As we “Chilexited” Britain on 22 February, Hilary and I gave mighty thanks to God for all we had seen, experienced and shared with you, our friends and loved ones in the UK. We had come early this year – our scheduling, originally, had been for the glorious May- July period when England is at its most beautiful – on account of my dear mother’s health, as well as important developments in Chile during 2017 for which we felt we should be present. We also wanted to be back for the birth of our fifth grandchild, Melanie and Alan’s son in June (we now know it’s a boy!).
When we arrived, just before Christmas, we were both coming off recent operations – Hilary with a hysterectomy and I with a stent in my heart! Nevertheless, our journey permitted a day in Rome to explore the Vatican Gardens and we then met with one of the Vatican’s top faith and science theologians, the Rev Paul Haffner. Following this, we then went off to Broxbourne where our son Jahnn and his wife Ara are ministering at St Augustine’s. The vicar, Charles Hudson, had invited us to preach over the four Christmas services, so dressed with all my bishop’s finery we ministered Chilean style.
We were very surprised at the response! One thousand, two hundred people attended and 280 raised hands or received a leaflet that indicated they had said a prayer asking Christ into their lives and would like further help in this. The church started an Alpha course with over 50 people shortly after that. So this was a huge blessing as we entered Britain, finding a nation getting on its feet again, despite the divisions engendered over Europe, and spiritually open like we hadn’t experienced in years.
Due to arriving early, we were able to see my mother Winnie on five occasions (twice with Jahnn and Ara) as she lay at home very weak and sick having returned from hospital. She died on February 2, while we were attending a Church Mission Society conference in Northampton, but she was with Terry and Pancha (Hilary’s brother and my sister).
Some of you may know of the heartache that we all felt following Pancha being shunned by my Jehovah’s Witness family (described as “disfellowshipping”). However, under God’s good hand, she was able to attend the funeral together with dear cousins of ours, Derek Cooper and Gill Page, who travelled miles to accompany us and particularly be with Pancha. We can´t say that it was all easy, but at least we were able to say goodbye to mum together as a family. She never embraced Christ as we know him from Scripture, but we trust her into the loving hands of Jehovah himself.
Glimpsing life in UK churches was exciting and abundant. We only had time to visit some of our link churches – All Saints Woodford Wells, All Saints Sidmouth, St Mary’s Wootton, St Andrew’s Chorleywood, St Giles Northampton – as well as a preparatory visit to Crossroads in Seaton. They were backing our evangelistic visit to Ometepe, Nicaragua, with José Henriquez, one of the 33 miners with whom we have travelled much. Wherever we went, we found huge interest and obvious opportunities for evangelism, leading people to Christ. In one dramatic moment after a sermon, we saw a young lady rushing forward claiming a demon was manifesting in her and needing liberation. She was right and was later very free indeed!
At St Mary’s Wootton, the vicar Peter Ackroyd asked me to minister the confirmations. It was an interesting process to navigate the Church of England episcopacy (especially since, at first, the Diocese of Chile could not find the records of my ordination back in 1977 and 1978!) in order to gain permission, but finally all was in order and the green light was given.
We wonder if a Chilean-born bishop has ever celebrated confirmations in the Church of England? We had a mightily blessed evening where even the vicar’s sons were confirmed! Our grateful thanks to Bishop Alan of St Alban´s for this enormous honour and joy!
Our other link churches were as supportive and loving as ever and expressed glee on hearing that we will remain CMS mission partners for some time.
Next year could see me begin a PhD at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, which would ensure yearly visits to the UK and our many churches who we didn’t get the chance to visit this time. Like ourselves, many of our UK friends are approaching retirement, have stents and are looking for the next generation to replace them!
We were invited here by Dick Bell (OBE) who, after years of agricultural work, felt as a Christian that he would like the island’s inhabitants to have the opportunity to meet Christ. The name Ometepe means “Paradise of peace”, and as José Henriquez and I went around its 120 sq. kilometres, we meet many young school children praying to receive Christ.
As well as the daily school visits (two to four primary and secondary schools a day), there were an additional five nights in stadiums, bull rings and open parks where we held Acts 8 style gospel and prayer meetings. At each one, José gave his testimony and I then preached for about 45 minutes before we went into ministry time. We are praying the whole island will be affected and changed by Christ.
In line with most church canons around the world, ours declare that I must retire at around the age of 65. We are already a few years overdue, so our church is now actively seeking a person who will replace us. As you know, in many ways La Trinidad church supports a great deal of the rhythm and life of both the area and the diocese.
As we travelled around the UK, we talked of 33 fantastically blessed and fruitful years. During this time, 10 churches and missions have been planted (La Reina, Cantagallo, Vitacura, Peñalolén, Calera de Tango, Iglesia Centro, Rancagua, Ciudad del valle, Pirque, Algarrobo), with 10 full-time missionaries (in India, Ireland, UK, Brazil, Portugal, three in USA and three in Iquique – a coastal city in Northern Chile, to the west of the Atacama Desert), and several ordinands in the field today (and many other part timers with YWAM, etc), we felt that the moment really has come now to hand over the work of our beloved church. We are praying ardently that the right person be called.
Of course, we have a good few years ahead still with our episcopal ministry, which is rapidly turning into a church planting ministry, and we would be around to back the church in any way that was appropriate. The idea of applying to the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies would take us away for the first few months in 2018 so that the church can develop and grow in its new path under new management! Please pray about this process, as it is very vital that we get it right.
Home at last!
Although our return home was a great blessing, it only lasted two weeks before I travelled to Ometepe. We rejoice to have Ryan, Marianne and their children with us as they explore future moves. Pray for them in such times of decision. And then, as we already shared above, Melanie and Alan are expecting their first baby boy! Roll on June!
Mark and Danny are at this very moment arriving and beginning a UK tour together with Jahnn and Ara while on holiday. They are also looking to their future to see how they are led in the service of the Lord.
So we feel suddenly that we will have one foot on either side of the Atlantic over the next few years. While the Oxford studies only require us being there for six weeks a year, we would like that to stretch to a few months so that we can visit you all!