April 2013

Dear Friends

Steamer Point and Little BenIn 1997 Britain relinquished its control of Hong Kong. I remember watching the handover ceremony on television. The last Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, stood with his family in driving rain as he and others sang the hymn, ‘The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended.’ It seemed, with its line, ‘earth’s proud empires pass away,’ a poignant, brave and apposite choice.

I thought of that hymn again when we were back in Aden this past month. But it was another line of the hymn that came there to mind: ‘The voice of prayer is never silent’. In Aden we awoke most mornings before dawn with the call to prayer from our neighbourhood mosque – after which we sometimes went back to sleep but sometimes did not.

We managed on this visit to swim at least once a week at Elephant Bay, mostly in the late afternoon when it was cooler. There were often little silver fish leaping in the shallows. We drove ourselves to the beach and to other places in town, something we’d not felt it wise to do on our other recent visits.

We usually returned home after swimming at dusk, often forgetting until too late, and after we had sounded our horn or rung the gate bell for entry to the courtyard, that whoever was on guard duty – Ahmed, Bashir or Mohammed – would then be at prayer. If the young guards resented this Gashu and little patientsinterruption they never showed it and quickly appeared – in uniform, but barefooted and with sleeves and trousers rolled up from doing their ablutions – smiling.

Sometimes we wanted to go out at this time, and then we would wait and watch quietly one or other of our young friends kneeling at prayer – unobtrusive, utterly absorbed and quite unselfconscious.

With the opening affirmations of the Muslim call to prayer – ‘God is great … and there is no god but God’ – Christians would surely readily concur. On this, the late Bishop Kenneth Cragg once astutely wrote, ‘Islam rejects the idols to affirm the Unity. Seeing that idolatries of various and devious kinds remain the besetting evil of contemporary society everywhere, this staunch insistence of Islam on the reality of God speaks vitally to our condition.’ (From Mohammed and the Christian)

Every working day at the clinics begins with prayer in the church. There, the Christian members of staff, now just six, meet for fifteen or twenty minutes before the clinics open, something respected and appreciated by our Muslim colleagues, some of whom are not shy to ask if we might Good Friday service in the gardenremember them, their families or their friends in our prayers.

Then, on Thursday afternoons, the Ethiopian congregation come to worship – about thirty in all – men, women and children. All are refugees. Some, like Gashu and Elyas, who are on our staff and greatly valued, have made Yemen their home. Others, more recently arrived – and Ethiopian arrivals to Yemen’s shores now far outnumber the Somali – hope to slip through the border to Saudi Arabia to find work there, and some still dream of getting to Europe. Relatively few of the congregation have regular jobs, but all come smartly-dressed to worship – many appearing an hour or more before the service begins (and some an hour afterwards!) Those who come early kneel or prostrate themselves to pray and the church is filled with fervent murmurings, sighs and the occasional sudden outburst of praise. With these – the voice of prayer is never silent, ‘nor dies the strain of praise away.’

Nancy arranging flowers (plastic)Twice in our now long association with Christ Church we have found ourselves suddenly and unexpectedly unable to share Easter with the congregation. It was therefore a very great joy to share the feast with them this time, and the memory will long linger in our minds.

We met before dawn in the sanctuary, transformed as best as we could with our potted, but freshly washed plastic trees and flowers, and branches of real bougainvillea into the garden of resurrection, where Yasmin from Colombia acted out the role of Mary and Rex from the Philippines that of Jesus. It was very moving and both played their parts very beautifully. Afterwards, we sang a stirring Easter hymn, and after the hymn the congregation took over: The Pakistani family, dressed all in white, sang hauntingly in Urdu; Yasmin prayed long in Spanish, “Señor, Señor …” There were tears of joy. Gashu made his contribution in Amharic. The simple but carefully prepared ‘liturgy’ in English was laid aside. Later, as the sun rose through the lovely Yemeni stained-glass windows of the church, Rex launched into a vibrant song, “He’s not dead, he’s alive… I can feel it all over me!” And there were great actions to go with the words. Afterwards we shared breakfast together – coffee, hot rolls and scrambled egg withDr John and staff afloat chillies and ginger.

Yesterday was Friday and those whom we were with then, and perhaps a few others, will have met as they meet every Friday, to worship.

The voice of prayer is rarely silent, ‘nor dies the strain of praise away’. The ‘Aden Project’ was conceived in prayer – is sustained by prayer – and at this moment of modest hopefulness in the life of the nation, and of opportunity for wider service to its people through the church and the clinics, we continue to value greatly your prayers for Yemen and for Christ Church.

With love in Christ

Peter and Nancy

Yemen - Heartbreak and Hope by Peter CrooksYou can purchase copies of Peter’s book

“Yemen: Heartbreak and Hope”

online HERE.

Price $14.45

March 2013

Dear Friends

Looking towards Dolgellau from Cader Idris

Dolgellau, the little town where we live in north Wales is beautiful but remote, and some days the internet connection is very temperamental. We are six hours’ drive from London and two from Liverpool. The Welsh language is widely spoken and when Wales beat Scotland last week in the rugby there was great rejoicing.

In this context it has been interesting to have a number of conversations with local friends recently, all of whom were asking about Yemen. One asked how long it takes to drive from Aden to the capital, Sanaa, another wanted to know if I had ever taken qat, the nation’s mild narcotic, which is chewed by most of the population on most days, while another expressed astonishment on discovering that Egypt under President Nasser lost thousands of military personnel in fighting in Yemen in the 1960s.

None of those people whose observations and questions I have quoted have been taking evening classes in Middle Eastern studies, but all, to our delight, have been reading Peter’s book, ‘Yemen Heartbreak and Hope’. We hope it will inspire further interest in the country. By popular request we even had a book party at home for people reluctant to order on line, or, more likely, eager for a warm log fire and a bowl of Nancy’s onion soup.

The party lasted all day. Some present asked for a reading from the book, which was refused, but a moment later, recalling recent e-mails, we found the following which we did read. It moved us and our friends deeply. We had had no previous contact with Graham, who sent it. It was addressed to, ‘Chaplain’, and entitled, ‘Memories’.

‘Just a line to let you know that in the now-distant past I probably owe my life to the clergy and congregation of the church: I went through a very traumatic time following an incident ‘up country’ during the RADFAN operations in Dhala. An Air Force colleague, who had become a great friend, was killed by a sniper and died in my arms. I somehow blamed myself. If it had not been for the love, help and prayers of Christ Church, I may have ended my life at that time. That was 1964 and I am still here in 2013. Thank you all and I thank God for your strength. God be with you all.’

Yemen has been through many convulsions and wars since the writer’s time there, but thankfully is faring rather better than other countries of the region just now. The leader of Tunisia’s main opposition party was recently assassinated and reform has stalled; in Egypt strident opposition grows towards its President, and Syria descends into ever greater misery and carnage as the world watches and wrings its hands.

And Yemen? The following comes from The Washington Post:

‘A year after former President, Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down in a deal brokered by the US and Yemen’s Arab neighbours, the country’s three most influential families continue to cast a shadow over the political transition. Unlike the leaders of other nations altered by the Arab Spring, Yemen’s elites were neither jailed nor exiled. They have remained inside the country, free to operate as they will… But the elites’ lingering influence has also impeded Yemen’s progress, say activists, analysts and western diplomats.

“We don’t want to be pulled back to the past and its conflicts,” said Yemeni journalist and human rights activist, Tawakkol Karman, joint-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize….

a long delayed national conference on Yemen’s future, including a draft constitution, is due on 20 March. Rumours suggest ex-President Saleh is packing it with his own supporters while groups critical of the political progress, such as the southern separatists, are threatening to stay away….’

Meanwhile, in Aden this week and next, the redoubtable Dr John Sandford Smith of Leicester is back operating in the Ras Morbat Eye Department at Christ Church. He will be joined next week by the able and delightful Dr Adel from Egypt. Together they will operate and continue the training of the two local eye doctors, Tahani and Randa.

In February we were invited to attend the Diocesan Synod in Cyprus. It was a very happy, constructive and hopeful occasion. It was good to catch up on news of congregations from Baghdad to Paphos, and we were grateful for the thoughtful and continued interest of many in the work in Aden. Afterwards we spent a few days at the Diocesan Retreat House of Katafiyio. It was wonderful.

Last week we received an intriguing request from the office at Christ Church, for ‘dog drug’. We asked for clarification and have purchased some boxes of Frontline to keep (we hope) ticks off the two guard dogs. They are already packed in our bags for our return to Aden in a few days’ time.

We look forward to being back with friends and colleagues, and especially to celebrating Easter among them. ‘No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life; Life is nought without thee: aid us in our strife.’

Thank you so much for your interest, your support and your prayers. We wish you too, a joyful Easter full of strength and hope

With much love in Christ

Peter and Nancy

Yemen - Heartbreak and Hope by Peter CrooksYou can purchase copies of Peter’s book

“Yemen: Heartbreak and Hope”

online HERE.

Price $14.45

The Installation of Patriarch Ibrahim in Egypt

Dear Friends,

The following came through to us a few days ago. It seemed timely, topical and very heartening, and we thought you would appreciate it.

Best wishes
Peter and Nancy

The following is reproduced from the Bible Society of Egypt e-Newsletter dated 13 March 2013

Yesterday a new Patriarch for the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt was installed.

New Catholic Patriarch Installed

Following his ordination, Patriarch Ibrahim shared that upon his election to this task, he had chosen II Corinthians 5:18 as the theme of his ministry: “He has given us the ministry of reconciliation”. It was a very encouraging beginning as this young leader explained that his call is to help people be reconciled with God, with man and with society. The Catholic Church in Egypt, though small in number, has tremendous impact through its schools and extensive social service program for Christians and Muslims across the nation.

Many church leaders attended, including Pope Tawadros of the Orthodox Church. Half way through the event the audience was stunned when the newly elected Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros, walked in with five Coptic Orthodox Bishops. Never in the history of Egypt has an Orthodox Pope attended the installation of a Catholic Patriarch. The mainly Catholic audience was hysterical; clapping, cheering and weeping for joy at this historical unprecedented gesture of good will by the leader of the majority church in Egypt.

At a time when Egyptian Christians are extremely discouraged by the fundamentalist Muslim leadership of the nation and feel marginalized and threatened, it was wonderful for two of the key leaders of the Egyptian Church to express their solidarity for one another and share a common vision for effective witness and the co-existence of all in Egypt.

In his moving address, Pope Tawadros congratulated the Catholic Church for the appointment of the new Patriarch and affirmed his solidarity with them at this time. Over the years there has been much tension between the Orthodox Church in Egypt and Catholics and Protestants who feel disregarded or even snubbed by that church. But yesterday was proof that the new leader of the Orthodox Church in Egypt is intent on reversing this trend. As a Bible Society we were delighted that Patriarch Ibrahim wrote an Introduction to the Gospel of John which we had specially printed for that occasion and which was distributed to everyone in the church including all the Government and Army officials and the political party leaders in attendance.

So as you continue to hear bad news from Egypt in the media, please be reassured that God is still at work in this country. There are committed, creative and bold leaders in our churches who are determined to continue to witness for Jesus Christ and to remain in this country as faithful citizens and devoted followers of their Lord. Our context reminds us of the people of God exiled in Babylon being exhorted by the Prophet Jeremiah “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7).

With thanks to God and much praise,

Ramez Atallah, General Director, Bible Society of Egypt
Ramez Atallah
General Director
Bible Society of Egypt
Copyright © Bible Society of Egypt, 2013  All rights reserved.

December 2012

Dear Friends

Long ago when the great temples to the gods in Rome and Athens were busy, and sacrifices were still being offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, caravans of up to a thousand camels regularly set out from Yemen (Sheba of the Old Testament) to satisfy their need for frankincense. Yemen still exports frankincense but not in those quantities.

The long-suffering prophet Jeremiah once rebuked his listeners for bringing “frankincense of Sheba” to God, while rejecting his teaching. The revered and much-loved late Bishop Kenneth Cragg used this outburst of Jeremiah’s as the cue for a Christmas poem. In it he suggests the frankincense of the manger was from Yemen – perhaps its bearer too.

In Bethlehem where wisdom dwelt
To grace the earth,
Some strange attraction Sheba felt
At Jesus’ birth
The bush that burns on altars shyly knelt.

Two days before our first Christmas in Aden an older, local member of staff sought me out to ask anxiously, “Where is Bethlehem?” I looked confused and she hastened to explain that previous chaplains had always put up a little stable with animals and Mary and Jesus in the Community Centre. For her, that was ‘Bethlehem’. I smiled and led her into the church where the previous afternoon with the help of two of the guards I had built from old packing cases not a stable, but a shack, like those Aden’s refugees live in. She gasped with surprise and exclaimed, “It is a real Bethlehem!” She walked all around it and peered inquisitively inside. Then she said wistfully, “When prophet Jesus comes again, I think it will be to somewhere like this.”

One of the highlights of our recent return visit to Aden was the time we were able to spend with the now much-depleted but very joyfully united and wonderfully faithful congregation of Christ Church. We even managed a mini retreat together for two days, filling the long-empty guest rooms with our presence and the church with our laughter and our praise. After our return, Yasmin, an international aid worker from Colombia and a new member of Christ Church wrote to us: ‘We meet at church with full confidence that God is wherever two or three gather in His name (which is sometimes literal in our case) and we know His presence is enough for us – but we miss you anyway.’

One behalf of Yasmin, Rex, Amanat, Nazir and Firdos, Adna, Adam and Solomon, Gashu, Sameera and Nathnael, others in Yemen who would at the manger, ‘shyly kneel’, and on behalf of all the staff of our clinics, we wish you a wonderful Christmas, and thank you most heartily for your interest, love and support.

With much love

Peter and Nancy

November 2012

Dear FriendsBougainvillea frames the old Flagstaff Station, Aden, Yemen

In a few days’ time we shall take our suitcases from the top of the wardrobe, dust them down and start packing, filling any empty corners with packets of mocha coffee, and head home. It has been a good visit. We have been here five weeks. It seems much longer. Nancy says that coming to Aden is like entering Narnia – the magical world of author C.S.Lewis’ creation, encountered in his children’s books.

There are some similarities between the waning power of the dreadful white witch in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – the first of the chronicles of Narnia – and that Enjoying  tea with friends during the eid holiday at Christ Church Adenof Yemen’s previous president, who still lingers on in the country causing mischief. We’ve not encountered the books’ magnificent lion, Aslan, who represents God, or more particularly Jesus, but we have certainly sensed his presence around. However, I do not think that any of these things were in mind when Nancy mentioned Narnia. It was rather the sense that in Aden, as in Narnia, time seems different to what it is in other places and that within what seems an incredibly short time a lot can happen – both wonderful and sometimes rather horrible.Apprentice guard dog in the garden at Christ Church Aden

Fortunately, we have not encountered anything very horrible though I did have a moment’s horrible reflection: On a rare occasion when I ventured to drive ourselves rather than have someone else drive us, I parked the car in an empty parking lot and an hour or so later returned to it. As I turned the ignition key, I suddenly thought, ‘I hope we don’t blow up’. Obviously, the car did not blow up but those sorts of things do sometimes happen here. It was a sobering moment.

Sadly, much more common and now often reported in the local media is the kidnapping on their arrival by sea on Yemen’s shores of some Somali and even more Ethiopian refugees. Those who take them appear to be Yemeni thugs, people-traffickers who hold their victims – some of them very young – until their poor relatives can send $300 for their release. Each of them will already have paid $50 for their long and hazardous passage over to Yemen. Those held are frequently tortured, abused and even sometimes killed.

Joining in celebrations at nearby St Francis Church in Aden, YemenLess anguished, nearer home but also tragic, is the plight of many Yemenis who go to bed hungry every night. Dr Nada, of the General Clinic has just informed me that 60% of the patients whom she has seen this morning are suffering from malnutrition evidenced in the rough, peeling skin of young children and their dark, crinkly, brittle hair. Some of them, with their families, subsist on a daily diet of sweet black tea and cheap bread. We try our best to help as we can. The situation is apparently worse in rural areas where 70% of the population live.

The country’s Government of National Unity, under leadership of interim President Abdo Rabba Mansour Hadi, has actually achieved much, not only in holding the country together but also in conferring with almost every party and grouping in the land from Yemen’s neglected and shunned akhdam or gypsies to the still hopeful and energetic youth of the Arab Spring, in anticipation of a significant conference to be held imminently in Aden on the nation’s future. There has not been a lot of energy left over to address the nation’s dire economic and humanitarian needs.

When last we wrote, we were poised for the visit of Bishop Michael. It was brief but very happy, encouraging and useful. One evening we had a party in the garden for the staff and their families. We Remembrance Service - Aden, November 2012were about 40. The food, a traditional lamb dish called, Zorubian, was delicious. Food, overseen by Mansour, always is! The atmosphere was wonderful – hard adequately to describe – an excited buzz and an enormous innocent delight at simply being together.

Children laying the wreaths at our Remembrance Service - November 2012It was just one of a whole kaleidoscope of encounters, experiences and meetings that have made up our brief visit. When we return home, some neighbours will probably say that they never realised we had been away and we, like the children in Narnia on their return home, will do our best to tell them of this troubled land and its remarkable people.

With our love and sincere best wishes in Christ

Peter and Nancy

PS. We have just learned of the appointment of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He preached here at Christ Church a few years ago when one of his sons, Peter, was working here as a volunteer. Justin is a fine person – so is Pete.

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Yemen - Heartbreak and Hope by Peter Crooks

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