A Taste of Another Culture

The auditorium was full of bright colours. Flags and banners hung from the walls and lively music greeted us when we arrived. The men and women wore their bright best, with the little children in gorgeous suits and dresses. It almost felt like another country! We were having another culture night at our church! This time it was our Indian community who presented songs, dances and messages from the Bible to give us an insight into the way they worship in their country. They encouraged us to sing with them in one of their own languages and it was great to share their joy and learn about their homeland.

Some other members of the congregation also wore Indian dress which they’d bought on their visits there. Although I’ve never left my own country, I was able to find an Indian jacket in my wardrobe! I’d purchased it here in Australia!

You may be wondering if the little boy I wrote about a while ago made another platform appearance again. No, there wasn’t any dancing this time for two-year-old Ethan. Perhaps he guessed that he isn’t Indian? His family come from Ethiopia! But there were other children involved on this night, dancing and singing. It was beautiful to see them them worshipping the Lord.

As I stood among the people, I reflected how abundantly God has provided for the nations of the world to hear his important news. He started with only a small number of people from a small country. With no newspapers, television, internet or radio, he’d organised for them to spread the message that he loves everyone. We learned how the name of Jesus was brought to India by Thomas, one of his twelve disciples. When we heard the statistics for Christianity’s lowly place on the list of the religions of India, it was a challenge to us. How few they are amongst that huge population.

One of the items that I will always remember was a group of young women dancing together. I think only two of them were Indians! Africa, Samoa, South Korea and, believe it or not, Australia was represented! I felt it was a picture of international unity as they blended their gifts together. A lady from the church, who had been a top Indian dancer, choreographed their worship-dance and taught them how to do it. We were all very impressed by it.

These lovely people had been working for three months to lead us in this evening of praise and worship with the message of God’s love for the whole world. I’m sure he saw it all and enjoyed himself!

Before the end of this year we’ll be having three more of these cultural nights at turningpoint church in Cranbourne. There’ll be one each from the Philippines and Vanuatu, then the Africans will bring us another presentation before Christmas. Not everybody is able to travel to other countries and see unfamiliar cultures first-hand, but here in our church, we can participate in them, even eating their food that they provided for us!

I love these people in our congregation. They’re so friendly, willing to share their lives with us, and we can laugh together over our inability to pronounce their convoluted (to us!) names! I’ve never known so many people from such a variety of nations before. It’s a privilege to have them in our church. What a great contribution they make to the worship, the service and the multi-faceted face of God. He uses them to show us what he’s like.

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Falling in Love with Praise

It’s easy to fall in love with it; it makes us feel good. But it can be a trap for the unfulfilled heart. I’m referring to the compliments that we all receive when we’ve done well. Without them, the world would be a sad place, but it takes discrimination and courage to accept praise fruitfully.

When I tutored a writing group, I was always pleased when the supervisor said that ours was the most successful class at the Community House…especially when others were there to hear her say it! There it was: the temptation to think beyond the compliment, to feelings of superiority. A poor attitude for a person who knew that she needed God to run the group!

Sometimes, when I’ve created something, I’ve thought, I hope they like it. Will they say I’ve done well? I know my gifts and I enjoy using them. They are the things that God prepared way ahead for me to do. (Ephesians 2:10) I ‘see’ myself walking along a country road, gathering parcels that have been left in the grass, hidden there just for me! But, I shouldn’t look for a permanent audience to stand there and applaud!

John Chrysostom, a saint from the fifth century AD, said, ‘I do not know whether anyone has ever succeeded in not enjoying praise. And, if he enjoys it, he naturally wants to receive it. And if he wants to receive it, he cannot help but be distraught at losing it. Those who are in love with applause have their spirits starved not only when they are blamed off-hand, but even when they fail to be constantly praised’.

Can desiring approval become an addiction? There must be a better way to accept praise. It’s a talent many people have, and they should be allowed to use it. We all like to be told that we’re valued; none of us want to be taken for granted. God doesn’t either. Although the Bible is full of instructions to praise him, he doesn’t need it to make him a better person. He’s perfectly fulfilled already. We praise him for who he is, and for the way our hearts fill with love for him for his many blessings.

Bob Mumford, a Bible teacher, once mentioned how people complimented him on his sermon as he greeted them at the church door each Sunday. He used to reply that it was the Lord who should get the glory, but later, he began to simply smile and say, ‘thankyou’. When he arrived home afterwards, he’d go into his study with his collection of appreciations, and say, ‘Here are all your compliments, Lord’.

I’ve been talking to God about this and he’s given me some advice: instead of doing things for myself in order to be praised, (a subtle difference), I should remember that I’m doing things for him and for others. I thought I was, but I hadn’t seen it quite that way before!!

So how do we handle all the compliments that come our way from appreciative, blessed people? It’s not easy for a person whose love language is ‘words of affirmation’! It’s not the approval that’s the problem; it’s how I manage it that matters. That’s where I need the Holy Spirit’s help. If I ask him, he’ll ‘operate’ in my mind and change my focus. My prayer is that I will accept praise with joy so it will cause me to be fruitful in every area of my life.

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What Will I see on the News?

This morning I turned on my computer and thought, What will I see on the News today? Will the life of someone be forever changed due to an incident that’s happened overnight in a faraway place? 

You may think I’m negative, thinking thoughts like those, but it’s not an unlikely event these days. We don’t have television or buy newspapers, so I rely on my computer for information about the outside world. But on the ABC News page, I can see enough bad things to upset me without additional drama on television.

On this day there was an item that did answer my question: an accident where the life of someone nearby was changed. Two people, actually.

Last night a mother and her 14-year-old daughter were leaving our church property after a parent-teacher interview on the school campus. As they drove onto the highway, a speeding car hit their vehicle and they were transported beyond this world. Their family was reduced to a grieving husband and son. Children who knew the child were left reeling and their teachers very upset.

I couldn’t think how to help them, so I prayed. I’m so glad I have that option; I’ve proved God answers our prayers. It was too late for the victims of this violent accident, but the mourners needed prayer support and I was able to give that.

The family were strangers to me, but others came to give them comfort and help. What a shock for them all. So sudden and unexpected. Only a couple of weeks ago a teacher from the school was making the same manoeuvre at the same place on the road and a truck crashed into her car. She and her children were injured and transported to hospital. It’s the fifth accident there. The crashing sounds can be heard from the church offices and staff run out to the highway to help. First Aid, prayer and a call for an ambulance are quickly offered.

This time it was fatal, so perhaps something will be done about the danger…we hope. A reduction in the speed limit, school signs and other precautions may be implemented, but it’s too late for some people; their lives have changed. The authorities always wait until someone dies before they do anything.

I’m grateful for one thing: they were a Christian family. They came from another country and don’t speak English very well. How lonely they would feel if they were here in our nation without any church family who will support them.

Now I’m praying for the driver of the speeding car. He’s in hospital with severe injuries. I wonder how he feels after driving at 180 kph along a highway. His life has also been changed. He could have died too. He needs God to heal his injuries and he needs comfort from God’s people as well. I’m also praying for his family, especially his parents. They will be devastated and I hope there is someone in their circle who can offer prayers for them. The power of prayer is wonderful.

What sadness, what loss, what grief lurks in the pages of the News. In comparison, the pages of the Bible are a great comfort at times like these – and at all times.

Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merciful Father, the God from whom all help comes! He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help others who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (Good News Bible)

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Getting on with it

‘What do you want to do with the rest of your life?’

This was the question put to us in our Bible Study Group last week. I was interested in the responses from the teenagers, the elderly and the middle-aged…and the ones who tried to dodge the issue with a vague reply! We didn’t get many definite answers.

Later that week, I happened upon more resources relating to this topic. I read an interesting book in which the author suggested we should ask the question this way: ‘What don’t you want to do with the rest of your life?’ He said that people would give lots of responses to that question, and soon they’d know what they did want to do. An excellent solution! It gives guidelines to help us move forward. Sometimes we’re more passionate about what we hate than what we love!

Have you ever asked your child, ‘What did you do at school today?’ I’ve found the most common reply is,  ‘Nothing’. It’s the wrong question! But how many of us continue to ask it every day? Kids at school don’t get a choice about their activities. They’re expected to give it a go; to do it! That’s the way they learn and that’s why they’re at school. People say, ‘I’m not ready yet’, and defer putting pen to paper, fabric under the needle, or brush to canvas. I even heard a man say that he’s not ready to become a Christian…yet, even though he intends to. Imagine if a student told their teacher, ‘I don’t want to try this, I’m not ready yet’.

Then I discovered an article on clarity and how a lack of it destroys creative confidence. The writer cited the way many of us find it difficult to get started on a project. Some creative people keep endlessly researching, others have no confidence in their ability. As for me, I do lots of research for quilting projects and before I know it, I’m inundated with more ideas than I’ll ever use. I think I’m looking for more clarity, but perhaps I’m searching for excuses not to fail!

It might feel more ‘spiritual’ to ‘leave it to the Lord’ about our life’s future activity, but is that the answer to the question? Perhaps we’re afraid of a fatal mistake or never finishing. Well, I wouldn’t have made one quilt if I’d only read about them. I’ve turned out lots of messes; they make great pot mitts! I call it practising! And next time it’s better…even beautiful.

So what do we want to do with the rest of our lives? Are we brave enough to whittle it down to what we can start today? Will we accept some rules that mightn’t look like creativity? Or could we admit what our passions really are, and utilise a few well-tried methods that our forerunners have passed on?

Finally, I found the perfect resource: some words that God said. They’ll be an encouragement, an inspiration, every time we hesitate.

I’ll take the hand of those who don’t know the way, who can’t see where they’re going. I’ll be a personal guide to them, directing them through unknown country. I’ll be right there to show them what roads to take, make sure they don’t fall into the ditch. These are the things I’ll be doing for them – sticking with them, not leaving them for a minute. Isaiah 42: 16 – The Message Bible

If you’re longing to do it, dive in! God promises to be with us. Let’s tidy up our thoughts, accept the clarity God offers, and go for it!

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Robbing the Soil

Why did the local Council decide to plant a gum tree in the street outside our house? Imagine the worker digging the hole for its new home, carefully placing it in there, back-filling, tamping it down and watering it. Did he wonder how it might look in twenty-five years?

Yes, it would grow tall and strong, create a beautiful picture…and reach the powerlines. We all know what happens to street trees when that occurs; we’ve seen their gaunt branches uglifying the roads! And the shade it would shed on the hot pavement might have seemed a good idea at the time, but had anyone thought that it was planted on a bend and no-one would be brave enough to park beneath it’s spreading branches in the summer? And what about the nutrients this little tree would need to grow to its full potential?

Not far from the tree, a border of roses lined our driveway when we bought the house. Gangly and unkempt, they needed attention. Most are still there, redeemed by their beautiful perfume. Others have been replaced. We also planted some pretty blue pansies around the letterbox. They looked lovely, but it wasn’t long before they bowed their heads and prayed for help; the gum had robbed the soil of all they needed for growth. Maurie was going to throw them out, but I pleaded for their lives, so he dug them up and handed them over to me.

I took them to the back of the house and carefully planted them in the rich soil by the back door where I could easily water, weed and watch them. Now they’re a lovely sight! What large flowers they’ve produced and how often visitors comment on their beauty!

You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this story! Most of you might be able to find a reason for it yourselves, especially if you read this Blog regularly and feel you know me! I could write about the way God sometimes transplants us to new places. And we could remind ourselves of the malnourished soil in the parable that Jesus told about the Sower. Or I could tell myself that the pansies shouldn’t have been put by that large tree in the first place.  There are lots of truths we can glean from this tale, but it’s not really about the pansies. My problem’s with the tree!

I could ask the Council to remove it and plant something more suitable, but they’d probably say it was ‘Heritage-Listed’, or would cost too much to cut down.  Every day I could look at it and wish it were gone. I could spend valuable thinking-time on the Council’s lack of forethought, or waste breath on telling people how much it annoys me. Or write about it in here!! So what am I learning from this tree?

The reason I notice annoying things in my life is because God knows what a lot I can learn from them. They’re opportunities to grow beside a problem. Yes, that’s it for me! I’m letting it rob the soil in my life. I need to focus on the good. Here’s how the Message Bible puts it:

Summing it all up friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse… Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. – Philippians 4: 8,9

Isn’t that a beautiful solution? What a reward! God working us into his harmonies!

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Seeing Grandma at the Shopping Centre

Have you ever been in a crowded place and heard someone speak your name? You turn around, wondering if they might be addressing you, but another person is responding to the call. Disappointing, isn’t it?

One day years ago, I was in a shopping centre, absorbed in examining some books outside a store. As I was trying to decide if they were worth buying at the price, I suddenly heard an excited little voice call, ‘Grandma!’

Quick staccato questions clicked through my head. Is she mine? Another Grandma’s? Where would all my grandees be today? Here in this place? Should I check, in case? Of course you’ve guessed it, I did turn in the direction of that voice! Almost immediately!

Coming towards me was a small group of people, and out in front was a tiny blond child with shining eyes, arms outstretched. And she was beginning to run. Yes, she’s mine! And I’m hers! I scooped her up and we hugged gleefully. The books were forgotten, all the other grandmothers were ignored and I was rewarded!

Straight away she began chattering about all the things she’d been doing and everything she planned to do now we were together. Her mother soon caught up with us and I found out why they were there. The question that had been asked on the way in the car was, ‘Do you think Grandma will be at the shopping centre today?’ The reply was, ‘We’ll see when we get there’. And they did!

This incident with my grand-daughter came to mind recently as I was thinking about the promise that Jesus made to come back for us again. He’d comforted his disciples with this reassurance: Don’t let this throw you. You trust God don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. What a great promise! Certainly something wonderful to look forward to.

I began to wonder…was I really watching for him? Did I live my life as if he might turn up at any time? When he came, would he call my name? Was his return a priority for me, or was I too absorbed in my own life?

I smiled as I thought about my grand-daughter’s spontaneity all those years ago. When she saw me. she didn’t hesitate or feel embarrassed by the crowd. She knew me! I was her Grandma! And she was my grand-daughter! She knew she’d get a joyful welcome from me!

So what would people think if we suddenly saw Jesus return and yelled out, ‘Jesus!’ Some onlookers might think we were crazy. Others may remember what they’d learnt as children about Jesus saying he would come back one day. How many of us are ready?

I thought, Any wonder we’ll be lifted up to meet him. With rapturous joy we’ll leave everything we have here to be with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Obscure yet Significant

The main characters in the Bible, such as Paul, David, Goliath, Moses, and Abraham, are well-known. That’s because we’ve heard so many sermons about them! Of course, their lives are important, but for a while now I’ve been noticing the bit players in God’s drama; the obscure people. So I’ve been making a list and it’s growing longer all the time! I’ve learnt some interesting truths in their stories too. It’s amazing how worthy these people were, so let’s look at one of them.

Farmer Kish said to his son, Saul, ‘some of our donkeys have gone missing. I want you to take a servant and go looking for them’.

The pair set off and wandered around the countryside for several days, covering a large area, but they found no sign of the missing animals. In the end, Saul wanted to give up and go home. He knew his father would be more worried about them than the donkeys.

But the servant had a better idea. ‘Not so fast’, he said. ‘There’s a prophet around these parts. Let’s go and ask him where they are’.

‘But we can’t give him any payment for his services’, Saul replied, ‘even the bread we brought is all gone now’.

This is when we hear some great words from the servant: ‘I happen to have a quarter shekel. We could offer that to him’.

While it was in his pocket, that money was his. Saul didn’t know it was there, but the servant did. Was he a rich man? Perhaps not, seeing he was a servant. Was it part of the wage that Kish had given him that week? What other way would he have spent it? Was it worth much? That’s hard to tell. It may have taken courage for him to hand it over. Would he be repaid? And another thing, he didn’t realise at the time that he was offering money to the future king of Israel!

Fortunately, Saul took up the suggestion of his servant. It’s always good to ask God about large and small problems! And he also accepted the gift offered by that man of great ideas and resources!

As I read this story again, I thought back on my life and wondered when (not if!) I’d ever been in such a situation as that un-named man. Had I risen to the occasion like him, or had I ‘kept my money in my pocket’, thinking it wouldn’t be good enough?

Unbeknown to that humble man, he was actually grasping the opportunity to be on the spot for an historic occasion. In fact, he was influential in it.

Only the day before, God had given the prophet Samuel advance knowledge about Saul’s arrival, so he was expecting him. (It was Samuel to whom the servant had been referring.) When the two men arrived, Samuel didn’t mistake the servant for God’s chosen King! He also knew why they were there, and told them that the donkeys had been found. That got their attention!

Isn’t it wonderful how God always has the right person in the right place? Maybe I think my contribution is too insignificant, but I’m asking myself this question: ‘Am I ready to be that person?’  Like Kish’s servant, when we think we’re only looking for donkeys, we might end up being present at some pretty amazing God-at-work events!

This story is in the Bible in 1 Samuel 9:1 through to 10:16. Check it out for yourself. Perhaps we can all learn something new about ourselves in this story, especially as we watch the servant.

 

 

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A Home Person

They say we should start with ourselves when we begin the search for our ancestors. The family history research site, ancestry.com, has a system where a tree owner can access it immediately by going to their Home Person. I planned to find my mother-in-law’s family, so I began with her son, my husband. He’s my Home Person.

Building up the tree was an interesting activity. I made lots of exciting, strange and even shocking discoveries. These days I’m not climbing around among the branches much, but I still occasionally feel a longing to look at my Home Person on there. You might think I’m odd, quirky or eccentric, but I do love to go in there just to look at his photo. It makes me happy to see his lovely smile, to think of him sitting there beside me and to remember… What a lot we’ve been through together. He means so much to me. How I love him!

There are plenty of his photos around our home, but somehow, the one on the tree is unique. It gives me a sense of our history together that other pictures don’t, and I feel fulfilled in a special way. You may wonder why I don’t merely speak to him or touch him. Well, I do that too!!

Several years ago an odd thing happened. Every time I logged onto my tree on the ancestry site, I noticed that I was being taken to the wrong Home Person. Somehow Maurie’s Great-Uncle George had snuck into that position and refused to be moved! I followed all the correct instructions, but every time, there was old George, sitting beside his wife, Amelia, on their way to Canada from England in the late 19th century! What if I’d accepted him and gone along with this new Home Person? Of course, Uncle George definitely wouldn’t do. I have no memories of him, no shared life, not even a photo. I’ve absolutely no scrap of yearning to see him!

But my real Home Person, now that’s another story. I know him! I share many memories with him, in fact, most of my life! If I were to put his actual photo on this post, you might say, ‘well, what about him? He doesn’t look anything special!’ But you’d only see his facial features. I see his inner value, the real person; my Home Person. I know I won’t get someone else instead of him when I need him. He’s always there for me; he prays for me and knows me. He’s at home for me. He’s my Home Person!

These thoughts about Maurie, and how his Great-Uncle George kept popping up in his place, reminded me of the second-hand way we might try to reach God. He wants to be our whole-of-life Home Person. It’s no use thinking anyone else will do in his place. Like Uncle George didn’t fit for me on ancestry, neither will anyone else be able to take God’s place in our lives. He’s always standing by, ready to be our own special one, the person we can call on at any time when we want to think about him. He’s the one we can remember because of his love for us, the one who can recall the memories we’ve made together. He’s our dear Heavenly Father.

He doesn’t need to be on a family tree on ancestry.com. He has his own family and I’m so glad he’s included me in it. He’s available to us all, at any time, in any place. We only need to ask because he wants everyone to be on his tree. There are no substitutes for him; he’s the Home Person.

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Downsizing, Reducing…Rejecting

Rubbish on an Island Beach

I was reading about a plastic-free lifestyle the other day and wondered how many people have thought about reducing more of the non-practical items in their lives. These things are usually obvious, written about frequently, and lamented by those who are affected by them. They are damaging pollutants, but I don’t suppose many people think of them as being surplus to their lives in the same way as getting rid of plastic bags!

On the one hand, some people count the articles in their wardrobes, take cloth bags to the shops, and reduce the number of times they put out their recycling bins for collection: all praiseworthy goals. But have they counted other items in their collections of unnecessary stuff? How often have I? Can you guess what kinds of things I mean?

We might say that there’s a limit to how much we can rid ourselves of ‘indispensable’ parts of our personalities. Shouldn’t we save them for an emergency? Here are some examples that come to mind, such as the ability to ‘say it like it is’ even when the recipient doesn’t want to hear our opinion. Or the body language that proclaims to everyone that I think I’m superior to others, or the pushing and shoving that some people do in a queue. You can probably think of a few more!

Should we claim that we’re allowed to keep certain traits that we’ve always had, the personality tendencies that we want to be able to use when we feel like it? Is that freedom? And should we hang onto the notion that no-one has the right to tell us how we ought to behave?

As I thought about this approach to reducing, even rejecting, these aspects of our lives, I looked back at some of my own rubbish and decided I’ve had more than a few pieces that were surplus to the needs of the world around me.

I remember being in the supermarket in a small town where we lived many years ago. Two ladies were chatting in the aisle, their trolleys blocking my way. I could have said, ‘Excuse me’, or just waited while they finished their conversation. But no, I was in a hurry!

So I pushed my trolley towards them and without any bidding from me, one of my surplus extras flew off and landed on them. In other words, I didn’t resist the temptation to be rude, and bumped my trolley into theirs! Oops!! Oh dear.

They turned from their chat and apologised, but I didn’t acknowledge them. I spent the rest of my shopping feeling bad about the impression I’d created – it was a small town, remember! I was glad their reaction wasn’t as violent as mine. I didn’t deserve their grace. I was the one who should have been allowing grace to flow towards them.

I don’t suppose any of you nice readers have any experiences like that in your background. (I write this blog to speak to myself!)

In my world of hurry and bustle, I often regret how I omit to think before I act. I should remember the proverb that wise King Solomon of Israel wrote.

A commonsense person lives good sense; fools litter the country with silliness. – Proverbs 13:16 – The Message Bible

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Dance, Drama and Song!

A little boy ran to the church platform and rushed up the steps where his friends were singing and dancing. He carefully observed their arm movements and although he didn’t know the words of the songs, he jumped up and down and waved his arms in amazing co-ordination with them! We couldn’t help noticing him, seeing he was standing close to the edge of the stage. He was so cute, with his tight African curls and eager expression!

The other worshippers went on with their dance and song, then at the end, they filed down the steps. But not our future song-leader…he intended to continue, until some of the girls took him off! What would he be like in the future, I wondered? Shy? I doubt it. I think he’s only two or three years old, but he’s learning some valuable lessons in the meantime.

Our congregation includes more than twenty nationalities. There are people from ten of the African countries, some from the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Samoa, Ireland, China, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, plus some I can’t recall right now, and Australia!

Several weeks ago we had a special African Night. It was thrilling to see the way they use song, dance and drama in their worship. In this way they also pass on the truths they’ve learnt. My heart followed them as the flow of their movements washed across the platform, their bright clothes adding to the splendour. I was in awe of their fortitude and resilience. I admired the way they lived, considering the tragic things a lot of them had experienced. Their smiles are beautiful. Now they’re here with us; many nations worshipping in unison. We all love the same good God.

I’ve become acquainted with many of these people since we moved to the city, but I have great difficulty remembering their names. They are patient with me and some of them use a spare English name to make life easier for us single-language-Aussies! In their gentle voices they spell their names while I write them in my notebook. Even then, I often get them wrong! I mostly stick to first names – the surnames are a bit much for me, especially those long ones that the Sri Lankans own! Recognising their faces each week is another challenge. When they change their hairstyles, or wear wigs, the women can look like strangers, but I’m working on it!

Now I wish I could tell you that little boy’s name. I must ask his mother. I know what she looks like; she spends quite a bit of time bringing him back from the platform during the services! Next week I’ll have my notepad ready.

I pray that he’s absorbing at least two important things: how wonderful it is to worship God in the way he’s laid out for us: uninhibited and free. The other is that all nations can praise the Lord together. God bless him.

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