Malawi Day 6 and 7

The weekend heralded an unexpected change of pace as after breakfast we were offered hot water for a wash. It was a pleasant experience having an outdoor shower (in an enclosed area but with no roof, may I add!).

The plan had originally been to go to Bangula, down south past the Elephant Marsh, but as Chris had done a lot of driving and there were various needs back in Blantyre base, we headed home through Zomba. It is exciting that a Malawian family from the Blantyre base are moving to Zomba next weekend and planting a YWAM base there – we only drove around the outskirts but it has a number of houses in stunning locations with extensive woodland gardens.

When we got back I managed to squeeze in a run along the Chigumula Market road towards Blantyre while Colin did a stint in the prayer room. I found it really helpful to order my thoughts and hear from God for the Sunday morning preach at Living Stones church. Since I started running, and when I can be motivated to run on my own, I find the Holy Spirit does speak to me and somehow niggles and concerns crystallise or disappear. It doesn’t replace for me ‘quiet times’ but it does really help. It’s a bit like a half hour before getting to sleep at night when many thoughts are racing round your head, but the rhythmic running seems to corral those thoughts into an order. God is so good!

On Sat evening after dinner Chris gave us a screening of ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’. Having been around some villages now, we found it really interesting to watch this movie. Going back to our room on the Base we felt the guard dogs (the Base has security guards too) did their job well, grabbing at my trousers and Colin’s too. We kept moving!

Sunday was great – good to be at Chris’ church, to share in an ‘open service’ and also to help Chris lead worship. I shared from Philippians 3, pressing forward: before I shared, three words came out that linked in with that. In particular one guy shared that unlike entertainment, what comes from Jesus is always complete, and like a bubbling fountain is different every moment, which linked with what I felt running yesterday about living in your current rhema word for your life.

We went to Game Haven with the Scutts for lunch, which made a change. The rest of the day was very pleasant and relaxed.

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Malawi Day 5

So what was great on Fri morning before we left for our next base, is that we had a time of prayer with the guys there. Colin had picked up that a way of really moving the football team on in their faith, and on Patience’s heart and Patrick’s too, would be to take them away for a week’s camp. The logistics were easily achieved, but the cost of the food, fuel and other things were not available at the Base. We were in a position to offer them that finance, and to our surprise they said they would be able to run the camp before their school term begins on 16th Sept.

I felt a real oneness with the guys on this base: it is a lonely and difficult work. They are coming to a YWAM regional meeting this Thurs now (I am playing catch-up and it’s Mon) so it will be good to see them again.

We had a bumpy drive to Ntaja, and arrived there in time for lunch. This base has a lot of activity going on – it is in the heart of a Yao-speaking area, who tend to be Muslims, but there are Christian centres too. Eliot and his wife Sabina run the base.

While we were there we met Justino who runs a YWAM base down in Kalimini in Mozambique, who was visiting with a primary healthcare school. YWAM run ‘schools’ with different focuses. If you were considering mission with YWAM, in order to get involved (apart from visiting, or supporting missionaries of course, which anyone can do!) you have to complete a DTS, which takes 5 and a half months. It’s a great thing for a young person to do in a year out.

It was brilliant to hear about the work the primary healthcare team had been able to do in Ntaja, as there are so many basic needs on Malawi that are not being met.

Eliot loves to take Jesus films into the villages, and we loaded up his gear, including petrol and a generator, a frame, amplifiers, projector, loudhailer.

We went that we were all squeezing n to Chris’ car, a red seven-seater Toyota Sienta including one in the back, for 26 km down what was probably the worst stretch of road on our trip (we ‘bottomed out’ three times within two seconds at one point according to Colin).

When we arrived I was amazed to see a swarm of children squealing with delight. There was a brilliant episode where a boy up a mango tree was hacking branches off with a panga (like a machete) so the view of the screen wouldn’t be blocked. Then the local pastor and chief grabbed the panga very energetically, like a whirling dervish demolishing undergrowth – in the end, the screen was erected further away so the pruning was for nothing.

The Jesus film is old now, and we waited until it was dark (playing lively music out of the speakers until then) to start showing it. An initial small crowd seated of about thirty children and along the road behind perhaps 15 adults grew to around 180 as the film went on.

We paused it with Jesus on the cross, and I gave a gospel message, which I was nervous about, but I think went okay. I led them in a prayer, which they prayed out loud, then they saw to the end of the film.

Colin came up at the end and invited those who were sick came up for prayer. I prayed with Eliot, who told me what the needs were before we prayed. It was really exciting to do this – Chris prayed for a girl whose arm felt better immediately. Eliot and I prayed for two people who had suffered severe strokes who we went over to meet, guided by the pastor.

During the film, we were all invited into a room to eat a meal of rice and vegetables (I didn’t have much as I was conscious of the gospel message I was given) – we were using our phone lights to see. They have a lovely tradition of service to pour water over your hands into a bowl, reminiscent of Jesus washing the disciples feet.

One long evening, and scary drive back in the dark, and six pairs of eyes glued to the patch of rutted road illuminated by Chris’ headlights, we arrived back at the Ntaja base to be told food was waiting for us. It was after ten at night already. I should say, due to being near the Equator, it gets dark consistently at around half five, and by 9 it feels like 11pm. I could see Colin didn’t want to eat, but we went into Sabine’s front room and were greeted by a large spread of pots, and a large thermos which told us there was hot water for drinks too.

I think in retrospect we were glad of that meal to fortify us and prepare us for the slatted beds we had to sleep on. I didn’t shift around too much in the night just in case!

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Malawi Day 3/4

So the episode I didn’t finish from We’d was an afternoon Bible study. This fits well with an opportunity from yesterday, where I shared with a youth football team, as Colin shared on Wed.We had gone a short distance into woods from the Chigumula base, and there is an isolated village of workers who come from all over Malawi to work in the woods. The government has put up houses and all are full. We sat on chairs in the dust, and it was a blowy and increasingly chilly afternoon.Colin shared, and Charles translated, on Luke 5, where Jesus preaches from the boat and then gets Peter to try again for a catch of fish. He shared how Peter realised so much more about Jesus. After some discussion, he also used Ezekiel 47 to talk about going deeper in God, and from being a new Christian to getting baptized and also getting filled with the Spirit. We prayed for them, and they brought out food as gifts for Charles and his wife, as they were grateful for the ongoing time they have spent with them, from bringing them Mark’s gospels in Chichewa, to continuing Bible studies. I saw at least three full Chichewan Bibles amongst them.Then yesterday, after some ‘African’ delay, we drove out from Blantyre to Phalombe district, which is much more rural and quiet. This base has no running water, some electricity, but is well built and smart. Most of the houses in the area are built from mud bricks. Some had to be rebuilt after the recent floods, and aid came from the Base to rebuild three or four of the houses. Patience is the man running the Base currently, with a volunteer Sankho help him. We enjoyed good hospitality in terms of food, and Chris had purchased a chicken to enhance the evening meal.We walked around the village, and Patrick who used to live here was greeting everyone. Muli bwanje is a catch-all greeting or you can put your hands together as a greeting as you pass people. We watched Patience play with a group of about 18 young people and then they sat down. Chris shared on Proverbs, and the Lord directing our steps. I talked to them then about running a marathon, and used Philippians and reaching ahead, to encourage them to focus on Jesus, and being single-minded. Chris then prayed a good prayer to help them reflect. It was exciting to be part of encouraging them… More on this tomorrow!

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Malawi Day Three

Bleary-eyed, we stumbled across from our room in the Baseto Chris and Hannah’s house for breakfast. It is nice for me to be in amongst the hubbub of children, and to let Caleb (8 years old, similar weight and size to Noah) to pull me around.We then joined the Base community in worship and moved into prayer. There are about thirty at the moment each morning. Some were sharing on the need for Malawians to appreciate hygiene at hospitals with such a high risk of infection, and corruption meaning drugs are sold to the rich and there aren’t antibiotics for the poor.A blurred photo of Nick Muriro is below who is based at Musenberg i(not spelled correctly!) in Cape Town. He is delivering this week’s teaching to the DTS, on church and world mission.This evening we heard him speak on ‘small is big’. The essence of his talk was that we make our faith grow by obedience, small steps. We don’t know what will happen when we obey. Those small steps can lead to God’s great purposes being fulfilled. Daniel, one of the Base leaders, said after that we need to be obedient in those small steps even after the feeling to take them has gone. I think that was especially important for me.This afternoon with Charles, his wife and two of the DTS team, we drove out on a bumpy road through the woods just by Chigumula Market, to a small huddle of houses. Before we heard Nick share, there was praise Chichewa style. This was to a community gathering of around 50. I thought we had stepped into a party – eight joshing and boogieing in the middle, lots of strong African rhythms on the drums, and people round the edge gradually getting pulled into the middle. We sang a song which Hannah translated to me as ‘God is good yes’, which had actions resembling La Macarena. It was a real party time and the Malawians can move!We enjoyed more time today at the Scutts house, where Colin and I navigated through the game The Three Little Pigs with Caleb, Lily and Beth, Daniel and Suzie’s daughter, and Chris cooked us tea. Hannah, as part of her role supporting women in childbirth, was visiting Dina on hospital who is 34 weeks pregnant and had high blood pressure – she is having to stay there, possibly for a month, to keep the blood pressure down artificially, and they are hoping she can avoid a caesarean – Dina is a midwife herself but this is her first child.This is a bit garbled, and I am now a full day behind, so will publish this one and try to catch up tomorrow perhaps while we are driving (to Ntaja, having spent amazing time at Phalombe today).

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Malawi Day Two

The third challenge I am delighted to report was overcome thanks to tenacity and good old fashioned patience on behalf of Colin and me, and the welcome sight of Chris Scutt at Chileka airport, to pick us up, get us a coffee and to take us on a stunningly beautiful sunset drive through Blantyre, out to Limbe and Chigumula Market where the YWAM base is located.Just a few brief comments on the flight – visa authorization, it’s a long way to Lilongwe, and down the revolution, or anything that prevents our homeward flight from happening!It is both strange, exciting and full of promise to meet new people at the YWAM base, get a sense of what God is already doing, and see familiar faces – say hi to Hannah, Chris’ wife and her children (who didn’t remember us but who talked a lot). I don’t want to close off the possibility of anything happening, but I also don’t want to force anything.John 5:23 “All should honour the Son just as they honour the Father.” I am so struck too by Jesus’s statement that “the Father judges no one but has committed all judgement to the Son.”Tired now to reflect more – we had a good meal with the Scutts and with a visiting speaker for the training school, who is usually at the Cape Town base and runs lots of School of Biblical Studies courses there. Hopefully we can both get some sleep tonight…

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Malawi Day One

“It is good for you that I go away,” said Jesus to his closest followers on the night of the Passover. I suppose we commonly think of how they must have felt then.

Now, okay much less of a big deal, but leaving my family behind for two weeks made me think just now, somewhere between a sleep and a wake on Ethiopian airlines in the middle of the night: realise that the things I said to my family before going were really important. Whereas what I normally say is just ‘Daddy’ talking, or just another thing I say, with only a few hours before I’m not seen for a while, my statements set the tone for my absence.

So looking forward to visiting friends out on a YWAM mission base in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in Africa. Our flight was at 9pm, and Colin and I already hit some challenges. Challenge number one: had we packed our cabin bag prepared in case our luggage doesn’t keep pace with us on our transfers – Addis Ababa, Lilongwe, then Chileka Blantyre. (Check, Colin buying spare toothbrush)

Challenge number two: can we cope with the automated check-in, selecting seats for all three journey legs, and sticking our luggage bar codes on the right way round. (Well, sort of).Challenge number three: having virtually had no sleep (I think Colin might have nabbed an hour or two) can we handle the next two transfers and get ourselves safely to Blantyre? (Will update you on that one).

Coming back to Jesus going away, he made the most incredible promises to his closest friends. I have been thinking even just now how much I love my wife and children, and need them in ways I don’t realise unless I am away – let’s face it only for a few hours so far.

But it is often good to be going away, with a firm promise to hang onto and a great God to trust in. I am the Lord, I do not change.There is a hope that is so sure that the reality is much clearer than our every day. More certain than the sunrise, or than the pull of the tides, and far more certain than your next breath, He will finish what he started. This is why Jesus could say, facing a terrible death, it is good for you that I go away.

Again in a much smaller sense, it is good for Colin and me to be going away. Not just because we will appreciate our own beds more when we return (although I have no doubt YWAM hospitality will be very fine!). Why else? Come along with us for the journey and find out!

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Notes on Open Meetings

It can’t have escaped attention for those who regularly come to King’s Gate Church that we are having more Open Meetings currently.  This is not common in the church today!

We passionately believe in Eph 4:16 which says that ‘every joint supplies’ and that ‘every part does its share’ and we also passionately believe in 1 Cor 14:26 which states: ‘Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation.  Let all things be done for edification.’

I feel that we are a little cold, a little dull, a little out of shape when it comes to ministering to each other.  But I don’t think that means we should stop doing it.  On the contrary, I believe it’s time to press in.  You have what I need in Christ.  And I can share something that you will benefit from too.  Led by the Spirit, not by a minister. We can ALL minister.

I was reminded the other day that we had some splendid material on Open Meetings from our good friend Matthew Moore, on Sat Nov 3rd 2018 – I thought it would be timely to type out my notes from the meeting.   Can I emphasize that these thoughts were shared with us, and may not apply in every place!  Matthew was speaking from experience of our Body Ministry meetings several decades ago now, but also from his experience more recently in Bournemouth.

If after reading this, something hits you, please do try it or let the leadership team know.  We are continuing two Open Meetings a month at least until April 2020, God willing, so there is plenty of opportunity for us to grow in these things.

If you wanted to get more detail than this (and some of this may need some deciphering) go to our website and you can listen to his talks – this is the SECOND section, on the practicalities of how to have an open meeting.  Enjoy!

 

Notes on Matthew Moore, Open Meetings

Practical Suggestions

There is very little in the NT on how to have a meeting. Don’t be too prescribed. Give as much freedom as possible.

1 Cor 12 and 1 Cor 14.

1 Cor 13 – without this chapter, the others are destructive. Read it through.

We can’t meet this standard of 1 Cor 13 but we should remind ourselves of this. Sometimes I might not have the patience, but someone in the church will. ‘The strong do what they can, the weak suffer what they must.’

The Lord intended a different picture. ‘The strong suffer what they must, the weak do what they can.’

The weak – to be heard in church. Two ends of the room – to one lot life, joy and hope: and death, discouragement, to another. We have to find the Lord’s answer to this. Cover both ends of the room.

You might have thought the meeting was wonderful, but to someone else they thought it was terrible.

Some need to be told to buck up. For others, this message will destroy them. Shared life – we need to know the Body.

1 Cor 13 v. 7 ‘Bears all things.’ Might be a period when it falls on one person, but they can’t do it all the time.

STARTING: Not on time! Starting WELL is important. There is opposition. Could be your week. We need to win a victory if we don’t start well. Win the victory at the start, if at all possible. The ‘bad week’ must go on the altar.

1. Stand together. Don’t spread out too much. ‘Hallelujah I’m free’. If we’re spread out, we’re on our own. Don’t spread the chairs out in a hall.

In a living room it’s a bit different.

Everyone standing in the middle, or sat round together. Three songs in, sit down. But kicking off, we do it together. We are the Lord’s people, together as one.

2. Start with a song everyone knows. Something easy to sing. A chance to lay your week on the altar. Sacrifice of praise: I don’t want to praise God but I’m going to do it anyway.

3. Listening. Never tell someone who struggles to speak, to stop.

4. If you’ve already spoken three times, please don’t speak again! Save it. Two times is probably enough. If it’s a meeting fro everyone to share, and you’ve been speaking for ten minutes, that’s long enough.

5. If someone else has spoken for ten minutes, don’t contribute for more than five. After a third person speaks, that’s enough. A posh meal with several courses. Major piece of sharing. After a piece of beef, you won’t want turkey, no matter how good it is. Five minutes is probably plenty.

6. Something of weight needs a response. It can be hard if you’ve already got a revelation. It can come out another time. Should be a response on for example ‘grace’. A declaration.

7. Different courses: ‘Word of the Lord for the meeting’. If you can’t get your word in, speak to someone who can create a gap for you. Don’t put someone on the spot. Identify someone who’s going to speak first. People sometimes have been spoken over, and someone else is quicker. Don’t forget, the man at the pool of Siloam who couldn’t get to the water in time – Jesus healed him anyway.

8. Imagination and variety: everyone seek the Lord on grace this week. 50% will struggle and not do it. Don’t assume that everyone else will have done it.

9. Planned meetings – prepared over weeks. We’ve had some good ones in Bournemouth. Everyone takes part. e.g. Anna and Ruth about two months, prepared a day for the church. 10-15 people. 3 groups. Mobile phone. Photograph anything that shares the Lord on the whatsapp. Midday, particular pub. Had a meal together. Pm something on the armour of God. Meeting in the evening. Painting. Anna and Ruth took hours in preparation. There was a fun treasure hunt for everyone. New eyes for everything. Well-known songs, passages – making aspects of the meeting bespoke for individuals. How about a set of awards. No one told Anna and Ruth to do it. It came out of love.

When someone has an idea, the others should say yes. It can be a sacrifice, offering yourself to the Lord.

Willingness to listen to each other. Some people create their own space.

10. Have a topic, but you can bring anything. 6 months of meetings for a church. Take something and really go at it, not just the jewels on the surface. Book of John, the seven I Ams. Israel in the wilderness. ‘I am the gate’. Red Sea. Open it. Church in Holland did loads on the ‘I Ams’.

Default meeting style – that’s okay, but it WILL run out. Get to the end. The Lord does not run out, but particular things seem to, e.g. manna… but then you leave the wilderness.

Bournemouth: start with singing. Then share. Then a song at the end.

You should have a standard way of meeting, but look for variety. Different styles suit different people. Anna and Carol got everyone involved without trying.

Sometimes you need people with different experiences to come in. NT church, people do toing and froing. There is a need for interaction between groups in different places. Just brothers and sisters. More creativity in the Body. Get input from other places.

Whatever’s big in us is the Lord. For example, at CCF (former King’s Gate) there was a victory and discovery in praise and worship that has never died.

e.g. Reading church, a revelation of prayer. When you fight and push through, God will reveal himself. The Lord reveals different things in different places.

As life fades in one place, there will be restoration in another.

 

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Joy and End Times

How has my joy been going?  I have found that it is a very welcome addition to my efforts at daily prayer times.

It has ranged from recalling and declaring verses based on joy (‘The joy of the Lord is my strength’ / ‘You shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace’ / ‘Therefore with joy shall you draw water from the wells of salvation’), to finding a song and singing it right through from the hymn book, to ‘soaking’ in some atmospheric worship music and allowing the Spirit of God to minister, even to just finding a great big smile on my face at the start of the day as I recall what God has done.   I recommend it!

The second part of this blog title, as a very gifted Bible teacher in our church is preaching through Revelation (got to chapter 6 so far, see here for the first talk), is a post that I came across that I wish to quote here, as I know I need to look a little more into end times teaching in the Bible, and yet I have some concern about it, as it’s easy to lose one’s perspective and forget what the purpose of it is.

How many of you, even as a Christian, would scoff at ‘eschatology’ or end-time prophecy and just say it’s a load of gobbledygook?  But the reality is, as William Boekestein points out, that we are ALL eschatologists, just as we are ALL theologians (or, for that matter, mathematicians or linguists).  None of us can function in life without some sort of approximate, working hypothesis on these matters.  That’s why they’re so important.

Yes, eschatology does become more important both as we near our own death, and as we reflect on the fate of world history.  Time will tell how close we are to the end (one dear, ageing brother in my church is personally convinced that Jesus will return soon and it will be in his lifetime).  But the three suggestions that Boekestein has in terms of HOW we engage with eschatology I believe are vitally important.  We need to love each other above all things, and yet too many Christians are at each others’ throats on these issues.  You could be forgiven for thinking that pretribulationists, for example, and postmillennialists, are actually sworn enemies (and a lot of that boils down to replacement theology, or assumed replacement theology.

His three points are:

  1. Don’t speculate about the future.  Let your studies be based on the Bible.
  2. Don’t get argumentative.
  3. Don’t avoid it completely.  You will miss out in so many ways

Read more on his points here (and can I just say that you may find ‘Ask Ligonier’ a very helpful ‘question engine’ for your doctrinal questions, bearing in mind that the platform comes from a place of Reformed theology).

And what I would say, if you are WANTING to explore end-times theology more, is that the main Scriptures are a great place to start, e.g. Mark 13, Matt 24, 1 Thessalonians and of course the piece de resistance, the book of Revelation, which bristles with many violent images and also many incomparable descriptions of our glorious God.  Let’s not miss out.  I also fully recommend John France’s study on it (link above) as he continues – next study due out after 6th July.

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The Risk of Joy

Recently I have been finding it too risky to get joyful.  Let me explain what I mean. There is a danger in joy.  Happiness can be a liability.  Levity tends to calamity.

Do you fear that if you allow too much joy, too much of the goodness of God, of life, of beauty, of your love for others, to be expressed: that actually it will all disappear?  That we can’t allow ourselves TOO much peace, or pleasure?  That caution should be our watchword?

On a side note, joy MUST exist in spite of what is often the overwhelming sadness of life.  As Christians, we are called to joy.  Joy is what will last when all the tears are over.  And if we are not accustomed to joy, the ‘serious business of heaven’ as C.S. Lewis called it, heaven perhaps cannot be our home.  And of course sadness and joy are regularly intertwined, interleaved, interspersed.  The best entertainers know this, know that laughter will also make us more predisposed to be moved to sadness.

Another way of thinking about this, rather than joy as a danger, a risk – unwise, perhaps – is the timing of joy.  I think this is crucial, and that perhaps we confuse this with excess.  I think excessive joy is actually a requirement of the Christian walk.  ‘Joy unspeakable’ was how the apostle Peter put it.  The Psalmist speaks of ‘fullness of joy’.

Recently I have felt a nudge towards joy, in fact the phrase I had is ‘labour in joy’.  To work at joy.  To see it as a discipline.  This is a new idea for me, and I may report back on it.  But I feel that I need to do this first thing in the morning.  It seems the best time for joy. Yes, evenings should be filled with joy. Yes, there should be joy ‘in the journey’.  There will be moments in the day when joy will overtake us and knock us sideways.  Times where we can’t stop laughing out loud, so much so that others may be offended.

And let me ask a question: if you cannot be joyful in the morning, can you hope to be joyful elsewhere?  Start how you mean to go on.  If you want to be a runner, you need to run.  If you want to be an intercessor, pray.  And if you want to be a joyful Christian, then start by allowing the joy to well up in you.  God is my salvation.  I will trust Him.  And with joy I will draw water from the wells of salvation.  How much I need that water. How much I need that joy!

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Brighton Marathon on record

So I am now five days AFTER the marathon, rather than four days before. Similar to my last post, I thought I would put the quick and obvious FAQs at the BOTTOM of this post, feel free to skip to those. I will draw out some wider reflections in the middle as well as the Ten things I have learnt. For me, the marathon was never really a sporting target (although the next one may be!).

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I am blown away with the level of support for my chosen charity – even yesterday I got a further donation, going way over my modest target. That in itself is a fabulous thing and raising money for charity is addictive (but don’t worry, kind donors, I will not be making further demands on your pocket!).

Over the last few days, I have been reflecting on death – it was something I heard on Radio 4 about people deserving a ‘good death’, professionals working with the dying, and saying that ‘You only get one shot at it’. It’s a little like a marathon – okay you don’t only get one shot at that, but there is something ‘peak’, something extraordinary, something indefinably edgy and memorable, about running your first marathon.

I attended a Good Friday service earlier today and  there were some meditations on Christ dying on the cross, and how all his friends had left him, apart from just a few. How difficult that must have been, how unbearable. I’m not at all confident that I would have kept on going the last couple of miles of the marathon, if it weren’t for all the support. The knowledge that someone cares about how you do helps you to keep going mentally. A good death must include the presence of your loved ones, and others, cheering you on, rooting for you. Heavens knows, Christ didn’t die a good death in THAT sense, although in another kind of sense it was the best death of all.

crucifix

Whereas most life events pass everyone else by, if someone is passing away, they deserve some attention, a squeeze of the hand, a prayer, a word of comfort or recognition. Similarly – yes this is connected with the marathon! – if someone is running a marathon, doing something unusual, it is often enough for the most hardbitten loner to claw their way out of their shell, to give a clap, a cheer, a ‘You’re nearly there’! A ‘Come on, you can do it!’ A sense that somehow there is life on the other side of the marathon – was there? I hadn’t even realised!  I certainly wasn’t prepared to think too much about post-marathon until I had got there.

I also am secretly glad that I managed to complete it, as there is always that tiny fear that you’re an impostor, that you can’t actually do it, that you don’t have the will to succeed, that you will badly misjudge it. For a gripping, blow-by-blow marathon account of last week’s marathon, just published, nice and technical for runners, see here. This lady chose to start off in the blue 3:30 – 4 corral, whereas I went for the 4-4:30 option – how did she do? Read to the end to find out!

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What did I learn and what AM I learning through running? They do say that:

‘Everything you want to learn about yourself you can learn in 26.2 miles’.

I think I have learnt something, and I DO feel different about myself. Let me try and codify it for my own benefit. Ten things I have learnt:

ONE: I generally need to hydrate more by drinking water more regularly.  Regular sips works on the marathon, but in the build-up, regular glasses.

TWO: I have learnt that when you run regularly, your body tells you what fuel it needs, and what fuel it DOESN’T want. I am now a firm lover of nuts, porridge, bananas, pasta, and especially overnight oats.  Yes, running is good for the diet!

THREE: I have learnt that I can achieve more than I thought I could, through writing things down, and by sticking to long-term commitments.  Essentially I now feel that almost anything is possible provided a careful, wise approach is taken.  No doors are closed!

FOUR: I have had to revisit how I prioritise my life, and been less selfish about my time – so when I’m NOT running, to give more time to my family, and to ensure that my work does not squeeze out time for keeping healthy spiritually and physically.

FIVE: I have learnt that you make great friends through running, and you get to know the people you run with quite well!

SIX: I have become aware of so many different stories of for what and why people run, and have met so many inspirational people who humble me and help to train me at the same time.

SEVEN: I have also noticed that often the most significant advice for coping mentally with long distance running is shared on a club run, or in a one-off conversation, and always to be on the look-out for it. I may have read some material about running, but I always check it out with actual runners I know.

EIGHT: I was overwhelmed with support from friends and family – it’s a fine opportunity to receive support, and to accrue social capital; in other words, to strengthen bonds with colleagues, friends, loved ones, running buddies. All that capital can be recirculated and help to enrich others’ lives

NINE: There is something about the endurance required for a marathon that I find helpful in many aspects of life, especially spiritually – we all like a good sprint from time to time, but the marathoner has to keep their eye ahead on what is to come, not just on the stretch of ground in front of them.  I read somewhere to ‘run the mile you’re in’, which is also true so that you don’t fall to bits, but a steady temperament and not too much bravura is something I feel I have learnt.

TEN: In a similar vein, I have learnt something of my limitations which is just as good as being more willing to take risks: probably an Iron Man or Marathon de Sables is not for me.

So to put it more broadly, if asked ‘should I consider running a marathon myself?’ my suggestion to you would be not to write it off.  We are so conditioned by our own experiences that anything ‘out of the box’ can be ignored; but actually being open-minded might be the first step on the road to a fresh discovery.   But don’t start with a marathon! I spoke to someone earlier today who remarked that in his younger days, when he did plenty of sport, he decided to have a bash at a marathon – for the first 13 miles he kept up with the front-runners, and then he dropped further and further back, until the last mile he was moving his legs and arms, but didn’t seem to actually be moving forwards.  After he finished, he spent about five days in bed recovering.  Respect the distance!

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Even when I began parkruns a couple of years ago, a marathon wasn’t really on the cards for me – just a slight question mark, but I don’t think I would have been bothered if I never got there.  Then it gradually became more of a reality – a 10 mile race here, a 10k there, a half-marathon… and I bit the bullet and signed up last April.  I would warn you that running is a little addictive, and that there is a regular need to rein back and say, Hang on, I’ve got other things to do with my life.

It had quite a deep meaning for me as way back I put it on a life-ambition list, and I had always pricked up my ears when someone talked about it.  As a side note, I have noticed that not everyone wants to talk about running, and that’s okay too!  There is a slight tendency for people to move aside, and to leap to the assumption that you are some kind of sporting fanatic, some supernatural breed, simply because you have run one marathon.

More broadly speaking, is there a question you have been asking about your life, and you have simply said: No, that’s not for me?  And actually it is!  It might be finding a life partner, or new friendships.  It could be getting out more. It could be confidence in social situations, or taking up a sport.  It could be making a career change, after sitting in one job for too long.  Could that be you?  Yes, it could!  And my experience is that very few people are going to look down on you for ‘stepping out of the boat’ and taking a risk.  Make sure you count the cost, weigh things up, take it one step at a time, and you will surprise yourself what can be achieved.

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For me, the marathon symbolises the focus for the ‘second half’ of my life – no I’m not going to spend the rest of my days running marathons (probably not) but has given me a real uplift and a sense of achievement.  I have discovered I have a good level of grit and determination after all, and enough discipline to achieve something worthwhile – provided I am alongside wonderful, supportive people (and there are plenty out there).  Not bad for a four and a half hour experience on one Sunday in April!

Frequently Asked Questions

Did you finish it and what time did you get?

I am proud to report that I DID complete the Brighton 2019 marathon, and also to say that I came in under my outside target of 4:30 hours, with a time of 4:26:25 but did not hit what I had been hoping to, which was 4:15. However, I am very happy with it overall, like my son in the photo below!

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Did you hit ‘the wall’?

No, I did not hit a point where I couldn’t go on any more. But I would say that with a qualification. The first one was that I think due to ingesting TOO many gels and electrolyte drink which was all a bit too sweet (I had coped with this up to 20 miles but found it got worse over more), and also that my tummy wasn’t quite in the best state due to a very early start, I felt a little nauseous and headachey most of the way through the run. The second qualification, was that I kept hitting LOTS of little walls after mile 23, and it was only thinking of my family, and why I was running, and the extraordinary support from complete strangers (mainly) along the route that helped me to finish it. I literally had to pump my arms to convince my legs to carry on running.

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Did you have a lot of support?

I had my name printed on my running shirt front and back, and this meant that lots of people kept calling out to encourage me, which I tried to acknowledge. I also had my wife and sons cheering on, with a large helium Batman balloon to stand out above the crowds – they caught me at three points, once just by St. James’ Street, one before the 13.1 mile arch, and then also just before the final stretch. The adrenalin, and distraction, and joy, of seeing people you know gunning for you, especially your children, is more wonderful than I can say unless you have experienced it. Very importantly, I ran for the first 22 miles with a runner from my running club, and that was brilliant to help keep me steady.  Not only that, but my Club had a strong team of supporters at the notoriously difficult part of the race just after the Shoreham power station, as well as others dotted further along the route, who got some brilliant (free!) photos and also gave fantastic encouragement. They gave up their Sunday to come across to Brighton and support in the cold and the wind. Thank you so much!

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Would you recommend the Brighton Marathon?

This is where I mention the route – the undulations in the first half I misjudged and I took a bit too casually.  If you’re looking for a great time, it may not be the best one to run because of this.  Also, coastal marathons are prone to suffer from headwinds.  I would also say that the volume and level of support at times was off-putting.

BUT overall I would recommend it – particularly for an early marathon, as you can’t beat the sense of anticipation, the camaraderie of all the runners, the sense of being a celebrity as you power past all the crowds (that was early on!) and the fantastic views of Brighton and the sense of occasion is also wonderful.  I believe that many Brightonians must deliberately put it on their calendar, carve out the time, go and buy boxes of jelly babies at their own cost, and stand out in all weathers to support.  All five races I have run so far have been well-supported, but this was by far the largest crowd.

You do need to know that around mile 20 you have to run round Shoreham power station and back, and that support thins out here for a while – this is the hardest slog of the route.  This is by no means a definitive ‘review’ of the Brighton marathon, and it’s important to remember that everyone’s experience will be different.  This video gives some idea of the route and atmosphere.  There are some logistical issues that are harder because it’s such a big event, such as picking up the race pack in advance, getting there on the day with all the ‘in’ roads closed, and timing your baggage drop and arrival at Preston Park well so that you have a calm start to the race.  They give you plenty of information in advance, however, and another plus point is the ‘Active Experience’ app which means that loved ones can track your progress throughout the race through your chip and number.

Would you run another one?

The answer to that question as I was running the last few miles would definitely have been a NO! But on reflection, looking back over my performance (see above for more on that) I would like to have another go at some point, probably not immediately. I am planning to continue running, because I have made good friends from it, it makes me feel good, and it is now firmly part of my life.

Are you going to try something new?

I am not planning on extending my reach by going for an Ultra, or branching out into triathlons, or anything like that. I love hearing (on runs) about people taking on new physical challenges. It is brilliant to hear of fellow club members setting themselves new targets and achieving them. It’s more about the journey, the adventure, the discipline required, than about hitting the goal.

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