Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Row, row, row your boat… right across the sea

Norman and James Beech became the first British father and son to row an ocean when they successfully rowed from La Gomera in the Canaries to Antigua in the Caribbean. At sea for 82 days, they completed the challenge in support of WaterAid.

Norman had ambitions to take part in an ocean voyage from childhood, although he initially thought this would be aboard a sailing boat.

Having seen various teams taking part in the Woodvale Challenge – known as the world’s toughest rowing race – he started thinking about taking part. Participants in the transatlantic rowing race use specially designed self-righting rowing boats.

He didn’t have a rowing partner in mind, but when he shared the idea with the rest of the family James volunteered to row with him. Having cut their teeth on other adventurous pursuits made the father and son ocean rowing partnership a solid one from the word go.

“The daily routine of rowing for two hours on and two hours off for the duration of the crossing is as much a mental challenge as a physical one,” Norman says. “This is particularly so at night time when the two hour alarm goes off, signalling that you are back on the oars and you feel as though you have only been asleep for ten seconds!

“If you don’t sit up straight away and leave the cabin there and then it’s all too easy to fall asleep again. Even lying down to get your lifejacket on can result in you instantly returning to the land of nod!”

At one point, James pulled a muscle in his back, which made any movement – especially rowing – very painful, but amazingly he kept going. Knowing family and friends were praying for them was a great source of encouragement. Every day they read a Psalm together and prayed. According to James, if ever one was a bit low the other was usually able to give encouragement.

As well as the dangers, there were many highlights to their voyage. James remembers seeing whales and dolphins right next to the boat and the fun of making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. He even ate his 19th birthday cake in the water next to the boat! The absolute highlight, however, was reaching the end of the race. “The final row across the finish line and entering the English Harbour, Antigua, was incredible,” he recalls.

“We were met with the sound of boat horns and applause as diners at a quayside restaurant stood up to cheer us in, along with the greeting party assembled at the harbour wall, which included two special people: Christine and Lydia, the other two members of their family.”

A few year before the ocean adventure, friends of the family working for WEC in Senegal had raised funds for a pipeline to bring water into the village near the school they where they worked. This meant people didn’t have to walk long distances to collect water or become ill from drinking polluted water.

So James and Norman approached WaterAid to see if funds from the row could be used to support the charity. It seemed fitting since the pair would be surrounded by undrinkable water, just as one in eight people in the world are.

The two men also hope their adventures will give them a platform to share the gospel. “Lots of things in life can seem good to go after, but only Jesus can quench our thirst,” Norman concludes. “Jesus came to give us life and to enable us to live life to the full, and we hope this message has been communicated through our achievement and the telling of our story.”  

Read more about this the Beech Boys’ incredible cycling feat in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Getting the bored on board

I'd be the first to admit that I'm a bit of a wimp when it comes to outdoor pursuits. I don't like anything involving heights, water, long distances, being cold or taking risks. So pretty much all of it really. 

But a company providing safe outdoor activities came to my attention recently and has managed to tempt me away from my desk... well, to think about it at least.

Berkshire-based Crossover Boardriders offers people of all ages the opportunity to skateboard, snowboard, mountainboard, wakeboard, windsurf, skimboard and surf in a fun and safe environment.

Run by a vibrant bunch of Christians, the organisation works hard to engage young people as well as their friends and family, in healthy, positive, activities through which friendships can be fostered.

Crossover Boardriders organises outings to a range of facilities where boardsports can be learnt and enjoyed under proper supervision. And when they’re not getting people up on their boards, they are hosting social nights where the latest boardriding films are shown, food is munched and relationships are strengthened.

Company founder Guy Higgins explains: "When I was a kid I would talk my parents into driving me to the coast so I could surf and skimboard. As soon as my friends passed their driving tests we would be off on adventures to Wales, Devon and the south coast. 

"A couple of years ago I was praying about what I should give my time to. God gave me the name, the logo and the vision. I have rarely heard God so clearly. I raised some money for the artwork and an insurance policy and Crossover Boardriders was born."

And you don't have to have any experience to get involved. "We ride all sorts of boards so there is something for everyone," explains Guy. Wakeboarding, surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, stand-up paddleboarding, skimboarding. It doesn’t matter if you are an expert or complete beginner, you are welcome. We have run skateboard schools for kids aged five and above; but we have also run stand-up paddleboarding sessions just for adults.

But what do boardsports and Christianity have in common? Isn't it all a bit dangerous? According to Guy it doesn't have to be, and there's nothing wrong with a bit of adventure. 

"I think God likes adventure, He is an adventure! I wanted to give people the chance to experience the thrill of boardsports but in an environment that parents trust. That doesn’t mean in a Christian bubble, it means in a friendly environment with expert tuition and lots of laughs," he says.

"The health benefits are huge, not only for the body but also the soul. You are outside in God’s creation riding with friends and family; it’s exciting and calming at the same time." 

Don't be scared by the pictures; Crossover Boardriders offers activities for all ages and wimp levels, so even landlubbers have no excuse for chickening out. 

It's the perfect way to entertain your kids/friends and get a bit of fresh air, so if you've been surfing the net for a great boarding break, look no further. More details (and some great pics) are available on the company's website.

Read more from Joy in the latest issue of Sorted magazine. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The president and the prayer breakfast

Guest blog with Phil James

Speaking last Thursday to 3,000 people at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, President Obama explained how his Christian beliefs influence and help guide his political and personal life. Drawing heavily on the Bible, he addressed and prayed with political, business and social leaders from across the world.
In my predictions for 2012, I said that we should expect the best and worst of Christianity to be showcased through US politics, and though often the bad is more visible and perhaps more entertaining to critique than the good, that doesn’t mean the good isn’t there.
Republican senator Jeff Sessions introduced the president by thanking him “for all the ways you strive for all Americans; you give your life to that”. This would draw awkward silence on the floor of the Senate, but underlines the prayer breakfast’s position as one of the last genuinely bipartisan arenas for American politics.
From his efforts to raise taxes for the wealthiest Americans to sending troops to prevent human rights abuses in Uganda, Obama argued that his political behaviour and actions are founded in his faith:
“The Bible teaches us to ‘be doers of the word and not merely hearers’. We’re required to have a living, breathing, active faith in our own lives. And each of us is called on to give something of ourselves for the betterment of others.”
In a demonstration of his personal belief, Obama described how he prays each morning and seeks advice at times of stress. He also outlined how he’s found politics and religion to be complementary elements in his own decision making:
“I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense. But for me, as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required’.”
He added, however, that his decisions are not ordained from on high:
“Our goals should not be to declare our policies as biblical. It is God who is infallible, not us. Michelle reminds me of this often.”
The National Prayer Breakfast, attended by every president since Eisenhower, is an opportunity for people of different faiths and denominations to come together and pray. It can be used as a pulpit or a platform to remind the powerful of their duty and, as demonstrated on February 2, it can help to define the role of religion in politics. It can raise the level of political debate, rather than diminishing it, and it can change the tone of political interaction.
Phil James writes for Godculture, an online magazine that showcases Christianity in modern culture. For more articles on faith, creativity, technology, justice, music and more, head to

Friday, 10 February 2012

The project that’s making Bellamy a “better human being”

You may have gathered from previous blog entries that I’m a staunch Liverpool fan, so naturally I’m a big supporter of Craig Bellamy. He may be 32 but he’s currently one of our best players.

The neckless Welshman has his critics, though. He probably has the biggest mouth in football and causes controversy wherever he plays.

However, it seems there’s something we can all like about Bellers: the work he’s doing in Sierra Leone. Roughly the same size as Wales, the West African nation is recovering from a horrific civil war, which lasted more than a decade. Life expectancy is just 48 and the likelihood of a woman dying in childbirth is greater than in any other country.

“There’s so much poverty, it can either scare you or it can inspire you to do something about it,” Craig says on Craig Bellamy’s African Dream, a documentary that recently aired on ITV. “Thankfully, it inspired me to want to do something about it, and if I didn’t I think I’d regret it for the rest of my life.”

The Craig Bellamy Foundation’s primary focus is education, but it is also working to improve healthcare, reduce poverty, promote human rights, integrate people with disabilities, empower women and work with troubled teens.

The not-for-profit foundation runs Sierra Leone’s only professional football academy. Built on a 15-acre site in Tombo, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, the academy features an international boarding school and a full-size grass football pitch.

Sixteen children from across the country have been awarded five-year scholarships to “live, learn and play football” at the academy. The rules are simple: if you don’t turn up for school, you don’t get to train or play in the league.

The football development programme is staffed by a team of internationally qualified staff and the foundation helps its rising stars to obtain professional football contracts at the end of their scholarships.

“If people think we’re passionate back home about football, it doesn’t touch the surface on this. They know every team, every player; they adore their football,” says Craig. And, since almost all the children at the academy were born during the war, he acknowledges that the fact they are alive at all is “a miracle”.

The Liverpool player has also launched a campaign in Makeni to encourage girls to attend school, and it’s already experiencing tremendous growth. He says: “Sometimes in Africa women don’t get looked on [in the same way] as women back home; they don’t get as much say as our women do, so it’s important that we change that.

“A lot of the girls here adore football as well so it’s important for us to give them the opportunity, same as the boys… These girls have gone on to become community leaders; they’ve gone on to have a big say in these areas and it’s changed a lot of opinions of women in their areas… It’s just been worth its weight in gold.”

And it doesn’t end there. Bellamy recently met with a group of amputee players; casualties of the tragic war. He’s determined to give these guys the same opportunities as the able-bodied people he’s helping.

Spending a week in Sierra Leone back in 2007, the Premier League star immediately “fell in love with the place” and has since met with the President and Sports Minister to get their input. He hasn’t just thrown money at the project to gain notoriety (although he’s already forked out more than a million); he has actually spent time with the people, whom he cares deeply about.

Craig is very different on and off the pitch. He’s actually a lot shyer in real life than you might think and claims setting up the foundation has completely taken him out of his comfort zone. He’s treated like a local hero, but this clearly makes him uncomfortable, and (to me at least) he appears endearingly bashful and reserved.

“I feel it does change me every time I come out here,” he says. “It does inspire me a lot, the effect I’m able to have on one or two of the people here; the opportunity I’m trying to give them makes me feel a better human being.

"So as much as I’m trying to improve these as human beings, I’m becoming a better human being as well.”

Love him or hate him, Bellamy wants the people of Sierra Leone to have a better future and is doing his bit to make it happen. The on-pitch loudmouth himself couldn’t argue with that!

Visit the Craig Bellamy Foundation to find out more.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Uni Lad has had its day; Sorted mag is here to stay!

Imagine your daughter has just left for university, excited about the new friends she’ll meet and the wonderful things she’s about to learn. The world is her oyster!

Then picture her hitting the local student bar, knocking back shots of what tastes like paint stripper and probably has a similar effect on her stomach/brain.

Her makeup is smudged all over her face and she’s slumped over the bar looking as though she’s about to vomit and pass out simultaneously.

I know this isn’t what any father/grandfather/brother wants to hear, but if you knew what was coming next, you’d understand why I’m putting you through this.

At this point, some sleazy guy who’s been staring at your little girl all night decides to make his move. He pretends to be helping her but what he’s actually doing is taking advantage of her in her semi-conscious state.

I imagine he is the kind of guy that reads Uni Lad, a publication you wouldn’t use to wrap your fish and chips in. The website of this ‘mag’ provides links to topics such as – and I quote – “how to pull a fresher”; “the blood jizz cocktail”; “Halloween: the easiest night to get laid?”; and the “vagina vomit bucket” (I kid you not).  

But this all pales into insignificance once you read a post that appeared on its site in January. Here’s a snippet:

"And if the girl you’ve taken for a drink happens to belong to the ‘25%’ group and won’t ‘spread for your head’, think about this mathematical statistic: 85% of rape cases go unreported. That seems to be fairly good odds."

I don’t think you need me to unpick the various levels of offence this short extract contains. I’m not easily shocked, but this genuinely made me feel sick. And incredibly angry. And then sick again.

In a previous blog I wrote about the link between the content of lads’ mags and the attitudes of convicted rapists, and I think this probably even tops that. Joking about rape is not ‘banter’. It’s not big, clever or funny. It’s an absolute disgrace and should have resulted in immediate legal action.

Picked up on Twitter, there was a massive reaction to this post, which has since been taken down. In fact, the whole site is being revamped and an apology has been issued. But this kind of filth needs to stop once and for all, as I’m sure most men would agree. It’s demeaning to women, but it’s also insulting to men when sites like this assume their readers condone rape ‘jokes’.

So should we hoik our daughters out of university before anything terrible occurs? Should we start an Occupy Uni Lad protest? Possibly. It’s absolutely right to stand up against this kind of poisonous prose, but in my opinion it’s just as important to take positive action.

The first step is to make sure you aren’t reinforcing negative stereotypes about women yourself. Your sons and daughters will subconsciously take your attitudes on board and may either mirror your misogynistic views (boys) or start to see themselves as worthless objects (girls).

The second step is to offer a better alternative. I know I’m biased, but Sorted magazine is perfect for uni-goers. It’s already available at many universities, but we want to make it available to every male student across the UK.

If it’s banter guys want, they can get it in Sorted. If it’s lifestyle tips or sex advice they need: Sorted. If they’re interested in film, music, celebrities, finance, politics: Sorted. If they want to ponder the meaning of life: Sorted, Sorted, Sorted!

You can help to make this vision a reality. We need financial support from individuals, churches and Christian Unions to provide the nation’s braniacs with something that’s a lot more wholesome.

Provide your son or daughter’s university with 50 glossy copies for just £70; the impact it has on university culture (and the future of our country!) will be priceless.