20 October 2020
Beloved Praying Friends and Family in many places,
I am positively conscience-stricken that it is so many moons since I last wrote to you. But I am afraid 2020 for lots of reasons, not least a world-wide pandemic, has been a topsy-turvy sort of year and for me personally has included many challenges of different sorts. In consequence my normal writing schedules have been pretty much turned on their head. Even so, I should have come back to you all long before now. So sorry!
Perhaps I should first testify that through everything this year the Lord has been really wonderful and demonstrated His faithfulness so faithfully. Indeed, it remains on my writing agenda to do a little book called Great is Thy Faithfulness, where I want to testify, Lord willing, to some of the major arenas of life where I have marvellously experienced the faithfulness of God. One student at Rhodes University said to me: “Oh, Uncle Mike, please write that book!” I really look forward to getting into that little volume.
The first part of the year opened up with a number of good preaching and teaching opportunities, one of them being sharing in a Lent course on prayer in my own home congregation, the Church of the Ascension. I still love preaching and am thankful I can still do it with vigour and clarity, and I can still embrace the counsel given by a preacher of yesteryear, which I think I have shared with you, who said: “If God calls you to preach, do not stoop to be a king!”
But of course early in the year Covid-19 struck and turned everything upside down, with special alarm being created for us by the very first cases of Covid in South Africa being right here in our own little village of Hilton. At first we fled out to the Drakensberg to stay with our extra special friends, Paul and Lorna Culwick. They are building a lovely home just below the towering and magnificent Cathkin Peak. That was all so much fun. But after 10 days we felt we really needed to brace ourselves to get back to Hilton to our own home and settle down for the long term course of who knows how many months. In fact, we have not been to anything public anywhere since February, nor have I been anywhere near a shop, except on a couple of occasions to get a take-away pizza, or for some fish and chips and calamari!
However I have to say that the Covid lockdown, while excruciating for some in very limited or crowded space, as in some townships, has nevertheless been very good to me. I have been locked down in the home I love, with the woman I love, doing a thing I love. Namely writing. What more could anyone ask?! And here in Namirembe, especially with Carol’s garden which is a consummate expression of loveliness, I often feel the veil between heaven and earth is slim. In fact just yesterday I said to Carol: “How could heaven be any better than this, except that I can’t yet sit down to afternoon tea with Isaiah or St Paul!”
Deep Waters of the Disciple
Anyway, quite early in the piece, I found coming into my mind persistently, the title of a little book I started back in 1976, believe it or not, when Carol was carrying Marty in the womb and her waters broke at six months due to violent coughing resulting from viral pneumonia. Carol was in hospital three months and there was a time when it looked as if we could lose both mother and child. For both Carol and me it was a season of very deep waters. And I began a little book called Deep Waters of the Disciple where I intended to look at some of the heavy trials which can beset believers. I wrote a preface and two chapters but then became distracted by some other big ministry demands, even though I was staying in Cape Town for those four months rather than returning to Pietermaritzburg. So the book got filed.
But, as I say, quite early in Covid this title came back to me. I went to the files in my study, looked up a file called Suffering, and abracadabra, there was the Deep Waters folder. And it just seemed to be pressed into my spirit that I should pick up the little volume and get going again. I rewrote the preface, edited the first two chapters and then started writing, the first new chapter being The Deep Waters of Covid-19.
The fact is that thousands and thousands have gone through very deep waters during Covid, some with the illness itself, others fearing it, many losing jobs, and others having accentuated during this time problems such as doubt, depression, despair, marital troubles, or bereavement. In fact, the third to last chapter which I have just finished is indeed on Bereavement.
The chapter I am into now is on The Deep Waters of facing Death, because I think this Covid season has heightened for multitudes the awareness of their mortality, and the fragility of life. The last chapter is to be on Heaven – Where there are No Deep Waters! I greatly look forward to writing that.
Work challenges and opportunities
I think I have shared with many of you that we have been working with film producer Frans Cronje (brother of the late Hansie) on a film documentary on the ’94 elections based broadly on my book, A Witness For Ever. In charge of this from the AE side has been the immensely able Charlene Pauw, wife of Theuns Pauw, the SA Team Leader. She and Frans have spearheaded the project, but I have been quite caught up too as we have worked through successive edited versions pressing towards the final product. We are almost there now and hoping to send a penultimate version to President Cyril Ramaposa in the hopes that he will grace us with a brief interview for inclusion in the film.
The production sets forth in historical and educational terms a summary of South African history, with all its fearsome convulsions, and leading up finally to the miracle of ’94. We are also saying that God gave us a phenomenal miracle back then which we dare not throw away, although sometimes our South African political and social behaviour suggests we are trying to do just that. Hence the crisis we are in, a crisis which once again requires the sustained prayers of God’s people and the response of everyone doing their bit. “Do your bit” is a reiterated refrain towards the end of the film.
In my own view this production has great potential, particularly to educate and inspire many young people in our schools where we hope to secure extensive viewing. Please pray for the final processes by which all of this can be brought to full fruition.
MC and Friends Legacy Project
I have also been doing work with Charlene on the MC and Friends Legacy project which involves creating a major digital archive of all my letters, sermons, articles, books, and scrapbooks along with creating links to the material of Great Friends with whom we have walked the journey of ministry these last 50 years. These would include people such as Billy Graham, John Stott, Festo Kivengere, Francis Schaeffer, Chuck Colson and a good many others.
We are working closely with David Larsen, Director of African Media, who is a professional archivist, much sought after around the country. Charlene has also inspanned our Foxfire team to help with sorting endless letters and photographs when they are not involved in ministry. (Incidentally, we have been concerned that Zweli Sokhela, our Foxfire Director, and his wife Norma, went down with Covid. This has further complicated their ministry and assorted outreach endeavours. We covet your prayers for Zweli and Norma’s full recovery). Anyway, the Foxfire ministry is getting back underway again with more and more excellent open-air meetings for young people.
The aim of the Legacy Project is not just to have all this material archived, but to create an online study resource for pastors and students. So it will be a living and active project for the present and the future and not just a historical record of the past.
I have been much privileged on the personal ministry front to have been asked by Theuns Pauw to do some short and regular video devotions (about seven minutes) to send out a couple of times a month. I have enjoyed these and am thankful that they have touched numbers of people here and there. If by any chance you would like to receive these, do please let us know.
Then I was very blessed a few weeks ago to celebrate my 84th birthday. I am so very thankful to the Lord for the gift of long life and I have asked Him for many more years not simply for ministry but for enjoying marriage to Carol. I want so much to drink fully of the marriage cup because the Lord has said that in Heaven there will be no marrying or giving in marriage! Our life and time on Planet Earth seems to be the only opportunity to be married, and this sort of concerns me! So I think fairly early in my experience of Heaven I want to take the Lord aside for a little chat about how Angel Carol Bam/Cassidy and I could be allowed a special dispensation for some special heavenly fun!
On my birthday we had Martin and Sam and the children here for a few days and this was all fun and frolics. A special highlight of the day, apart from the incredible birthday dinner Carol gave me/us, was watching a one hour 40 minute video which Martin had put together with scores of greetings from friends both here and around the world. I felt extraordinarily blessed by the joys of these friendships but guilty now that I have not been able to thank everyone properly. If any of you receiving this letter are amongst my unthanked friends, I do apologise, and I thank you now!
Something else which has been quite special is our Sunday online services received from our Church of the Ascension here in Hilton. Our Pastor Paul Mosdell and his splendid team have done an incredible job of making it all deeply real, spiritually helpful and didactically challenging in terms of the messages given. Carol and I always find it moving to give one another communion. One wonders how all these clever Covid arrangements will affect the way church is conducted in the future, both here and around the world.
Because many of you kind friends are always wondering how I am doing with my health, let me give you a bit of a catch up. My shingles condition has continued for some 16 months now and is, I suppose, my major trial. I have rattled the Lord’s cage on this subject quite a bit, but no final deliverance has yet come! I guess it still has some lessons to teach me. So it’s actually been quite a tough year but the Lord in His faithfulness has seen me through. It began with my having a cancer surgery on my nose which required our wonderfully skilled surgeon, Dr Bronwen Schoenfeld, to take a big flap from my cheek and rebuild my nose most remarkably. In fact it looks better than the one I had before! But one little challenge is that it means that I have to shave my nose because whiskers grow on it! I told my grandchildren they can boast to their friends that they have the only grandpa in South Africa who shaves his nose!
Then came some funny symptoms which had me in hospital for a Covid test. I was housed in a ward with many other similar patients waiting for our results. If you were positive, you went out to a ward on the left. If you were negative, you went to a different ward on your right! Those were a strange couple of days and gave one lots of thoughts to think about life and death. Curiously I was able to have a real peace about whether I was moved next door to the ward on the left, or the one on the right! It’s so wonderful to know the sovereign hand of God over one’s life and death destinies. Mercifully I went to the ward on the right where they said I had bronchial pneumonia which after a week in hospital I had shaken off.
More recently I had some more surgeries with Dr Schoenfeld for possible little cancers on my head, forehead and back. The former two proved not to be problematic but the latter on my upper back was a bigger and malignant Squamous Carcinoma. Quite a nasty rascal. They think they got it all out but in the aftermath of this I am having daily radium treatment at a mercifully nearby hospital for six weeks (Monday to Friday). But I am getting in the swing of it and building my other AE labours, and especially my writing around that.
Obviously I would appreciate your prayers for all this, as well as for Carol who has to pick up quite a bit of the strain.
God is in charge
But I totally rejoice in the very deep sense I have in the sovereignty of God over my life and the life of every believer. He is in charge. I think I once shared with you before two verses which came to mean so much to me at the end of 2014 when I first was diagnosed with CLL (Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia).
First of all a young colleague gave me Psalm 139:16: “In Thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me before as yet there was any one of them.” This tells me that every day from my conception until now has been written in the Lord’s book. And He will only take me to Glory when He decides His moment for me has come. I won’t leave Earth one second early, nor will I arrive in Heaven one second late! That scripture seized my soul and has done so ever since. It’s an awesome comfort, whatever one is facing.
The other scripture which has anchored me is Psalm 23:6 where the Psalmist affirms confidently: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” So whatever comes to us or is thrown into our path as believers, we know that goodness and mercy are in the mix. Ain’t that just awesome?! Please claim it also for yourself.
In the meantime I simply try to work out the Lord’s agenda for me each day. Said Francois Fénelon, a 17th century church leader and devotional writer: “It is not the multitude of hard duties, it is not constraint and contention that advance us in our Christian course. On the contrary, it is the yielding of our wills, without restriction and without choice, to tread cheerfully every day in the path in which Providence leads us, to seek nothing, to be discouraged by nothing, to see our duty in the present moment, and to trust all else without reserve to the will and power of God.”
Well, I hope I have done a reasonable catch up for you. You will discern places where we need prayer. And I am sure you will stand with us and with AE in any and every way you can.
Carol joins me in sending you our love and all best wishes in Christ,
PS By the way, if you haven’t yet read my memoirs, Footprints in the African Sand, please try to secure a copy, and if for some reason you can’t, let me know. You might also think of giving it as a Christmas present to someone this December. This sort of thing really helps the book to move.