MRS Olive Newby

March 22, 2007

Yesterday, I took the three minute walk from my house to the Skerton Methodist church for the burial of Olive Newby, 91, who had died a week earlier. Those who are famous have full churches for their funeral; in Olive’s case, those who were present were mainly family … and me. Most were well past 50, except for the grandchildren. No great grandchild was present.

And it was a great honour to have been invited. I first met Olive in September 2003. She has been the only person I’ve regularly visited as a volunteer for our local social services. Actually, Olive never knew that she provided some rare routine in my life. I used to visit her every Thursday for two hours, then for an hour, then it became every fortnight.

By my second visit, I knew that I wouldn’t ever want to stop visiting. I learned so much from her. When second son Colin read her eulogy yesterday, nothing was new to me. She told me of being born in Barrow in Furness, of living with her family in Park Avenue, then moving to Lancaster after she’d become an upholsteress, to work in the then famous Wearing and Gillows furniture factory, of getting married to her first husband who died in the 70s, of living 14 years alone, before remarrying. She told me of her old house in Morley street, (not too far from where I’m now writing) of her dog, of how her first husband had died just after coming out of an OAP meeting, of the fact that he was chair, she was secretary and first son Steve was treasurer, (I’m sure he was the youngest treasurer of any OAP meeting). But she told me more; her dad had worked on the Titanic, wow! He’d even traveled on it from Belfast to Liverpool, finishing the stairs, before the ship moved to Southampton for commissionning and maiden voyage. The rest, as they say, is history. . So, next time you watch the film, look carefully at his handiwork. She told me of living through the second world war, of air raids over Barrow, of how much she’d wanted to work in Gillows, of starting work and stopping when she got married.

How do you measure greatness. Olive didn’t star on television, but she was such a good upholsteress that her boss asked her if she could get others from Barrow. She invited her good friend Eleanor over, so their friendship could continue. How do you measure popularity? Because she was married to a much older man, (they met when he was a widower with a teenage daughter) she was in the OAP group even before she could officially be called a pensioner. Yet, she was secretary of the group until she could no longer perform the tasks.

Olive liked to tell me of how many twos she had in her life. She had two brothers and two sisters, two sons, two step daughters, even two husbands. She recorded events in a series os short poems. You might think they ere insignificant, a christening, or perhaps a pastor’s comment, but she proudly read her poems to me from her scrapbook. When I first met her, she was nearly 88, but she still did the crosswords, loved her children’s singing and went out every week with other older ladies and gentlemen.

But even then, it was already getting difficult. The first change I noticed was when in January 2004, Steven came to live with her. She didn’t like it at all, she felt that her family was taking her independence away. Who would have blamed her? She’d lived such an active independent life before, and after the death of her second husband, she’d lived a whole decade on her own. But the family had seen she wasn’t coping, and I soon began to see it too. Soon, she said she couldn’t see enough to read the crosswords. Then, she felt less confident about going out on her weeklhy trips. I pleaded and persuaded, telling her she couldn’t shut herself at home, but it didn’t work. By then, she’d stopped telling me those stories; she’d get frustrated when the right words didn’t come to her on time, and I started to notice that they came to her less and less. Then, I wasn’t sure she could recognize me; she actually told me once that she wasn’t at home and that one young man (Steve) was about to take her home. That’s when, on advise from Steve, I started to cut my visits. It must have been very difficult for him; sometimes, he didn’t even feel he could leave her at home alone.

I learned many things from Olive. Perhaps one important thing I learned was about the transformation of growing old. From parent, you gradually become helpless, relying on family, the state and your medication to stay alive. I couldn[t help thinking that if Olive had died at 75, she’d have had a whole crowd at her funeral. She seemed so active, even among the older people. But towards the end, she hardly went out, couldn’t have made many friends, and so she became isolated. I wanted her to live to be 100, so I could boast about knowing someone who’d received the queen’s telegram.

One day, Steve rang to say he was taking advantage of a social services offer, taking his mum to a respite place and taking a holiday. He’d looked after his mum 24 hours of the day for over 2 years, and I felt he deserved the break. But his next call was to say he was back, and that his mum had fallen and broken our hip or something. She’d be in hospital, she’d have an operation, she’d probably be there for several weeks, but she’d be back. She never came out of the hospital.

Three and a half years is nothing in the life of a 91 year old, so I was surprised when I met all these family members who said she always talked about me. The thing is, I knew all their names, because she’d always told me about them. I could tell them stories too, her perspective on the things that had happened, but it wasn’t the time.

Thanks Olive for teaching me so much. I don’t know what I’ll do for routine now, but I’ll always remember your stories of everyday life, and how you impacted the everyday people you met, … even me.

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Initial Reflections On Missions: The Challenges of Integration for the Nigerian Majority Churches in UK

March 6, 2007

Here is an article written by my friend and seniour colleague Dr Olu Ojedokun. It is as yet unpublished. I’ve read through it and find it interesting and thought provoking. He’d like to have this circulated, to stimulate discussion. I’d like that too.

Initial Reflections On Missions: The Challenges of Integration for the Nigerian Majority Churches in UK
– Olu Ojedokun, Ph.D

In the past few years Black Majority Churches’ growth in the UK at about 18% has assumed significant proportions. The levels growth even becomes more striking when compared with the decline of 5% in the growth of the wider Church. Another characteristic of this growth is that it does not appear to come from an infusion of people from the majority UK White population. The growth is primarily from immigrant Africans and Blacks re congregating themselves into Churches. The extent of this growth shows that Black Majority Churches account for 7% of the worshippers in the UK . However, a concern is that whilst many of these Churches profess and desire to be truly international and integrationist in their vision statements, there appears to be a conspicuous absence of the White majority population and of other nationalities, why is this?

This article would seek to explore and open a dialogue which hopefully unpacks some of the facts and the issues that arise and begin a conversation capable of arousing within the congregations and their leaderships a deep desire to commence an engagement and the fashioning of a strategy that impacts the wider society.

The 2002 UK Census indicates that there are about 500,000 Africans in the UK (this does not take into account the 400,000 Caribbeans) . When simple extrapolation is made from widely held assumption, which states that 1 in every 5 African is a Nigerian one can suggest that in the UK there are over 100,000 Nigerians . Extending this assumption further we can argue that since over 80% of Nigerians claim to be Christians or Church goers there are about 80,000 Nigerian Christians. Quite evidently a significant number of them are professionals and well educated, working in strategic areas of the UK economy. This places them in areas of impact and influence across the UK society. Another fact revealed by the census is that Africans, including Nigerians are the fastest growing minority group and the youngest in terms of composition.

As Christians and as a people Nigerians in the UK form a small minority and face the challenges and difficulties that minority cultures have faced when they find themselves placed in a majority culture. The situation faced by Nigerian Christians today in the UK today is not unique to history. This situation has been faced by many nations and peoples across the centuries. The most widely noted are the Jews in Europe and most recent are the West Indians and Indians and Pakistanis in the UK.

Most Nigerian Christians though through default but also some through design have found themselves constituted into conclaves or ghettoes of Churches which constitute people of their own nationality or race. Whilst a number of understandable and excusable reasons exists for this trend, one queries whether this seems to ignore God’s call to Christians to be acculturated in their identification with surrounding society whilst maintaining the call to remain uncompromisingly pure and holy? Does their conscious or unconscious separation into conclaves indicate they might be failing in following the footsteps of Jesus who perfectly identified in the Jewish culture which He found himself? Is it not possible that in their default separation they hide their light and their potential to positively impact society? History reveals to us that a minority, no matter how officious in its propaganda or skilful in its public relations, no matter how many important contacts it has made, it cannot affect, unless it, either neutralises the majority or wins it over to active support of its cause. And the winning can only be accomplished by acculturisation and culturally sensitive evangelism.

If it is accepted that the easy and comfortable way for the Nigerian and other African Christians from a minority culture is to remain cultural ‘Christian’ ghettos within an alien culture. Then how do they bring the good news to the Unchurched? If they accept the fact that cultural identification is vital for the effective communication of the good news of Jesus Christ, then they open the doors to evangelising with their lives as well as with their words. It is suggested that just as Jesus Christ immersed himself in first-century Jewish culture, so Nigerian Christians, as His followers are required to immerse, understand and relate closely to the society in which they are called to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.

If the status quo in which most of the Nigerian majority Churches find themselves is accepted then it could imply that they are in danger of replicating the Old Testament people of Israel who were not sent out in the proclamatory mission to the Gentile nations around them but were rather called to remain in the ‘promised land’ and attract peoples to them. In other words they could be in danger of demonstrating through the magnificence of their buildings, their wealth and their lives that they are living according to God’s word and expect the beauty and holiness of their lives to shine out like a light to those around them, drawing them in like moths to a light or like bees to nectar. However, it is clear that Nigerian Christians as in any other Christians are called to a task of missions which is not simply evangelisation or primary witness among the Unchurched, although such work has its place, the emphasis is the need to bring people to such a discipleship so that they can learn. This implies an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ that will lead to growing maturity in Him.

In many respects it would appear that the one organisation, the Overseas Fellowship of Nigerian Christians (OFNC), an organisation formed in 1977, by reason of its vision, history and ethos is well placed to assist Nigerians and other African Christians in bringing about a change of perspective . For only organisations that have the capacity to reflect a broad spectrum of evangelical Christians and has as its sole purpose, working together to equip its members for effectiveness in their Churches, with the ability to encourage its membership to play constructive roles in developing the country of residence, UK in this instance is able to play such a vanguard role. It is submitted that this organisation has the capacity to develop partnerships and linking with other organisations to play a more formal role in equipping and preparing their Churches in finding ways to engage more cross-culturally and impact the Unchurched and unevangelised in the United Kingdom. One is certain that there are many other like minded individuals, groups and organisations out there yet to be revealed.

The means and modus operandi for achieving this should be a subject of more in-depth analysis which comes out of mutual consultations and exchanges. It is submitted that this conversation is worth continuing.