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The Reform Club grew out of the reform movement in England in the early part of the 19th century which gave rise to the Reform Act of 1932 which extended voting rights to shop owners, small landowners and tenant farmers, but denied those same rights to working men and women. Even with further reforms in 1867 and 1884, only 2.5 million of the 35 million inhabitants of England had the right to vote. It would not be until 1918 that working men would be granted the vote and women afforded that same right ten years later.

The Reform Club became the place where these vital issues could be debated. It also became a haven for writers and journalists who interacted with these political thinkers. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a member, as was Henry James, William Thackeray, Andrew Carnegie, Winston Churchill, and David Attenborough. Its lobby has often appeared in writing and film, serving as the launching point for Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and the fencing scene in James Bond’s Die Another Day.

We were there at the invitation of Teach Beyond to network with members of the Association of Christian Teachers on England, an umbrella organization that seeks to support Christian teachers in both secular and church schools. We met a number of colleagues with whom we hope to develop a further relationship as our responsibilities with our mission increase.

Following a light lunch, we took a brisk walk to Piccadilly Circus to pay our respects to the famous Eros statue, created by Sir Alfred Gilbert, the leading sculptor of the Victorian Age, to whom the local pigeons pledge their loyalty. Then we took a leisurely stroll along Piccadilly, stopping at Fortnum and Masons for some Christmas gifts for my family before entering Green Park to rest our ears and ears a bit from all of the Christmas bustle.

Suitably refreshed we strolled on to Harrods in Knightsbridge for some more gifts and a bit of a look around at the famous Christmas displays. Paddington Bear seemed to be the theme this year, and he was everywhere. Prominent too were the Disney plush toys and of course the ride-on toy cars for those with more money than sense. The toy Land Rover on display cost $10,000 Canadian, more than I have ever paid for a car myself.

We finished our day at a little bistro overlooking Sloan Square, the site of so many protests in days past. It is quite trendy now and very convenient to Victoria Station where we caught the one-hour train ride back to London. The weather was most kind to us all day, with temperatures in the mid-teens and lots of sunshine. This was our second trip in to London, and I must say we find it to be a most pleasant place to visit, and for us living in Horsham, very doable at very little expense. We will return.

The last time England won the World Cup (that’s soccer, ma’am) was in 1966. As luck would have it, I was with my family in England at the time and got to see it happen. The entire country was, and is, mad for the game, and every pub and several store windows had the games on more or less constantly as England made their way to the final and then defeated what was then West Germany 4-2 for the win. Cue the pandemonium!

My birth city of Colchester has not fared well at English football, bobbing up and down between the third and fourth division for most of its existence, so they are not much of a team to support. And frankly, I can’t get behind all the moneyed teams like ManU. and Chelsea. Recently Newcastle United was bought out by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, infamous for ordering the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. So despite having a niece in Newcastle, it is hard to get behind a team like that as well.

Moving to Horsham has given me another option. Brighton is just down the road from us and is a charming little seaside town filled with winding streets and little cafes. It also is the site of a brand-new football stadium, sponsored by American Express that hosts the Brighton team called Albion. The Seagulls, as they are called locally, have been on a tear since the stadium was built ten years ago, and sit at fourth place in the Premier Division.

Clive, with whom I work at Teach Beyond, is more of a rugby fan than a football fan, but knowing that I was interested in seeing my first ever live game, secured tickets for us for last Saturday’s game against Newcastle. They couldn’t have been better seats. Apparently by the time he booked the 30,000-seat stadium was sold out, except for disabled seating. For 30 quid ($50 CAN) he got us seats at pitch level with an unobstructed view of the entire field!

Not willing to endure the crowds on the train, I arranged to pick him up in my car and after a delightful lunch on the way down, found a parking spot a mere twenty minutes away from the stadium. As we approached, the crowds pouring in from the trains and buses began to swell. However, the stadium is well designed and could easily manage the numbers. We found our way to our seats and settled in for what proved to be a wonderful match that went mostly Brighton’s way, much to the delight of the local fans.

There has been much fuss made over the hooliganism of British football fans. I am happy to say I saw none of that in Brighton. They sang lustily on every conceivable occasion, as did the Newcastle fans, but civility was the order of the day, and the stadium staff were most courteous and helpful as well. It was a very enjoyable experience, and one that I have waited a lifetime to see in person. It will not be the last!

GOOOOAAAALLL!!!

To ensure that we take the time to explore our new country, we are attempting to take Fridays off to wander. Today we set out to visit Chichester, a town that many had recommended to us. We noticed, as we studied the map that there was a place enroute called Arundel, with a castle. It seemed prudent to make that stop along the way.

It turns out that Arundel is one of the finest historical towns in southern England which sits on the banks of the Arun River. It is a charming, picturesque market town know for its two stunning landmarks, Arundel Castle and Arundel Cathedral. The town overlooks the beautiful expanses of the South Downs and upstream lies a wetland and nature reserve. The High Street is filled with antique shops, specialty teas, fudge of every conceivable flavour, and bake shops, restaurants and pubs.

The magnificent stately home and fortified Arundel Castle, is the ancestral home of the Duke of Norfolk, reflecting nearly 1,000 years of history. It was established by Roger de Montgomery on Christmas Day 1067, the land ceded to him by William the Conqueror. De Montgomery became the first to hold the earldom of Arundel and this has been the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk ever since. Originally built by the Normans to protect the vulnerable wooded plain through the South Downs, the town grew up on the slope below the castle.

Sitting at the top of the hill overlooking the town is the impressive Arundel Cathedral. It was commissioned by the Duke of Norfolk in 1868 and its designer was Joseph Hansom, the most notable architect of the Victorian Age (whose name survives as the designer of the Hansom Cab). Built in the French Gothic style, it features a spectacular round stained glass window reminiscent of Notre Dame in Paris and a huge vaulted nave.

After buying a few Christmas gifts for our grandchildren, we stopped for lunch at the The Swan, down by the Arun River for some schnitzel and salmon before heading home. Our Google Maps navigator – who we have nicknamed “Ginger” – gave us some hilarious miscues on the way, through a farming cart path and to a bridge closed to all but pedestrian traffic. All part of the fun of exploring when you are no longer bound to the tyranny of a job and a schedule! We can’t wait to head out again!

After almost two and a half months in England, we finally took a day off to take a trip in to London. We walked the two hundred meters to the train station and grabbed a latte for the fifty minute ride into Victoria Station in the heart of the city. Eighteen quid and our senior’s rail card got us a day of travel on the train, buses and underground. It was an unseasonably, warm sunny fall day that allowed us to walk around enjoying all the sights and sounds we could pack into a day.

We dropped by Buckingham Palace but the the Queen was not in to greet us. However we did catch the end of the changing of the guard before wandering into Green Park where we saw the Canada Memorial, a lovely sculpture in which shimmering water flows over the monument giving the impression of maple leaves gradually changing in colour from dark brown to bright green. Maple trees planted by the monument were in full, glorious colour, giving us a lovely taste of the fall season that we have missed so much.

Our meanderings down the Mall and alongside the lake in St James Park brought back memories of earlier visits. Because of Covid and the fact that it is off-season for tourists, the the crowds were very thin. Some Brexit protesters livened up the street corners around the Parliament Buildings and Westminster Cathedral. Unfortunately much of the Parliament Buildings, including Big Ben are undergoing a face lift so were well covered. A lengthy walk along the Embankment of the Thames River took us by some unique sights and ended up with afternoon tea by Trafalgar Square. Our timing was perfect to take in a visit to Canada House, an hour of spectacular art at the National Museum and an Evensong Choral concert at St. Martins-in-the-Field.

A ride around town on the top of a double decker bus took us back to Victoria Station and the opportunity to relax a bit and enjoy a pub dinner at The Albert pub before catching the train home. It is a privilege, at this point in our lives, to be living just outside such a wonderful. historic city and we are looking forward to many more visits to explore the many facets of London.

My Aunt Marion passed away suddenly on Sept 16th, just shortly after she had moved to a care home due to severe issues of mobility. She passed away just as she lived, with grace and dignity, having just about two weeks earlier celebrated her 87th birthday surrounded by her five children, fifteen grand children and seven great grandchildren. Aunt Marion and Uncle Tom were committed to family, highly regarded members of our community, faithful congregants in their church and loved by many. Marion was a gifted singer and loved music, was a photographer and a historian and loved by all the community children who rode on her school bus for almost twenty years. Tom and Marion loved to dance and even after Tom had lost his hearing, their dancing was a wonder to watch.

My mother’s family was large and somewhat fractured as new immigrants from Scotland who settled in Winnipeg. Three of her siblings, two of my uncles and an aunt passed away before I was born. My mom’s oldest sister passed away when I was young but had lived at such a distance that I had met her only once that I remember. I was very close to my mom’s youngest brother, Uncle Archie, and even though he lived in Ottawa, I visited him often as a teenager and young adult. Somehow, on leaving Winnipeg, my grandparents, my mom, mom’s sister Lil and brother Tom all ended up living on the 16th Concession of London Township, where I grew up.

Although Marion entered into the family through marriage to Uncle Tom, she was in many ways the rock of the family; the voice of reason, common sense and practicality for us all. While life was not necessarily easy – raising five kids on my uncle’s basic income – Marion was always the steady, calming influence for our extended family. She was able to manage a bus full of students in all sorts of weather with compassion while not tolerating any nonsense that might impact the safety of her charges.

At 87, Marion’s mind was sharp and fully engaged in the lives of her entire family. She maintained a family tree cataloguing the life and death of all of Tom’s siblings, and the births and marriages each of their of children, grand children and great grandchildren. She acknowledged every birthday or celebration on Facebook and kept in touch with us all on her trusty iPad. Just two weeks before she passed away, I received an email from her, congratulating us on our move to England.

Marion was the last of my mom’s family, and faced each sorrow and loss with peace and joy, founded in a deep faith in Christ, a reliance on the Holy Spirit for strength and wisdom and a song in her heart. She was a lady in every sense of the word and someone who I long to emulate. Her children, grand children and great grand children will miss her dearly but she leaves behind a wonderful legacy in her family who were her life.

We have lost count of the number of places we have lived in during our marriage, but it is well over a dozen by now. Some we have owned; some we have rented. Some we have adored; some we have endured. But there is one thing we know how to do, and that is secure a place to live. So it will come as no surprise to any of you who know us that one day after we landed in England we had secured accommodation. True, we did have to wait another four weeks to move in, but at least the place would be ours and we could go about securing the others things we needed, like a car and a bank account.

The flat is a corner unit, with lots of light and a view of the park across the street. There is a theatre beside us and a train station just up the road. It is a five-minute walk to where we now work, and only slightly further than that to where we shop. Most importantly – and this is what closed the deal for us – it came furnished and had a parking spot right beside the flat, two things that are virtually impossible to find in this country. There is even a ramp leading up to the flat from where we park our car.

However, there were two obvious drawbacks: one was that the flat was a one bedroom and a mere 430 square feet in size, and two, that the bed was a double. We had plenty of time over the four weeks we waited to move in to second guess the wisdom of our choice. Now that we have lived here for a month we are happy to report that 430 square feet is perfectly adequate for an elderly couple, and that a double bed is less of a problem than we thought it might be.

The place has other charms as well. The heating comes through the floor, for one. In a land that is considerably colder than the last two countries we have lived in, this is a notable feature. The floors are warm to the touch, and with no fan to move the heat around, there is no air to irritate my allergies. The place is so small that it takes a minimal amount of energy to heat the place, and the windows transmit radiant heat from the sun, even when it is cold. The kitchen is open to the living room, which both of us have always liked. And the closet in the bedroom runs from floor to ceiling so there is actually plenty of space to store our stuff.

But the area around the flat is its greatest feature. We walk in the park most nights, and there is a little pub just down the street that has a great Sunday roast beef carving. We saw the new Bond film at the cinema beside us, and plan to see live theatre there as well. And although we have yet to take the train to London, we have our senior’s passes in hand and are planning a trip in the near future.

Without question there is a liberty that comes with fewer possessions that many in our generation have yet to learn. We arrived here with two suitcases each and will likely leave with less than that. That is virtually all we own in this world, and all we are ever likely to need before we go to heaven. And it turns out that 430 square feet can hold all of it and us quite comfortably. We are grateful to God who clearly had set aside this place for us upon our arrival.

Teach Beyond is a global Christian organization that supports schools throughout the world seeking to provide a Christian centered education, often in countries where a Christian witness is limited. They are also seeking to support schools in refugee centers through a sister organization, Beyond Borders. As of this writing, there are TB schools in over 60 countries (see: https://teachbeyond.org/).

There are other organizations that provide a similar service. Leadership Development International (LDi) performs a similar function, largely in China, and the Network of International Schools (NICS), a smaller organization that began in South Korea, does the same in 13 countries, mostly in the Far East. There is a degree of cooperation between these organizations so as to maximize global impact.

The Lord led us in a most organic way to this organization. Black Forest Academy, where we served for a year in the mid-nineties, is the founding school for Teach Beyond, and many of those with whom we worked in Germany are still part of the larger organization. Our Vietnamese/Canadian friend Mic, whom we have supported since we first met him at Fuller while we were completing our Master’s degrees, also serves with Teach Beyond in the Far East. David D, who is the new CEO of the mission, is a former student of mine from BFA. Clearly the Lord had been preparing us for these roles for some years before we arrived.

Now that we have arrived at TB’s global office in Horsham, we are going to take some time to get settled. There are always transitional hiccups with moving to another country, even if it is the country of your birth. Most of the personal ones are either sorted or soon will be. Then there are the settling in issues with the mission itself. Most of those remain to be sorted. One of the most important took place as we spent the last weekend at a retreat with TB staff in Shropshire.

Cloverly Hall, where the retreat was held, is a typically drafty old county estate with horse barns converted to conference rooms. These two old tropical plants found the damp air chilly with a notable lack of sunshine. However, there were spectacular views of the British countryside to compensate and jovial air of camaraderie to brighten the spirits. I drank gallons of tea to warm my insides and wore several layers of clothes wherever I went. On a spare afternoon a new friend Clive and I went to explore the canals and churches of the area and were not disappointed.

It was a longish drive to Shropshire of about four hours, but our new little Ford Fiesta had no trouble keeping up with the 70 mph traffic on the M6. It was nice to be able to see the British countryside, and the stop in Stratford was a lifelong dream. The retreat was a great introduction to the mission and its people, and we look forward to getting deeper into our roles and responsibilities with our new lives in England.

I have heard people say that they don’t like Shakespeare. I can’t imagine why. Shakespeare is funny and poignant, witty and pertinent, insightful and explosive, cunning and dangerous. To say you don’t like Shakespeare is to say you don’t like intelligent discourse, you don’t like people, you don’t like life. You don’t like Shakespeare? How tragic then is your own life!

I love Shakespeare, and had I time and money I would see live every play he ever wrote. But alas, that is not possible. I am but a poor player strutting and fretting my hour upon the stage of life, without the resources or the capacity in indulge in such a wondrous journey as that would be.

However, I did finally get to Stratford-upon-Avon and saw the places where Shakespeare was born, where he was educated and where he is laid to rest. It is a humble grave, not at all like the statues, obelisks, and ornate tombs where the late and great are buried. It is simple slab in the church floor, though it is at least at the front of the church near the altar.

But it is to this simple grave where millions from around the world come to pay homage every year. There is now a fabulous Royal Shakespearean Festival Hall and the nearby Swan Theatre where The Bard’s plays are staged. Cafes, pubs, and boutiques line Henley Street where Shakespeare lived, all celebrating his name and trading on his cachet.

It was lovely to be in the town that so resonates with his life and his unmatched literary brilliance. We have made a promise to return and stay the night and see one of his plays in the coming year. That will be a tale worth the telling!

We had no idea how difficult it would be to settle in England. How hard could it be? They all spoke English – admittedly some with an account so thick it was hard to recognize – and they were a first world country. Besides, we have had plenty of experience with relocating. We had done so in Bangladesh and Germany, Malaysia, and the Cayman Islands. So, when Pam declared that she had found us a place to stay for the first eight days of our arrival I was dismissive. Why would we need eight days to find a permanent place, I protested? I argued that we would need no more than five. Foolishly, it now appears. Fortunately, we went with her plan.

After our arrival we were busy in our rental flat completing our Covid tests, getting prepped for my first conference with Teach Beyond, signing up for a bank account, and finding a place to stay. The tests and the conference went as planned. The bank was another story. The problem with finding a place to stay was that as it turns out, no one rents furnished flats in this part of the world. University towns, yes. London, certainly. But outside of that, most places are unfurnished, and we simply cannot afford to buy furniture for a flat on our limited budget.

This meant that there were virtually no places for us to rent. Letting agents were even reluctant to take our calls. We finally found a helpful agent and basically took the first place she showed us, a tiny one-bedroom unit close to the train station and across the street from a park. The problem was, it wouldn’t be available for another four weeks. There were no other units available at that time. So we signed the agreement and started scrambling for intermediate accommodation.

The obvious answer was to contact the mission and ask if they had some kind of emergency accommodation. Lots of missions do, and we have used such accommodation in the past in both Germany and Bangladesh. After numerous emails we did find out that there was such a place, a manse attached to a local Baptist church that was currently without a pastor. The missionaries who regularly used the manse were also absent, visiting family in Canada, and the place was empty. We secured a key, hired a cab, collected our bags, and moved in.

The place has been a blessing. It has given us a chance to deal with the dozens of calls and emails we have had to plow through in order to get over this transition hurdle, a warm place to sleep, and a place to relax and reflect in the evening. The office space gave us an opportunity to finish our book on our time in the Cayman Islands and get it sent off to the publisher, and the kitchen allowed us space to cook our own meals and avoid the expensive restaurant food that can rapidly destroy any budget.

The current residents, Len and Mary, get back today and that will mean we will be a little crowded for a few days. But our own place becomes available in just three days from now, so the timing has been just about perfect. Len and Mary call this place “Sanctuary.” It certainly has been for us. All our anxiety about where we would stay on our arrival had been looked after by our loving God long before we arrived. And as in many things while walking with God, we just had to trust and follow to see what He had already prepared for us.

Home-Thoughts from Abroad By Robert Browning

Oh, to be in England

Now that April’s there,

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning, unaware,

That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf

Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough

In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,

And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!

Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge

Leans to the field and scatters on the clover

Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray’s edge—

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

Lest you should think he never could recapture

The first fine careless rapture!

And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,

All will be gay when noontide wakes anew

The buttercups, the little children’s dower

—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

It seems appropriate to start this, our final book, with the poem that inspired the name of our blog that led to these books. Robert Browning has long been a favourite, and his poem, “Home Thoughts From Abroad” captures the longing for the familiar places of home of all of us who have been overseas for extended periods of time. Our attempts to capture the joy and excitement we felt in travel with the sometime anguished desire just to be among family and friends is what led us to blogging in the first place. It was our effort at connection; our desire to make what we were doing and why we felt called to this life understandable to our children, our grandchildren, and the friends who have supported us with their prayers and their caring for these many years.

Now we are reaching the end of this journey. We have told ourselves that this will be the last posting we accept; that after we have finished our two-year commitment to our present mission in Horsham, we will return to Canada for good. That doesn’t mean we will stop serving the Lord. But it does mean that we will stop doing so in foreign locations.

It is fitting that our last overseas venture be in England, where both our families are from. I was actually born in England, in Colchester, not far from where we are presently living. I have a sister in Lincolnshire and a cousin in Kent, and once we are properly settled with a car and a bank account, we will visit them both. My parents retired to England as well, and we have often visited them in Lincoln and are well familiar with that part of the country. My first overseas visit when I was 11 years old was to my grandmother, at that time still feisty and living by herself in Dollis Hill, not far from Wimbledon.  

England has other resonances for me as well through literature, and not just Robert Browning. I grew up on the tales of Horatio Hornblower, E.M. Forster’s fictionalized stories about Lord Nelson. Throughout my teaching career I have saturated myself with the works of Dickens and Shakespeare, Tennyson and Blake. I have immersed myself in the paintings of Constable and Turner, and the music and clothing of the sixties when I grew up was all from England.

So living in England, while not a homecoming, does have a poignancy and significance that other places we have lived abroad have not. I shall enjoy its quiet country lanes and remote peaks and parks as much as I will the busy cities and streets that crowd this island. We hope to capture some of those experiences in this journal, and trust that many of you, either now on this site, or later when this is committed to a book, will find in these pages something that speaks to your heart as well.

We are all, in one way or another, travelers in this life; citizens of another country beyond sight, but visible through the eyes of faith. The two of us have served the Lord of that country as well as we are able throughout our marriage. If this be our last overseas posting for Him, we cannot think of a finer place.

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