Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Marky Mark the prayer warrior? Who'da thunk it!

Mark Wahlberg was born in a poor, working class district of Boston and was the youngest of nine children. The Wahlberg brood didn't have a lot growing up, and Mark dropped out of high school at the age of 14 to pursue a life of petty crime and drugs.

He spent his days scamming and stealing; working the odd drug deal before treating himself to the substances himself. At the age of 16 he was convicted of assault against two Vietnamese men who he had tried to rob.

He was sentenced to 50 days at Deer Island Prison, which could have taken him deeper into the criminal lifestyle. But he focused his energy on working out and thinking about his future.

Fortunately, he left jail looking pretty buff and having decided to quit crime. He immediately found himself in the spotlight as his older brother Donnie had become a global sensation as part of New Kids on the Block (my childhood faves).

Donnie pulled some strings and set Mark up with a recording contract. Despite his lack of singing ability, promoters took to the youngster’s dance moves and his physique, which they knew teenage girls would love. Donnie wrote some easy songs for Mark, and Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch was born.

The hip-hop band was pretty awful and didn’t last long, but there was something about the frontman that suggested promise. Perhaps the iconic shot of him in his CK boxer shorts had something to do with this… but I digress. What really made his name known were appearances in films such as Boogie Nights, The Italian Job, The Departed and The Fighter. He has also served as executive producer of various TV series such as Entourage, Boardwalk Empire and How to Make it in America.

Despite his success, Mark has managed to keep out of the limelight and is now happily married with four children, favouring early nights to drunken binges these days.

He says his aim in life is to: “be a good servant to God and my faith; a good husband, a good father, a good son; a good friend, brother and uncle; a good neighbour.

"If I succeed in business and fail at being a parent or a husband, then I've done it all for nothing, and I failed. But everything else, I just try to do the best that I can at everything that I do.”

Mark seems genuinely appreciative of the “second chance” he has been given and the things he has been able to overcome: “I've got everything that I want. I am so blessed, and so fortunate. I start every day by getting on my hands and my knees, and being grateful; and working to do the right thing.”

When he’s not making movies, he and his Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation work with at-risk youth and inner city kids to help them avoid making the mistakes he did. In a recent interview with Piers Morgan, he said: “My faith has really allowed me to overcome a lot of things, and hard work. You know, nothing comes easy; especially when you‘ve got your back against the wall and you’ve got a lot going against you.

“But I wanted to prove to people through my actions, not my words, that I was going to change and that I was going to make a positive impact on the community that I come from. I could not forget about where I came from and find myself in this position without helping and giving back.”

He told Piers that he starts each day at church, praying for fifteen or twenty minutes. This helps him to focus his day, express his gratitude to God and be a better example to those around him. “All I can do is make sure that I'm doing the right thing in my own personal life and that I'm being as good a husband and father that I can,” he concludes. “Those are the important things.” 

Read the full article in the next issue of Sorted magazine.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Big Brother meets the East Africa food crisis

Guest blog with Tearfund's integral mission director and Sorted columnist, David Westlake.

My assistant tends to throw books at my head. Not literally. Once in a while shell put a book in front of me - still warm from her speed read, utter the words just read this, and swoosh back to her desk.

The Hunger Games was one of those books.

Set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future of what was North America, the country of Panem has risen from the ashes. But districts around its Capitol are starving and dying. Children are forced to skip school to find food and become heads of families when their parents are too sick to care for them. To prevent another uprising, the Capitol holds an annual event where they choose a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district and force them to fight to the death for prizes of food as the whole country watches.

These characters are absolutely defined by their hunger; the relationships between characters; the heroines motivation for volunteering for the games; and her need to survive in the arena - all defined by food.

So Im trying to figure out what it is about this book that makes it so engaging, so believable. And then I get it.

The Hunger Games tells a story of a future that doesnt exist... yet.  But themes of hunger, violence and poverty do exist, right now, in countries all over the world.

One in seven people go to bed hungry every single night. Thats a billion individuals made in the image of God. The rising costs of food, changes in climate, corrupt governments and many other factors mean that we see hunger crises in some of the poorest communities in the world time and time again.

In The Hunger Games, the Capitol is disconnected from this, many unaware of or indifferent to the plight of the districts throughout the rest of the country. For them, everyday life remains untainted by hunger and wanting. It consumes far beyond what is necessary while those outside its walls fight for their lives.

It begs the question: if The Hunger Games was real, who would ‘the Capitol’ represent?

The book reminds us that we cannot be indifferent towards the injustices that cause hunger, and now that it is eating into the cultural zeitgeist for all to see, it cannot be ignored.

So what do we do about it? What does this mean for us as Christians? How can we still care for the last, the least and the lost when the situation seems so overwhelmingly impossible?

We start in prayer to our God of unending possibility; praying that God would provide and asking him to give our governments and leaders the wisdom and power to make the changes that will give a billion people on our planet a future and a hope, released from the shackles of hunger. It’s also important to pray for the work of organisations such as Tearfund that they would be effective in helping people lift themselves out of poverty. And finally, we should pray that God would change us, to help us see the world the way He wants us to, and to seek out justice and change.

The Church needs to lead the way in a social revolution that sees people make lifestyle changes in a world of increasing population and finite resources, ensuring that all who are made in the image of God are treated equally.

Read the book, watch the film (just launched in cinemas), and get engaged in the brilliantly told story. But let’s not dismiss The Hunger Games as a fictional would-be future. Let’s remember how very real this situation is for so many, and let’s pray, reflect and act to end the real hunger ‘games’ in our world.

Click here to find out more about Tearfund's hunger games campaign.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Can prayer really help Muamba?

We were all shocked to hear that Bolton player Fabrice Muamba had collapsed on the pitch during the club’s FA Cup quarter-final match against Spurs on Saturday.

The 23-year-old suffered a heart attack and has been in intensive care ever since.

Although it’s incredibly sad that this has happened, it’s been really moving to see how his fiancée, family, friends, fans and fellow footballers have responded. Many appealed for fans to pray for the footballer as he fights for his life and it's great to hear he is showing signs of improvement.

Fiancée Shauna Magunda’s tweets read: "Fabrice WILL!! Pull through because God is good. Love u so much @fmuamba keep strong we're praying for u honey xx”; "God is in control. Please keep @fmuamba in ur prayers xx”; and "Please keep praying for @fmuamba its really helping I can feel it xx".

Manager Owen Coyle said: "Everybody is praying for Fabrice, which is very important, and that has been a real source of strength to the family”, while Chelsea defender Gary Cahill lifted up his jersey to reveal a vest urging fans to "Pray 4 Muamba" after scoring against Leicester on Sunday.

Even the tabloids looked towards the heavens on Muamba’s behalf. Headlines from the Sun and the Daily Star read: "God is in Control" and “In God's Hands", respectively.

But does prayer really work? Isn’t it just a bit of superstition that people cling to when something bad happens?

Well the Bible cites plenty of examples of effective prayer for healing:
  • “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you (2 Kings 20:5)
  • Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up (Acts 9:40)
  • His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him (Acts 28:8)
  • Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up (James 5:13-15)

You may not be a Bible believer, but for those that are, the evidence is fairly conclusive: prayer works and we should be committed to praying for the sick and injured.

But you don’t have to be a Bible believer to do it. The best case scenario is that the person you pray for gets healed; the worst is that you ‘waste’ a few minutes.

Even if the prayer doesn’t seem to have been answered, spending time praying with others can help to bring friends and family members into unity, help to give them strength and enable them to keep things in perspective.

Maybe you still think prayer is a complete waste of time – feel free to let me know in the comments below.

Or perhaps you’ve experienced an answer to prayer – either in terms of healing or otherwise – that you’d like to share. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

In the meantime, I’ll keep praying that Muamba makes a complete recovery and is able to give the glory for his complete healing to the God that made him.

Read more from Joy in the next issue of Sorted magazine – coming soon!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Miracles happen when God is in the driving seat

I took ownership of my first ever car last weekend. Seeing as I’m 29, it was about time really. So what did I go for? A flashy Audi TT? A rule the road Beemer? Nope. It’s a 1995 Corsa covered in scrapes and bumps, with more than a dusting of rust around the doors.

But it’s still a miracle car as far as I’m concerned. A couple of weeks ago I started praying for a car – I felt I needed it to get around and also to make me feel like a proper grownup! My prayer warrior mum also got on the case and approached the throne room on my behalf.

Then lo and behold, my granny rings my mum to say she has decided to stop driving and would like to give me her car. I hadn’t even started praying in earnest! I had, however, told several people I was “standing in faith” for some wheels. Even my mustard-seed-sized faith was rewarded by my utterly gracious and generous God.

And that’s not the only miracle. A few weeks back my granny went missing. She’d driven to see someone, got lost and become very confused. In the end, my aunty – who was frantic by this time – rang the police, who tracked her down and brought her home.

She couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, but we’d all been pretty worried. We (once again) urged her to stop driving, but she was having none of it. Living in rural Wales, she needs a car to get her shopping, visit people in hospital, and do the many other beneficent things she does.

I could sympathise with this; being without a car can make life more difficult. Prior to getting the Corsa I cycled or walked pretty much everywhere, but at 95 that’s not really an option. The fact of the matter is, though, that her driving has never been very good and has deteriorated further as her eyesight, hearing and general skills of perception have worsened.

I honestly don’t know how she managed to avoid injuring herself or other road users/pedestrians, but judging by the state of the car, she’s had her fair share of minor accidents. And the confusion she is started experiencing more and more frequently was an added cause for concern.

My mum and aunties started praying she would come to the realisation that her driving days were over. She’s a strong, independent woman and we knew she wouldn’t give up her car without a fight.

So when my mum got the call, it was a double cause for celebration. I never thought she’d stop driving, and I didn’t have the money to buy a car. But God’s thinking doesn’t work the same way ours: there are no limits or insurmountable circumstances for our God.

I’ve learnt a few lessons from this car scenario. First, prayer really works. I knew that anyway, but this has been a great reminder. Second, rather than struggling and worrying through life, it’s better to start off with prayer – God is a lot smarter than me. Third, I really need to work on my parking. I’m pretty sure everyone in my street is also praying about that!

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

Friday, 9 March 2012

Taking a break from Facebook

I recently decided to have a break from Facebook. It was distracting me from work and from the real, face-to-face relationships I have.

And although I was delighted for the people involved, the constant stream of engagement announcements and baby photos made me a bit depressed about my own marriageless, childless life.

But five days on, the lack of Facebook is taking its toll. I feel as though I’m out of the loop – what breaking news might I have missed in my absence? And worse still, what if my friends forget about me now my incredibly witty status updates are gone?

In deactivating my account, it almost felt like I was deleting myself. There were no more likes or comments on my posts and photos; no more invitations to events I was never going to go to. I no longer appear in people’s friends lists or turn up in search results for the thousands of people that are desperate to track me down. It’s like I no longer exist.

And I must admit I’ve really missed it. I like it when people post nice things on my wall or add me as a friend. I like the likes I get when I’ve posted a particularly profound pearl of wisdom. It all gives me a nice, warm fuzzy feeling. But is this normal?

Well, interviewing comedian Tony Vino this week reassured me that this need for approbation isn’t uncommon. He told me how comedians often lap up the laughs as a way of making themselves feel appreciated.

He said: “It still seems bizarre to me that a group of people spend half their lives travelling around the country seeking public affirmation from a group of strangers. I’m sure psychologists would have a lot to say about why we go to such lengths to please people. This is where I need to be vigilant that I don’t get into the trap of basing my worth on the acceptance of other people.”

So where should we be basing our worth if it’s not on other people’s perceptions of us? On our work? How many cars we have? How well our kids are doing at school? Tony believes our self-esteem should actually come from the one who created us, and I have to agree.

He explained: “My constant prayer is that my identity is in God. Laughter and good vibes audience are lovely, but if I rely on that to feel good I become a performing junkie, constantly needing the next high (not to be confused with a performing monkey; they’re happy with a banana and friendly scratch!).

“I rest in God knowing that my worth isn’t dictated by the audience or career. Sure, if I have a bad gig I can feel lousy, but I see it in perspective. If I have an awesome gig I thank God for the connection made with the audience and the gift of life.”

I don’t know where that leaves me in my Facebook dilemma. Should I make my temporary absence a permanent one and only commune with God from now on? I’m not sure my friends and family would be keen if I suddenly ostracised myself from the world (or maybe they would?!). I think the key is to find a balance; to enjoy the benefits of social networking without relying on it to massage my ego.

And I’ve also decided to spend more time with real people rather than just stalking them in cyberspace. When I look back on my life I’ll remember going for a nice meal with friends, but I won’t remember who ‘liked’ my status. I’ll have fond memories of holidays and baby showers, but I won’t recall someone from school who I never really got on with adding me as their 7,000th friend.

Most importantly, I’ll spend time finding out who I am in God’s eyes and to work on doing what he likes rather than soliciting approval from my Facebook ‘friends’.

Read the full (and extremely funny) interview with Tony Vino in the upcoming issue of Sorted magazine.