September 2013

Dear Friends,

We’d seen the wedding photos before, but sat captivated once again as they passed before us on the laptop on our kitchen table, where the bride and groom, Michi and Glynis, were seated beside us.  The bride, Nancy’s niece, was stunning and her dress remarkable – the lower part an exquisitely made white sphere, the top, the neatest pale-green bodice, while the groom in long frock coat, lace cuffs and black calf stockings looked both elegant and radiant. The wedding was in the lovely Austrian spa town of Bad Ischl. It was a very beautiful day and Peter conducted the wedding.

Happy Austrian couple

Also watching the wedding photos with us were two very great friends from Yemen; Dr Sameera, who worked in the Christ Church medical clinic some years ago and her lovely daughter, Ghoson, herself newly-engaged to a friend in Yemen and currently over in Britain doing a placement in a dental practice near Bristol.

Dr Sameera enjoying the beach
Ghoson tries her hand at bread making

When we’d seen the wedding photographs, we asked after Ghoson’s brother – a gifted and popular singer, and in his songs, an often articulate and outspoken commentator on Yemen affairs. Ghoson then went online and in moments we were transported from pictures of laughter and beauty to carnage and grief – to pictures of a parade ground in Sanaa (Yemen’s capital) where a few months ago one hundred young servicemen were killed at their graduation ceremony by a suicide bomber. The contrast between what we had just been watching and now saw could not have been greater. Interspersed with pictures of the bloodied parade ground and a few dazed survivors, were clips of Ghoson’s brother singing a passionate lament for those killed, along with a haunting refrain asking what possessed the mind of the youngster who had killed them. It was the turn of the bride and groom – shocked and stunned to ask questions of the pictures now on the screen. They entered as readily into the grief and horror as Ghoson and her mother had moments before entered into their joy.

There was a significant wedding in Aden too a week ago, that of Dr Tahani, one of our two young lady eye surgeons and Ahmed Soufi, eye technician, also at the clinic. We would have loved to have been there though in reality only Nancy would have been allowed to attend. We were told that it was very happy, and today we have news that Peter Welby, who spent time with us in Aden as our volunteer, has just got engaged, which is great. His fiancée, Jen, is lovely. Nigel Dawkins, who with his wife Catherine were our successors in Aden has, we have also just learned, been appointed to a post as a Canon on the staff of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, which is very good news.

In Sanaa, a much more lawless place now than Aden, the National Dialogue edges along. It is due to present its findings in two weeks’ time and to deliver a new constitution for the country. Ghoson has some young friends who are participating in it. Invited to join as young, intelligent and articulate representatives of the South and its concerns, they have found themselves quietly assigned to a dull committee dealing with transport …Despite this and other disappointments, Ghoson and her friends still hold out some hope for the Dialogue, but her mother, none. However, we did not spend all our time discussing Yemeni politics. As both mother and daughter had expressed interest in riding a train we took a ride on the magnificent Welsh Highland Railway through Snowdonia and concluded the day sitting in heather overlooking the beautiful Cregennan lakes above our home here in Dolgellau. We listened to the lapping of the waves and watched the sun sink behind the hills. Asked how she was, Sameera replied, “Just too happy.” Cregennan is a far cry from Aden’s refugees with whom her life is largely caught up.

Heather grows in Wales too

Welsh Highland Railway

In the last newsletter we mentioned the conversations going on with others on the council of reference for Christ Church and the clinics, about the future of the work, and in particular of the finding of new good personnel for both. The correspondence between us has been lively and positive. One suggestion made by several was that we try to establish a working relationship with a Christian medical charity in the region. That is happening. Two months ago Peter was invited, along with Dr Edwin Martin, who is on the council, with his wife Peta, to attend in Beirut a conference sponsored by HOME (Health Outreach to the Middle East) a fine Christian Arab medical foundation involved in supporting work in, amongst other countries, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and interested in getting involved in Yemen also. It was an inspiring and moving occasion, though we English participants had forgotten just how enthusiastic Egyptians and others are for long, late-night meetings …

Two weeks ago a young lady doctor from Egypt, sponsored by HOME, went to start a month’s placement at the medical clinic at Christ Church. It looks like a most promising development for which we are very grateful. Also coming out of our council dialogue was the suggestion that clergy, ideally not westerners, from across the diocese consider going to do short stints of a few weeks in Aden to encourage both the congregation and our local medical staff. It was a suggestion taken up conscientiously by Bishop Michael, who wrote putting the need to all the clergy. Three have already expressed a warm interest in going at different times over the next six months, which is wonderful.

A few weeks ago Yemen and Al Qaeda got brief, very high-profile attention in the western media. It angered many Yemenis, who saw the situation very differently to the way it was presented by CNN or the BBC. A Yemeni journalist wrote, ‘For many Yemenis – hunger, a lack of electricity and water scarcity are urgent day to day concerns. More than ten million people, almost half the country’s population, do not have enough to eat. Al Qaeda is seen by most as an obsession of foreign governments; attacks on oil pipelines occur on an almost weekly basis. The travel-alerts announced for Yemen have been in effect for years and the country has long witnessed the capture of foreigners.

The English Yemen Times even had a semi-comic but nonetheless quite chilling article in it entitled, ‘How to Kidnap a Foreigner.’ You can read the article in full HERE. The journalist concludes, ‘While foreign embassies have a responsibility for their own security, Yemen’s international supporters need to demonstrate clearly their commitment to be mindful of the harmful effect, that some counter-terrorism measures, like extensive drone strikes and over-flights in particular, have on Yemeni public opinion, and on the vital peace talks on which Yemen’s hopes for long-term change, rest.

Yemen, not Wales

We have included photos of the wedding and of Wales and hope you do not mind. We are short of new ones from Aden but will take more when next we return, hopefully later in the year – and after a move to Reading, which should take place very soon.

One or two kind friends have asked how the book, ‘Yemen: Heartbreak & Hope’, is going. The Greenbelt festival requested 20 copies for their book tent and a local heating engineer has just popped in here to buy a copy. In short, it continues ‘to go’. Reviews, apart from a slightly ambivalent one in the Church Times, have been most enthusiastic, one reviewer, who we thought might be particularly critical, describing it as ‘brilliant and beautiful’. It’s never too late to order (from lulu.com) and Peter promises to promote it no more.

We end with an e-mail received this week from the visiting Egyptian doctor mentioned earlier. ‘I like the clinic team, and have started to feel like they are my family. Today I went to Tahani and Ahmed’s wedding. The bride was very beautiful, the other girls too, and I enjoyed my time with them. Mr Mansour is doing a great job. He has a nice lovely family, and I have spent time with Ruba (his daughter) and her cousins. The clinic is going well, it has a good reputation. I like my patients too and also the accommodation is very good. I am blessed to share in this work.’  – So are we.

With our love and very best wishes in Christ.

Peter and Nancy


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March 2008

Maggie Le Roy - visiting Christ Church Aden in Yemen

Maggie Le Roy

It was, she said, the most exciting journey in her life. The aged Peugeot estate was crammed. The road and dust were visible through the holes in the floor at her feet. Fumes from a tired muffler came into the car through them. The driver’s side window was largely obscured by an old T-shirt to shade him from the sun, and his vision from vehicles approaching on that side. Despite these handicaps and the almost unprecedented absence of a working horn, the journey from Ibb to Aden was managed without incident, which is more than could be said of our journey to Sanaa two days ago with Maggie le-Roy, the Diocesan Retreats Adviser, whose travels we have been describing.

It was Maggie’s second visit to us to lead a retreat and it was great. We shared a little of her disappointment that while twenty four appeared the first evening of the retreat, only fourteen remained till the next morning. But, there were good reasons for the fallout. Several could not get the day off; one person was taken ill, while another cheerful, loyal member of the congregation confided he found the ‘clay modelling and pebble collection too much’. Still, those who completed the course seemed well rewarded and very grateful, both for the teaching and the space for quiet that followed each session.

One friend from Kenya said she had been ‘holding on’ till the retreat. At the end she was radiant, which also had something to do with the signing of a peace agreement back home. Another participant from a Roman Catholic background told how Maggie had helped him merge attention to Scripture with use of extended quiet and reflection. Whether it’s retreats or conferences, it seems there is a good work to be done here serving foreigners across the country who need space, quiet and spiritual refreshment. Maggie is an unfussy, thoughtful and wonderfully encouraging teacher and retreat leader – and good company.

And in the last months we have not lacked for ‘company’! At Synod on Cyprus we reported we had had close to 900 ‘guest nights’ – nights of occupancy of the guest rooms. Recently some backpackers showed us our entry in an up to date German equivalent of the Lonely Planet Guide for Yemen. It was complementary and even stated that Christ Church is ‘a holy place’! At the time of writing, we have eight guests from Latin America, tomorrow a young American family. Nancy handles the bookings while Yerusalim, a lovely young Ethiopian mother looks after the rooms and the laundry.

Significant amongst recent visits to us was that of our new bishop – Michael and his wife Julia. It was their first visit to Aden and after a few days, Bishop Michael ventured that he thought the city Bishop Michael, Julia and doctors‘endearing’. Interestingly, another person, who visited last year and stayed much longer, pronounced it ‘a dump’. After nearly four years here we think it’s both and a bit more beside!

Little Ben on the hill near us, a smaller version of London’s Big Ben, is cute. The flaking the exterior of the Crescent Hotel with its high ceilings and shuttered windows where a very young Queen Elizabeth II once stayed a night is still lovely. The observant may spot a valiant Bedford truck hauling sacks of sugar from the port, and there’s a retired Morris Traveller that’s a backyard store for a building merchant near us.

Since being here, much has been tidied up in the city. There are pavements, effective street lights, clean main roads and a really attractive harbour side corniche. But off the main streets much remains squalid, scruffy and desperately poor. While the powerful and rich of Sanaa expropriate with impunity for themselves the prime sea view real estate to build villas, the poor scrabble to build cinder block or plywood huts on Aden’s bleak and precipitous crater slopes. An ‘endearing dump’ is perhaps not a bad description. With the Bishop and Julia, we viewed the port on a new pilot cutter, visited the work of the Sisters of Charity (Mother Teresa), admired the lonely beauty of the cemetery at Silent Valley and spent time with the local staff and members of the congregation. We seemed do a lot of eating too. It was touching to see how quickly and warmly the staff took to Bishop Michael and Julia. Michael, they feel, is their bishop too – a little like a sheikh.

Bishop Michael meets the congregation of Christ Church Aden in YemenAfter meeting people and reviewing the work here, Bishop Michael, who is a good listener and keen observer said he thought it was ‘precious’, not in a negative sense of delicate or pampered, but rather in the sense of something valuable, unique and to be cherished. We were glad.

While he was here we discussed some of the pressure points and needs of the work, amongst them – and long overdue – the need for a consultative medical council, an overall medical director and more. During his visit, we found ourselves approached by a delegation from the Canadian Embassy, who enthusiastically approved our medical clinic as the centre in Yemen for processing medically all those persons accepted here for resettlement in Canada. And this week we hope to formalise an arrangement with the UNHCR to test the eyes of children in the two refugee camps, and when necessary to operate on them.

We did manage a day’s outing to Taiz with Michael and Julia, stopping on the way in the refugee camp of Basateen to meet with forty or more of the 120 Somali fishermen, whose enormous overdue wage claim we are trying hard to settle. Sadly, those who should be championing their case locally seem either unwilling or impotent to help, while the fishermen and their families grow daily more desperate. They have a terribly touching trust in the ability of ‘the church’ to resolve their problem. All are, of course, Muslim.

Involvement in this as in similar cases previously, carries the risk of intimidations and threats but that is part of the course. So does handling people coming through our gates, as they do, enquiring about the Christian faith. We try our best to deal with them openly, honestly and wisely. It seems we are called to this rather exposed way of being. It is perhaps something of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant when from prison he famously wrote, “we must embrace … this worldliness, abandoning any attempt to make something of oneself … By ‘this worldliness’ I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God …

I mentioned at the outset our journey back to Sanaa with Maggie le-Roy. We were also accompanied by Pete, our volunteer, and Gabriel, a great friend of our son Tim. Peter and Gabriel from Christ Church AdenGabriel had just come out to visit us. An hour and a half into the journey, on a steady incline between very bleak rugged hills, we fell in the hands of a small group of about fifteen well armed, Yemeni tribesmen. They had partially blocked the road and indicated that we should pull over and stop. Up until this point we had, as on many journeys, been accompanied by a blue and white Yemeni police patrol car with flashing lights and feeble siren. On seeing our predicament it turned and bolted. The senior tribesman promptly unshouldered his Kalashnikov and prepared to fire after it. He didn’t, but the driver, seeing him in his mirror wove back and forth furiously hoping to avoid any bullets, at the same time managing to throw one of his fellow policemen from the vehicle into the road with the action. It was an unnerving moment. A little later we were reminded not to move and the little armed group proceeded to inspect and process the passing traffic. From time to time they waved or shouted to their fellows posted strategically on ledges or in crevices in the overlooking hills.

Nancy's SketchMeanwhile, volunteer Pete resumed his reading of an old volume on American democracy; Maggie rigged a sun shield in the front window of the car; Gabriel read his apportioned Bible reading; I tried to be friendly to our ‘detainers’ and Nancy sketched the view through her window. After a while a Russian Embassy pickup was pulled over and told to park in front of us. Then, about an hour after it all began, it ended with a flourish as several police cars summoned, we think, by our fleeing policemen, appeared. Out of them burst two enormous officers who took the tribesmen aside and gently ticked them off – and waved us back onto the road to Sanaa. We still do not know what it was all about. Two days later we passed through the original check point where we had picked up the police escort. We were greeted enthusiastically. There was no explanation of what had happened nor apology for our sudden abandonment. ‘Smile,’ beamed the sergeant, ‘you’re in Yemen.’ We did.

With our warmest thanks for your support, interest and encouragement and very best wishes in Christ

Peter & Nancy

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Yemen - Heartbreak and Hope by Peter Crooks

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