Mum Heath

October 9, 2009

When I was in primary school in Nigeria, I used to read a bi-monthly magazine for young christians, called “The Torch”. Another was called “Flash” and yet another “Searchlight”. These were produced in braille by the Torch Trust for the Blind, and mostly contained articles which first appeared in other print magazines. But there was always an editorial, usually by someone who called herself Mum Heath.

Much later, I discovered that this lady was called Stella Heath. When I got to England, I even got to meet her. I went with a friend to what was then called Torch House in Hallaton Hall, just outside MarketHarborough. This was in 1993 I think. Her husband Ron was still alive then, and they took some time to talk to me. I was awestruck by their simple faith. They said how they’d pray for something, and someone would just donate it. I don’t mean £100, I mean braille presses, buildings, etc. And for them, it was just natural, just quitely calling on God.

I remember spending a day in the Torch library. I love to read. I found a book which had been out for a while, telling the history of Torch. I believe the first lines were “it all started with …” and the mention of a girl. Can’t remember her name now. Apparently dad Heath was a bank manager and they lived in Sussex, where they ran a home group. There was this girl who had not yet become a Christian, but had started to attend the group. That was when they discovered there was no literature in braille for her.

And that was how Mum Heath and friends began to produce braille material for this girl. When they discovered that the whole house was full of braille, it occurred to them that they needed a bigger place. God provided Hallaton House. When I visited, they’d used up most of the house for braille production, had converted some of the sheds, etc. Even that place couldn’t hold Torch activities. It was really interesting how many people would come in as volunteers, stay in some of the rooms provided, get fed, work all day and return to their homes, feeling most fulfilled. I remember the staff taking me on walks through the village. It was for me a most wonderful time.

The purpose of the visit was to explore setting up a Torch Fellowship group in Morecambe. It happened for a few years, then stopped, but my impression of Mum and Dad Heath lasted. I believe there’s a photo of me reading a book in the old Torch House. Or maybe it’s lost now. When I was in Nigeria, all the blind people knew three British institutions: the Royal National Institute for the Blind, (or as it is now known, the Royal National Institute of Blind People), the National Library for the Blind (now merged with the RNIB), and Torch. It was only when I got to the UK that I found out about such charities as Guide Dogs for the Blind, Action for Blind People, etc. To think that one of those organisations was a specifically Christian charity. When I visited in 1993, they even had a project for transcribing Russian Bibles. They had, )and still have) projects in Malawi, and sent books all over the world. I know that from the letters in the penfriend pages, and from those who had passed their beginners Christian courses.

I write all these because I heard that last week, Mrs Stella Heath went to be with the Lord. By the time I started to visit Torch House again, she was no longer there. And things had changed too. Torch had moved to a purpose built place in the middle of MarketHarborough, all office space. Accommodation was moved somewhere else. The chief executive is now a lovely man called Dr Gordon Temple. It looked and felt more like a modern charity, and to tell the truth, I missed the old one. Indeed, I first visited the new building as a member of a project to present a programme about disability on Premier Christian Radio.

Though it faces the challenges of modern charities, it is still a Christian institution. Every morning at 9, all the staff gather in the chapel for a time of devotion. They sing from hymn books which have been transcribed in Torch House, read from a daily devotional, also produced there and commit the items on the calendar to God. The first time, it felt strange leaving the building for their guesthouse. But it’s run by a lovely couple who have been round the world on mission.

It turns out that Torch is 50 years this year. It’s amazing, it all started with a girl who did not have Christian literature in braille. Thank God for the excellent work that Torch is doing all over the world. And thank God for Stella and Ron Heath, who I still call Mum and Dad Heath, because they responded to a need and filled the life of a 7 year old in far away Nigeria, (who was in a boarding school far from home) with books about Christ. I took the decision to be a Christian much later, but those books certainly helped.

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God’s watchman

October 8, 2009

I just realised that I didn’t write about last year’s conference. Actually, I haven’t written about this year’s either.

Last year, I was with the Lancaster group which organised the conference. Maybe it was the rushing about, maybe it was because I left the conference, unpacked and repacked again for my journey to Nigeria.

This year’s topic was on God’s watchman, taken from that passage in Ezekiel, where God says to us that he’s set us up as watchmen. Basically, If God sends a message through us and we don’t deliver, we’ve been disobedient. You can read more about it in chapter 3.

We had as a guest speaker Rd Moses Aransiola. I’d heard of him; in fact the blind people in Unilag talked about him in the 80s, I think he made a controversial statement.

This year’s talk was definitely provocative, if the lively debate on the homeward journey to Lancaster is a reasonable guide. His main theme seemed to be that in order to be good watchmen, we had to be well trained and well prepared soldiers, in a world where we wrestle not against flesh and blood. By the fourth day, conference delegates were ready to break any covenant that may be affecting lives, even those going back several generations.

Sometimes, I find myself watching for the attitude of delivery. I found myself listening to a man who openly confessed that he’s grown since he began ministry. He said that if he knew 10 years ago, what he knew now, his ministry would have grown much more. I found that most reassuring, for more reasons than was obvious to other listeners. But he also spoke about where he’d been in the past, and especially the great spiritual battles he had had to fight. I think his experiences have shaped his recent activities; he now seems to be a leader in prayers and intercession, both in Nigeria and other parts of the world.

At least this year, I was a lot more relaxed, and better able to participate in all events. I remember running around last year with the other Lancaster crew. It was, up till that time, the best organised conference, according to feedback. I haven’t seen the feedback for this year yet. But I still managed to get the essence of last year’s conference. The speaker was pastor Adegboye of Rhema ministries. I’d heard a lot about him. He spoke on Christ Centred living from Galatians.

I confess I’ve never met someone who can reel off scriptures like that man did last year. First, it was impressive, then it became challenging, then stunning. Even now, (and I didn’t buy the CD or DVD) I can still remember the voice, quoting one verse after another, exposing Christ’s humility and urging us to live a Christlike life. That was useful. Being part of the organisation tested all our self-control and it was very good to be reminded of how Christ handled the pressure He was under.

Pastor David Shosanya, a Baptist minister from London was the main speaker at the youth sessions last year, as he’d been for about 3 years. All the youth speak very highly of him. He came to lead a session at the prayer meeting on Sunday. In several ways, he challenged the Nigerian middle class complacency. He reminded us that violence and gun crime was not restricted to the deprived areas of London. Naivity can lead wealthier children into real trouble. One young man had just come out of a prayer meeting and entered some club. A bouncer tried to stop him and he just slapped the bouncer. If I remember the story right, the next day, the mutilated body was found somewhere, all because he slapped the wrong guy. He also pointed out that a lot of wealthy black children unwittingly keep guns, for criminals. As they appear above suspicion, the police wouldn’t check their homes. David Shosanya is organising an event called the State of Black Britain Conference on Saturday 17 October.

I also learned my own basic science lesson during last year’s conference. I confess I felt really foolish after it. I keep too many small items in my pocket. I had some batteries and couldn’t be bothered to put them in my discman. I put them in a pocket with my keys. During one of the sessions, I noticed my pocket was getting warmer, then hot hot hot. When I put my hand in my pocket, the batteries and keys were scalding hot. Someone beside me pointed out that the keys and the batteries were reacting together. Don’t ask me for the explanation, my science is shameful.

You won’t believe it though, I still sometimes catch myself with batteries and keys in the same pocket. I hope I do better with the scriptural and other spiritual messages I get from the conference.