At 4.45am UK time, Jason punched my shoulder. “Do you want breakfast?” Full sunlight was streaming in on our right. The display screen showed we were over Albania, and we would track the dawn. Jason and Jonny didn’t seem to have tried to sleep, having found it futile coming over. Darren, my neighbour, had vaulted over our seats and found a better space to sleep. Sam Strong would be waiting for us, and we had no way of telling him we were running over an hour late.
Jason filled me in on his and Jonny’s adventures. “We were in a hotel – for security. I went to wash my hands and the basin filled with brown water. I pulled the plug and didn’t notice the sink drain was a make-shift do. Water went all over the floor. I wondered what we’d come to.” The question Wakey and I had been dying to ask was about pit latrines. The non-existent phone signal in Rwanda had denied us this. “First night,” Jason continued, “We just lay awake, terrified, listening to every sound. We talked and prayed.”
He explained that the farm they’d been working on, just outside the town, had been owned by Gregory’s family. “They have this local thing where when someone dies, they flatten the house. But his family and the Pastor want to end the superstition. It’s a substantial place, and the church now uses it for training and stuff.” He and Jonny had spent one day selecting timber and materials. Then they’d made some doors and tables. The local young guys, eager to learn, had soon picked up the skills from Jonny. “They’ve got very good plans. When the container arrives, it will be a great set-up.” “I guess you’ll want to go and see it, then,” I led him. “I’m sure the Oxford congregation could ‘find’ the price of your tickets.” He laughed in agreement. “I don’t want to lose what I’ve learned here.” He was more serious.
They’d also visited several churches. Jason had been shocked to see a group of orphans sniffing glue – the only palliative available against the pain of their lives. Alfred, from Uganda, had expressed something similar. Members of his church’s congregation are traumatised by 20 years of war and insurgency. An aim of his kingdom business initiatives is to help people to build a new life by healthy manual work.
Soon enough the PA announced, “The weather in London is 5 degrees...” The four of us exchanged glances. I’d packed an extra tee-shirt, and put it on as soon as I could find an airport toilet. As we shuffled through the Terminal 4 queues, Sam Strong rang. “I’ve overslept – didn’t set the alarm.” It was one of his wind-ups. But for a moment I doubted for arrival back in Sheffield at any kind of sensible time. We’d ordered a welcome hot flask, and Sam had remembered. The day felt very cold, but Spring had leapt ahead since we left: blackthorn blossom, hawthorn leaves, and even sticky buds.
I rang Mick to confirm our safe return, as we’d asked for a lot of prayer support through yesterday’s mishaps. On the train home from Oxford, I had a call from an unknown number. It was Barclay’s fraud department. “There’s been a Western Railways transaction...” the voice began. “Yes, that’s me. And 1.2M Tanzanian shillings,” I expanded. “And a cafe purchase,” the voice continued. They’d been doing a thorough job.
Back in Sheffield, I went straight to the Jesus Centre, where Mary was doing the day’s reception/help desk shift. I caught up with essential news, checked the state of my desk, and at 3 o’clock went home for an hour’s sleep, so I could recalibrate my body clock. At seven, I swam up from the deepest sleep I can remember. It was completely dark, and I was struggling to identify a noise that had now ceased: my phone ringing. Yesterday’s adventures must have really knocked me out.
I’ve gradually readjusting from the three-hour time change. Getting up time has gone: Thursday 4.45am; Friday 5.15am; Saturday 6.15am (when Ps Luvanda texted me); Sunday 6.60am. James wants me to do a 1,000 word summary of all this, for Jesus Life. Huw wants me to do my customary report. “Include a five-year plan,” he added. Now there’s a challenge.