Archive for June, 2005

Meeting Mordechai Vanunu


I was staying at St George's Cathedral, Jerusalem, when the Israeli nuclear whistleblower, Mordechai Vanunu, was released from prison. I had gone out to arrange a visit to the Windermere Centre by Suheil Dawani (the newly-elected Bishop of Jerusalem). Yeah, yeah – I know it sounds like name-dropping, but it was all purely coincidental. The trip turned out to be something more than I ever expected. The experience of spending time among the indigenous Palestinian Christian community is a subject for another post. The first I'd heard of Vanunu's impending release was sitting on the plane. Two people behind me were vaguely familiar – people whose faces I knew, rather than people I'd met. They turned out to be Bruce Kent and SusannaYork. They were on their way to Jerusalem for the release.

I missed all the hype around the press conference, tempting though it was to rubber-neck. But I figured that Vanunu needed time with his friends, rather than with some admirer who happened to be there and would just be taking up space. Vanunu's presence shaped our stay at St George's. There was high security. The press were camped outside the locked gates, pressing for interviews whenever we emerged abut Vanunu. The Israeli Secret Service were there, too.

I'd see him every day a breakfast. I had a brief chat with him one morning, and then a much longer one. He told me about his capture, and his years in solitary confinement, about the attempts to break him, and how his Christian faith kept him going. He told me how he was regarded as a traitor not only to his country (for blowing the whistle on the nuclear programme) but also to his faith (for converting to Christianity).

Then one afternoon he saw me working on my laptop and came over. He'd just taken delvery of his new laptop computer. Computers were a new world to him after 20 years inside. He'd gone in when computers were giant machines, filling rooms if not several storeys of buildings. Now he had his own machine, and hadn't a clue how to set it up and use it. That was how I came to give Mordechai Vanunu his first computer lessons, and get him set up on the Net. It was only after I'd done this that he explained – amid gales of laughter – that one of the conditions of his release was that he didn't access the Internet or communicate with the outside world! It was good to have struck a blow for freedom of information and all that, and to have helped a man far braver and resilient than I can ever hope to be!

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21 June, 2005 at 10:48 pm 2 comments

starting it all off…

I’m the Director of the Windermere Centre, the United Reformed Church’s residential training centre set in the Lake District. I cut my theological teeth in South Africa. I began a BTh with Unisa, and one of the first compulsory courses was something called Missiology. The lecturer was a guy named David Bosch. I was singularly unimpressed at having to waste my valuable time being diverted away from the real stuff – Old Testament, New Testament and Systematic Theology. Two hours into my first reading, I was more excited than I’d ever been in my life! Here was someone who was saying something that really mattered – and it began to change my whole understanding of what faith was all about. God was a missionary God – with an ongoing mission of salvation for the world. And the Church, if it is truly to be the Church, exists to serve that mission. Some years later, reading Theology at Durham, I wrote an undergraduate dissertation on Bosch’s work. The research involved travelling to South Africa in 1986, where I landed in the midst of the Kairos Document furore. It became a different trip altogether.

Fast forward to Cambridge, 1987. A doctoral student, working on South African political theology, I was reading the story of Beyers Naude and the Christian Institute. Now what I haven’t mentioned so far is that I grew up in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). As a keen young Christian, I left school and spent nearly 3 years in Ian Smith’s Special Branch, working in political and military intelligence. My job was extracting information from people. As I read Beyer’s story, my blood boiled. Here was a man who was doing what he was because of his faith. And the people who were persecuting him were supposed to be Christians! How could this be? Suddenly, the penny dropped: Lawrence, in Rhodesia, you were on the other side!

Life fell apart in an instant. How could I have been involved in something so profoundly anti-Christian? How come my parents – or school – or church didn’t tell me it was wrong? Worse, why did they encourage me in my “god-given duty” to protect Christian civilisation from the march of godless, atheistic Communism? And, when they had all failed me, how come God (to whom I spoke at length every day and listened to through reading the Bible) didn’t let me in on the fact?

My slow, painful quest to rebuild my faith and theology began. And the question that hammered at me with agonising insistence was, “How can it be that so often the Church is part of that from which the world needs saving?” How do we live and build a world that is a sign of God’s grace and God’s kingdom, rather than one which leads people to believe that resurrection has never happened? Who is the real Jesus? And what would the Church look like and be like if it was the institution God intends it to be?

When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he taught them to pray, “Your kingdom come – which means, ‘Your will be done on earth'”. What that means in our contemporary world is what this blog’s about.

17 June, 2005 at 11:28 pm 3 comments


Time to move …

... to my own hosted site on http://mustardseeds.wolsblog.com. See you there.

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