Wednesday 12 November 2014

3 months - 1/4 of a year - Christmas is coming!

Well time certainly flies! It's only been a while since our last post and things are not standing still.

Jo mentioned that we're on a training course until Christmas. At the core St. Stephens 'exists to preach the Good News, reach the poor and see people set free through faith in Jesus Christ'. The training is for the newly arrived westerner helpers and the many local people who are all preparing to go out to the poor (either in Hong Kong, the Philippines, along the 'silk road' route, and other places in Asia). It's really helpful to get this overview and to be with like minded people.

The Cantonese lessons are going well, but it's still a huge obstacle to jump over. The boys initial enthusiasm has petered out (mainly because it's a 2 hour lesson with no break! a big ask) but Jo and I are sticking at it.

Home-school is a lot of fun at times! For example here is Reuben dressed as a Celtic Warrior! But both Jo and I have ended up taking ourselves off on 'cool down' walks - crying ... and crying out to God for help. We met a lady recently who'd home schooled her 8 children!! It was encouraging hear that we're not alone in finding it challenging. Do pray for wisdom in the bucket load.

We are seeing changes in some of the guys in the house. It's great to see them being touched by the caring/loving environment they are in. One guy who was so quiet when he arrived (having spent most of the previous 3 years stuck in one room) was able to stand up at a talent evening and play guitar and sing two songs (he couldn't even play guitar before he arrived). What's clear though is that this 'safe' environment won't help in the outside world unless there is a heart change also! Do pray for A. and B. who really need to understand Jesus is not just a 'religious program' but a person who can help.

We've also been involved in some outreaches. On one midnight outreach to 'Aberdeen' (interestingly the site of the original Hong Kong port before it was moved to the other side of the island!) it was amazing to see 7 teenagers receive Jesus as they responded to what God said to them. I saw the careful work of the team as they made sure that these were not just a 'hit and run' conversions - but that the teens were followed up with bible studies and nurture. Please pray for this follow up, teens are notoriously bad at keeping appointments and being consistent making the follow up doubly important.

The start of this month also saw Samuel turn 11. Unfortunately we all got sick with some sort of tummy bug on and around the day! Undeterred a day later we went to a place with wall to wall trampolines in it ... no mishaps and we had a really lovely time with some of the gap year students who are hear too.

Now near the end of November we are seeing that a number of our helpers here in block 2 will be leaving soon. From about 8 well soon be 4! It's very encouraging that different ones are going on outreaches to different places or moving on in other positive ways ... but it does mean we're going to be stretched. Please pray for help in this - more helpers or the ability (including Cantonese) to cope with these changes. Pray for the guys too as these kind of changes can be unsettling.

Much love from us all!

Alec, Jo Samuel and Reuben.

Thursday 23 October 2014

Updates ... Oct 23

Well now that Jo's done a post it's time for some other updates on our house/block (we're in block 2, there are 5 blocks in the St Stephens complex).

First of all, the guy who I talked about (Sept 14th) who was struggling physically decided to leave after 10 days. This was a real sadness as 10 days was enough time for the drugs to clear his system but not enough time for him to really 'turn around' in his thinking and his behavior. Though it's not what we would want, the chances are he'll take again without some external help. He really needs to ask for the Lords help to 'turn around' spiritually as well as in his thinking and behavior.

  • Please pray for him.

On a more positive note 2 other new guys have come into the house who have not suffered any pain during withdrawal from hard drugs. This is the peculiar/particular kind of miracle that we see here and we thank God for it. No new boys right now though - so no night duties which is a nice break!

  • Praise God for what he continues to do in the lives of these men and the many others that live here.

The challenge in the house at the moment is that we have a 50:50 split between guys who've just come in recently (since we've been here) and those that have been here for nearly a year. Some people come in with a 9 month 'court order' to be at St Stephens. As it happens that's probably an average time to be here. This is a challenge as many of the guys have a prison mindset where there is a lot more equality between the 'inmates' - but we're more like a family where brothers and sisters are given different responsibilities and freedoms depending on their age and maturity. It's not always easy to hold all those differences together ...

  • Do pray for wisdom for the house leaders Nick an George to know how best to plan things in our day to day activities so that these issues don't become bigger than they should be.

From a Cobb family point of view: 

The boys continue to amaze us in how they are coping ... but as half term approaches they are getting tired and emotions are heightened. We have had many tears especially from Samuel after talking to his old class (and best friend) at Nelson School in Whitton. Not an easy time but we know God is faithful and today I really experienced that faithfulness. It was a reminder and reassurance that He holds everything in his hands. 

We went to play volleyball down at the sports hall which has a large open air multifunction hard surface. Reuben took his football down for himself, but as we played volley ball two of the guys took his football (they didn't know it was 'his' ball and just viewed it as a ball to play with) and started kicking it around. I quickly checked with Reuben if he was OK with that, but at the moment he said 'no', and I was about to ask the guys to give the ball back, one of them kicked the ball hard and high. It cleared the netting and went for miles down into the 'jungle' below (it's a steep hill down away from the hard court and it really is a bit of a jungle as the complex is surrounded on every side by woods). I looked and it really was impossible to imagine finding the green ball let alone getting down to where we thought it might be.

I'd love to say that at this point I prayed and hey presto ... but I didn't. First I talked to Reuben who burst into floods of tears saying that he hated the people who'd kicked the ball. I then took Reuben back to the house as he was so upset. You could say that this is a lot of fuss about a ball ... but this was a prized possession (and much loved birthday present). At this point I don't really know why but I got really upset too! Not with the people or anything but for Reuben - and Samuel, they have given up so much and I felt the weight of Jo and my decision heavy on our wonderful boys (our decision to walk away from all that's comfortable and really follow Jesus in the call we felt on us!). Loosing the ball was the straw on the camels back and it broke me.

So what did I do at this point ... pray? Still not - when will I learn! Instead I wanted to solve the problem! I went down to see if there was anyway I could get down there and find the ball. I looked and even tried a little but just couldn't do it. No-one else was looking, they were carrying on with their games. So what next! Daddy will solve this problem so I go back to the house and look online see if I can find an exact replica to get shipped over.

But God's ways are not our ways! They are much better Isaiah 55:9. Just as I did find the exact same ball online there's a knock at the door. They guy who kicked the ball is there with the ball in his hands. It turns out the Lord even knows what to do when it comes to lost balls. Someone else had kicked their ball over after I left. They went searching and found Reuben's ball immediately. Any cynics among you may say that clearly I should have just tried harder! But I'm telling you it would have been like a needle in a haystack (it was a green ball in a jungle remember). 

So what did I learn? Stop trying to be the hero! Jesus already has that job.
  • Please pray for Samuel's homesickness! And for friends their own ages.

Much love from us all!

Monday 13 October 2014

Jo's turn to write!

Hi, It's Jo ...

Reuben shows the size
of the kitchen!
Wow! We have been in Hong Kong for 6 and a half weeks!  AND we have survived!  The first few weeks were really quite challenging.  We felt like fish out of water and came into a situation where things were in transition, so it was a shaky start with lots of unknowns and not so many people around to answer our questions. However many people had worked hard to make us feel welcome including preparing our apartment and allowing us to move in and make it our home straight away.

Things are practically challenging. We've moved from a massive house with a huge kitchen to an apartment with a minuscule cooking area (can’t bring myself to call it a kitchen!) where the cupboards have been placed so high you can’t even reach the first shelf ... and then there’s the cockroaches! Also, food hygiene here is 'interesting'!  Meat is left out for hours, uncovered, and 'cleaning' the tables after mealtimes was done with a filthy towel which I have vowed to burn!!!!!  I have bought some anti-bacterial wipes and the guys are now using them after meals even when I'm not there! Victory!

Shopping has been my biggest challenge though. Who would have thought that purchasing a shopping trolley (‘granny trolley’ as Reuben calls it) could change your life! After several terrible shopping ventures, (a couple of which actually made me cry!) I think I have now cracked it!  I now no longer view missing the bus, which only carries 16 people, as a bad thing.  It means I am front of the queue and can lug my shopping trolley to the back of the bus so as not to be in the way!!!! 
... and relax! 

UNO! The loser gets an arm written on
... so of  course Reuben plays to lose!
We are getting to know the 'boys' in our block really well (actually they range in age from 19 to the oldest who is in his 60’s) and we are becoming very fond of them. Our lives are very much shared.  We eat together, play sport and board games, worship and pray with them and study the Bible.  We have lots of fun, and although the language difference is still a barrier (for me anyway), we share a lot of jokes and laugh a lot. Samuel and Reuben can often be found next door playing UNO or other games with the guys, even when it’s one of our evenings off! We feel very safe and trust God that He will look after our family as we see these guys have their lives turned around by Jesus. However, the scars on their bodies - knife wounds from fights and masses of tattoos tell of their pasts which we pray will remain in the past as their lives are set on a different course. What a privilege!  

Our training started 2 weeks ago which was great. The downside is that it is not really set up for home-schooling families so Alec and I have to take it in turns to go. Cantonese lessons start next week and we are all going!!!!  Personally, I am really struggling with the language.  I can't quite tune my ear to the sounds and it becomes increasingly difficult when one word can have multiple meanings depending on the tone.  My attempts have been a source of amusement here.  I learnt how to ask, ‘how old are you?’ and was very pleased with myself, so I tried it out on a guy who speaks good English.  However, I said one word slightly wrong and ended up asking him when he was going to die!!!!!  Alec, on the other hand, actually stands and has conversations with people in Cantonese!!!! He is amazing!

Home school award day!
Apart from home schooling, which is actually going really well, (do I sound surprised!), I have started reading the story in the toddler group here once a week. (It's in English) I also do baking with the guys in our block, which they love!  Last week we made pizza which went down a storm! This week it was scones (sadly no clotted cream though!).  Also I have started doing an art session.  It's very basic stuff, things you'd do with kids, but the schooling system here in HK doesn't really do anything creative and a lot of the guys are very fearful of making mistakes, it's ingrained in the culture. So by doing an activity where there is no 'correct' way to do it is good for them. 
Art activity.
Pizza Frenzy!

Samuel measures the
amount of blood a human has! 
Another role I have found myself in is being a 'mummy' for the gap year students who arrived about a month ago.  Most are 18, and some are finding things more difficult than others.  Cups of tea, toast with Nutella, hugs, a shoulder to cry on and someone to pray with are some of things I have provided so far.  I love it.  They are so brave.  There is no way I could have come aged 18.

We have one day off a week and a couple of evenings.  Monday is our day off which is great because weekends in HK are horrendous! So far we have been to a beautiful beach on an island, been up The Peak, done Stanley Market and Ocean Park.  Ocean park is a big theme park with rides and animals. We saw some beautiful pandas and stood there taking photos when we realised that a group of Chinese tourists, who had probably never seen a white face before, were taking photos of US not the pandas!!!  Then they wanted to pose with Samuel and Reuben and before we knew it even kissed one of the boys! Bizarre! The boys thought it was hilarious!

Wonderful beaches ...


Ocean Park photo opportunity!
Our boys are doing incredibly well! We are sooooooo proud of them!  They have adapted really well in every area.  Samuel still struggles with some of the Chinese food though, so we make sure that on our evenings off we have western food!  I even managed to find chicken kievs in the supermarket.  They cost an absolute fortune and actually tasted as though they had been in the freezer section for a few years!!! Maybe we won't have those again!  

Please pray for us.  
  • Health  - A few of the helpers have had a nasty bug which has meant that they were out of action for a week. Pray that no-one else gets it.
  • Friends - We really need to find some like-minded friends for Samuel and Reuben.
  • Language - Not speaking the language really is a barrier, there is only so much miming you can do, so please pray that we pick it up really quickly.
  • New guys - There are two new guys at the moment are coming off hard drugs
  • Block 2 - The block/house we are a part of (there are 5 blocks) is going through a lot of changes that can be unsettling for the guys.
We are so thankful for this amazing time in our lives and are excited about what the future holds for all of us!

Thanks for reading!

Lots of love,


Sunday 14 September 2014

A spiritual battle ...

I don't know if today has been a good or bad day. It's an ongoing battle ... but that's part of the reason for being here.

We've had 5 new guys coming in since we arrived. The latest arrived two days ago and is withdrawing from heroin.

Each drug or addiction has it's own withdrawal symptoms. Ketamime withdrawal for example can cause severe pain in the kidneys and cause the feeling of needing to go to the loo often. Heroin has probably one of the most painful withdrawals though, as the whole body goes into a kind of shock. The new guy is struggling physically and as a result wants to leave. Unfortunately, despite knowing Jesus, he's is not praying or asking for His help. Three different guys who have got through heroin withdrawal with only prayer have come to encourage him ... but he's rather closed at this point.

The program for the day has gone out the window! Much prayer though!

And now at the close of the day God is good. The battle seems to have been won ... for today. The new guy has had some sleep after 2 nights of not sleeping. Please intercede though as without the person being willing to ask for and accept Jesus help it tends to be harder for them.

Never a dull moment :) ... whats more one of the guys in the house broke his arm playing football yesterday (reminds me of 28 years ago if you are reading Mr Woods!). Jo went to the hospital with one of the boys and nearly got caught in a typhoon! Fortunately it didn't get too bad.

Much love to all!

Saturday 6 September 2014

Alec's Day ...

Perhaps its a bit early to say what a typical day looks like ... but here goes anyway.

Up a 6:30 get ready/breakfast and step over from our flat ...
Our flat (here centre right)

To the main part of the house:
The main part of the house (our flat is just to the right)

Everyone else gets up a little later but a helper needs to be around from 7. It's a good time to have a quiet time and read the bible.

This used to be a house with some of the guys who've been in the program for a while. That has means the guys have a certain amount of autonomy. But since we've been here they have taken in 3 'new boys' and things are not normal (at least for the guys). We all have a lot of 'new boy duties' where someone is with each of the new guys 24 hours a day for 10 days. During this time we meet every physical need the 'new boys' may have, food - sleep - even massage, and also spiritual need by praying for them continually. There are only 12 of us in the house apart from the 'new boys' so 24 hour care means we're all a bit stretched and a bit tired. And some people get up a little later than normal.

By 8:15 though they'll have breakfast together (not so many of them perhaps because some will be sleeping in after a night dury) and I've already had some cereal (a little bit of normality! none of us get on with Chinese breakfasts).

A panorama inside the main room

8:30 till 9 they have a quiet time and then a worship meeting at 9:30. Trying very hard to learn the language so I can follow.

10:30 is usually cleaning the house or work around the compound ... so far for me that's meant anything from fixing the gate struts to clearing monsoon drains with the guys. Whatever it is, I have to change beforehand as I am drenched in sweat within a minute of doing any activity.

Lunch at 12:30 ... nothing special to report except that Samuel isn't enjoying the 'fair' as much as Reuben so we're going to start having 3 western lunches for the boys a week. The food isn't like your local Chinese take away and at the moment seems to involve the tips of chicken wings as it's cheap - Reuben seems to love this, Samuel not at all).

After lunch til about 4 is work again. After that some physical recreation. The pool is great and the boys are loving that ... but Reuben has also had great delight playing as an extra on Daddy's team at 5 aside football (he's really got some skill and is able to take the adults on ... even if they are being kind) and Samuel is really enjoying badminton with Mummy! I think we may all be getting fitter!

ALL of these activities are opportunities to relate with the guys, pray with them encourage them (if they speak good enough English), or just make friends and learn Cantonese (our top and ongoing challenge). What is amazing is how humor doesn't have so many language barriers!

The evening is then supper at 6:30 followed by a bible study/meeting.

There are variations on this theme. For example: one evening a week they get to watch a film, and one of the guys has learnt to be a rather a good cake maker and he teaches everyone else instead of work one afternoon.

Cake Making
Jo and the boys days are quite different to mine but I'll let Jo write about that next time.

If you pray then please pray for:
  • Our ability to pick up Cantonese
  • The general fatigue in the house.
  • One of the new boys who has come in through the parole board and has no real understanding of Jesus.

Tuesday 2 September 2014

Cobb Springs Primary in action

So today Jo started home-school for the boys. 
Uniforms done! Register didnt take long. The day begins

Sunday 31 August 2014

Settling in ...

Well we've been here 4 and a half days and we've been to the pool 6 times. What a great blessing for the boys to have that to look forward to each day! The boys are doing really well though they have both had moments of sadness. Fortunately skype has meant that Samuel has already 'seen' and spoken to his best friend! Currently we are going with the flow although Cobb Springs Primary School opens it's doors next Wednesday which means that our days will have more structure.  Once up and running Jo is hoping to get involved with some other activities which fit around Alec's responsibilities.

We've nearly made our flat into a home. Just a few pictures to put up and we'll be there. It was so beautifully prepared for us ahead of time and we are so thankful to the people here for an amazing welcome.

On our arrival we were asked to be 'house parents' in one of the houses here at Shing Mun Springs.This was an unexpected responsibility, but it's temporary! The current 'parents' had to head back to the UK for 3 weeks. But we are getting into the swing of things. We had 2 new brothers come into the house on the second day we were here, and another will arrive on Thursday. These are guys who want to get off drugs. There really is an amazing testimony of people coming off hard drugs in a pain free manner and we're seeing that as we pray for these ones too. Logistics is a tad problematic as normally the houses are fuller than ours right now and the new boys need one on one care 24/7 for the first 10 days. We are therefore a little stretched so some members of the congregation are coming to cover the lack.

I (Alec) was privileged to pray with one of the new boys earlier and to see him released not just from the drugs but also from deep seated loneliness and feelings of being inadequate.

We are on a steep learning curve in so many areas, but are excited to be out of our comfort zones.

Please pray for:

  • Jo and the boys as they start homeschooling
  • The new boys - that the Lord would meet their emotional and physical needs
  • Ah Kai - the house leader 
  • A miracle in our ability to learn Cantonese quickly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday 26 August 2014

We're on the way.

Airport selfie. Nearly on the way.
Many tears after this happy time!

Monday 25 August 2014

First post, and first steps ...

Alec says:

Wow! The house is 'almost' clear ... it's been a slog! Online checkin complete ... and tomorrow we get on the plane. It's been a tearful couple of weeks as we've said so many goodbyes. I think tomorrow will be hard.

But the tears from leaving are mixed with much excitement about what we're going to. Our flat at St-Stephens seems to have been ready for a number of weeks and looks lovely! And this is what we feel the Lord has been calling us to, so it's a step of faith that's been backed up with many blessingsThere are some challenges ahead (learning Cantonese, being available 24 hours a day at the centre) so we want to face them head on and get stuck in!

Jo says:

As Alec said we have very mixed emotions! Being up to my neck in preparations over the last year has made it difficult to get too emotional, so we have packed plenty of tissues for the airport goodbyes. My boys will be saying goodbye to their best friends and their nanny and granny.  We know it will be difficult.  

The only thing I can say is that we are trusting in a God who knows us, loves us and has told us to go!  Our only confidence is in Him (God).  Without this faith it would seem like a ridiculous thing to do, some might even think irresponsible.  

We look forward to filling you in on the next chapter.