next stop might be the one to which we are journeying. The sign at the next platform proves us right: ‘Chilham’ is the station after Wye. But still the doors won’t let us open them to get out–and finally it clicks, we need to be at the front of this train to get out onto the short village station platforms. We begin making our way forward along the train, deciding to get off at the next station and get the first train back. That station comes–and goes, for we are still not far enough along the train.

My phone rings. It’s Granny: ‘What’s happened?’ I try to explain. ‘What do you mean you didn’t get off at Wye? Why didn’t you get off at Wye?’ I try to tell them we’ll get the train back and call them when we’re once more on our way.

The train reaches Canterbury before we’re able to find a door that will let us out, but once there it’s a simple matter of crossing the track and waiting five minutes for the train heading in the opposite direction. When the train arrives I make sure to ask the conductor (who does appear, though he shows no interest in whether or not we have tickets) if these (I point) doors are indeed the right ones to get out at Wye.

He looks at me with a puzzled expression on his face and shakes his head.

What could be wrong this time? I think to myself.

‘It’s the door on the left, not the one on the right’.

That essential tip in hand we manage at long last to make our long-awaited arrival at Wye station, much to the delight of Grandpa, who is there for the third time to welcome us.

What tales do you have of travelling mayhem? Please share them!

Where I’ve Been

Apologies to all of you who have been devastatingly disappointed by my abject failure of these last few months to produce the promised blog-post per week — or indeed, any post at all. I here make public confession for the good I have not done (leaving the evil I have done for a more private situation), and announce my intention to attempt at a resumption of normal service.

For those of you interested in what I have been doing since my blogging attempts floundered somewhere in the second week of the DTS, I point you to Adam’s amazing video collage of the various sights that we saw on our outreach in India:


And for a more wordy (but still happily pictorial) recollection, here are the links to the official Outreach blog (which I wisely assigned to my wife, who is a more faithful blogger than myself):

Week 1: Land of Extremes

Weeks 2 & 4: It’s Obvious!

Weeks 5 & 6: Bengaluru Belatedly

Weeks 7 & 8: Cambridge Teachings & London Preachings

Week 9: Until We Meet Again

Enjoy!