1 Thank you for your prayers!
: it is mid-August and I have just returned to Tunis after some lovely weeks with Hilary in UK, especially spending time with family members and seeing some friends. Hilary is staying an extra two weeks in UK in order to make some progress on work to be done in our flat. We arrived home in July to a new floor put down (after our flood last December) but with all the furniture for the bedrooms and hallway piled in our living room! As we get the flat inhabitable again, we are also, kindness of Jon and Helen, preparing it for our return home later this year (see below).
: suddenly, the realisation dawns that it is April since we last communicated via MuskNews. We are so sorry! We had intended to write earlier but arrived in UK in July completely exhausted.
: I recall now the Friday afternoon when I was interrupted by a call from Premier Radio in London asking to interview me – what was that about? It didn’t take long to discover that something awful had been going on in Sousse (actually in Port al-Kantaoui, just north of Sousse). The sense of “Oh no! Not again!” after the Bardo massacre was horrible. Gradually it emerged that the hotel targeted happened to be one that was used a lot by Thomson and First Choice for their holiday makers. And gradually it emerged that the majority of those killed and injured were British holidaymakers. Hilary and I drove the 100 miles south to Sousse on Saturday morning, and managed to visit some of the injured who were in intensive care units in different hospitals/private clinics around Sousse. We returned to Tunis for Sunday service (including the dedication of a newborn baby) and to visit a young Tunisian woman in an intensive care unit in a hospital in Tunis. Then on Monday morning we headed back to Sousse to visit more injured in other intensive care units. It felt by then that we were running just ahead of British medevac teams. By the end of Tuesday, just about all of the injured had been taken home, if I recall correctly. From Wednesday onwards began the repatriation of the bodies of those who had died. On the Sunday, we held a memorial service at St George’s, remembering those who lost their lives, been injured or bereaved. The Minister of Health and the Minister of Tourism attended, along with the British Ambassador and members of his exhausted team plus representatives of some of the other nations involved. On the following Wednesday, Hilary and I flew, as previously arranged, to the UK for our summer break. A couple of days ago, on the afternoon before I returned to Tunis from the UK, I phoned the father of one of the young women whom we had met in one Sousse ICU. She had recently been discharged from hospital after nine operations; she still needed skin grafts to be made, plus she was receiving ongoing and regular trauma counselling. Such is the kind of reality now for those injured or bereaved or involved – something ever with them arising from forty minutes or so of evil on a beach or in a hotel.
: this terrible incident happened during Ramadan. By coincidence, I had already invited a number of prominent Tunisian religious leaders to an Iftar – a breaking of the fast – hosted by us at St George’s. Members of our Arabic-speaking congregation were the inspiration for this and many of them helped serve the special food, wonderfully prepared by Souad, Hilary’s part-time home-help. The evening Iftar happened on the Wednesday after the beach massacre. The Minister of Religious Affairs plus wife, the Grand Mufti plus colleague and wife, the First Deputy Speaker of Parliament – and their chauffeurs! – attended. Unfortunately, the Rabbi of the Tunis synagogue (who lost his son in the Paris kosher supermarket massacre in February this year) was not in Tunis so was unable to attend. The Roman Catholic archbishop, however, plus a White Father, graced us with their presence. It was a sombre yet warm and friendly evening in which we affirmed our respect for one another across religious differences and remembered especially those massacred, bereaved, injured, traumatised by the events in Sousse of the previous days.
: just as the Sousse event was unfolding, Rev Peter learned that his mother was again seriously ill and potentially dying. He and Christine (who were in the middle of an intensive Arabic course) hurriedly got themselves to England – only for his mother to stabilise until mid-summer, when she then passed away. Peter and Christine remain in the UK until early September.
: it is hard to remember back beyond the Sousse massacre, but, since our last MuskNews, we have attended Diocesan Synod in Cairo, where Bishop Mouneer asked me to give the Bible addresses; we have hosted some friends visiting, plus enjoyed some days with Helen and Sam and Ben who came from the States to taste more of Tunis plus Tabarka and visit a couple of Roman sites in the northwest of the country.
: at Diocesan Synod Bishop Mouneer announced that I would be retiring at the end of October, 2015. I had originally spoken with him about plans for my retiring during our Provincial Synod last October and we had been in correspondence since. It is a relief for the news to be in the public domain. I am so grateful to Bishop Mouneer – actually he is now Archbishop Mouneer – for trusting me to participate with him under his authority in the leadership of the North Africa Episcopal Area of the diocese. The experience has been richly rewarding, often a struggle and in a way it feels that it is ending in a manner similar to its beginning. As I arrived in the Diocese in 2008, our dear priest in Tripoli suddenly died in post while our priest in Algiers a few months later left Algiers to care for his seriously ill wife in Canada. I arrived in Tunis to a church of some 400 people and hit the ground running! Today, we have complicated situations for both our lovely priests in Tripoli – apart from the fact that they have remained faithfully in the country (once they leave they will not be able to return) in very difficult circumstances, but one of them desperately needs to move closer to his extended family in India where he has increasingly critical obligations, whilst the other needs to move to Europe where his wife (with their two children) is in the process of seeking asylum. Our priest in Algiers has informed us that he needs to leave imminently due to his own wife’s status in Italy as an asylum seeker – they have a son also. We are trying to find a locum and/or replacement for our priest in Algiers and are praying daily for a solution for our priests in Tripoli and for the future of the church there should they both manage to find somewhere else to go to! Meanwhile, St George’s has changed radically, with the congregation becoming much smaller and of course with the number of people available to assist in its running and support it financially much reduced.
2 St George’s, Tunis
: I am so grateful for Rev Peter and Rev David in their coming and settling, with Christine and Basma respectively, in Tunis. I feel as if good, mature continuity of church leadership is a possibility here at St George’s. The rebalancing of the numbers in the two congregations – Arabic- and English-speaking – makes this a great time to rethink how the church might best be structured, especially as Tunisian members grow in maturity and experience. We are planning a “vision day away” for the two congregations together in early October as we look forward, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, to renewed ministry and life and witness in the years coming. Peter and Christine received their residence permits not long before they had to leave Tunis for UK earlier this summer. We still wait for David’s and Basma’s to come through – this is not a foregone conclusion as Egyptians (and especially Egyptian Christians) tend to be seen by the authorities here as somewhat suspect. Unfortunately, three days after I returned to Tunis, David managed to break a bone in his ankle! David is disabled with one very lame leg and the ankle that is broken is on the good leg, so recovery will take a considerable time. So I am taking on some of his duties for the time being!
: we are still 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. We finally received an official “No!” to our plans from the city authorities – with two reasons given for that refusal (the size of our proposed Centre compared with the size of the church and the proposed facade for the Centre). Our project manager has tried through the demotivating weeks of Ramadan and a very hot summer to get some traction on addressing those two issues. He has necessarily had to negotiate with the two advisory bodies who recommended to the city authorities to say “No!” – not an easy task. He has gone back and forth, round and round. We are praying! We understand perfectly why so many international companies give up trying to invest and do business in this lovely country – the convoluted administrative hoops and the tangled overlapping of different and competing bureaucratic jurisdictions are strongly demotivating – especially, I guess, for those for whom time means money!
3 North Africa Episcopal Area
: I have mentioned the difficult issues that our various clergy face in Algiers and Tripoli. I am so grateful to them for sustaining good ministry in the places where they serve. The church in Algiers is attracting not just sub-Saharan African students but some Algerian believers who have fallen in love with the Anglican Church – mostly its clear governance structure and its Word-based liturgy. There is huge potential for future leadership amongst these brothers. Hilary and I hope to be able to visit folk in Holy Trinity, Algiers in September. Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to get to Tripoli and I feel bad that it is now nearly two years since we were last able to visit there. The church remains more than viable with many Indians and West Africans especially gathering every Friday for worship in the church.
: 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.
4 Personal touch!
: as Bill has said, time has flown by! May began with Diocesan Synod in Cairo. I enjoyed very much renewing old friendships and praying with Nancy (Bishop Mouneer’s wife) and with Wendy (Bishop Grant’s wife); we also spent some precious time with our dear friends, Hoda and Nadia, two of three sisters whom we love very much; the third sister, Shadia, was in Canada visiting her son, Farid, who had actually paid us a flying visit in Tunis a week earlier! Bishop Mouneer treated us to dinner on a floating restaurant on the Nile; I entertained myself with my camera while he and Bill talked ‘shop’ as Nancy was busy with a family matter. The Synod ended with a Nile felucca trip for all of us!
: May is the month of Bill’s birthday and I organized a special boat trip for him with the help of Boutheyna and a Swiss friend here named Bernhard. The first attempt was abandoned because the sea was too rough but they let us stay on the boat for an hour or two and eat our nibbles and drink our cold drinks, all for nothing! A week later we had success and took with us Bernhard, Souad, Boutheyna, Balqis and Esther, a retired teacher, and really enjoyed the wind and the sea! We crossed the Gulf of Tunis to a place called Korbous where there are hot springs and then after a dip (the braver members, including Bill) we returned literally at a rate of knots!!
: we were still regularly saying goodbye to Bank employees and their families and I hosted a lunch for a lovely woman who had touched a lot of lives in the community, especially Tunisian single mothers. Our church is much smaller now and we miss our lovely African families! We have one full family still left; Darra and Bolu, the teenage members of that family, are the only remaining African members in our Youth Band! But the regular worship band is still mostly made up of sub-Saharan African university students full of talent and energy!
: June saw the much anticipated visit of Helen with Sam and Ben! We enjoyed a trip north, taking in Tabarka, a lovely port on the north-west coast and then visiting, in burning heat, Bulla Regia, a Roman site with underground villas (unfortunately the best one was closed for refurbishment!) and then staying overnight in Teboursouk so that we could take them to Dougga (see photos last MuskNews). Unfortunately one of our group experienced bed bugs which continued to reveal their bites for another two weeks after returning home! Not a happy souvenir!! The hotel is the only one near the Dougga site but we shan’t be recommending it! Sadly, its refurbishment came to a halt after the Revolution.
: as the weather heated up I managed to take Souad and her girls to the seaside for the day just at the beginning of the school holidays and before Ramadan! It was a very windy day but we had fun! Another seaside trip with Boutheyna and Balqis had been planned but the terrible incident at Sousse meant that we were all deeply shocked and then very preoccupied with trying to see those affected, after which we returned to the UK.
: our time in the UK has been busier than usual as we have been trying to get our flat ready for our retirement! We had a week in Lyme Regis, (to which most of the family managed to come for a little while) and I think we all managed to eat our lunches on the beach without once being attacked by gulls! A first! Olivia and Holly ate theirs in a little tent and I am sure I saw Andrew and Sarah doing the same! Ben covered himself in seaweed and became a veritable seaweed monster! We had a lot of laughs and enjoyed each other’s company! Aaron, Rachel and Nin discovered a huge ammonite on the beach!
: Helen kindly stayed on with us for a week after her “boys” returned to the USA, during which she and I worked on our flat from early morning to late at night organizing, discussing, shopping, ordering – interspersed with coffees and plenty of laughter! Jon is preoccupied with a film he helped produce which will premiere at the Venice film festival in September!
: we spent some lovely time with Rach and Aaron, Aaron leading us on an exploration trip through some very tall bracken and then he and I singing all the way home! Darren came home and we ate and played cards together. Aaron has not had another anaphylaxis episode but is now having problems with a few more foods which are interacting with the silver birch pollen; he begins Secondary School in September and Rachel is pleased with the approach those responsible there are taking to Aaron’s needs. Thank you for praying for him.
: we also spent a couple of lovely days with Simon and Nicola, watching an incredibly funny play in the West End (The Play that Goes Wrong) and enjoying a long walk ending at a pub that offered an extensive gluten free menu! (Chef and Brewer chain). Nicola has just taken on more responsibility at the Rainbow Trust; you can spot their members in Marathon or bike ride events because they all wear brightly coloured rainbow hair! She is also preparing for a Boxing Match in September which Breast Cancer Care is putting on in Clapham! She has been doing boxing to keep fit for a year or so but this is a different ball-game! Simon is also preparing for a charity event for the British Legion where he will walk for 30 miles on Dartmoor carrying 30lbs on his back! Rachel and Darren are doing the Nuts’ Challenge for Anaphylaxis charity; this involves getting covered in mud! Crazy!
: it was also lovely to catch up with some friends, including a couple of lovely parties and a snatched visit to some dear prayer partners, Margaret and Marcelle, in Tulse Hill!
: I am currently at Sarah and Andrew’s where we celebrated Holly’s second birthday yesterday. Bill helped Sarah build a wooden Wendy House in the garden last week and then Sarah painted it and even put on roofing felt and lavender in baskets outside! Holly was, needless to say, delighted! The very sad news is that Andrew’s sister, Sarah, passed away two weeks ago after her long struggle with cancer. PJ and the children, Emily (9), Patrick (6) and Henry (3) have had a house-full with both Sarah’s family and his own family and the sense of care and love is encouraging and really genuine. The funeral is on the 27th. These next months are going to be very hard for them all.
: I return to Tunis on the 27th and begin to prepare for our final leaving; it is going to be very hard to go after our seven years there. We have some very close friends in Tunis and they have already expressed their sorrow at our departure. Please pray for them, especially for Souad, who works for foreigners and so is often having to say ‘goodbye’; I have watched her grieving over people who leave and know that it will be even harder this time as we have been so close. Also Boutheyna and Balqis whom our daughters call ‘our extra daughters’! We have mentored and nurtured them through many things and we are people they feel they can be totally honest with. Please pray for God to fill the gaps for them. They have had a family crisis as a young cousin, Bochra, had a terrible accident resulting in a metal spike entering her brain through her eye. Doctors are amazed at her progress; Boutheyna and Balqis have been praying with her often. She is home now after a long operation and is undergoing physiotherapy. She needs to learn to use her left side again.
: Boutheyna and Balqis are preparing for the ‘Unity’ meeting on Saturday, 5th September. Please pray for this meeting as it seems to bring out the best and the worst of relationships between believers in Tunisia! I always feel it is Boutheyna’s biggest opportunity to grow in grace because the whole theme is always about unity and relationships and this year it is specifically about grace! The interactions before the meeting can become very fraught! Please pray for God to bring deep unity, trust, love and appreciation across the board in the church throughout the country. There are still so many who don’t go to church at all because they are disillusioned by gossip or bad attitudes, often amongst the leaders themselves. It is a privilege for St George’s to host this meeting! The building of trust between believers is so much on our hearts.
: I think these next two months are going to be a big challenge, not just because of packing and organizing our departure, but also because Bill is increasingly needing to take on tasks relating to the Global South Anglicans Conference being convened by Archbishop Mouneer in Tunisia in October (I shall be responsible for the music). Please pray for peace and strength for us both during this busy time. We will be needing God’s grace and wisdom as we come to leave: it will be a bitter-sweet time as we look forward to being closer to family but miss worshiping together with friends at St George’s plus all the other things we love there. Thank you again for all your love, care and prayers.
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 as Peter takes on more responsibility for St George’s in the autumn.
: Rev David and Basma in their building of pastoral rapport and formulation of vision for our Arabic-speaking congregation; for the provision of their permission to reside and work here in Tunisia. For healing for David’s ankle and a speedy rehabilitation.
: 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 back in Italy.
: Rev Hamdy with Yvonne and Evan (and their future placement) needing to leave Algiers but with complicated personal and work circumstances; plus the various African students making up the majority of the congregation in Algiers; plus Algerian members of the church.
: Aaron as he begins Secondary School and they see how the managing of his allergies works out there.
: us as we prepare to leave and meanwhile live through some very busy and pressurized months, especially with the Global South Anglicans conference in October.
: for the Unity Meeting to be a real catalyst for a more genuine sense of family in the wider church in Tunisia. Also for Boutheyna and Balqis’ cousin Bochra.
: 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.