Bill Musk’s May letter from North Africa

 

1         Thank you for your prayers!

: life feels as if it is being punctuated at the moment by severely sad occurrences. I sent a letter of condolence and support on behalf of Protestant Christians living in Tunisia to the new President of the Republic after the Bardo massacre, attended a mass for relatives of victims and survivors at the Roman Catholic Cathedral and then spent the afternoon of Palm Sunday walking with members of our Arabic-speaking congregation plus thousands of other Tunisians to Bardo along one of the large highways in the city. The sense of horror at what happened at the Bardo museum, plus the will to make a success of the newly elected government and an equal will to reject violent Islamist extremism mark out Tunisia as probably the one potential “success” story in what has come to be labelled “Arab spring”. We pray that security in the country can continue to improve without return to strong denial of freedom of speech and assembly. We pray that tourism will continue its return to pre-Revolution volumes. We pray for wisdom for those tasked with addressing the ideological arguments that have persuaded a disproportionate percentage of young Tunisians to seek to join violent Islamist struggles elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East. 

: we rejoiced with Nigerian members of our congregation at the successful elections and peaceful transfer of presidency and political power in their nation. We then mourned with Kenyan members of our congregation at the tragic events in Garissa. We pray for the Indian chaplain and his wife who give leadership to the church and clinic community in Aden, Yemen, and who have been evacuated back to their homeland. Hilary and I met this lovely couple at the Provincial clergy and spouses’ conference in Luxor last October.

2         St George’s, Tunis 

: in February, Rev David Rizkalla and his wife Basma joined us from Egypt to give leadership to our Arabic-speaking congregation at St George’s. God miraculously provided an apartment for them a few minutes from the church building and they have settled in well. We are praying for the granting of a work permit to Rev David – miraculously, a temporary residence visa was issued within eight days of their arrival – they had been given only one week visa initially! With both Rev Peter and Rev David in place, it is our intention to find a good way to “rebalance” our church’s life and governance. We have a much closer balance in terms of numbers of Tunisians and expatriates. In Holy Week we tried holding our Maundy Thursday service mostly in English but with a considerable part in Arabic. Then we gathered at 5.30am on Easter morning for a service that was expressed in equal part in Arabic and English. In fact, there were more Tunisians than foreigners present for that lovely service that began outside in the church garden, in the dark. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed” was repeatedly declared outside and inside the church in Arabic and English as we renewed our baptismal vows and celebrated holy communion together.

: we are currently stuck in a hiatus with regard to our St Cyprian Centre build. In January 2015, we submitted our revised plans to the city authorities. In February we heard informally that the two bodies consulted by the city authorities (the Association for the Preservation of the Medina and the National Heritage Institute) were both recommending refusal of permission to our plans for demolition and rebuild. However, we are still to hear officially from the city authorities and word reaches of us of official letters being written and then withdrawn. So we are not sure what is going on! We sought an interview with the Director General of the Association for the Preservation of the Medina and he gave us over an hour of his time this week. We have also managed to see the senior architect at the National Heritage Institute. The two meetings brought home to us the complexity of what we are seeking to do – how much of what each said he didn’t like in our design was based upon personal taste, as opposed to requirements for any building within our section of the medina? How much of each body’s recommendation to the city authorities was based on personality conflicts within different levels and areas of bureaucracy in bodies with competing claims to authority in the medina area? The current British ambassador is graciously seeking to assist us with contacts he has (the title deed to the church property is in the name of the British Crown – don’t ask!?!) at a ministerial level. Meanwhile we pray! It is a little embarrassing to have reached our nominal, initial goal in fund-raising and yet to have to say that our revised design is still being passed around various bureaucracies in the Tunis with no official word emerging yet!

: we still have a few African Development Bank staff with us, but at our Annual Church Meeting in March we replaced virtually all of our Church Council with new folk from non-Bank backgrounds. Rev Peter led a Lent course in English and Rev David is developing a baptism and confirmation course for Arabic-speakers. Services are smaller and more intimate. Finances are tight! Human resources are smaller! We now have one of our university students as a member of Council and it is great to see how the Lord is leading us into a new era in the life of St George’s, Tunis.

 

: Rev Hamdy in Algiers has exercised a brilliant ministry. With his wife and son now living with him, however, his family needs mean that he is looking to leave Algiers in the not-too-distant future. This will return us to the difficult days of seeking a replacement chaplain willing to exercise a ministry amongst sub-Saharan African students, diplomatic and business personnel in Algiers and wisely cultivate the development of national leadership in the church. Algeria as a nation is seeking to “come in from the cold” of former xenophobia and I believe this is a very strategic moment for us to be exercising a good pastoral and leadership-development ministry in the Anglican church in that country.

: we continue to pray that 2015 will be the year for the signing of a good agreement between the Diocese and the British Government that will sort out ownership and use of the abandoned buildings currently on the site of Holy Trinity, Algiers. The result of such an agreement will hopefully be to allow us to renovate and refurbish the church, to accommodate on site the minister of the church, and to have some facilities for outreach in the local community.

: in Tripoli, Rev Vasihar and Rev Ayo continue to minister in faithful and wonderful ways to the many in the Indian and African communities who remain in the country and who come to the church whenever the security situation allows it. At the moment, Rev Ayo’s wife and two sons are visiting from Italy. It is recognised, however, that Rev Ayo will need to find a place of longer-term residence and ministry in a country that will permit the continued process of gaining Italian citizenship that his wife long since embarked upon. We pray very much for Rev Vasihar and his dear wife Malini, and are so sorry that they will be unable to attend Diocesan Synod in May. There is no bureaucracy working in Tripoli so residence permits etc have not been renewed – if Rev Vasihar or Rev Ayo leave the country, they will not be able to get back in.

 4      Personal touch!

: March and April have been an exciting couple of months, beginning with visits from Jacky and Joyce and later Geraldine, all friends from London, and then from Nicola and Simon. Prior to that, we had Rev David and Basma staying with us while they found a place to live. It has been such a miracle that God has provided a place just a few hundred yards away that they can walk to from St George’s! Basma has experience in social work and has applied for a job with Caritas, which is a Roman Catholic charity working with refugees and others in need here in Tunisia. She and David both have a lot to offer here: they are both very pastoral. David has been suffering with his health since he arrived, so prayers would be appreciated.

: our time with friends and then Nin and Simon saw me driving to Dougga three times! This was no trial as the journey is beautiful, especially in the Spring! Many-coloured wild flowers adorn the fields; there is a patchwork of green, brown and yellow as the wheat is beginning to grow and other crops are planted. Soon the wheat fields will be full of poppies as well! On our journeys we often see trucks loaded up so high that you can hardly tell what the vehicle underneath is!

: Dougga is a truly impressive Roman site, with remains of a beautiful theatre, a forum, numerous temples and a small church, plus houses, streets, baths, well fitted Roman toilets etc etc! But what I love, as a photographer, is that the site is situated on the top of a hill with beautiful scenery and skyscapes in every direction. One of the times we went the sky was a moody indigo, making the light on the monuments really beautiful. Dougga also prides itself in a very impressive Numidian mausoleum. (The Numidians were northern tribes of the original Berber people here in North Africa; they later intermarried with the invading Phoenicians and the resulting people were called Punic peoples). The mausoleum had an inscribed stone which acted a little like the Rosetta stone as it had inscriptions on it in Lybic and Punic scripts, which helped them understand Lybic. A British Consul, Sir Thomas Reade, dismantled the mausoleum and hived off to England with said stone! Needless to say, you can see it in the British Museum! Happily a French artist had drawn a picture of the mausoleum so it has been reconstructed minus the inscribed stone. We have a plaque commemorating Sir Thomas in our church porch, not for his ‘work’ at Dougga, but because he helped to abolish slavery here in Tunis.

: during the Spring break I also took Souad and her mother to see her in-laws in the mountains beyond Dougga as she hardly ever gets to see them and the mountain scenery seems to really refresh her! Souad’s mother was pointing out land that belonged to various family members for many miles along the route! We ate couscous, walked to a waterfall which is part of the small river which waters the whole area and then returned with two tiny tortoises whom Nicola has named Betsy and George and who seem happily ensconced in our back terrace! They have now been joined by a larger female tortoise whom I have called Tallulah and who was being treated abominably in our church garden by a smaller male tortoise … she has now laid 6 eggs in our back terrace!! Did I rescue her from an abusive husband or break up a happy marriage?!

: our women’s Bible Study is going well, but we see so many young women come and go and sometimes they seem to disappear for ages without a word. Please pray for the young believers here as they experience so many challenges, including strong peer pressure, difficult family circumstances and boring jobs after a good education. It is such a privilege to meet with these lovely women.

: after Easter, Bill and I took a two night break in Tabarka, which is on the far north-west coast of Tunisia. We visited a Roman site on the way which has a 6th century Byzantine double basilica, one half of which has a raised apse at both ends! Also Bill informed me that at that time it was common for the communion table/altar to be down amongst the people.

: I have just been diagnosed as coeliac, after a routine check-up in January which showed an unusual sort of anaemia. The diagnosis is good as it means that my body may now begin to absorb iron and calcium properly and my intestines will begin to mend themselves, but it is also another frustration, eg when we go to Synod in Egypt, not to eat gluten and also soya oil and soya protein and lecithin as these things are in almost everything! I am not sure what I will be able to eat! Don’t worry! I won’t starve!!

: the lovely Canadian coloratura soprano came over to Tunisia again and we performed with her at a lovely venue in the medina; and then Bill performed with her and a pianist and oudist at the residence of the British Ambassador! What a treat!

: the tragedy at the Bardo museum shocked the country and the reaction was a big march which Bill attended wearing his purple robe and cross! He attracted a lot of attention and many wanted their photos taken with him!

: at church, the Youth Band is going really well and so is the youth and young teens group; it is great to see young ones maturing. We are leading the service on 10th May, teaching about the life of Peter. Prayers appreciated, please! We have so many languages represented in our group that we were able to act out the Acts 10 event at Cornelius’ house when the Holy Spirit interrupted Peter’s sermon and everyone spoke in tongues! Please pray for all of the young people to grow in their faith as we study and prepare together to teach the congregation. The study times have been really meaningful.

: finally, I visited the UK last week to see if we could make some more progress on our flat which is waiting for its new floor following the flood before Christmas. I was able to attend a celebration with immediate family and some friends from way back in the 70s for my brother’s 60th birthday! It was a delightful evening and so kind of them to delay the event a little until I was able to come! I had time with Rachel belatedly celebrating her 40th and then later with Aars and Darren. Nin and Simon came down to Newhaven and we had a lovely walk together. I went to stay with Sarah and Andrew and the girls and Sarah took me to big shops which helped me with decisions about the flat. I was well entertained by Olivia and Holly! I also met with Rachel, Sarah and Nin at Nando’s near Victoria but somehow couldn’t seem to grasp how to stop the frozen yogurt machine from swirling out huge swirls of chocolate frozen yogurt! It was a productive week and lovely to see family. We are looking forward to a visit from Helen, Sam and Ben at the beginning of June!

Thank you all so much for your prayers; they mean so much.

 5      Prayers please for

: folk in Tunis on staff at St George’s – Bill, Peter, David, Balqis, Sadak, Souad, Mohsen and Chedly plus their families.

: Rev Peter and Christine Knight in their continued language learning.

: Rev David and Basma in their building of pastoral rapport and formulation of vision for our Arabic-speaking congregation.

: Rev Vasihar and his wife Malini plus Rev Ayo and Reader Crimson – all in Tripoli; Rosemary (Rev Ayo’s wife) with sons Joshua and Nathaniel visiting from Italy.

: Rev Hamdy with Yvonne and Evan (and their future placement), plus the various African students making up the majority of the congregation in Algiers; plus Algerian members of the church.

: Hilary in her recent diagnosis as suffering from celiac disease – this requires a whole new approach to diet! Aaron as he and his mother seek a positive way forward with a recommended specialist over Aaron’s serious allergies, plus others in our extended family facing difficult days.

: movement forward with building permission for our St Cyprian Centre (Legacy Project) in Tunis; followed by the sorting out of departure of tenants from shops that will be pulled down.

: protection and growth of national believers in North Africa; especially the congregation at St George’s directed by Rev David with assistance from Sadak.

: pastoral care of the many folk who are here in Tunisia with mission communities, diplomatic missions, companies or as students and who attend St George’s. Rev Frank who is a NSM licensed to St George’s.

: pastoral care within the growing Tunisian churches and for deep spiritual growth and maturity; for mature local pastors to emerge.

: our diocesan and primate, Archbishop Mouneer and his wife Nancy in their significant and busy lives.

: wisdom for Grant and Wendy LeMarquand in Ethiopia – Grant is Assistant Bishop for the Horn of Africa.

: the general situation in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, the Arab Gulf, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Jordan – and in the current shaking of several of those nations, for God’s Spirit to be unleashed in a wonderful way in the midst of human tragedy.

Many blessings to you all and lots of love

Bill & Hilary

Bill & Hilary Musk are mission partners with I.C.S. (Intercontinental Church Society: registered charity no. 1072584). If you would like to contribute financially to their support, please go to www.ics-uk.org and follow the link to “Make a donation”, then select “Tunis­–St George’s–Musk” from the drop-down list. Thank you

Bill & Hilary Musk

St George’s Church

5 rue Ahmed Beyrem

1006 Bab Souika

Tunis, Tunisia

 

Phone in our flat:   +216 71 335493

Mobile (Bill):          +216 23447439

Mobile (Hilary):      +216 23446739

Email: billamusk@gmail.com

hilaryamusk@gmail.com

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