Aden Update March 2015

Fr Velvet and Vijaya are currently in India with bookings to return in a month.

With the decision to relocate the President’s office to Aden and reconstitute the recognised government from the presidential office in Aden, a period of confusion and some fighting erupted in the streets of Aden. The government is in the process of consolidating power. Of course, there is a lot of firing in the air as well, which is also very dangerous. There is considerable uncertainty about peace and security in Yemen as a whole and in Aden at the moment. If the government is successful in re-establishing itself, civil security in Aden will return to normal soon and it will be possible for Velvet and Vijaya to return after things settle down.

Mansour continues to watch over the Christ Church compound and clinic. The clinic is functioning more or less normally. Because the area around the clinic is largely military (naval) there is less likelihood of rioting in the immediate vicinity of Christ Church unless civil (and military) authority collapses entirely. There is still a credible threat from Al Qa’eda supporters, and there was an assassination of a high military official recently in Aden. Mansour is advising us of the security situation as it evolves. We covet prayers for Yemen, its people, for peace and security for all, but also for our staff and their families and for the ongoing work of the clinic where people continue to be received and treated as an expression of God’s care for them.

New Year Update – January 2015

The Revd Velvet and his wife Revd Vijaya arrived in Aden on 19 November 2014 and were warmly welcomed by the congregation and staff at Ras Morbat. Bishop Michael conducted their licensing service in November.

licensing2

Since then they have been busy celebrating Christmas and setting up a new church service in one of the Indian languages, Malayalam, enabling some to worship in their own language.

Father Velvet writes,

“On 13th December Bishop Michael inaugurated our Christmas celebrations by cutting a Christmas cake with the congregation in the presence of the staff of Ras Morbat Clinic. And on the 24th December the English congregation celebrated Christmas Eve along with cultural programmes and a fellowship dinner. Father Christmas (Santa Claus) distributed special gifts to all children. On Friday, 26th December the Malayalam congregation also celebrated Christmas with carol services, games and with a fellowship dinner.

The End of Year Thanksgiving service is a milestone in the history of Christ Church, Aden. During this meeting all the members shared their testimonies.

The new year of 2015 is a blessed one for Christ Church, Aden. We started Bible study classes for children and for adults, led by Revd Vijaya and Revd Velvet respectively.

The situation in Yemen is worsening. The President resigned due to political uncertainty. Instability in Sana continues but Aden is not affected much. The airports in Sana and Aden were closed for a few days, but now Aden airport is open. However strikes every Monday create lots of problems in different parts of the city. By God’s grace, so far the issues have not yet affected the service of Christ Church and the work of the Ras Morbat Clinic.”

September 2014

Dr Edwin hands out certificates

Dr Edwin hands out certificates

The highlight of the last few months at the Christ Church Clinics has definitely been the Cairo Medical Conference, so ably and well organised by Dr Edwin Martin and supported by Dr Ehab of HOME, Dr Mike Davies and Dr Jon Day of PRIME and others, around the theme of ‘The Long Term Care of Chronic Disease’. This is a large and increasing part of the whole of medical care in the Middle East where good record keeping is fundamentally important. Clinics specifically related to eye care were included in the programme, as this is the main work of the Ras Morbat clinics currently. Lively and interactive teaching was delivered by surgeons and specialists from the UK and Egypt – including Dr Adel a senior consultant from the National Eye institute of Egypt who has operated and taught at the Christ Church Clinic on several occasions.

Attending the conference were not just the doctors from Ras Morbat, but a nurse, two technicians and a pharmacist – the whole team. A number from another medical facility in Aden also attended, and the conference has served to strengthen professional links between those working in the same city. Around 30 Egyptian doctors also attended the conference. Firm friendships and professional links have been made between Yemeni and Egyptian colleagues. The team came back buzzing from the conference and ‘over the moon’, in the words of Peter Crooks, to be able to access postgraduate education. The staff are keen to access further training in the future. As links between Egyptian medical professionals, such as Dr Adel grow, this is becoming a more concrete hope for the future.

The PyramidsBeside teaching sessions, delegates observed a live operation training session in a local hospital, a refugee clinic, a hospital with a new surgical training programme and of course … the pyramids! For many of the staff this was their first visit outside of Yemen and they made the most of it.

The staff commented in feedback that the conference was interesting, useful, motivating, relevant, refreshing, excellent… We are grateful to Dr Edwin for all his hard work in making the conference happen, and to those who generously hosted and funded it.

The conference has again highlighted the need and hunger for postgraduate training and supervision at the clinics. We long for Christian medical professionals to come and work alongside the Yemeni staff who work faithfully to keep the clinics running.

Since the last update a new opthalmic microscope has arrived and is being put to good use. The eye clinic continues to be busy, and with cateract removal operations being performed by the wonderful Doctors Randa and Tahani. Dr John Sandford Smith hopes to visit again later this year to operate further, and the Cairo conference has whetted the appetite of the staff for further training.
Dr Osmany and his wife
Dr Osmany (pictured above with his wife), an eye surgeon from Cuba who works elsewhere in Aden also provides key support to the Ras Morbat staff on a regular basis with the most complex cases.

Qat chewingThe situation in Yemen as a whole remains precarious. Recent fuel hikes have led to protests, especially in the capital. Al Qaeda seem intent on targeting the military. Aden remains relatively calm and we are grateful that daily life continues much as it has been for the staff and community around Christ Church.

Velvet & Vijaya John

Velvet & Vijaya John

The other exciting news from Christ Church is the recent appointment of the Revd T Velvet John as the Chaplain of Christ Church Aden and Director of the Ras Morbat Clinic.

Velvet, originating from the Diocese of South Kerala in the Church of South India, is currently Dean of Certificate, Graduate, and Postgraduate Studies for TAFTEE (The Association for Theological Education by Extension) and also Associate Pastor of St James, Bangalore, and an executive member of the Bangalore Medical Ethics Committee. He is married to the Revd J Vijaya John and they have two adult children.

We, alongside the staff at the clinics and the small, but faithful congregation look forward to his arrival in Yemen in November, prior to a licensing by Bishop Michael in December.

 

 

 

April 2014

april1

A peaceful sunset scene in Aden, but it has been an eventful few months at the Ras Morbat clinics since the last update…

The redoubtable, conscientious and endlessly cheerful Dr John Sandford Smith (pictured above on a boat trip with the eye team) returned recently from his 15th visit to Ras Morbat, operating and teaching in the eye clinic. He performed 31 cataract operations and supervised a further 65 carried out by our two local eye surgeons and by a good friend, Qaid, who was long ago one of the first eye technicians. He has since be studying in America and hopes to return home to Somalia to set up an eye clinic there. It is a bold and courageous step and one that Dr John has long encouraged him in. While in Aden, John celebrated his 77th birthday and managed to swim on most days. Patient statistics show that over the years he has carried out over 2500 operations at the clinic. That is a remarkable achievement, but more than that he has, with enthusiasm and patience shared his wisdom and shown others how to do the business. We are enormously grateful to John and to his wife, Sheila, for generously and bravely letting him go to Aden so often.

Dr John and the team all scrubbed up

Dr John and the team all scrubbed up

Plans also continue apace for the Cairo Medical Conference. There are now 7 delegates signed up and eager to attend – including our senior doctor, Nada, the two eye surgeons, Ahmed, technician and husband of Tahani, one of the surgeons, Fawzia, our most faithful pharmacist and others. The organisation and planning of the conference has been energetically undertaken by Dr Edwin Martin through the auspices of PRIME, and there are expected to be additional local participants. Some of the input will be from well-known friends such as Dr Adel, who has often visited Aden from Cairo to operate and train our eye team. The overall theme is: The Long term Management of Chronic Diseases, including Eye Diseases. We trust and pray it will be a thoroughly good conference in every way and prove refreshing, inspiring and really useful to all. The conference will be in mid-May and last six days. While the participants are away, Mansour and Mariam in the office may have to pretend to be doctors …

Tea break at the clinics

Tea break at the clinics

The Council of Reference at its November meeting highlighted the need to upgrade some key pieces of our medical equipment. Consultation with Dr John, other visiting surgeons and the local staff suggested that a more modern and versatile ophthalmic operating microscope would be a great asset, especially for teaching aspiring surgeons. A good, suitable model available through a reliable local agent has been found, its specifications thoroughly scrutinised and an order placed. It should be delivered in the next few months – the purchase made possible by a generous grant from the British Embassy in Sana’a, who seemed delighted to help and to have an opportunity to invest in the work. It was a very generous grant.

On the video screen is an eye operation in progress

On the video screen is an eye operation in progress

Yemen rarely hits the world news – and for that, we should perhaps be grateful. The drowning of a boatload of refugees off the coast of Yemen recently merited brief mention on the BBC World Service. Al Qaeda continue with ruthless determination to kill prominent Yemeni military officers, while the kidnapping of foreigners, mostly in Sana’a, still goes on.

The staff of the clinics continue to work well and the congregation to meet gratefully each week to worship. But from both, Peter and Nancy received anxious enquiries on their last visit about the future leadership of the church and the clinics. John Sandford Smith’s report on his latest visit mentions the low overall output through the eye clinic of patients for surgery and the absence of any outreach programmes. The current lack of security affects both but so does the absence of a well-qualified, competent and enthusiastic resident eye doctor to push and promote the work. Different members of the now very depleted congregation continue to ask in turn when a priest, leader or pastor might be coming. The Archdeacon of the Gulf is planning to visit after Easter to assess the situation. He is no stranger to Aden and his visit is warmly anticipated.

april5

Peter and Nancy are happily settled in Reading, and enjoyed being on hand for the recent arrival of their second grandchild Huw, a couple of months ago. Mansour visited them several times when he was over from Aden recently, on one occasion appearing on their doorstep with a hot chicken dish straight from his sister’s oven in Southall. They continue to be in weekly contact with him now he is back in Aden, but will soon, a little reluctantly, devolve that responsibility to others.

Do pray for the clinics and for Christ Church, especially for the small congregation as they celebrate Easter.

December 2013

Dear friends,

It was a memorable text and had been sent in haste. It read simply, ‘Thank you, brother, for the god dregs.’ As so often, Nancy grasped the meaning of the message sooner than I. We had just come back from a return visit to Aden and had been distressed to find the two guard dogs there covered with fat, feasting, grey ticks. As soon as we got home from Aden we bought some potent anti-tick treatment and dispatched it with a friend going out there. The text acknowledged its safe arrival. On our most recent trip to Aden a few weeks ago, we found the dogs healthy and still tick-free.

Today’s agenda is not tick repellent but research into the purchase of a new ophthalmic microscope for the eye clinic – a need identified when Bishop Michael and representatives of the Council of Reference for Aden visited there in early November, and which we were asked to look into on our visit over Christmas. There is a particular model which our young surgeons trained on in Aden and which is widely used there called, for those interested in these things, a Takagi OM-8. The manufacturers have a good agent there but it may prove cheaper to purchase in Britain and we have tracked down an enthusiastic Takagi agent in Chesham, not far from where we are now living in Reading. But whether purchased from Aden or from Chesham, the price at nearly US$20,000 is not cheap. Still, it would be a huge improvement over what we have now and would make training of surgeons much easier. ‘Add it to your shopping basket …!’

Peter preparing to celebrate at ChristmasOur most recent visit to Aden – our fifth in the last two years – was shorter than previous ones – barely three weeks, compressed by the need to move house and to be on hand for the anticipated arrival of the second grandchild. Photos of the first, Jessica, we found to be the screen saver on several clinic computers. It was a timely, useful and happy visit, not without its dilemmas or difficulties but shot through too, with moments of heart-aching beauty. Our impressions on our return after a gap of eight months, wholeheartedly endorsed those of our friend Stefan Poldervaart on his return there with the Bishop as a member of the Council of Reference. I quote from his report of that visit:

It’s about four years since we were forced to leave Aden suddenly with our four young children. In the beginning of November I had the privilege of visiting Aden again, coming back to a place in which we served for several years and it felt just like yesterday. It’s been a great blessing to once again be part of this very special place – even if it is in a very different role – as a member of the Council of Reference for Christ Church and the clinics. One thing that really struck me was the fellowship on Friday. A small group of people and deeply committed to serve Christ Church have continued faithful at prayer. Nazir and his family gave us a very warm welcome. It was a blessing to share communion and experience the unity of Christ.

Nancy and friendNancy and I were, in our turn, most thoughtfully and warmly welcomed back by Nazir too. We shared Christmas with the congregation – about 25 on Christmas Eve, including children and several local friends, who came along gladly and stayed on readily to enjoy a wonderful Christmas meal of many flavours. We sang carols in Urdu and Amharic and processed through the garden to ‘Bethlehem’ to a hauntingly lovely one in Spanish, and in the stable – all far from home – heard again the promise of Emmanuel, God with us, and knew that he was.

Stefan wrote also of time spent with the staff. ‘Talking with the staff made a great impression on me. The commitment of the staff is amazing. They told me that God called them to serve the poor and needy of Yemen. The Ras Morbat Clinics which local people now much more readily call, simply, ‘The Church Clinic’ (ayaadit kaneesa) is a real blessing to the people of Yemen. Thinking over this visit, I think that this place needs much prayer. If more people get involved in one way or another, the church clinics can bless many more people.’

Bishop Michael after taking service at Christ Church

Stefan assists at communion

The utterly wonderful thing is that worship has continued at Christ Church and the work gone on – with courage, imagination and great dedication – cleaners and doctors alike, and worshippers on Friday having often to run a gauntlet of stone-throwing youths and burning tyres to get to work or worship. On several occasions bombs have gone off on the routes staff take to us – either just before they’ve set out or thankfully just after they have got home. Sometimes strikes and skirmishes between police and protesters have effectively shut down the public transport system on which our staff rely and then Mansour has ventured out in the bus and, by taking quieter roads, brought them in. He is, we say in English, ‘a brick’ – a substantial and most precious one. And all this – the faithful worship and costly service – has been offered day in and day out, week after week, and now, year on year without the presence of a priest/director on site. This is not an ideal nor a responsible way to continue but it is a remarkable and wonderful thing.

Nancy and I have made our occasional visits back when we have chivvied and chased, loved and shoved, retired some staff and recruited others and hopefully assured both staff and congregation that they are appreciated and not forgotten. While funds for the Aden project do come in generously from across the Diocese and the world, and are paid in to the church and clinic account most diligently, we could not help feeling over Christmas a twinge of sadness that as far as we were aware from nowhere in the Diocese was there sent to staff or congregation a Christmas greeting or note of thanks. Our Muslim staff are enthusiastic senders of e-cards to their Christian friends, complete with jingly music and swinging crescent moons….

Nancy's Gingerbread houseWe enjoyed this last visit, we ‘chivvied and chased’, but revelled too, in the renewal of friendships with colleagues, congregation and others. Nancy stunned many by producing for staff tea on Christmas Eve a beautiful, snow-iced gingerbread house, photos of which sped across Aden in minutes on Facebook. We swam as often as we could and of course ate fish. When the moment came to leave, we felt both sad and also relieved to be buckling on our seatbelts for the flight home.

The situation in Yemen just now, with the inconclusive conclusion a week ago of the months-long national dialogue is probably best described as precarious and Aden is very far from good. Three weeks ago a very large car bomb was detonated in Khormaksar (the airport area) outside the main offices of Aden security. It killed a few, caused enormous anxiety and blew in the apartment windows of, amongst others, Patras and Yasmin of the congregation. They remain in post.

In the autumn, Bishop Michael wrote to all the clergy in the Diocese, inviting them to consider doing a short stint of duty in Aden. Two responded quickly and very warmly and were all lined up to go but neither was able to for reasons quite unrelated to the political or the security situation in the city. A week ago, one of them wrote expressing a willingness to try and visit again, but when I broached the possibility of his coming with Mansour yesterday, he was adamant that this was not a time for any foreigner to visit, and added with a disarming chuckle, “Al-Q have just announced after they have fixed Syria they will come down to fix Yemen.” Not a happy prospect.

Thankfully Aden is not Aleppo nor Baghdad and we trust may never go the way they have. In Tawahi, where the church and clinics are located, the work goes on. In a few weeks’ time Dr Nada, our senior doctor, will travel with her husband Samir to Jordan to seek help in having the child they so much want. There is already a good locum lined up during her absence, who lives, usefully, nearby.

About the same time as Nada and her husband travel, we shall begin for a six month period and in close cooperation with the university dental faculty, a dental service two days a week – something the staff have often talked of and patients requested. It will essentially be a screening process with patients needing treatment being seen free of charge in the university dental faculty.

Discussing the dental screening project

Ahmed the eye technician

Two of our regular visiting eye surgeons have already agreed to return to train and teach later in the year and plans are well in hand for a medical conference to be attended by several of our staff in Cairo in May under the auspices of PRIME and with the energetic inspiration of Dr Edwin Martin, who is on the Council of Reference.

During this past visit, we were, on different occasions and by individuals on the staff or in the congregation asked intently, even urgently, when a “new director”, “pastor” or “priest” would be appointed. We assured them without difficulty that the matter was high on the agenda of the Bishop, his senior staff and Council of Reference, but we cautioned that it was not a propitious moment for recruiting – something of which they were well aware and to which, thoroughly understanding.

Nancy and I responded to an invitation at the height of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 to go and work in Beirut. When we told our Irish neighbour in Wembley, where we were then living, she responded refreshingly, “Now that’ll be different, for sure.” It was. We went, not out of bravado, nor with any assurance that we would necessarily be spared any danger, even death, but because deep down we had a gut conviction that this was where God had called us – and we went there with our  five year old son. God does call people to specific places, as many reading this will readily testify. In the past months we met a young couple, one of whom is exploring ordination in the Anglican Church; they have worked in Sudan, have first-hand knowledge of Yemen and a deep love for the country. In June I met a Maronite priest in Beirut who has written extensively about Christianity in Yemen in the third century AD and prays regularly for the people of Yemen and would love to visit. Neither are set to come over to Yemen, but they were surprising and lovely reminders that Yemen remains on the hearts of many thoughtful Christian people – in all sorts of places. It would be good to heed Stefan’s urging to pray, and to pray specifically that God in his love and wisdom would call a good person to serve and lead at Christ Church.

In the future, Jen Bourne, also on the Council of Reference, will be looking after the Christ Church entry in the Diocese’s most valuable prayer diary and put things on the website. Stefan hopes to make periodic visits back to Christ Church to keep in touch and have an eye to the state of repair of the buildings and equipment. Nancy and I have said we will for the immediate future continue to handle, with Mansour and Mariam, the correspondence, and to confer with them weekly.

Click on any of the thumbnails below to see the larger image.

The late Bishop Kenneth Cragg was an inspiration to many. We end with a prayer of his own composition, which expresses eloquently many of our thoughts as we think on the work and ministry at Christ Church.

O Lord, whose service requires all that a man has, grant us in our hearts the grace of self-giving and the power of sacrifice.

Fit us for the costs of truth and the labours of compassion. Make us able for the calling which is not by power or might but only by thy Spirit.

Enable us to live in courage beyond the appearance of the present or the entail of the past. Teach us the strength by which to hold with any lost cause of thine until it can be truly won.

Grant us the benediction of the peacemakers in the things of reconciliation that force and state cannot attain. Give us endurance, not grim and hard, but joyous and gentle in the peace of thy eternity. Show us the long-suffering that is more strong than anger, more ultimate than hate.

As by broken bread the peoples of the world are fed, so make us to serve their good by ready consecration of our wills, according to thy purpose, who are blessed in mercy, now and evermore.

Amen.

With our love and very best wishes in Christ.

Peter and Nancy


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Yemen - Heartbreak and Hope by Peter Crooks

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