Friday, 26 November 2021

An extraordinary true story

 I was at Rosebank Anglican Church in Johannesburg when I met a South African lady who had recently returned from a short-term mission to the USSR, just as it was opening up. The iron curtain had lifted. 

'Did you take in Bibles?' I asked.

'It was prohibited.' I wasn't surprised. 'But once in the country,' she said, 'we were taken to a great barn full of old Bibles. They were released for distribution.'

She found the Bibles had been confiscated from local people before being stored for decades. There was so many that the missionaries needed to hire labour to shift them. One local lad wondered why these books were considered so important and stole one, hiding behind a stack of logs to read it. He opened the cover to find an inscription written in beautiful, clear script. The Bible in his hands had belonged to his grand-mother.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

A review of 'Stories from the Heart' - a collection of short stories by Olusola Sophia Anyanwu

'Stories from the Heart', told in Nigerian English by the prolific author Olusola Sophia Anyanwu, is a unique portrayal of life in West Africa some forty years ago. Lovingly written in order to spread understanding, this collection of short stories can be seen as something of a social history recommended to anyone who originates from Nigeria. It is sub-titled 'For Older Generations' but I'm sure adults of all ages would be fascinated, especially those in search of their Nigerian roots. 

The author Olusola Sophia Anyanwu

Some of the descriptions are atmospheric, others are comic, whisking us across the world to a country where love, in its many complex forms, blooms while our sense of right and wrong is confronted and challenged. 

We need bold authors like Sophia to record a way of life that would otherwise be forgotten. Strong and courageous, she shines a light on truths that might be swept away or  blamed on others. These are stories told from the heart that should not be forgotten.

'Stories from the Heart' can be purchased direct from the Austin Maculey Publishers here or from Amazon UK here

Sunday, 7 March 2021

A Life of Answered Prayer - Divine Appointments

Divine Appointments, connections, the meeting of minds and the chance to share experience, has to be one of the most exciting and frequently answered prayers in my life. 

I often close my eyes and ask to meet the right person, at the right time. It must be easier for the angels to organise if you are going to a social gathering. We're in Lockdown right now, so it's unlikely I will meet anyone today, but it's 8.10am on a Sunday morning and anything could happen. I'm going to pray: 

'Lord Jesus Christ, please bring me into contact with a person or people of your choosing today.' 

Why do I want this? To extend his kingdom or mine? To bless others or to bless me? 

'For your sake, Lord. Just use me.'

I was once on a train, heading for a New Years' church service, followed by a buffet lunch in London. I prayed for a divine appointment, that I would meet someone of the Lord's choosing. An amazing thing happened. I ended up having lunch with an old, old man in an ill-fitting suit. He turned out to be an eminent physician, in his nineties, and exactly the person I needed to meet at that time. 

I had been commissioned to write a screenplay about a prisoner of war to the Japanese, but it was still in the first, sketchy stages. Bill admitted that he had been a medical officer when Singapore fell during WWII. He's been sent to Changi and then a military prisoner of war camp on Blakang Mati or 'Hell island', which he said was far worse. He was unwilling to talk about it at first, curtly suggesting I read books others had written. This was vaguely disappointing, but was able to meet up with him on many other occasions, when he gradually told me more. He agreed to proof read my script, insisting on terminology I had not considered important. 'We were not in prison,' he insisted. 'We were in a prisoner- of-war camp. The distinction is important.' I was surprised to hear they hardly ever saw the Japanese. 'They were very short-staffed.' I had been led to believe otherwise by Hollywood movies but it was probably one reason why the guards were so intimidating. Although he had treated wounded Japanese soldiers, they refused to recognise Bill as a doctor. 'All I had to treat my patients with was saline. Sea water.' 

When I first met Bill, he was still working as a Harley Street allergist. 

'May I give your manuscript to one of my patients?'

I was hesitant. 'What does your patient do?'

'I'm not quite sure, but she's frightfully pretty. I'll ask my PA to find out.'

The lady in question was the Executive in Charge of Production at Working Title, a major British film company. I quickly sent him a revised draft.

Working Title did not snap up my screenplay, but I was able to introduce Bill to another film producer who was interested, and began to develop the story into a novel. I was able to re-tell his story about the joy of finding a jar of Marmite on the camp rubbish heap. The Japanese had been pillaging Red Cross parcels but disliked the taste and discarding it. 'They thought it must be axel grease,' Bill told me, explaining that it was exactly what he needed to treat Beri-beri, being high in vitamin B12.

What I didn't realise, was that although Bill had been able to forgive his captors, he had not spoken much about his time in the camps until he met me. Like meany he had pretty well blanked it off. I so hope that I was able to help him to speak with humour about his painful experiences. I gave him a copy of one of my own memoirs for his 100th Birthday. After that he began to speak more openly about his Christian faith.

Being members of the same City Livery Company, we kept meeting at various charitable events, chatting on a coach as we went to visit a school. I was not surprised when Bill told me he'd been invited to walk down the red carpet when the film 'Railway Man' was released. He began to take part in WWII memorial events and flew to Singapore to commemorate peace. Having kept pretty silent for years, Bill was happy to chat about his time as a prisoner of war on 'Desert Island Discs' and I was thrilled to hear that he had able to talk about treating those held captive in the Far East. My only regret missing the launch of his biography, to which I was invited. It was entitled, 'From Hell to Hay Fever.'

My book is now called 'The Man Who Got Out of Japan'. It has won three literary awards but it still waiting to be published. I long to honour Bill and those brave, brave men and women who suffered so that we might enjoy freedom. Bill was very nearly beheaded by a Japanese officer. By some miracle he survived, was bale to return to his wife, raise four children and make a huge contribution to modern medicine, instigating the pollen count and pioneering major advancements in immunology. He told me that he probably saved the life of Saddam Hussein, 'He was smoking forty cigarettes and day' but explained that a patient is a patient. Bill ended up living until he was 108, outspoken until the end.

What a divine appointment! Finding a friend would have been enough.

Read more - Bill's obituary   


Monday, 28 October 2019

The True Meaning of Christmas

I’m sure you know what to do with a tea towel. Tie it around someone’s head and you can turn them into a shepherd. This works well if you live in a culture that appreciates nativity plays. But why did the angel of the Lord bring news of the Messiah’s birth to those engaged in caring for sheep? Was everyone else drinking at the inn?

Scholars say the shepherds living in the fields below Bethlehem were different from others. They were employed by the High Priest. They could have been Levites ordained to select animals for sacrificial purposes and probably congregated at Midal Edar, a thousand paces from Bethlehem. This ‘Tower of the Flock’ is where Rachel gave birth to Benjamin. Here a new-born lamb, chosen for sacrifice, would be wrapped in strips of cloth known as swaddling bands and lain a depression in the limestone rock known as ‘the manger’ to keep it clean and prevent it from getting blemished.

Every day, two male lambs were sacrificed as a burnt offering at the temple in Jerusalem. In the thirty days before Passover huge numbers of year-old male lambs belonging to the High Priest were gathered outside Bethlehem before being taken six miles north, to be sacrificed or eaten in commemoration of the Passover when Jews and Samaritans remember how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Instead of two men and a boy there would have been quite a number of trust-worthy shepherds living in the fields to look after the ewes and especially chosen lambs around the clock. It was to these working men that God chose to declare news of the Messiah’s arrival on Earth. What would they have thought of the great company of heavenly host who appeared with the angel? How would they have described it to the High Priest who employed them?

The glimpse of heaven recorded in Luke’s Gospel is treasured by men on whom God’s favour rests and yet we only read this account once a year, usually when we are stressed out by the pressure of choosing presents or decorating fir trees. Perhaps we should take time to contemplate the night sky instead of rushing about shopping. Angels must be terrifying. Mary, who had met the angel Gabriel in Nazareth nine months earlier, must have been re-assured by the shepherds’ story, especially after giving birth in what could have been a filthy stable. Some say Jesus may have been born at Midal Edar and lain in the limestone manger. The shepherds would have known this spot and hurried there without hesitation. Whatever the exact location, it was likely to have been ritually unclean.

The meaning of Christ’s birth would have been instantly recognised by shepherds as soon as they saw the baby Jesus. They got the message. It was the pure, spotless lamb, wrapped in swaddling bands and lain in a manger, that was chosen as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins.

One of the best things about Christmas is that it has become a family occasion. Expectations rise, friends gather and show their love for each other, making an effort to reach out to the lonely. We serve God by ministering to our children and making proper use of tea towels. What more can we do? Perhaps remember the Lord Jesus put an end to the need for animal sacrifice as we try not incinerate our turkey.

An extract from ‘Merry Christmas Everyone, A Festive Feast of Poems and Reflections’ pub by ACW, available to order from libraries, good bookshops and online from

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Messages of Hope

This April we helped Bible Society with their stand at Spring Harvest, the big Christian Festival in Minehead.
As well as telling delegates about Bible a Month and other projects run by Bible Society, we asked if they would like to send a message of hope to a Syrian refugee.

Colourful cards were designed to slot together so we could build a tower. People of all ages left encouraging messages, prayers and Bible verses.

They were all wonderful. 

This one was fun:

The messages will be taken to a refugee camp outside Vienna in Austria this September, when Bible Society are sending out a mission to distribute Bibles. We collected more than 200 messages a day, so should have a number to give away. To find out more click here for Bible Society's website.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Email from our Parish Priest

Greetings from Boldre Vicarage, Pilley Hill

In this week’s pew sheet article:

An old Derbyshire insult is shared

Reticence is preferred to the parading of pain and hurt

Samuel Beckett is commended for his atheism.

News of Vicarage expertise in artificially fertilizing courgette plants
and of faith and doubt in John Betjeman.

Please note:

1) We have a donkey for next week’s Palm Sunday,  29 March at 10.30am
2) Consider giving an Easter Lily in memory of a loved one, or to celebrate an
        anniversary or birthday.  

The battle with Vicarage squirrels continues. Plan P foiled them yesterday. Today it did not. Plan Q is now in place. We are confident we have foiled them this time.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

How do you live and maintain a relationship with Jesus?

I wish I could say that I start each day with Bible reading and prayer but I am not hugely disciplined. I’m a task orientated person and tend to fling everything into the washing machine of life and slam the door, just to get the job done. However I do pray pretty constantly.

I’ve just asked my husband the question: ‘How do I live with Jesus?’

‘You work very hard at it,’ he said handing me a gin and tonic, ‘and love him to bits.’ I was amazed when he compared the relationship to our marriage. All I see are piles of laundry. I often look around and feel overwhelmed by how much there is to get done. My sister-in-law, who is used to this, is a great example. ‘Tell yourself you’ll do an hour,’ she says. So I start a task and soon find myself on a roll as the Americans say. I try to tackle the worse jobs first thing. The only problem is becoming ruled by the merely urgent rather than concentrating on the important. I need help identifying what is a block and when I must wait patiently for the Lord’s timing. 

If the rain falls just as I finish hanging out the washing I still have to resist swearing, which must show that I'm not that mature in my faith yet. Does it make sense if I say that I try to be kind and gracious, to be generous and show gratitude, even if I don’t feel like it? That I ask the Holy Spirit not only to guide me but put the right words into my mouth? I fail of course but I do try to listen to God. The fact that pertinent Bible verses seem to find me at the right time bashes things home. I cling to the promises of God. ‘The obedient will be given a helper,’ is a great one. I claim that repeatedly and somehow the ironing gets done.

I love it when new doors open and pray for my strength to hold up when they do. Sometimes I am a little hesitant, asking ‘Is this really you, Lord?’ but it’s advisable to ask for confirmation. Please provide me with the scripture for this, as it's evaporated from my memory, but when confirmation comes from the Word there's nothing like it. I love living in the Lord’s will, walking in his ways. I should be braver. There have been times when I have taken risks so radical that I’ve needed daily miracles to survive but there are different seasons in our lives and the art of living well is to take time to appreciate the beauty in them all. 

Author Sophie Neville