Monday, 26 January 2009

Ian Thomson, Luthier

You know, if you'd asked me in November what I wanted my blog title to say in the new year, it might have read something like this: Ian Thomson, Luthier...well, whaddyaknow?

But before I get too big-headed about it, I'd better remind myself that I spend most Monday mornings begging for work from the excuse for a recruitment agency the call Kensington Mayfair, and most of my Tuesday afternoons washing pots in some canteen or hotel around Leicestershire or Nottinghamshire, and most of my Thursday evenings wishing I had more guitar students...we're in an economic crisis, people! Jobs are hard to get! The world is crumbling!

But funnily, this crisis seems a lot less worrying than the everyday state of some of my friends in Malawi, who pray that the rains will come on time and give them a harvest, and then try and hang onto their faith while yet another flood hits, who have to pick which of their children they can afford to send to school, whose no1 aspiration in life is 'Leave Malawi'... No this isn't a crisis. This is people who have forgotten what a crisis is getting a bit nostalgic. Harsh? Maybe there are some real crises in the UK. But I don't think the economic downturn has made that much of a difference.

But I shouldn't really criticise, because by God's grace, I am in exactly the perfect place right now. I have enough friends in whose words and actions to see God, I have enough food, clothes, warmth to live well, and I have enough vision to want to get up each morning. So, if you've been seriously affected by the economic downturn, if you've lost your job security, if your insurance company went bust, if you're angry/scared/confused by it all, my perspective is only my perspective.

Here is the finished Shona:

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


I'm not quite sure if I'm enjoying the quiet of Woodhouse Eaves or not...part of the time I'm loving living simply, earning just enough from temporary work to keep me trudging in and out of Leicester thrice weekly, building Elisa Hombrecher a guitar. Part of the time I'm looking for a bit more fun and events. But I'm clear about one thing...God is very much in control and so I trust Him and take what steps I can.

This is Shona. I've been making her and marveling at the wonder of bringing a live, resonant, singing being into the world:
This is the realisation of the inkling God gave me in August 2007 as I walked through the Fisherman's Rest game park in Malawi, and so if you're reading this, join me in lauding it up to Elyon, the Mighty One.

There's some STORM news as well for those of you following STORM - the trustees are signing on the dotted line this week, which means that STORM is now a charity. What this means for us we still have to see...will we lose our grass-roots appeal? Will money-worries now be a thing of the past? Will it all just continue as it does? We'll see.

For those of you who don't know STORM, it's a student-oriented short term mission operation to Malawi that specialises in relational mission, getting alongside the poorest of the poor, prisoners, the sick and those who never expected to be got alongside. And once alongside them, what do we do? Um...well, we generally only find that out once we get there. But there's always something positive to be gifts, sharing God's word, singing songs, teaching English, just chatting, knocking down dilapidated buildings, all these have been done. And it's big to me, something I set time aside for weekly, and in particular, each summer when the teams mobilise.

Thanks for reading

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Mark, Fiona

Mark Finney is a self-employed builder in Leicester. He looks like he's in his mid-50s, but perhaps he's a little younger. With a shaggy mop of snow white hair and a grey-white moustache from under which protrudes a perennial rollie, it's hard not to like him. He has a frozen shoulder, and the NHS haven't been able to do anything for it yet, so he hasn't worked in 2 months. He spends most days in his shed, building guitars, though so I don't think he minds too much.

Mark is good with his hands. Chisels, sandpaper, electric routing tools, they're all in his shed and he spends 10-12 hours a day with them. His guitars are brilliant, especially considering he only built his first about 5 years ago.

He has two students. Gazza comes on Thursday evenings and is building a mini-jumbo spruce-topped jobbie. Looks very good. And Ian comes pretty much whenever Ian can. Mark spends quite a lot of his day building Ian's guitar for him (he's a bright lad, but a bit slow, bless him), but of late Ian has been learning a few lessons in the art of wielding a chisel against the forces of tonewood.

Gazza used to come more often, but he's had lady-trouble of late. Ian is also a bit more sporadic these days, but his issue is money.

Fiona is a very different kind of person. She's about 28, attractive, and a very strong character. She works as one of the personnel managers for Kensington Mayfair in Loughborough, recruiting temporary workers for catering jobs. She hasn't been in Loughborough all that long herself, but already she has the locals feeling like she knows her way around better than they do. She's a traveller, you see...she learns new places very fast. She grew up in Swansea, studied in Lougborough, worked in Bradford (and retained the accent) and is now back in Loughborough. Once she knows a place, she asserts herself on it. She's a pop-culture girl, always knows the right thing to say in the right situation to make a client feel valued, or a temporary worker feel legitimate and useful. She also has the invaluable skill of turning common knowledge into a recognised training program.

Today she had a busy day, and revelled in it. In the morning 6 new recruits were in the office, and she inducted tehm, trained them in silver service and plate service, and managed to keep a potentially uncomfortable situation fairly relaxed for one and a half hours. As well as her regular work. There were 4 students, one old lady, and one ex-student today. The ex-student (Ian?) had the experience, but the girl with the car was the one to get ahead, and the bloke who liked working pubs would always have plenty of work this time of year, with all the Freshers' events going on.

Well, only time would tell. Training over, she got back on the phone to clients.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

STORM 3, 4, 5

In brief:

Storm 3 - Nick HH almost didn't fly home. Newbies arrived, Berni sans bag, came next day. Induction, FR trust, visited Madziabango to organise...Holiday Club! This took up first half of week. Three day event, themed around 'King is coming'. Sam MCed. I led music. Simon told stories. Everyone involved in crafts, puzzles, games, registration. Huge success, got better as we went along. Had too few translators.

Set off for Nsanje Thu but broke down in Bangula. Iris saved us, we love them! Fri we went to Nsanje, some by matola. Saw the town, took part in pastor's conference. Lots of preaching, almost all delegated to us, lots of singing, some by us, lots of people, very excited, hope they learnt something and experienced God. Came back Sunday night.

At CPC, worship team had trouble.

Monday, we all went to Majete. Pretty good safari, saw elephant, hippos, lots of antelope. No sable this time, no eland. Tue 6 of us went to Mvuu, had a gd break there, saw roan antelope, got to know Amy/Abi/Ruth/Lizzie/Emma well. Came back Weds. Emma and Lizzie flew out Thu.

Fri we went to Bangula, dropped off Gillian/Abi/Amy/Ruth. Went to Nsanje/Tengani/Marka for BTM Saturday. Berni ill, Davina worried. Berni better next morning. Led worship at CPC Sunday. Team 4 arrived.

STORM 4 - Steph, Hannah Walsh and Rach Mander arrived. Went to HHI, but most were too tired to take in much. Induction, Trust Monday, I took Tuesday off, Wednesday we did an afternoon mission in Chemabvi village, very good. Thursday to Bangula, caught up with the girls, did boys club at Iris, then taught BTM in Bangula and Konzere before coming back to FR. Led worship Sun. Mon 6 went to Club Mak/Mvuu, we stayed and worked at Trust. Tue went to Chikwawa Prison, awesome day just to be there! Wed went to Jordan's in Bodza, also very good.

Thursday was STORM Olympics...we should have flown but had been delayed til Fri. Had to raise MK133000 in 24 hours for my ticket. Steph, Sam and Davina covered me.

STORM 5 - I wasn't there! I was in Loughborough starting my luthiery study

Thursday, 4 September 2008


It seems a while ago now, but this is STORM 2.

After getting back from the lake, Si, Vix, Beth and I had one night before the team got in. And of course, we were due to lead worship at the church that morning. We roped ina drummer and it went well, praise God. When you've spent all week worshiping Him with your life, it's easy to find words to praise Him on Sundays.

The team got in ok, but were less a massive 11 out of 18 bags. South African Airlines, eh? Anyway, we got them home, tired but up for their induction chats. The team was big, 14, with Sam still to come. Our itinerary was much like team 1s, having been rearranged a little by Rory and I. We kicked off by talking to the schools, and ran into the first diversion - Mbame School were closing on Friday, so we couldn't teach then. Could we do Tuesday morning before going to Nsanje? Yes, we decided, we could hack that. The Madziabango school group chose to visit Ndayamwana school, in the middle of nowhere, and they were still on schedule for Friday. After leading activities at the Fisherman's Rest, where out rapport was growing, we prepared for the school. Teaching went really well. Lucy and I taught standard 5 and had a fantastic day, teaching agriculture, maths, english and bible knowledge. We then beat a hasty retreat, had lunch and headed into Nsanje - the dark unknown! Simon and I had been the previous year on a diffucult trip, but this year was to prove much better.
The journey was fast and dusty, and we arrived at Nsanje hospital brown but ready at 415. After gaining final clearance from the administrator, we split into 6 groups, each accompanied by a Church of Disciples Pastor. Pastor Rogers came with Lozi, Nish and I, and we went to pray with the maternity ward. The experience began a bit edgily...what do you expect in such a situation? But the further we went the more we loved it, praying individually for patients about their situations. Nisha even had a newborn baby named after her!

We then bedded down, prepared for the next morning. After a lovely breakfast, we went on tour of Nsanje...airstrip, market and port. It's a cool town for somewhere so far out the way. In the afternoon we set off for 2 distant village churches, where we shared from the Bible and held kids activities. Group 1s village was a bit unimpressed by us, but group2, a bit further into the bush, had a fantastic time.

Thursday we left early and in good spirits and headed back for Fisherman's Rest, via Chikwawa market and an unforgettable lunch in a truckers bar :) There we worked at the trust and the Ndayamwana team got ready for school, while the rest of us chilled out.
Saturday's BTM teaching turned out to be a long day - we traveled to Muloza, beyond Mulanje. The teaching was great, the kids were a few too many, but the travel was long and tiring. Two ladies confessed Jesus that day, which is worth the effort.

Sunday, Guy led worship at CPC and I enjoyed a day off! It was a fantastic service, again filled full by the experiences of the week. And then in the afternoon Sam arrived to enormous cheers and hugs.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were spent at the lake for the team. And on Tuesday Coops, Si and I hitchiked off to tackle Mulanje mountain. We made it to base camp by 6pm and hooked up with our guide, Macdonald. 7am the next morning we began, and hiked up the Skyline path to Chambe hut, where we cooked some lunch. It was cold at midday, which didn;t bode well for the night. 4 hours longer took us to Chisepo hut, at the foot of Sapitwa peak - the mountain where no-one should go. The night was cold, but the 4 Turks in the hut with us kept the air warm with their loud breathing!

Thursday morning we began early and started the last climb...and continued, and continued. The angles were ridiculous, 60 and 70% for an hour and a half. But we made it to the first rest, where we came across stunted forest and a series of caves. After the caves came the rock piles, where rock rabbits ran. Then there was more forest, more caves and crevasses, and a final rock climb. And then we were up, standing on the highest point in southern Africa!3000m, but the view was hidden by clouds and it was bitterly cold at 11am. We came straight down for a late lunch, and then force-marched to Lichenya hut, arriving just at dark, tired and worn. Thankfully, there were friendly faces at the hut, in the form of Mr Benbow of St Andrews High School and his family. They were taking their 3-yr old daughter for her first time up Sapitwa! We ate spaghetti together. It was good.

Friday we came down the suicidally steep boma path, again in the clouds, but made it the Pizzeria Basilica by lunch time. Too tired to hitch, we caught a minibus back to Blantyre and Sam drove us home.

Storm 2 had left on Thursday morning amid ticket controversies and hassle, but they had all got away. We had a day to prepare for team 3

Friday, 18 July 2008

When the storms arrive

Student Outreach Malawi is STORM. Groups of students come every year to Malawi for a whistle stop tour, which this year is even more whistle stop, just 10 days in duration. Before they arrived, those here in Malawi were preparing, because 'the storms are coming' (Mary, cook at Fisherman's Rest). Now that they are here, Pastor Rogers of the Church of Disciples refers to us as the 'Stormy team'. In with a bang, out in a whoosh, full of impact, he's not far wrong. And in the wake of the Storm lie many emotions, memories, good times, confusing times, and unfinished thoughts, which will want finishing in the months after. So here I am, processing a few of them.

Storm 1 arrived on the 28th of June on Air Zimbabwe. Subsequently, Air Zim decommissioned their Heathrow flights, so all the rest of STORM has been air-hitching rides from South African Airlines. Nevertheless, they arrived, as did all their luggage, and proceeded to settle into Fisherman's Rest. While there they met with some village school teachers and organised to visit the school and teach one morning's school, and visited the new Fisherman's Rest trust, which runs a children's program each afternoon of the week. The program had just got underway, and the energy and manpower of the team, along with their white faces and shiny footballs, really kicked things into gear. For the team, it was a good chance to see rural Africa not as tourists but as neighbours and participants. The next day we visited Chikwawa Prison, but, lacking the official paperwork that would have allowed us access, we went for drinks in Chikwawa. As we were waiting, a whole school full of kids came by. Their teacher had died, so they were released from school and very willing to spend the morning with Storm, playing baseball and chatting. A short drive took us to Majete Game Park, where we walked with elephant, and drove through herds of nyala, impala, eland, kudu, warthog, as well as spotting a good number of hippo, crocs, and birds. The highlight of the trip was, as we were rushing back to the camp before dark, coming face to face with a huge bull-elephant coming the other way on the narrow track. He was more scared than we were, and thankfully gave way.

Wednesday we rose early and visited Tiyamike Mulungu Orphan Center in dusty Bangula. We ran games with the kids and generally got stuck in, eating in the mess hall and leading the morning devotion before waving a hurried farewell and jetting off the Simbi Village. There, Pastor Kennedy, grateful to have a car available, took us to a bush church where a Thursday morning service had been arranged to greet us. Afterwards we were invited for lunch with the pastor...time constraints meant only half of us stayed, the other group heading to Hope Village mission project to lead yet more children in the Funky Chicken and Go Bananas. I doubt the Village will ever be the same ;)

Friday we taught in Mbame and Madziabango Full Primary Schools, tiring ourselves out and being a little disappointed by the unwillingness of the children to involve themselves in classroom activities. We can only imagine that their syllabus lacks opportunity for interactivity, and they were therefore unused to it. Saturday we taught from the Bible, an overview of our relationship with God, in two interdenominational teaching centres near Fisherman's Rest. Yet again, their were children by the score hanging around outside, so those not teaching organised some group games.

Sunday, we kicked off the day at City Pentecostal Church with drama for the streetkids service, after which Tim Hofmeyr and the musicians led the international service in worship. After a large lunch, we headed to the airport, where we were hoping Bethan Carter was going to arrive and join the team. The previous night we had received a message from her that her ticket had not been printed as SAA had promised, and had heard nothing since, so had been praying. After a tantalising wait while every other passenger came through, she finally emerged, without her suitcase (which we had forgotten to pray for), much to our joy. We all went straight to the Henry Henderson Institute, with it's old church and mission buildings, and took a brief trip through the history of Blantyre. While there, we met some of the local Presbyterian missionaries, who invited us to stay and join their evening prayers, so we did.

Monday and Tuesday, the team (minus Beth and myself) went to Liwonde game park for 1st class game viewing, and then to Club Mak to see Lake Malawi at its finest. They returned home late Wednesday night and flew early Thursday morning. Simon and Vix Ewing, Beth, and I headed straight north in a hired car, aiming to visit the northern lakeshore.

In Lilongwe we ran into problems in the form of a new police speed trap. Simon was driving and the policeman took down all his details and summoned him to court the following morning. This didn't sound like much of a holiday to us, so we appealed to the head of traffic police - Simon was a visitor, the speed restrictions had just been introduced, and the speed limit sign had been obscured by a parked truck. 2 hours later we were granted grace to leave, with the possibility of being followed up later. We still had to queue for an hour to get diesel - there had been a shortage all week - but we used the time to buy ourselves dinner and supplies for the weekend. We finally left Lilongwe at about 7pm, and took 4 and a half hours to finish the trip up to Kande Beach, where we pitched camp and hit the sack.

Kande beach is a lovely resort, with little picturesque cottages on what must be one of the longest stretches of beach on Lake Malawi. On Friday, having heard nothing from the police, we rented a pedalo and headed out to a little island several hundred yards offshore, where we prayed together, snorkelled with cichlids, and dove off rocks into the lake. After pedalling back to shore and packing up, we then drove south to Nkhotakota Pottery Lodge, where they make famous clayware, and where guests can make their own mugs and plates. We declined this pleasure, however, preferring to use our time driving through the Nkhotakota reserve looking for elephants...none emerged. We took a back road to Lilongwe, stopping for lunch in Ntchisi, and avoided all police presence and the way back through the capital city. We were back in Fisherman's Rest by sunset, just as a chiperoni fog enveloped the place.

Storm 2 is now midway through, but you'll have to wait for the next installment if you want the brief on that!

Thursday, 5 June 2008

A Report on one year

I feel I ought to report. Sort of. But then, I wonder how many will be sincerely interested in this report? And how many, having read my concerns, will be spurred to try to be sincerely interested in my report, where no previous interest existed? Or how many, having happened perchance upon my report, will discover that where they had been unaware of an interest, one nevertheless lurked and was coaxed from hiding by reading this report…?

It’s been very nearly a year now since our delayed Ethiopian Airlines flight deposited me on Malawian soil to begin a voluntary job encouraging, supporting, training and getting to know the music/worship team here at City Pentecostal Church. I’d never been a Pentecostal before…I’m not sure I’m strictly one now, though I’ve really enjoyed and grown with a church who experience the gifts of the Spirit so freely. Come to think of it, I hardly knew anyone in the church when I came, but I soon grew out of that. As Pastor Tom Lupiya taught me pretty soon, ‘there are no strangers in the house of God, only family and friends.’ And I have been a part of the family. Why else would they have put up with my loud shirts and bad renditions of Chichewa worship songs?

But 9 to 5 you don’t tend to spend a lot of time thinking about how wonderful it is to be a part of God’s family in Malawi. It’s much more usual to take that for granted and focus on the work at hand, particularly its problems. When I arrived, the chief problem with the worship team was the lack thereof. There were 5 members, one of whom was dying to get out of it so she could focus on other ministries, and another of whom was racked with guilt because his lifestyle didn’t quite match his role in the worship team. So within a few weeks we were down to 3. But I was in the mood for a challenge, so I began recruiting with a vengeance. Soon enough 2 more drummers has appeared out of the woodwork, 2 violinists had returned from holiday abroad, and several of the young people in the church had signed up for lessons in music with a view to join the worship team. IN fact, within a few weeks it seemed that all of Blantyre had been waiting for me to arrive so that they could realise their lifetime ambitions to become great music stars. They soon realised that I was not entirely capable of handing them that blessing on a plate – the time commitments were too heavy for some, others had no money either for lessons, or, when I offered a few free lessons, even the transport money to get to and from lessons. In fact, attendance at lessons was seldom above 50%, which, when I was charging about 70p an hour, was somewhat frustrating. We solved that problem by starting to charge people through the nose after Christmas ;) Actually, I’m still the cheapest teacher in Blantyre, but the prices are now designed to induce people to attend more regularly if they don’t want to waste their money.

Tell you what, teaching privately helps you meet the community. I’ve had students of African, European and Asian extraction, from all different churches and mosques, aged 8-50yrs. Most have only lasted about 3 months, several have stayed for 6 and a precious few have been with me from the beginning til now, 10 months. In that time I’ve seen so many musical talents blossom that it’s blown me away and converted me forever to music teaching.

But worship is so much more than teaching. Because I lead the congregation as well as the music team on Sundays, I;ve had ample opportunity to speak (albeit in 1 minute intervals) on worship. I’ve also been blessed by people in the Uk and here donating me an enormous resource of worship teaching. I’ve gleaned even more from the internet, and the learning experience has been one of the chief joys of my year. I look forward to getting plugged in to Woodhouse Eaves Evangelical Baptist church worship team when I return there in August, and continuing my studies through that.

But one of the biggest parts of my year has been the vision God has given me to stay and work full-time in Malawi as a luthier and dealer in musical instruments. I’ve spent the last 6 months studying and sourcing good hardwoods within the country and various items of hardware externally. In September I hope to begin an apprenticeship with a luthier in Leicester, Mark Finney. We’ll see where we go from there.

I’ve also had the privilege of running a 30min radio show of music looking at Christian themes on Capital FM here in Blantyre this last 6 months. I’m writing this in their studio, having just had a power cut in the middle of mixing down my show, so I’m praying the autosave has preserved my work! It’s been a great ministry, although, as so often with radio ministry, I’m never quite sure who was listening and how they’ve responded. Still, we pray and are assured that God uses these things to his adulation.

And then the unquantifiables – the friends I’ve made here, the good times over braais, on wildlife safaris, just spending time together over meals in the market, playing jazz music with the team in Naperi… the various places I’ve visited and still hope to visit. The various minor culture shocks, thefts, and disappointments on the road. The irrational fears of new situations, irrelevance, loss of faith…the equally unpredictable joys of being alive, celebrating faith, meeting new people and seeing God in them…

This is not the official report, by the way. This is a blog. If you want things more neat and orderly, please subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me. If you don’t know my email and don’t know anyone who does, put a post on here and we’ll see what we can do.

God bless you all loads. Why don’t you guys write me reports of your year, eh? Why am I the only one ‘missionary’ enough that people around the world might benefit from my experience?