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Excerpts from our latest publication

From the minister

Is Your Life Sweet?

One of our more recent members is a Ugandan, an asylum seeker from Uganda. I won’t embarrass her by mentioning her name, but many of you will know who I mean. She is a regular attendee at services, and when she isn’t there, we all feel her absence. She has that quality that, as the cliché goes, “lights up the room.”

I spent some years in two African countries so I know that not everyone there is a light bulb of good energy. But I learned thirty years ago, when I made my first African friend, that we people of the Northern climes have much to learn about life and how to live it.

His name was Amos, and he and I were enrolled in a programme of subsistence level agriculture training for use in poor countries. The first day there we were assigned to work together hoeing a bean field on a hillside in Sussex. I was in my mid-thirties; Amos was ten years younger. Because he was actually from a Third World country, I expected him to be stronger and more skilful than I was. But as the day wore on and blisters appeared on my hands, I noticed that Amos was having as much difficulty with the work as I was. When the course trainer was out of sight, we leaned on our hoes and talked.

“I’m from Yaoundé,” he said apologetically. “The city. My hands are soft.”

“I’m from the USA,” I told him. “I bet mine are softer.”

As we learned how to make terraces on steep hillsides, plough with animals and memorised tables of proteins available in staple foodstuffs, he and I bonded. I was only a recent arrival in Britain and he was just off the plane from West Africa. He was my first African friend.

At first, Amos was popular with the other students in the small college. He was often seen with a crowd of admiring girls in the village tea shop. Everyone knew his name. But as the weather asserted itself, and the autumn rain clouds descended on gusts of freezing air, Amos seemed to turn inward. We Northerners assumed grim faces and buckled down. Closed but determined faces abounded. By January, after a Christmas spent nearly alone in a dormitory room, he started looking positively grey. In February, he stopped attending classes.

I saw him one day, carrying his lunch back to his room to eat alone. I stopped him and asked if anything was wrong.

“My life is not sweet,” he said. By March, he was gone.

That phrase stayed with me. Over time, I came to understand what he meant. To Amos, and, for all I know, everyone in Africa, life isn’t about accomplishing things. At least not principally. Life has a flavour, composed of the people and events around you, and not a little affected by the weather, the environment and the food. The highly-regimented lifestyle of the training programme, the cold weather and the tasteless food had amounted to an insuperable problem for Amos. His life was not sweet.

Even then, I might have been tempted to scoff, to say that sometimes things aren’t perfect and even imply that they’re not meant to be. Produce my American version of the stiff upper lip and dismiss Amos’ concerns as unworthy, maybe even a bit cowardly. But I’ve changed my mind.

Life - to be life - needs not just to be endured, but savoured.

- Art Lester

God's Days

There are two days in the week upon which and about which I never worry -- two carefree days kept sacredly free from fear and apprehension. One of these days is Yesterday. Yesterday, with its cares and frets and pains and aches, all its faults, its mistakes and blunders, has passed forever beyond my recall. It was mine; it is God's.

The other day that I do not worry about is Tomorrow. Tomorrow, with all its possible adversities, its burdens, its perils, its large promise and performance, its failures and mistakes, is as far beyond my mastery as its dead sister, Yesterday. Tomorrow is God's day; it will be mine.

There is left, then, for myself but one day in the week - Today. Any man can fight the battles of today. Any woman can carry the burdens of just one day; any man can resist the temptation of today. It is only when we willfully add the burdens of these two awful eternities - Yesterday and Tomorrow - such burdens as only the Mighty God can sustain - that we break down.

It isn't the experience of Today that drives men mad. It is the remorse of what happened Yesterday and fear of what Tomorrow might bring. These are God's Days ... Leave them to Him.

-- Robert J. Burdette

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