Some of you will have followed Padre Tracey’s journey through pregnancy on the pages of this blog. You will be pleased to learn that said ‘bump’ is now a healthy baby boy doing his best to keep mum and dad awake. Tracey’s last offering before maternity leave teaches us something about the nature of waiting. It reminds me of a profound theological reflection written by W H Vanstone titled ‘The Stature of Waiting’, but more of this another time. Tracey writes:
The reply to the endless question? Any News Yet? Has the Baby come??
‘Love is kind, love is patient, love is gentle’. I have read these words many times at weddings but the past few weeks have alerted me to them in a different context – waiting to give birth. I took two weeks off before he was due, sure he was coming early – he was a good size and all had been going very well (and I thought giving birth amongst Soldiers would be traumatising for all concerned!). In those two weeks I did all things that needed doing and some that did not, such as re-organising my DVD’s and at the point of tidying the spice rack I knew things were going to be tough…thankfully swimming each day gave me something to hang the day on! And then it was the Due-Day and Nothing…and the next day and the next day…and now we’re at D-Day +7!
I reasoned with humour that my womb was too comfortable and too cosy a place to be, laughing with my husband that our child was going to be a pot holer as he enjoyed damp dark places. I then went through the baby blues early…D-Day +3 I was totally fed up. I had stopped swimming, not really wanting the pool to have to shut because of my waters breaking, I tried to stay in bed longer so the day wasn’t so long and I smiled politely when many people told me to make the most of having time off without a screaming infant…but I felt I was slowly gong mad…
Don’t get me wrong, I have spent more time with God and it’s been a good time to catch up on trying to read the Bible in a Year, although on one morning I was bemused as throughout the Book of Jeremiah there are far too many references to the pain of childbirth!! I have spent time in prayer and in the stillness and quiet have reflected a lot on the return of Jesus and how we don;t know when hat will be either – but I will leave those reflections until the season of Advent. I have prayed more for people I know who are house bond, bed bound, terminally ill and how truly hard it is for all people who are ill, trapped and unable to live as they would prefer…
Throughout all of this I have also been very thankful for my husband’s presence and stoicism. He has been amazing – of course at times everything has been his fault, but he has tried to be there for me, going for strolls, playing games, forfeiting some things he would prefer to do just in case I go into labour. But at the times when everything has been his fault, I have been mindful of many people within our Military community who would love for their partners to be with them rather than serving on Operations.
So my Patience has been truly tested, my being kind and gentle to a bump who is just too lazy to move has been tested…but still we wait for God’s perfect timing…
Is it theologically sound to pray; ‘Thy will be done…but please hurry up?’
‘In the Belly of the Beast’
It was totally dark inside the huge C17 Globemaster transporter aircraft as we made our decent into Bastion. The lights had been extinguished and we sat there perspiring in our helmets and body armour.
The journey had been fairly uncomfortable from the outset with our seats on rails in the centre of the aircraft, closely packed together like sardines and sharing an aroma not unlike the little salted fish! The air heavy with heat and fatigue, that accumulates on these long hauls. But this unpleasantness had been mitigated in part by being able to read and listen to the serenades of your iPod, but with the onset of darkness there was nothing left to focus on but the journey itself.
It was as I did such that I realised just how similar this scene was to the situation that a certain Old Testament Prophet found himself in. He had attempted to run away from the will of the Almighty only to find himself becoming whale food, and there deep in the belly of that mammal behemoth he was given time to reflect in the putrid air, his situation and God’s direction.
I peered into the semi darkness, lit only by a myriad of bright lights indicating secrets to only those trained to interpret, and wondered at the construction of this huge beast, that could actually swallow a helicopter let alone a little army padre! The metal frame creaked under the burden of both thrust and lift as it carried it cargo closer to the desert airstrip. Unfamiliar noises like whale song echoed around the cavern, creaks and groaning of fatigued metal alongside the whirling’s of motors responding to the pilot’s subtle touch. Lights flickered, and wheels thudded into place, eager to touch tarmac. Flaps struggled with air eddies to slow the beast on its approach and like Jonah; I was trapped, strapped into my seat, being taken somewhere but unable to input direction or course.
I was at the mercy of this huge beast, but none of that concerned me. For though I could not change course, or stop this decent into the desert, I knew that this direction was one chosen for me by God. Although I shared some of the ancient prophet’s misgivings, I was not seeking to run away from my calling, but just had to sit here in the belly of this aircraft until it reached my destination. There was no point being worried, God was in control, and his plan was being worked out and while I could struggle and fret, imagine and waste countless hours on concerns, what was the point? I know my God and he knows me and not only is He great and mighty but He is good and loving, a perfect combination and assurance for the fearful follower.
So wash over me strange noises in the dark, flickering lights of uncertainty in the heat of fatigue and travel. I know the doors will soon open and the stale air will be lost in the fresh air of my desert home. Air that has lost most of the day’s heat and although not cool and English in origin, has become pleasantly familiar as the smell of the place God wishes me to be.
Padre Cole Maynard
‘Now there were staying in Jerusalem, God fearing Jews from every nation under heaven’ (Acts 2:5)’
It was dark as I drove my white pickup along the dusty track to the Church tent in Bastion 2. I yawned, tired from the day’s exertions and the heat of this desert. It was Pentecost and my first service that morning had gone well, but now it was 20.00 hrs and this evening’s meeting would start at 20.30 hours but it would be around 22.30 before I would finally zip up the church, having cleaned it following the service.
I felt physically drained and reluctantly parked my vehicle outside. I turned off the engine and waited as it shuddered its protest at being denied fuel. In the quietness and the ticking of cooling metal I thought I could hear singing, but dismissed it until I opened the car door. Sure enough there was a deep baritone chorus coming from somewhere. It was clearly being sung in another language but I recognised one word, repeated for effect: ‘hallelujah’! I grabbed my gear and quickly entered the church to find it packed out with around sixty Tongan soldiers singing in their native tongue. I was confused, had they come in to take their own service unaware that another service was planned for 20.30? I stood at the back of the church and tried to see who their chaplain was. But the front of the church appeared empty. Then I saw one of the regular church members and whispered: ‘Who are they waiting for?’ He looked surprised at the question and simply said: ‘They are waiting for you Padre!’
‘Doh!’ Of course they were so I quickly got a grip of myself and began the embarrassing process of preparing for the 20.30 hour service with my congregation already present and seated, more than that, fired up on high octane praise!
I set up my ipod and speaker system, and prepared the altar for Holy Communion. Just before I started the service I ascertained that this was the Tongan Force Protection Company who had been in theatre since December 2010 and they were flying back to Tonga tomorrow. They had come church to give thanks for their safe return.
So we started a deeply moving and memorable Pentecost service. We took it in turns to sing one hymn in English and the next in Tongan. The British contingent arrived in typical military fashion closer to 20.30 hours and so we had people sat in the aisles and on sofas at the rear of the tent. My congregation sung lustily and the deep baritone chorus resonated from our tent all over Bastion 2. We began to draw a crowd and people kept on opening the tent door to see just what was going on. Perhaps they thought we were drunk, but it was only 9 o’clock in the evening!
I narrated the events of the first Pentecost taken from Luke’s account in Acts chapter 2 and preached to the beaming smiles of the soon to be returning home congregation. Like the first Pentecost God’s worship was heard in many languages, and his Spirit moved hearts as his word was preached. Strangely my earlier fatigue and lethargy evaporated in the heat of pure worship and I praised God for this unique opportunity and glimpse of heaven.
Then we broke bread together and corporately shared in the meal that Jesus has given us that transcend all cultures and even time itself. As I stood there with these huge Tongan soldiers receiving the bread and wine, often towering above me, I praised God as I experienced first hand just how far those early Christian witnesses had travelled following that first outpouring. It was Henry Martin, that pioneering Anglican missionary to India, who once said:
“The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to Him,
the more intensely missionary we must become.”
Here was the proof, both in my Tongan congregation and my call to the deserts of Afghanistan.
‘Come Holy Spirit!’
Padre Cole Maynard
In the writings of St Aidan on the desert fathers he narrates a thought provoking story. He records an incident concerning a certain Abbot Antony who was conversing with some of his monks when a hunter, who had been out in the wilderness looking for game, came across the jovial party. Seeing the monks and their Abbott laughing and joking he was offended that they were not about the Lord’s business.
So Abbot Antony told the hunter: ‘Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.’ The hunter complied. ‘Now shoot another,’ directed the Abbot. Again the hunter did, and the Abbot continued: ‘and another, and another!’
Eventually the hunter complained, ‘If I bend my bow all the time it will break!’
Abbott Antony replied: ‘So it is with the work of God. If we push ourselves beyond measure, we will soon break. It is right therefore from time to time to relax!’ (‘Celtic Daily Prayer’ (1996) Page 419, HarperOne).
Since arriving in theatre life has been full on, and I thought I was coping well. I began to undertake my regular early morning runs around the camp, and was even going to the gym and taking part in some ’spinning’ classes. I felt good working literally from dawn until late after dusk. Then I made the long tiresome journey to Kabul. The visit went well and I enjoyed the 10 degree drop in temperature, the more relaxed pace and meeting the Kabul Support Unit Chaplain. We both enjoyed a wonderful moment together praying on the roof of our accommodation surrounded by the mountains of that ancient city. However, whether it was something in the food, or the close proximity you endure whilst flying in the back of a Hercules, I experienced a ‘relaxation’ and type of ‘runs’ I was not physically prepared for! It started with aches in my joints, and then bizarrely being cold when outside in 44 degree heat! So much so that I began to wear my sleeves down and shiver in the suns glare! Then came the stomach cramps and the inevitable problem with my bowels. I tried to soldier on, telling myself that it would soon pass and I even booked a doctors appointment but then felt a bit better so I cancelled it. The next day however, I was overcome by a deep lethargy, and aware that I could be infectious and therefore a liability to others, I reluctantly went to the medical centre and was pronounced sick and bedded down for 72 hours.
Relaxation is not something that comes easy to me, but that first 24 hour period passed – quite literally – between my bed and the toilet. The second day I felt mildly better but remained in bed having tried to eat a couple of pieces of toast but failed to keep them in my stomach!
By the third morning I felt significantly stronger and was able to get up and potter about the room. I was forced to relax and read, or watch TV, and do you know what? I actually began to regain my strength. Whatever the actual cause of my infection, it had not been helped by my eagerness to run only six days into theatre – when we are told to wait for fourteen days to allow your body to acclimatise. I had probably attempted too much too soon and the body, weak from attempting to cope with this new environment, its heat and its own unique strains of bacteria, had succumbed. But hey, I know better, at least I do now! Perhaps my confinement was the only way for God to get me to actually rest, and it is only then that we are able to hear his still small voice.
Padre Cole Maynard
Well not quite, but I am sure it’s going to happen soon. For those who have been interested over the past few months, I am nearing the end of the joy of being pregnant!! I am sure however, the ‘joy of being pregnant’ was not penned by a woman!! Getting larger every day, having cramp, being restricted as to what you can eat, drink and most forms of physical activity!! Everyone keeps commenting how quick it seems to have gone and yet I can’t remember not being pregnant! But I have to concede it is all quite a miracle…the first kick was interesting and the first batch of hiccups was amusing, but now I do feel over used as a personal gym for Junior. I think I either have a boxer, footballer or perhaps a drummer getting ready to come out.
What I hadn’t expected was the level of care and interest I have received from the Army and indeed the soldiers themselves. Initially I received all of their horror stories and the like as they competitively liked to entertain me with their partners experiences but recently they have shown genuine care. Indeed I have been yelled at quite alot over the past few weeks, for cycling, carrying a bergen and last week for trying to climb over a fence, none of which I am apparently supposed to do in ‘my condition’. But I am still allowed to give out sweets, I’m just not allowed to carry too many at one time!!
It has been wonderful to draw closer to soldiers and their partners as they offer advice but also many have opened up in a much deeper way about their own children, including both the joys and sadly some sorrows. There has been a real surge of Baptisms as well and I have to admit they have taken on a deeper meaning for me, not least as often during the service I have been kicked from the inside. Reminding me very powerfully of the words from Psalm 139 when King David praises God for being wonderfully made, assured that God knew him as his bones were being formed in his mothers womb!
It’s been lovely to have this blog open up so we have heard of different Padres’ experiences, and may I thank any regular readers for their support over the past year…but this is it from me for a few months, as I really ought to concentrate on getting Junior out and then apparently they need a little looking after!! Hopefully the Editor of the Blog will let you know what sprouts out in a week or so… [The blog team are hoping for a baby but are prepared to be surprised - Ed]
Padre Tracey Bateson
‘IT’S LIFE JIM, BUT NOT AS WE KNOW IT!’
We are told that from dust we come and to dust we shall return, which makes Afghanistan close to the origin of all life! Out here dust is a way of life. Having just arrived I was on the ranges carrying out some critical training and trying to adjust from the green lush fields of Lancashire to the brown dust-bowl of the desert which is now my home. The sun shone down on us from its elevated position high in the sky, my body bleeding sweat in a futile effort to cool the core. Its 43 degrees and it is only my fifth day! Lectures persist, relentless like the orange globe above our heads. Water is imbibed frequently, almost incessantly, as the body tries to replenish the litres it has shed in coolant.
Morale is high, training excellent, but the body is exhausted. It takes around two weeks to acclimatise and by day five I am tired just trying to walk around let alone run. The gym is on the back-burner as the ‘back-burner’ makes all thought of physical training sheer madness.
And to top it all, I have a sore throat and a cold. I have left the damp coast of the North West for the arid desert of Afghanistan, and I have caught a cold! Medics explain that it is all part of the adjustment process, a combination of movement from air-conditioning to sun-conditioning supported by a dry and dusty context that coats your membranes and blocks your nasal passages.
Feeling less than my best I try to adjust and prepare for my new role as Joint Force Senior Chaplain, but at present feel totally inadequate. Prayer is required and reliance on Him who is greater than I. No point building my house in the sand – it is the sand that is the problem here! I need a firmer foundation for my ministry if I am to be found up for the task. What was it that the Apostle Paul wrote at such a moment like this…
‘What a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ (Romans 7:24-25)
Padre Cole Maynard
More news from Padre Cole:
‘It is day two, which in fact is day one in theatre having arrived just past midnight! I am jet-lagged, yet excited at the prospects of the day whilst also not a little daunted at the steep learning curve ahead.
My colleague and predecessor takes me around the lines and introduces me to important characters and places but after around eight hours they all seem to merge into one. I find myself overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead and the situational awareness I need to achieve in a very short time.
I am surprised at just how much this Main Operating Base has changed since last time I was here. There is only one place I recognise which although substantially changed in furniture remains in the same location it was three years ago, and that is the church. An old familiar tent with its weathered wooden cross announcing its solace and shelter.
After a last introduction, Jonathon recognises my weary state and offers me down-time. So I exercise my new found freedom and decide I need to spend time with God. Some reflection and spiritual re-energising is required. So in the cooler dark of the evening I embark on a journey to the church. How hard can that be? I used to sleep in that old tent when I frequently visited Bastion in 2007. However, the once familiar paths of this MOB are now a maze of tented camps and ISO containers. Nothing is where it should be and now it is dark, I am soon lost in an unfamiliar conurbation.
I try to remember the route that I previously took but this just confuses me more and I have to stand still, shocked at how quickly I have lost touch with this base’s evolution. And then I see it, a large white beacon, precariously perched on top of a protective wall, and lit up by a strip light, the old weathered wooded cross.
It stands proud above the tentage calling me to prayer. I smile and head towards it, but the tent is not empty. I arrive hot on the heels of a soldier looking for the Bible Study. I inform him that it has moved to the next day and so we chat for a while and I assure him of the healthy Christian community that meets in this place and he leaves a happier man. I move through the tent to the back and look around the familiar office where I used to rest my head, when I again hear the tent zips singing their sharp song. I walk back into the church to find another person looking for the Bible Study. I repeat my earlier conversation following which he says: ‘Padre, can I ask you a question?’ So I spend forty-five minutes exploring the call of God upon this RAF Pilot’s life, and talk through how we can know whether God is calling us into the ministry. I close the conversation with prayer seeking God’s will and revelation for this young officer’s life.
Finally I am alone to commune with God. I read Psalm 61 and smile at the appropriate words of another military man:
‘Hear my cry O God, listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint
lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For you have been my refuge,
a strong tower against the foe.’ (Psalm 61:1-3)
I pray for the ministry here and for my family. My concerns begin to flow away in the delight of heavenly communion and I know that even here, from the ends of this desert camp, God is still my strong tower, my rock.
I zip the church tent closed and make my way to the coffee shop for one last beverage before bed. I have my motorcycle magazine with me to help me escape this place on a caffeine and bike ride. Coffee on the table and magazine in hand I sit and read for a while when all of a sudden the server comes up and places a plate in front of me. He smiles ‘for you’ he says before disappearing. In all my times on deployment and drinking in such shops never have I been given a free cake! But what is more important, of all the many cakes he could have given me, he had chosen my very favourite, an iced Belgian bun. How did he know this was my favourite and why the gift? The answer was obvious; he had been prompted to minister to me in this gentle way by a Father whose love we can never escape, no matter where we are in the world. I have arrived!’
Padre Cole Maynard