In the new Sorted, sizzling, summer edition:
Big name interviews with:
Formula One ace, Lewis Hamilton, on faith in the fast lane
FBI’s most-wanted, Cody Huff
TV Adventurer, Bear Grylls
Tennis ace, Kyle Edmund, on serving up a storm
And Gadgets, Entertainment, Motoring, Movies, Technology
Plus, the greatest team of Christian writers ever assembled.
The Road to Westminster
Alan Mak MP, one of Parliament’s newest faces, describes his journey from his parents’ shop to the House of Commons, and the role of faith, family and community in his life.
Last year’s general election brought 182 new MPs into the House of Commons. Amongst them was Alan Mak, the new Member for Havant on the Hampshire coast. A Christian since his schooldays, Mak’s election, at the young age of age of 31, was also notable and historic on other levels too. He became the first MP of British-Chinese heritage in Parliament’s history, having secured his party’s nomination via the new ‘open primary’ system – a vote of local residents at a public meeting, not just party members – imported by the Conservatives from America.
Over 12 months on, Mak is seen as one of his party’s rising stars, having built a reputation as an effective performer in the Commons Chamber and a hardworking constituency MP. In his first year, he has focused on economic and business issues in parliament and supports the government’s mission to cut the deficit and balance the nation’s books. But he hasn’t forgotten the remarkable journey that brought him into parliament, and says transforming British society is just as important as fixing the economy. Mak says, “Repairing the economy has to be our immediate priority – and progress is positive – but over the long term, I want to see Britain become a more socially mobile society, a true Opportunity Society. That’s why I came into politics.” He adds, “Britain needs to be a place where everyone has the chance to succeed and go as far as their talents will take them. We can’t just be accountants in government. We need to be visionaries too.”
The Opportunity Society was what brought Mak’s parents to Britain in the first place, nearly 40 years ago. They settled in York, and opened their shop on one of the historic city’s busiest thoroughfares, Gillygate. Mak was born in the city, and spent all his childhood living above the shop, and working in it, combining schoolwork with shifts alongside his parents.
Mak says, “My parents, both now retired, escaped Communism and dictatorship to find freedom and opportunity in Britain. They are absolutely my heroes. They’re pretty quiet, modest, decent people who’ve worked hard their entire lives, raised a family, and played by the rules. As small business owners, they were quiet admirers of Mrs Thatcher, but they weren’t hugely party political. They were too busy running the shop and bringing up me and my sister for politics.”
Working in his family shop’s left a big impression on Mak, and it would exert a substantial influence over his career path into public service: “When I was chosen as the Conservative candidate in Havant, I told residents that I would bring the values I learned in my family’s shop to my work as their MP: the ability to serve people from all walks of life, hard work, and passion for people and community. Growing up above the shop, and working in it, was the seminal experience of my life, not just my childhood.”
Mak says his earliest contact with the Christian faith came about at the Sunday school and playgroup he would often attend at the Salvation Army citadel, just a few doors down on Gillygate from his family shop. The Grade II listed building was opened in 1883 by York’s Lord Mayor, less than 20 years after the movement was founded in 1865 by William Booth.
Mak said Saturday was the busiest day for the family’s shop, and after helping his parents meet the weekend rush, Sundays were usually quieter, and he often found himself at the Salvation Army, where he would meet other children from the area. “I didn’t really know what the Salvation Army was when I was around ten years old, but I knew I enjoyed being there, listening to Bible stories, and meeting other children from the area, which working in the shop meant I couldn’t do during the week. It was my first contact with Christians, and I found it enjoyable and interesting,” Mak says.
His family’s shop was also just a stone’s throw from York Minster, one of Europe’s largest Gothic cathedrals, and he would find himself wandering in there on the way from the family’s shop to York’s central market when running errands. “York Minster is an amazing building, which is why it receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. As a boy, I was often sent on errands to York market, which involved walking past the minster, and I would take every chance I could to go in, often to get away from the hustle and bustle of working in the shop. Not many people have York Minister as their local church.”
Mak attended a local state primary and then a state secondary which was earmarked for closure. Aged 12, Mak’s fortunes turned when he won an Assisted Place (a state scholarship for bright children from poor backgrounds) to a neighbouring independent school, St Peter’s.
For all its rich history, St Peter’s was and is a Christian institution to the core, and the thrice-weekly chapel services, which Mak attended between the ages of 13 to 18, supplemented by compulsory religious education classes, cemented his faith. “I enjoyed the chapel services, was selected to be in the chapel choir, and we had a school chaplain who made Christianity interesting, so I really started to explore Christianity and become more immersed in it at St Peter’s,” he says.
From St Peter’s, Mak would go on to become the first in his family to attend university, winning a place at Peterhouse, Cambridge’s oldest and smallest college, founded by Hugh de Balsham, Bishop of Ely, in 1284. Mak read law, winning one of the faculty’s top academic prizes. He says, “A great education, at institutions with a Christian ethos, transformed my life, and as an MP, I am passionate about giving young people in my constituency the same life chances I had.” Mak has embarked on a tour of every school in Havant since being elected, and has launched an initiative with local head teachers, Havant Head Start, to help raise standards and aspirations locally.
Described as a “high flyer” by leading business magazine Management Today, Mak had an impressive record of success in the real world before becoming an MP, He says, “I’m not a career politician. I wasn’t a special adviser and didn’t come from a political dynasty. I think local residents saw that as a positive. I’d achieved some success in the real world of work before standing for election, and I hope to bring those skills to my work in parliament.”
Apart from working in and later helping to manage his parents’ shop, Mak joined Clifford Chance, one of the world’s leading business law firms in the City of London, after university. Working long hours he rose up the ranks, winning a range of industry awards, including Young City Lawyer of the Year, and helped launch the firm’s worldwide charitable foundation.
Mak then launched his own small business helping start-ups and growing businesses with strategy and raising finance. HotSquash, a ladies’ clothing brand stocked in Debenhams and House of Fraser, was one of Mak clients, and Darren Sidnick, chief executive, says, “Alan combined business savvy with great people skills.
He’s smart, hardworking and he helped HotSquash raise vital funds to grow.” Mak also sat on the UK group board of Havas, one of the country’s leading advertising businesses.
He says that spending much of his 20s working in Canary Wharf, one of the wealthiest places in Britain, only reinforced his commitment to social justice galvanised by his Christian faith. “Canary Wharf itself is located in Tower Hamlets, one of the most deprived boroughs in the entire country, and it was impossible not to notice this on my daily commute.” Moving from Yorkshire to London, Mak lived in Bow among some of Britain’s poorest residents and would catch the Docklands Light Railway to work each morning. Despite working long hours, he was determined to contribute to his new community and volunteered to serve as a school governor at one of Bow’s primary schools. Over five years, Mak became increasingly involved in the administration of the school, regularly visiting as a reading partner to the mainly Bangladeshi children, and also helping to launch its breakfast club.
Breakfast club president
Mak developed his community activism in his early 20s, and one of his most prominent roles before entering politics was serving firstly as a trustee and then as president of Magic Breakfast, Britain’s most successful children’s breakfast club charity. Today the charity feeds over 20,000 children and operates over 400 breakfast clubs working with state primary schools. In 2010, Mak was selected to carry the Olympic torch in his native Yorkshire in recognition of his work for Magic Breakfast, and later helped Magic Breakfast to win the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award for outstanding community groups.
Mak played a key role in helping the charity to grow by securing corporate backers, and raising awareness of the issue of child hunger in government. “I saw child hunger first-hand on my doorstep in east London, and I was determined not to walk by the other side. Working with schools through Magic Breakfast was not only an enjoyable and inspiring experience, it was one of the ways I was able to put Christian values into action. Helping to feed the hungry, especially hungry children, is the most practical expression of faith there is.”
Havant’s National Champion
Mak succeeded cabinet minister David Willetts, former Minister for Universities, in Havant and paid fulsome tribute to the man nicknamed ‘Two Brains’ in his well-received Maiden Speech, telling fellow MPs that he had “twice as much hair as David, but only half his brains”, making up for it with his passion for Havant.
Apart from the Opportunity Society, Mak has largely focused on economic and business issues in his first 12 months in Westminster. He says making Britain economically fit at home and competitive abroad are his main focus. Mak has penned articles for national newspapers such as the Telegraph on the need for ‘Tiger Mother’ values in Britain’s economic and education system, arguing that only by aiming high and working hard can British students and graduates hope to compete with their counterparts in growing and emerging markets across Asia, Latin America and Africa. He regularly speaks in the chamber on treasury and finance matters, from welfare reform to cutting red tape for small businesses.
Mak has also been elected chairman of Parliament’s group for entrepreneurship, convening MPs and Lords with entrepreneurs and investors to champion wealth creation. He’s also led a landmark debate on the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ – the first time it has been debated in the Commons – which he says Britain is ready to lead.
Mak says, “The first Industrial Revolution started in Britain, and used water and steam power to mechanise production. The second used electric power to create mass production. The third used electronics, IT and computers to automate production. Now a fourth Industrial Revolution is starting. Building on the digital revolution that started in the middle of the last century, it’s characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres – and Britain can once again lead the world in it.” Artificial intelligence, advanced robotics, high-end manufacturing, genetic engineering, electric cars and life sciences are all key aspects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and Mak led the campaign in parliament to ensure the government was alive to its possibilities.
Havant itself is home to advanced manufacturers such as defence contractors Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, as well as being home to the household names including Kenwood, Pfizer, Colt, Fat Face and De Longhi. Alongside them, local training organisations such as PETA are teaching young engineers how to use 3D printers. Mak says it’s places like Havant which will be at the heart of Britain’s place in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“Being an MP has two dimensions: national spokesperson and local champion. I speak up for Havant, and about Havant, whenever I can. We may not be as big as London or Birmingham, but it’s regional hubs like Havant that are key to Britain’s economic growth, and our ability to compete in key sectors like manufacturing and engineering in the years ahead.”
Faith in parliament
Mak says he was pleasantly surprised to find that each day’s proceedings in parliament begin with prayers presided over by the Speaker’s chaplain, and to reserve a seat in the chamber, MPs fill out a ‘prayer card’. Mak explains that the Commons Chamber is not large enough to accommodate every MP who wants a seat, so MPs must queue up each morning to secure their seat by filling out a small card and attending daily prayers. If they do so, the seat is theirs for the day. If they miss prayers, not only have they missed out spiritually, they’ve also missed out on a seat.
“Wednesday mornings are especially crowed as everyone gets up early to put in a prayer card for a seat at Prime Minister’s Questions. I’m often at the door of the chamber by 7 a.m. It’s an early start, but worth it,” Mak says.
Mak says his Christian faith is like a silent compass gently guiding him as he navigates the complex world of Westminster politics and the daily routine of lobbying ministers, meetings constituents and working on local issues. He says, “I go to prayers most days, and I’ve joined the Christians in Parliament group.” Mak has also joined the new Compassionate Conservatives caucus in parliament, a group of MPs who focus on social justice issues. “We’re focusing on issues such as family breakdown, addiction and educational failure and the role government can play in fixing them. Not everyone who’s involved is a Christian but many are, and it means we combine a Conservative mind with a Christian and compassionate heart when we approach these public policy issues. That’s a healthy mix.”
Mak also voted in support of a historic motion calling on the UK government to make an immediate referral to the UN Security Council about the persecution of Christians and Yazidis by Daesh. After three hours of impassioned speeches and debate, the House of Commons voted overwhelmingly in favour of the motion by 278 to 0.
Despite commanding a majority of nearly 14,000 in Havant – the largest on record for the seat in modern times – Mak’s work rate has not dropped off since the election. Known locally as the ‘whirlwind’ for his energy and activity levels, Mak keeps up a punishing schedule of constituency engagements, visiting schools, businesses and community groups every Friday, as well as putting in the hours on the weekend.
Mak has also launched a number of constituency projects focused on the economy. His inaugural Jobs and Apprenticeship Fair in February attracted over 50 exhibitors, and nearly 1,000 residents came through the doors. Some have already found jobs or career changes as a result. In April, Mak hosted his first Small Business Awards where over 30 local firms were recognised for their contribution to the local economy. Mak used his business connections to land Paul Lindley, founder of international children’s food brand Ella’s Kitchen, as keynote speaker.
In the pipeline are a Start-Up Find to help local entrepreneurs, especially young people, to start their own business. Mak’s constituency has a higher than average population of older people, and Mak is also planning an Older Persons’ Information Fair, bringing together charities, government agencies and community groups.
Mak has also visited a range of churches across the constituency of all denominations from Anglican St Faith’s in Havant’s historic town centre to the United Reform Church on Hayling Island. He says, “Local churches across Havant play a key community role, offering residents everything from spiritual support to traditional worship to new ways of meeting friends and neighbours through church groups.” For example, Mak is a supporter of the Men’s Breakfast Group on Hayling Island, organised by a local church group to bring together older men on a regular basis to listen to guest speakers and explore their faith in practical ways.
Looking to the future
With a reshuffle around the corner, Mak says he remains focused on his work for his constituents both locally and in Westminster. “As a young and new MP, I’m not in any rush. I enjoy my work as a backbencher, which gives me a lot of freedom to focus on constituency projects, while exploring new ideas like the Fourth Industrial Revolution that will help secure Britain’s future.” Mak says he has enjoyed his first year in parliament and is gradually adjusting to his new lifestyle, going from private citizen to public figure in just over a year. He says he enjoys dealing with constituents’ everyday challenges and this keeps him grounded. He says, “Engaging with Havant residents is the aspect of the job I enjoy the most, and I’ll keep working hard to do a good job for them locally and in parliament.”
With a compelling backstory, youth on his side, and an engaging personality, Mak is set to continue on his upward trajectory, and certainly worth keeping an
By Samantha Rea
Cody Huff took marijuana at the age of 12 and spent 40 years of his life selling and using drugs, including heroin and crack cocaine. Residential burglaries and a hit-and-run resulted in prison sentences. Counterfeiting saw him named as one of the FBI’s most wanted – and led to more time locked up. At his peak of criminal activity, he made $1,000 a day. At his lowest point, his addiction to crack led him to living on the streets, and he spent a year homeless in Las Vegas. Huff’s life turned around when he discovered God and he’s now an ordained pastor, running his own ministry to help the homeless.
At your most infamous, you were on the FBI’s wanted list. How did you first find yourself on that path?
My mother was violent towards me – as far back as I can remember, she whipped me with belts and tree branches. She’d say she wished she’d never had me. When I was 12, I began to rebel by smoking marijuana – I started hanging out with the wrong crowd and cutting school. When my mom found out about that, it led to more abuse so I ran away to San Francisco. I lived with hippies and sold drugs to pay my share of the food and rent. The police caught me several times – they’d bring me back to California and put me in juvenile detention. Then when I was 15, I got into a hit-and-run when I was driving someone else’s car. Another car pulled out in front of me, I hit it really bad, then just jumped out of the car and took off. I was later identified, and they sent me to a prison for kids called California Youth Authority. I was there for a year, and most of the kids were older than me, so I got a criminal education.
How did your time in the juvenile prison influence what you did next?
Inside, I learned a lot about criminal enterprises and how to spot undercover police. When I came out, I was mostly in the drug business, because that was really my forte. I continued doing drugs until later in life, when I got into residential burglary and spent one year in prison for that. Then I moved to Las Vegas and I got into a counterfeiting ring. We made our own silver dollars and took them to the casinos, trading our money for theirs. We were robbing the casinos of up to around $8,000 a week – every week. Casino surveillance put my picture up all over town, and I ended up wanted by every law enforcement agency you can think of, including the FBI. The counterfeiting led to another year in prison. In all, I’ve spent eight years of my life locked up.
How did you turn your life around?
When I became addicted to crack, I was evicted from my house, because I wasn’t paying the bills. I didn’t have anywhere to go and nobody would let me stay with them, because of my addiction to drugs. I was actually homeless on the streets of Las Vegas for a year, doing whatever I could to survive. It was summertime and I hadn’t had a shower in three months. Summertime is hot in Las Vegas, so I went to the Central Christian Church, which is the biggest church in Las Vegas, because they would let you take a shower and give you clean clothes – that’s how I became a Christian.
What happened when you visited the church?
Well, at that point, I didn’t want to hear anything about Jesus – I just went there for the clean clothes. But this lady walked up to me and – I almost cry at this point – she told me that “Jesus loves you”. That touched my heart deeply, and my reply to her was: “Man, you don’t understand. Jesus can’t love me because I’m an ex-con, I’m an ex-felon and I’m a drug addict. I’m so addicted to crack that I would really hurt somebody.” And she said, “Cody, you know what? Jesus loves you, and his mercy and forgiveness and grace is available to you right now.” And you know what? Something happened inside of me.
My whole life I had gone without true love, and these people at the church loved me. They didn’t even know me, but they loved me. Instead of a handout, they gave me a hand. From that point forward, I couldn’t get enough of reading the Bible – I couldn’t get enough of the Word of God. And the more I read the Bible, the more I began to understand what Christ’s death on that cross meant to me – that he died for all my sins and I would never have to stand before God with that whole mountain of sin that I had created my whole life. That’s the moment that my life [had] a drastic turnaround. In the Bible, it tells us, “be not conformed to [this] world, but be transformed by the renewing of [your] mind” [Darby]. That’s when my mind began to transform – I began to look at things differently, and to understand that I was listening to the wrong voice.
How was your life different from that point?
I kept going back to that church, and those people wrapped their arms around me and loved on me like I had never felt loved before. I was living in a dirt field – I was still homeless and messing around with crack – but I had begun to taper it down. One day I came back from church, and I got on my knees. I prayed to God to forgive me for everything I had done that I knew was against the will of God; I tried to name everything. I even asked God to forgive me for all the things I didn’t even know I’d done that were against his will. I prayed for probably 20 minutes – and I was Mr Tough Guy; I didn’t cry – but I began to cry. I’d held all this inside me so long. There I was, in a dirt field – with my tears making a mud puddle. There was a big mud puddle in front of me, and the minute I said “Amen” and stood up, I didn’t want drugs anymore. God took that from me. And that was 13 years ago.
So you haven’t touched drugs since that moment?
No. The minute I said “Amen” and stood up, I was delivered from drugs. There were 40 of us sleeping in the field and that night, my friends kept waking me, saying, “Here Cody, I’ve got some crack, man.” And I said, “Get that stuff away from me, I don’t do that anymore.” They kept doing this all night, until finally I stood up and said, “The next person who offers me any kind of dope, or wakes me up again, we’re going to get into a fight” because this was on a Saturday night, so I was going to church the next morning. Never before, in my whole year of being homeless on the streets, had anybody offered me free crack. The way I see it is, I had just given my heart to God and this was the enemy’s way of trying to pull me back into that realm. Thank God, God gave me the strength to say no. I haven’t done drugs since then.
Did the church help you in any practical way?
When I started going to church and the church saw that I was being serious, I came up with an idea, because I didn’t want to be out in the world, tempted to buy drugs. So my idea was, I would go to the church every day and volunteer – I’d do whatever kind of work they had for me. They wouldn’t pay me anything, but they would give me a free lunch every day, and I would rather be there because people loved me. I would stay till 5 o’clock at night, when the church closed, then they would take me down to the food pantry and let me put as much food as I could in my backpack. So I’d get all of this food and I’d go back to the park and I’d make a meal for all of my friends. The people of God were so loving and helpful. They didn’t give me a lot, but they gave me enough to survive, until I reached the point where they thought I was employable and doing the right thing and not playing a game with them.
You’re a pastor now – how did that come about?
I continued going to church, and I could not get enough of reading the Bible. They had told me to start on the New Testament and if I had questions, to write them down and they would answer them for me. About a month after that, I was baptised, and I’ve never been the same since. A man at the church offered me a job on a rock crusher – it came with a 25ft trailer that I called the Taj Mahal because I wasn’t homeless anymore. From crushing rocks for $8 an hour, I started working for UPS for $25 an hour. My wife and I have been married for over ten years now – we run a homeless ministry in Las Vegas called Broken Chains, and I’m actually an ordained pastor now – I’ve been ordained … for six years.
How does Broken Chains help homeless people?
Our number one priority is to connect them to Christ. Our ministry is just a tool that God uses to connect people to Jesus. We don’t actually have a church – we meet in a local park. There’s a gazebo and we normally get 50 to 60 homeless people show up every week. We bring them clothes and socks, have a one-hour Bible study, and then we have a barbeque. We have chicken, fruit and vegetables, and sweets. In the wintertime we have coffee and in the summertime we have colas. We step in where Social Services fail. We make sure they’re fed and taken to the doctor. I have dentists here in town who help us if they get problems with their teeth. When my wife and I first got married and started doing this, we paid for the ministry out of own pocket. Now we’re a non-profit, charitable organisation. We rely on donations, and I’m proud to say that no one, including myself, takes a salary.
Are people happy to donate to you, or does your past mean that trust is an issue?
No. In the Bible, it says that God shall supply all of our needs, according to his riches and glory [see Philippians 4:19]. We don’t go out, we don’t have fundraising campaigns – we’re really big in the city now, so everybody who has anything to do with the homeless knows who we are. We operate on $50,000 a year, and we spend every penny on the mission. We know people think we must be taking something from this, and so we have our books audited every three months by an accounting firm in Las Vegas.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
It’s my joy to run into one of these homeless guys that are in the same shape I was in, and see them go into rehab, and get their life back together. To see them get their first job and get an apartment and a car and a girlfriend – and then all of a sudden they’re married. There’s no better thing. For me, that’s my payment.
Is it possible to get someone on the straight and narrow without connecting them to Jesus?
I don’t think so. I think it’s pretty much impossible to get someone off … drugs without Christ. There is no way that I would be where I am without the Lord.
Pastor Cody Huff’s autobiography, Handcuffs to Broken Chains (Colossus Publishing) is available on Amazon. www.vegasbrokenchains.org/2015/10/pastor-codys-new-book-handcuffs-to-broken-chains-is-now-available-to-purchase/
Chasing the Great White
On skis through the Hardangervidda
By Corinna Leenen
Setting the scene
Outside the tent lies the Hardangervidda plateau – miles and miles of desolate snow-covered tundra. We had left the ski trails two days ago to make our own way into the wild. We’ve pitched our tent high to have the best chance for a sighting tonight and, wrapped in huge down jackets, we’re waiting for the Northern Lights to appear. In front of us, a moonlit valley drops down into a long basin, which will make for an easy ride down in the morning. Outside the tent under the stars the world seems full of wonder and life seems more than weekly to-do lists.
The night looks more impressive on the plateau: our tents glow red in the dark under a massive sky, full of shooting stars, Iridium flares and the Northern Lights building up slowly in an arched band. It’s only a faint white light which I mistake for clouds or haze, but a patient wait rewards us with dancing lights and a few good photographs.
Logistics and planning for this expedition were more complicated than we had expected. We trained in Scotland to get a taste of the conditions and get familiar with the tent routines, but nothing prepared us for the complications of getting 300kgs of expedition kit to where you want it to be. Some serious effort, bleeding fingers and the strategic use of a shopping trolley meant that pulks, polar tents and expedition food were now on their way to Finse.
Hardangervidda crossing 2016
Four hours on the Bergen train from Oslo took us to Finse, the highest train station in Norway, from where we would start our crossing of the Hardangervidda plateau. It takes six days and roughly 28kms a day to reach Rjukan at the other end.
After sorting the kit into our pulks and waxing our skis, we were finally off into the wild. Heading from the train station into the fading light, we were en route to Rjuken in the footsteps of Amundsen, the great polar explorer. As the light faded into a dull grey, Finse was only visible behind us as a small array of glowing dots hovering in the dark.
After two hours we topped out on the plateau proper – we were now within the national park boundaries. It was too dark to appreciate the view, and we set up camp. The next morning was grey, with clouds smudging the horizon and casting the day into perpetual twilight. We slowly established our tent routines of digging a trench for melting snow for drinking water, cooking food and getting the tent up and down.
En route to Rjukan
Long shadows cast by the low sun zigzagged across the furrowed snow, and the hiss of the pulk across the fresh snow was the only sound. I changed trails all the time, sometimes skiing in the wide track of the pulk in front, the ski-tracks or untouched snow. I had figured out the rhythm of the glide, and for the long stretches of frozen lake, everything was condensed into movement, thoughts and breath.
Our means of travel with skis, snowshoes and pulks is the same as it used to be for the first polar explorations (without Scott’s unfortunate ponies). Our 80-mile crossing was a great achievement in our eyes, but knowing that Amundsen had skied over 1,000 miles just to send a telegram citing his successful Northwest Passage crossing put things into perspective.
Belligerent winds and white-outs are frequent on the plateau, and for this week the Hardangervidda delivered a mix of sunshine and hardship. Going was by turns on firm ice which allowed for a nice glide and good progress, and slushy snow with lots of traction which made it hard to gain ground. On the last day we saw the snow melting under our feet while the thermometer read +10 degrees C.
An impression of magnificent emptiness was the general feel of the plateau. We skied for miles across undulating terrain, with bits of snowdrift blowing over the ground. The sky looked bigger and bluer against the white, and sometimes the sun appeared as just a blurry hole in the clouds. The landmarks we passed eventually disappeared from sight as we ventured further into the heart of the plateau, only to reappear now and then when we reached the top of another hill as a distant reminder of how far we’d come.
The most beautiful scene presented itself on the coldest morning, when temperatures had dropped to -10 degrees C during the night and ice crystals lined the inside of our tent. Outside, things were brisk and sharp – hazy pink covered the horizon, and frost our pulks and skis. As we stood surrounded by hills, looking out across the glittering valley and miles of frozen lake, I felt as vulnerable to the landscape as I did a part of it.
Exped Adventure is gearing up for its sub-zero expeditions. In search of the great white, we’re headed north – the Hardangervidda first and Svalbard right after. Thorough preparation with an emphasis on training, teamwork and development of equipment and nutrition will get us ready for the extremes: Greenland, the Vatnajökull glacier in Iceland and the Patagonian Ice Sheet are the next candidates for our sub-zero expedition programme.
The responsibility of leading a team through remote and unyielding terrain is not inconsiderable. Special permissions, practising with a Mauser rifle and setting up a tripwire system for polar bear protection, and kitting up with PLBs, flare guns, polar tents and Baffin boots is part and parcel of venturing into the extreme regions of Svalbard. In addition, we would be pulling heavily loaded sledges, so preparation in physical terms is important – balancing endurance training with building up strength.
We’re excited to develop our expedition programme into the Polar Regions. If you want to join our team for 2017, it’s a good time now to start preparations and training.
Banking for the Kingdom
Banks don’t always have a good reputation. They have been seen as greedy organisations that are sometimes accused of mis-selling products. So, isn’t it rather dangerous for a bank to say that it is Christian? It is a risk that Kingdom Bank willingly accepts. But just how different is a Christian bank?
Established over 60 years ago, the driving force behind Kingdom Bank is to make a difference for good in people’s lives. In part this is evidenced in the way that they deal with people, whether customers or suppliers. Both seem to genuinely enjoy dealing with the Bank’s staff, and the customers have proved to be very loyal. But it is in how the Bank use the money entrusted to it that the biggest difference can be found.
First of all Kingdom Bank offer a wide range of different savings products, including several different types of cash ISAs. The important principle here is that new and existing customers are treated the same. No marketing gimmicks just to bring in new customers.
Then there is the mortgage range. Most people reading with this will not qualify for a Kingdom Bank mortgage! This is because Kingdom Bank :
- Provide mortgages for churches to buy, build or improve their buildings;
- Provide ‘buy-to-let’ mortgages for ministers, church workers and missionaries, so that they could have an investment for the future. You might find it hard to find these available on the high street;
- Help individuals or churches to take out a ‘social return’ mortgage. This is where they buy a property that is then used to support vulnerable and needy people.
Each of these can make a real difference to people’s lives. Let’s look at a couple of real stories to show what a difference it can make.
Mike Willis, pastor of the New Life Christian Centre in Morpeth told us : “What do you do when you have a late 19th-century church that looks and feels tired, where the paint is peeling, and there are cracks in the front wall? The starting point was to agree that something needed to be done and that we also needed a vision of what we might achieve.”
Our vision was to make our church an important part of the community. We wanted it used regularly, to be the best venue in town, to be the best for God; to combine the heritage of the 19th century with the best of the 21st century.
We started by raising £20,000, and undertaking a thorough analysis of what was needed and might be done. Perhaps inevitably, as we went along we discovered more things that needed doing. After all, it is an old building. We removed the false ceiling and discovered more cracks. It needed rewiring; we installed a state-of-the-art heating system, and a new PA system. There was complete redecoration and new doors to make it welcoming. We had to meet all the fire and health regulations, so that we could legally double the numbers that could use the building.
Ultimately we needed a total of £170,000, and Kingdom Bank were amazing. As well as providing the funds, they ensured that everything was planned and developed in the right way, and supported us through the whole process.
You wouldn’t believe that it was the same church; it was clean, modern, attractive, warm and welcoming. We recently had a curry evening in the church for 60, of which 20 were non-Christian guests, an evening with a Christian comedian attracted 150, with half of these being non-Christians, and there is now a Saturday morning cinema for children. It is a great place to both worship and invite friends.’
Supporting the vulnerable
Kingdom Bank is helping a north-east couple continue to give supported housing to more than 80 vulnerable young people, including young families. Dot and Derek Butler launched ROCSOLID, a registered charity, two years after buying a fostering agency in 2005.
“The local authority placed one of our care leavers in really inappropriate accommodation when she turned 18,” said Dot. “She committed a serious offence and ended up in a secure residential unit. Our social workers visited her and came back dismayed – we decided to launch the charity in a bid to improve outcomes for young people like her.”
The couple have developed a successful model whereby young people needing intensive support, such as pregnant teenagers or those with mental health issues, move into flats in two buildings which are staffed 24/7. They can progress to houses in the community with ongoing key worker support and regular drop-ins.
“Many of our young people have traumatic histories and have sofa surfed or lived in hostels alongside alcoholics and older people on drugs,” said Dot. “We make sure our flats and houses are of a good quality, as this speaks volumes about how much we value our young people. We have seen some great outcomes, including children in care being returned to young parents who have acquired the skills to care for them while at ROCSOLID.”
The role of Kingdom Bank
Some of the 30 plus housing stock is owned by private investors who want to put their houses to good use – Derek also runs a property investment and management company. The remainder is owned by the Butlers and a property business partner – the ending of this partnership means the portfolio is being split so refinancing is needed.
“Our solicitor recommended Kingdom Bank and we have been impressed with their can-do attitude,” said Dot. “The fact that they are remortgaging our share of the properties as a single portfolio has made the process much easier for us.”
Chris Sheldon, Chief Executive of Kingdom Bank, said: “We were delighted to help support such a valuable and inspired project. I hope that this story will encourage other Christians and churches to do something similar. At Kingdom Bank we want to see lives changed through the mortgages we provide, which is clearly evident in this project. “
Your money used well
To learn more about Kingdom Bank and the products it offers visit kingdom.bank. You might enjoy the experience.
Britain's next tennis star
Great Britain’s first victory in the Davis Cup (men’s team tennis) for 79 years was without question one of the sporting highlights of 2015. For British number three, Kyle Edmund, being part of the team was an amazing experience. Britain beat Belgium 3–1 in November 2015 in Ghent to secure the cup. Kyle recalls: “Being part of that final weekend in Belgium is one of the best experiences I will have as a tennis player. I had been involved with the squad for a while, on the sidelines and as a practice hitter and getting to know the people around the team. I had a chance of playing several times before that but just missed out for various reasons. To play for the first time in the final on a big stage, it couldn’t have worked out any better. It is one of the best feelings to be involved in the Davis Cup final.”
Edmund was first on court against Belgium’s David Goffin, whose world top 20 ranking made him a firm favourite. Edmund made a dream start winning the first two sets 6–3, 6–1 before losing the next three 2–6, 1–6, 0–6. “I thought I performed well but obviously lost in the end. I went on confident in myself because two weeks previously I had played in South America in a challenger event and I beat some good players out there. So I knew I was in a good place mentally with my game and I have always liked playing on clay. On paper and looking at the match-ups, I definitely wasn’t expected to win, because of my ranking and experience. I surprised some people. I gave it my best shot and in the first two sets I was playing well, very high standard tennis, and it’s a shame that I couldn’t keep going like that. But the positive was that I was able to go out and play the first two sets like I did. The fact that we won and also me being on court, playing singles in a Davis Cup final with all those people watching and supporting, made me grow and made me learn a lot – for example, what I was like under pressure. But the feeling coming away from it was a positive one because the team won.”
Kyle started playing tennis when he was ten. His sister used to have swimming lessons, conveniently at the David Lloyd Centre, and Kyle used to run around. Just to keep him busy, his mum signed him up for tennis. And rest is history. He made rapid progress and within a year or two was playing tennis before school. Then at 13 a big decision had to be made. He was offered the chance to move to Bisham Abbey in Berkshire for intensive tennis tuition. That was effectively a decision to go full-time in tennis and give it a real go. Kyle, with the support of his family, decided to accept the offer.
By the time he was 16, Kyle was playing the junior events at the Grand Slams, and immediately reached the semi-final of the Junior US Open and also helped Great Britain win the 2011 Junior Davis Cup tournament for the first time after beating Italy in the final in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The following year he and Frederico Ferreira Silva of Portugal won the doubles at the US Juniors. In 2013, he reached the semi-final of Junior Wimbledon (singles and doubles) and the quarter-final of the French Open singles and again with Frederico Ferreira Silva won the doubles at the French.
Edmund’s assessment of that period is: “Reaching the semis at the US Open when I was 16 was quite a big one for me as I was … beating good players who were older than me. It definitely wasn’t expected for me to go that far at that time. The real successes were winning the two doubles titles and the Junior Davis Cup but I would definitely say that winning the Junior Davis Cup was my best junior experience.”
He started playing senior events in 2012 when he was just 17 and had a world ranking of 568. That had dropped to 102 in 2015 and he is currently 82 in the world. He plays 25 to 30 tournaments a year, so more or less spends half the year playing tournaments and half the year at home practising, with the odd week off. Which tournament he plays is determined by his world ranking at the time. With his current ranking he can pretty much get into any tournament he wants, as opposed to when he had to start off at the bottom playing mainly Futures events. Even the Challenger Tour (the level below the main tour) is worldwide. Kyle’s five victories in Challenger events have come in USA, Argentina, Italy and Hong Kong.
He is pleased with his progress and sets himself realistic goals. “In terms of a ranking there is no target set, just to do as well as I can wherever that takes me. As long as I know I’ve given my best, the ranking will be a true reflection of that. It would be nice to finish around top 50 – if I achieve that it will be a good year and I think it’s doable. When I am 24, 25, 26 I would expect to be peaking – not at 20 to 21. So each year the goal has got to be to improve my game and to improve physically. And if your game improves, the results will come and my ranking will move up.” His emphasis at the moment is on improving his game and thinking about what things will help him to play better.
In the Miami Open earlier this year, Edmund beat Jiří Veselý of the Czech Republic – who was ranked 35 in the world in 2015 – 6–4, 5–7, 7–6 and met the world number one, Novak Djokovic in the next round, losing 3–6, 3–6. Playing that type of match is what it is all about for Edmund: “To play the world number one in Miami was a great experience for me, something I learned a lot from, so it was definitely one of my highlights. As a kid playing tennis, you always dream about playing on the tour and now I am fulfilling that. That I have played in every Grand Slam in the senior event is something that you don’t take for granted. You realise how well you done and where you have come from.”
He has never played a competitive match with Andy Murray, but has practised with him many times and has a high regard for the British Number One. “I haven’t played Andy but the fact that I’ve been around him for a long time and experienced a lot with him definitely helped me, particularly practising with him. Off the court as well he’s given me a lot of support, so I am very fortunate.”
Edmund has played at Wimbledon for the past three years, losing in the first round each time. Last year he lost to Alexandr Dolgopolov 6–7, 2–6, 1–6. For him, Wimbledon is a unique event: “Once you have played at Wimbledon, the grounds of the All England club, you realise why it is so special. It is once a year, and even in the build-up you’re getting excited. Combining the greatest tournament in the world with the home support is a double hit. It’s something you don’t experience at any other tournament, so when it comes round it’s always exciting. Remember we only get to play in Britain four weeks of the year – the rest of the time we’re abroad.”
Being a bit old-fashioned, I asked Kyle why the traditional Wimbledon ‘Serve and Volley’ game had disappeared. He not only indulged me but educated me. “That’s a good question but I have only ever known the game as it is now. I think over the years the balls have become slower so when the ball is lower, it is harder for a volleyer to hit through the court and come in. When you come in you want to be in a commanding position. You don’t want to come into the net in a defensive position because you will get passed very easily. Also the modern players are probably stronger and move better. The top players can make a pass from anywhere on the court. Take someone like Djokovic who is unbelievably strong and flexible, and if he can get a racket to a ball anywhere, you are in danger of being passed because he is so incredibly talented. That’s why I think there is a reluctance of players to come in to the net because they fear that they will be passed.”
Still only 21, Kyle Edmund has already achieved a great deal. With continued hard work and application, there seems no reason why he cannot continue to progress towards the elite of the sport.
He is the working class lad from Stevenage who rose through the racing ranks to become Formula One World Champion three times (and counting) but no matter the glory he basks in, Lewis Hamilton never loses his grace.
By Karen Anne Overton
When he was ten years old, Lewis Hamilton – by then Britain’s youngest-ever Cadet Class Karting Champion — famously walked up to McLaren chief Ron Dennis to ask for an autograph and told him, “I want to race for you one day.” Dennis replied, “Phone me in nine years” and recalls that even at ten, Hamilton was confident but there was no trace of arrogance. Only three years later, Dennis made Hamilton the youngest driver ever to land a Formula One contract, signing him to apprentice in McLaren’s young driver development programme and the rest, as they say, is history.
It would be easy to credit his phenomenal success to luck, but undeniably, for the most part, it is pure hard graft. Hamilton, though, is not the kind of man to brag about his achievements or even play the hard-done-by card, and when he won the Drivers’ Championship for the second time, he declared: “I can’t really explain how much this means. It means even more than the first one. It feels like it’s the first time. I feel so blessed. Adding that it was the best day of his life, Hamilton said: “It’s the greatest feeling ever. I’m grateful to God; I’m grateful for my car finishing and really, to everyone, thank you so much, everyone. Thank you.”
For Hamilton, his faith is as instinctive and ingrained as his ability to drive; intrinsically connected, his devotion to both have led him to an extraordinary life. To some his candour is surprising, and it does seem unusual to meet a Formula One driver who is so open about his faith; many, after all, are keen to extol their virtues, but Hamilton has thrived on defying expectations. The mixed-race kid from Stevenage with a fifth-hand go-kart who went on to become a racing superstar… A man who stands by his faith yet is immersed in sport’s most scientific, leave-nothing-to-chance environment.
Much of this is certainly a product of his background, which has none of the privilege often associated with the sport. Born to a white mother and black father in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, Hamilton’s parents split when he was two years old. Though he lived with his mother, and two half-sisters, Nicola and Samantha, until he was 12, it was his father who noticed his young son’s potential when he gave him a remote-controlled car, and sought to nurture it. For Anthony Hamilton, whose parents moved to the UK from Grenada in the 1950s, this was a chance to give his son the life he never had, and over the years would make great sacrifices, even at one point holding down three jobs, to further his son’s development.
By 1991, Hamilton was already taking part in remote-controlled car races and winning against adults. When he was six, his father gave him his first go-kart, the caveat being that he would work hard at school. He later attended the John Henry Newman secondary school, a voluntarily aided Roman Catholic school. To maintain this delicate balance required discipline, and both Hamilton and his father learned the sacrifices that come with making a champion. For Hamilton, this meant foregoing all the usual fun of teenage life, as any spare time was spent on the racing track, and for his dad this meant quitting his job in IT and finding any means possible to fund what was by now a shared dream of driver son and would-be manager father.
One of the more surprising aspects of being a professional racing driver is the level of fitness required. The 2013 film Rush about the rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt may have painted the sport as a debauched champagne and cocaine-fuelled party circuit, but that was the 70s, and these days, F1 drivers are highly conditioned athletes. Their bodies must be at their peak as they manoeuvre 691kg cars at top speeds of 300kph, endure forces of 5g, burn 1,400 calories and lose up to 3kg of body weight in sweat during a race. What’s more, they do it 19 times over an eight-month period.
Maintaining weight and fitness is vital, and Hamilton admits that though his favourite foods are pizza and a good burger, he hasn’t had either for a while, instead sticking to a strict diet that’s high in protein and fresh fruits and vegetables. If deprivation is a means to holiness, then Hamilton has long suffered for his profession. He is also well-known to say grace before every meal and has been noted for his impeccable table manners! Call him old-school.
In spite of his many admirable talents and virtues, Hamilton is far from perfect, and over the years he has come under fire for different aspects of his lifestyle. Particularly his style, his relationships and his many tattoos. Unlike most of his peers, who are not known for their antics off the track, Hamilton has embraced the celebrity aspect of his work and is known for hanging out with rock stars, supermodels and actresses. He famously dated Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger for seven years, and was rumoured to have had a fling with Rihanna last year. There had been many times when it looked like Hamilton may go off the rails, as in 2010 when he relieved his father of management duties, instead signing a contract with Simon Fuller’s more celebrity orientated XIX Management (he has since ceased working with XIX). More recently, former F1 driver turned TV analyst David Coulthard speculated about the effect Hamilton’s taste for the good life might have on his performance this season. Hamilton has acknowledged that he stands apart from today’s crop of calmer, more robotic drivers:
“I try to find a balance in my life … the lifestyle that I live is different to the other drivers. But who says that it has to be the way they are doing things? My style works perfectly for me. It is all about enjoying every moment. Maybe before you know it my Formula One career will be over and I want to make sure that I look back and can say that I lived it to the maximum, maximum, maximum! That is what I try to do. I enjoy my life. I move as much as I can – get to places and experience as many things as I can – and do my job in the best way I can.”
His work and celebrity status have certainly led him to some interesting places. Hamilton is often seen at the most exclusive celebrity parties, sporting his trademark diamond earrings and tailored suits. When it comes to style, Hamilton rarely errs on the side of subtle and frequently displays his love of fashion on the most high-profile front rows at shows like Balmain and Louis Vuitton. Though certainly interesting, his fashion choices have sometimes landed him in hot water; for example, when he was turned away from centre court at Wimbledon last year for failing to adhere to the strict dress code. Foregoing the requisite jacket and tie for a floral shirt and trilby, Hamilton’s seat in the royal box at the showdown between Djokovic and Nadal was left empty.
It is his huge array of body art which draws the most reactions, both positive and negative. For Hamilton, his tattoos are an integral part of who he is, and also act as a reminder of his faith. “I love my ink,” Hamilton told Men’s Health. “They all have a meaning. I’m very strong in my faith, so I wanted to have some religious images. I’ve got Pietà, a Michelangelo sculpture of Mary holding Jesus after he came off the cross, on my shoulder. A sacred heart on my arm. Musical notes, because I love music. The compass on my chest is there because the church is my compass.”
He continued: “Family is everything for me, so I have ‘family’ written on the top, across my shoulders. ‘Faith’, obviously. And I have ‘powerful beyond measure’ written on my chest – it’s a short bit I took out of a quote, from the writer Marianne Williamson. On my back I have the cross and angel wings: rise above it, no matter what life throws at you. And also, you know, Jesus rose from the grave.”
Tattoos depicting religious icons are not uncommon these days, especially among famous sportsmen (mostly thanks to David Beckham), but the difference with Hamilton is his general openness about God and Christianity. “The way I look at it,” he says of his faith, “Formula One is dangerous. People have died in this sport. So I stay strong with my faith. I’ve come from nowhere. I feel blessed to be here. I think there’s a reason I’m here.”
Though Formula One is by and large a much safer sport than it used to be, serious accidents do still happen. In 2009, Felipe Massa suffered a skull fracture that needed urgent surgery when a spring, which had become detached from the rear suspension of Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn, struck Massa on the head as he reached 175mph on one of the fastest sections of the Hungarian Grand Prix. The most recent, and tragic, though, occurred at the Japanese Grand Prix in October 2014. Under intermittent heavy rainfall caused by the approaching typhoon Phanfone and in fading daylight, the drivers began the race as usual; on the 45th lap, though, as the cars chicaned around the seventh corner, Marussia driver Jules Bianchi swerved off course and hit a recovery vehicle. Despite being rushed to hospital and receiving emergency surgery to reduce swelling in his brain, Bianchi remained comatose until his death in July 2015. The race was immediately stopped and Hamilton, who was leading, declared the winner, but the Frenchman’s death resonated deeply. After all, there was little difference between Hamilton and Bianchi, who was only 25; two ambitious and determined young men, one tragically killed and one crowned champion.
With the 2016 season of Formula One underway, hopes are high that Hamilton will once again conquer the odds to win his third consecutive title (fourth overall). Looking stronger than ever in the cockpit, he is arguably the fastest of the so-called 10/10ths drivers, the term that F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone uses to describe racing’s elite cadre. This year, he is also nominated for the Laureus World Sportsman of the Year Award, the prestigious international event that recognises achievement in the world of sports. Laureus is a foundation who believe in ‘Using the power of sport as a tool for social change’ through their various projects and sports academies around the world, and given his own background, it’s no wonder Laureus is close to Hamilton’s heart.
With all this success, though, is there any real fear than Hamilton will lose his way and give in to the glamour and excesses that surround him? And does he even consider himself a celebrity? “I am pretty sure – and I know a lot of celebrities – that none of them would ever say that they are a celebrity. You don’t wake up in the morning, brush your teeth, look in the mirror and say: ‘Good morning, you celebrity!” jokes Hamilton.
“In the end, I am just a normal person who is doing something that happens to be in the spotlight. My life revolves around .. .my dogs, good food, great company, great friends, family, music, kids, seeing life, feeling life. Mostly we go through life without stopping for a second to look at what surrounds us. I made it a habit to do it every single day – even if it literally is one second – and absorb. There are such beautiful things to watch: when I am flying it’s the earth below me, or a beautiful beach, or a colourful bird. I take pictures in my mind.”
Quite simply, Hamilton is not concerned. He is aware of the work that must be put in every season and he is aware of how far he has come. He also understands the dangers of his chosen profession and how quickly and easily it could be taken away. So with the tarmac beneath him and the Lord above him, Hamilton just sits back and enjoys the ride.
The Secret of Inner Strength
Resilience has become a big think of late, with researchers exploring what helps us bounce back after physical, emotional or spiritual trauma. After facing his own battering storms, author and broadcaster Sheridan Voysey found resilience in a surprising place. Sorted talks to him about his new book, Resilient.
What is resilience?
Resilience describes the ability to spring back after being bent or stretched out of shape. Resilient people adapt to adversity. They weather life’s storms. They may get hit but they get up again – maybe even stronger than before.
How did you become interested in the topic?
In June 2011, my wife and I came to the UK from Australia to start our lives again. We’d spent a decade trying to start a family, ultimately without success, and had brought that dream to an end (I tell that story more fully in another book called Resurrection Year). The relocation meant leaving a fulfilling broadcasting career for me, and for the first time in years I no longer knew who or what I was here for. I needed inner strength and stumbled upon in it in a surprising place – the Sermon on the Mount
For those not familiar with it, tell us what the Sermon on the Mount is.
The Sermon on the Mount is a speech given by Jesus of Nazareth, and frequently hailed as one of the greatest speeches of all time. It’s what inspired Gandhi to discover peaceful protesting, Martin Luther King Jnr to fight racism, Dietrich Bonhoeffer to oppose the Nazis, and numerous other heroes and heroines throughout history. The Sermon has given us the Lord’s Prayer and the Golden Rule, and made phrases like ‘turning the other cheek’ and ‘going the extra mile’ part of our everyday vocabulary. In short, it’s Jesus’ most succinct guide to living.
Tell us about your experiment reading the Sermon every day for a month and then beyond. How did it start?
Given its impact in history, I had felt a pull to explore the Sermon on the Mount for some time. It’s quite short – only three chapters in the Gospel of Matthew – so I decided to read it every day for a month. But one month led to two, and then on to three as the Sermon got a hold of me! What initially impacted me was how comprehensive it is, covering everything from sex to prayer to conflict to possessions. It addresses our callings in life, our relationships, our spirituality, and even how to make good choices. And you can read it in 15 minutes. It’s profound.
Why do you believe the Sermon on the Mount is ultimately about resilience?
The resilience theme is revealed right at the end of the Sermon, when Jesus gives a famous story of two builders: one builds his house on a strong foundation, the other builds on sand, and when “the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against” their houses, the first house stands while the second collapses (Matthew 7:25, NLT). Jesus interprets the story by saying those who put what he’s said into practice will be like the first builder and withstand life’s storms. They will bounce back and not collapse. They will be resilient.
So, how does Jesus’ teaching develop resilience, and how does it square with modern research?
It’s fascinating to compare Jesus’ teaching with the findings of modern psychology. According to researchers like Martin Seligman, resilience is built on a few key factors: the ability to manage our positive emotions; having strong relationships; having a feeling of accomplishment about what we do, and finding a sense of meaning to one’s life. Jesus addresses all these in the Sermon:
Positive Emotions: Seligman says we can become strong by amplifying emotions like peace, gratitude, hope or love, and managing negative ones like bitterness, sadness or anger. Well, Jesus starts his Sermon by ‘blessing’ those who follow him, saying they’re loved by God, will be comforted in sadness, and will be looked after in the future (Matthew 5:1-12). He prescribes forgiveness to counter bitterness (6:12,14-15), provides practical guidance on what to do when we’re angry (5:21-26), and gives straightforward teaching about worry, something most us of battle (6:25-34).
Strong relationships: According to Seligman, we need good marriages, deep friendships, and/or meaningful connections to our community to be resilient, and Jesus devotes a lot of time to relationships in his Sermon. In one lengthy sweep he tackles the four main forces that destroy them – anger, unfaithfulness, false promises and retaliation (Matthew 5:21-42). To Jesus, relationship with God and others lies at the heart of everything.
A sense of accomplishment: Whether it’s through pursuing a goal, mastering a skill, or doing work that’s personally significant, we are strengthened when we feel we do some things well. While Jesus never tells us to find a hobby, or set ourselves career goals, I think he sets us up for accomplishment of a higher order. In the Sermon he invites us to become the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). This is astounding considering the people he was addressing were small, insignificant villagers at the time. Through his Sermon, Jesus positions us to be people of profound accomplishment, no matter how successful we are.
A sense of meaning: Psychologists agree that we need a purpose to live for, a grand cause to serve, that’s bigger than us, and that we are strongest when we have one. When Jesus teaches us to pray that famous line in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven’ (Matthew 6:10, NLT), we are connecting to such a cause. The ‘kingdom’ of God is God’s grand dream of making the world peaceful, powerful and beautiful under his control again. He calls us to be part of making that so.
So, all the factors for developing resilience are contained in the Sermon on the Mount. You could say Jesus beat the psychologists to their discoveries by two millennia.
Resilient is full of compelling stories. Tell us about Ken Cooper.
Ken was someone I interviewed while still in Australia, and his story is a good resilience tale. I’d describe Ken as the kind of guy you’d want living next door: a loving husband and father, a role model for underprivileged children. But Ken had a dark side – he was also one of Florida’s most wanted criminals. He began shoplifting as a child, was stealing cars by the time he reached college, and when his wife died early from cancer, turned to robbing banks. “My robberies had nothing to do with money,” he told me. “The purpose was to defy this dead, depressed state I was in from losing my wife.”
Ken’s double life ended when he was shot during a bank robbery and sentenced to 99 years in The Rock, Florida’s infamous prison, rife with knifings, murders and rape. But while there, Ken heard about Jesus from a prison chaplain and soon became a Christian. Some of Ken’s cellmates did too. They started putting Jesus’ teaching into practice and their lives began to change.
One day Ken and his friends adopted a kitten, who they named Mr Magoo. Mr Magoo’s back had been broken for fun by other inmates, and was blind from acid they’d thrown in his face. Ken and his friends took turns feeding Mr Magoo each day, and even prayed for his sight to return. Mr Magoo was lavished with love. And his sight did return! Rape rates began to decrease at The Rock and prison guards began asking Ken and his fellow Christians for prayer. Ken the hardened criminal became a kitten-loving gentleman. He was released early, and has dedicated his life ever since to helping others build new lives after imprisonment. That’s resilience.
How did your experiment with the Sermon culminate in the book Resilient?
My journal is the most important spiritual tool I have. That’s where I record all my highs, lows, questions and discoveries, and where all my articles, radio spots and conference talks come from. As I read and studied the Sermon each day, I scribbled what I was learning in my journal. Those lessons later became short devotional articles, which were then gathered together and expanded into Resilient. There are 90 readings in the book which are designed to give you three months of inspiration.
Each reading ends with questions to turn the ideas into practice – almost like daily challenges. Which one did you find the hardest to do yourself?
One of the final questions I ask in Resilient is, “If you were to write your life into a short story, what would it say?” I found it a difficult exercise as it exposed the conflict I felt between wanting to look successful to others and wanting to be faithful to Jesus. In the end I wrote two stories – one for each motivation – and published them on my blog to expose, and hopefully nullify, my hubris!
Can you leave us with a final challenge?
Try reading the Sermon on the Mount every day for a month too. Some parts will scare you, others will comfort you, all of it will challenge you. But if you dare to put it into practice, it will change you.
Sheridan Voysey is a writer, speaker, and broadcaster, frequently contributing to faith programmes on BBC Radio 2. His latest book is Resilient: Your Invitation to a Jesus-Shaped Life. To download a free ebook based on Resilient, visit sheridanvoysey.com/fivepractices
Running for Fun
The Men’s 100 metres in Rio is one eagerly awaited race. The 2015 World Championship Final set the scene beautifully. That race was portrayed as good versus evil with many feeling it essential that Usain Bolt defeated drugs cheat Justin Gatlin, to preserve the honour of the sport. While all this was going on it was easy to miss the young runner coming through to take the bronze medal.
Trayvon Bromell, just a month past his 20th birthday, finished third in 9.92. He admits to have been as surprised as the rest of us! “Going into the race I just wanted to do my best. Just being on that stage was a blessing, as was making the US team. Getting a medal in the Worlds was something I didn’t see coming. I really did not see myself in third place. In the race I saw Bolt and Gatlin pass me and I was, ‘man I’m in fifth place’ and then I got to the line and looked across the lanes and I seemed to be third and I was shocked. I was real happy, something I’ll never forget.” He added: “I think, had I known where I was, I would have come up with a better time.”
He insists that winning a World Championship medal at such a young age has not changed him: “I’m still the same person. I work hard in everything I do. I go out with the passion and run the race I love doing. I love the sport. I love the speed. I’m having fun and that’s all I think about.”
Growing up he played a lot of sport, principally [American] football and some basketball. As he told me: “My family has a strong background in football. Not professional but every guy in my family played football so I grew up loving the sport” but he picked up so many injuries that eventually he decided that football was not his sport, so he “gave track a go”. As a high-school athlete he recorded a 9.99 at Gibbs High School in St Petersburg, Florida but with wind assistance of 4.0mps, double the allowable wind reading. In 2013 he took bronze in the Pan Am Juniors and a year later, silver in the World Juniors.
His mother was an influence in the decision to switch to running, but in a negative as well as positive way. “My mom had run track. She used to take me to park runs. She did have an influence on me because I could see how much she enjoyed running. She used to run ten miles a day but I would say ‘I am not a distance runner. If I can’t be a sprinter, I’m not running.’”
Part of the reason for his surprise at his performance in Beijing was that 2015 had not totally gone to plan. “2015 was a year of ups and downs. I didn’t get the NCAA title that I wanted but it was a great race, running against a good friend” (USC’s Andre De Grasse won in 9.75). Bromell did however set a new PB (9.88). At the US trials in June 2015, he came second in 9.96 (9.84 in a heat) and made the team for Beijing. His own assessment of the trials was: “I came second against a lot of good competitors so that was pretty good.”
He does not feel that there is any secret to his progress and rapid rise in 2015. “My rise came from my drive, my hard work and motivation. I have a long history of being beat up with injuries and things, so to overcome those things is a blessing. What happened has been a shock for me as I did not see it coming. My mom was a big influence. You learn from what you see your parents do and I saw my mom work hard so it made me do the same.”
As he looks ahead to Rio, he does it with a modest and sensible attitude. Knowing that it won’t be easy to make the US team his aim is “just staying focused and keeping hungry for what I want. Run fast – that’s the only thing you can do – and perform to the best of your ability. My hope is just to be better than I was last year. That’s what I pray for every day, just improvement and development in my craft, and hopefully to put in a great performance and make the US team, get to Rio, and hopefully get on the podium. I just have to stick to my training and trust my coach and trust God and keep moving forward and stay healthy and get through the rounds”.
Becoming a Christian as a teenager was a life-changing experience for Bromell: “When I was younger I didn’t really go to church. I was trying to find myself but it came upon me that you can’t really find yourself unless you find God. I feel that everything we do, the land we stand on and the people that we are is all because of him. Once you realise that, everything comes into sight. Everything changed. I really did not find God until my teens and it was because I was lost. I really did not know what I was doing, who I was and what [was] my purpose. One night I heard a voice. I didn’t know what it meant but I started changing my life around. I started taking school more seriously and doing things in the community. I tried to be a better person. I just knew it was him telling me that it was time to make a change in life.
“You can talk to people but at the end of the day, God has ultimate control. I can’t go to someone expecting them to change my life for me. That is not how it works. God has given us everything there is on this earth. If I want to speak to somebody who can change my life, that’s who I’m going to go to.”
Bromell followed up his bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships with gold at the 2016 World Indoors Championship in Portland, Oregon, USA. He ran 6.57 in the heat and 6.53 in the semi-final but with Asafa Powell (Jamaica) running a world-leading time for 2016 (6.44), Bromell was off the pace. In the final he ran 6.47 to take gold from Powell (6.50). He said of the race: “The only way I could get the win [was] if I could get out and use my strength to the best of my ability and just run my race. So that’s pretty much what I did.”
He said that beating Asafa Powell was “mind-blowing because when I was younger I used to always look at Asafa’s start and thought I had to mimic this. Looking up to those guys and being able to run against them is a blessing on its own. A lot of people don’t know that when I was young the doctors told me that I wouldn’t be able to run this fast again, so to be able to come out here and do the things I do, I thank God for giving me the strength. It’s a blessing to be able to run against these guys like in Beijing and here in Portland. It’s hard to even process right now. It’s crazy”.
He is humble enough to seek and take advice: “A couple of days ago [before the World Indoor Championships] I talked to Maurice Greene, former Olympic gold medallist and world record holders in 100 metres, and he was telling me that if you want to run a great 60, then you run your 60 like you run your 100, and you don’t change a thing. You just perfect how you run.” Greene needs to be careful about the advice he gives Bromell if he wants to keep his own world record. Greene is the fastest of all time over 60 metres (6.39 in 1998) but Bromell, running 6.47 in Portland is closing in on the master.
In Portland, Bromell gave us his prototype for the ideal sprinter. You need to “react like Kim Collins, have a start like Asafa Powell, the power like Gatlin and Tyson and a mindset like Usain Bolt”. Sounds simple!
I have met Trayvon Bromell three times. I find him an impressive and engaging young man, who is genuinely surprised and thankful for what he has achieved. He admits to being in awe of the world’s top sprinters but then goes out and beats them! He is fast, humble, thankful and diplomatic – he could go far and quickly.
With that attitude and with age on his side – as Bolt and Gatlin approach the end of their careers – we’re going to see a lot more of Trayvon Bromell.
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