The Alpha Course: Asking The Hard Questions On Christianity

First of all, what is Alpha? let alone Alpha Course. Simple. Alpha in Latin is ‘the beginning’ or ‘first’. Remember the chorus that goes something like this: “God can do anything, anything, anything. God can do anything but fail. He’s the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He’s the fairest of ten thousand to my soul. God can do anything, anything, anything. God can do anything but fail”.

Alpha Course Supper notice.
Alpha Course Supper notice.

I accepted an invitation to go to the Alpha Course introduction night and supper which essentially was a Christian get-together with food, fellowship and music.  The supper was held at the Holy Trinity Swiss Cottage. Swiss Cottage is a town within Borough of Finchley. Inorder to get there, I took the Jubilee Line from Green Park to Finchley Road station. The Church is directly opposite the station. I was glad I went along for the novelty of it and with an open mind. Upon entering the hall I felt at ease and the atmosphere was friendly and warm. After a couple of introductions we headed for the dinner table.

Dinner being served....
Dinner being served....

It was a hearty meal and I tucked into it straightaway with two other Alpha Course enthusiasts.

Dinner and fellowship...what more can one ask for.
Dinner and fellowship...what more can one ask for.

The atmosphere was informal and everyone seemed really friendly. There were people of many cultures, ehtnic groups and ages and many among them were Christians. I was happy and comfortable to be among other Christian believers who are not members of my own Church – the Queensbury Methodist Church.

I was more curious than ever as to what sort of party this was going to be as the band belted out  Brazillian jazz numbers  – in a church? No I did not really know what to make of it. I decided to go with the flow. I have heard of Alpha courses taking place in various churches throughout London but have never attended one myself. I understand that there are about 10 million people worldwide following and participating in these courses. That’s a lot of people exploring the ‘meaning of life’.

The band - Brazillian jazz and other jazz classics filled the air...
The band - Brazillian jazz and other jazz classics filled the air...

Anyway, as the evening wore on I was confident that I will find out what the Alpha Course is all about. After dinner the Minister of the Church addressed the gathering. It was the most exhilarating feeling.

TheChurch Minister addressing the gathering...
The Church Minister addressing the gathering...

He introduced himself, the Course and what it is going to be about and outlined the sorts of things one can expect from the Course which will run for about nine (9) weeks here at the Holy Trinity Swiss Cottage. This is an Anglican Church.

I realised that this was a course which can help a Christian grow in their faith as one demystifies the story, the life of Christ and of the existence of God.

Outlining the Course and what it is all about.
Outlining the Course and what it is all about.

I think I will be going back for the rest of the course and meet other Christians who are prepared to openly discuss and grow confident in their faith in God Almighty.

I would highly recommend the course to young and senior Christians who are prepared to delve into the subject that can be baffling at the best of times. Exploring Christ’s life and what it means to us as Christians can be a bit daunting and challenging as most of us are taught to accept our religion as it is and not question it. At first I went on the defensive as I thought it was questioning my Christian belief. However, on the contrary the course will help to unravel the truths that I hold dear in my belief in the Christian faith. The more I know about Christ the more it consolidates my belief in Him. The words of this chorus come to mind as I write this, ” Jesus is the Way the only Way, Lovingly He calls us so the Scripture says, Whosoever will let Him come today, The blessed Jesus is the only Way”. Amen.

For practicising Christians, I think that the Alphas course provides an opportunity and a great way to learn more about the Bible, strengthen one’s faith in God and His Word – the Bible and any other doubts about one’s understanding of God and the life of Jesus, and of Christianity.

With a Christian friend as the supper...
With a Christian friend at the supper...

I went back last week and this time we discussed ‘Who Is Jesus’.  Here is the rest of the programme up to the 9th week.

27 Oct #3 What about suffering?  

3 Nov #4 Why did Jesus Die?  

10 Nov #5 How reliable is the Bible?

17 Nov #6 Why and how should I pray?

24 Nov #7 How does God guide us?

1 Dec #8 Does God heal today?

8 Dec #9 What about the church?

It seems to me that as one continues to explore the ‘meaning of life’, the Alpha Course provides a brilliant structure for discussion and discourse and helps us to think through some of the hard questions on Christianity, other religeous beliefs and our own spirituality.


Sunsets: Captivating, Inspiring and Spiritual…

On my street looking west......
On my street looking west......

There’s something about sunsets that I cannot describe. Whether it is the time of the day or the hues, there is something mystical about sunsets.

Bits of blue sky...
Bits of blue sky...

Scientists and meteorologists take a scientific approach in telling us about sunsets, and we all know that the sun sets because that’s the way the world works!

Amazing hues...
Amazing hues...

However, I’ve yet to find out why one feels compelled to take a photo of a sunset, use it as a background or just admire it. Whenever I see a lovely sunset, I remember this hymn, “Abide with me…”. I think there is a spiritual connection with sunsets because of the awesome hues, the time of day and the mood I’m in which is usually pensive and reflective. I don’t know why that is but it is a fact. I took these shots of sunsets in my neighbourhood.

The strip of blue and orange...
The strip of blue and orange...

I got to carrying my camera around because I don’t know what I might capture that makes it my magic moment.  Most people think that the best sunsets are found in the tropics. I too believed that until now.

Here I am in England and I realised that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, there is always a sunset that will grab your attention and hold it for as long as you want to stand around or sit and watch it.

Coming from an idyllic island in Papua New Guinea, sunsets have inspired some of the best romantic and beautiful songs ever written.

As a songwriter myself, sunsets inspire me so much and are a major ingredient in my nostalgic and romantic songs. Two of the songs I’ve written that have been inspired by sunsets and I can remember straightaway are: “Sunsets on Sundays” and “Bonabonarua Miadi” (Island Life). Whenever I watch a sunset I feel my spirit comforted, soothed and inspired.

The evening lights come on as the sun sets...
The evening lights come on as the sun sets...

I was at PC World store, Staples Corner recently, and on the way out this was what confronted my eyes – a stunning sunset.

Absolutely captivating!
Absolutely captivating!

There were no islands in sight or swaying coconut trees or the sea. But the affect was the same. I forgot that this sunset was over the busy Edgware Road or that there were buildings everywhere. It was absolutely captivating.

I kept on snapping...
I kept on snapping...

I was so glad I took to wearing my camera around my neck because I never know what interesting event or person etc I could see or find that is worth capturing on my camera. Or make a significant impact on my day.  I stood infront of the store just simply mesmerised by the bright orange and blue grey hues.

The spirally dark blue clouds above the bright orange hues...
The spirally dark blue clouds above the bright orange hues...

As I was standing there rooted to the spot and camera snapping away, other customers also stopped and started taking photos of the sunset. I asked one couple why they were taking a photo of the sunset and they said they were simply captivated.

Stunning combination of colours
Stunning combination of colours

I agree. We were simply captivated. Imagine a few minutes before this awesome sight we were strangers and now in the dusk and fading light, we were united in our admiration of this English sunset as if we had known eachother for ages or neighbours.

Orange greys and a dark foreground...
Orange greys and a dark foreground...

The emotions we felt about the changing colours of the sunset kind of united us with one sentiment – to admire one of natures wonders – a sunset!

Tints of yellow appeared...
Tints of yellow appeared...

I was just standing there unable to move. After taking a few shots I decided to watch as the sun sets.

The couple moved off and other customers coming out of the store also stopped to watch the orange blue grey colours in the distant. What a sight! Honestly, the sunset was just incredible.

As I drove away from the store my mind was still on the sunset. I wanted to watch it until there were not more amazing colours. However, it was getting dark fast and dinner needs to be cooked. Now that brought me back to earth so to speak.  Anway, a few minutes along the parking lot, I jumped out of my car and took some more shots of the dying sunset.

Bright colours fade.., from this part of the parking lot.
Bright colours fade.., from this part of the parking lot.

I was not the only one in the parking lot.  There was a fella there who drove especially to Staples Corner to take shots of the sunset. We exchanged our impressions of the sunset – again perfect strangers. I didn’t ask him about his camera…as he was already clicking away. I also thought better of making conversation. Perhaps he too was taking comfort from this georgeous sunset.

One of his comments that resonated with me was that if we were taking photos of the sunset, we’ve got to be fast as changes in hues happened every second.

Yes, I agreed and looked back towards the direction where I’d just come from. The the flaming orange was still there but within seconds it was gone…

The combination of colours was still there...as I drove off...
The combination of colours was still there...as I drove off...

Try watching a sunset, I bet you you will feel a whole mixture of emotions. Remember there is always a sunset in every land – inspiring and spiritual whichever way you look at it – guaranteed!

Folkestone: England’s Sleeping Economic Giant?

The view from my room at the Clifton Hotel - what a sight to behold...
The view from my room, Clifton Hotel - overlooking the English Channel

In the UK every city, town and place is steeped in history. I learn so much just by spending the weekend away from home in a small city or a hotel in different parts of the UK.

The historic Clifton Hotel
The Best Western Clifton Hotel

Information is not readily available on most small places unless you dedicate time to find it and that can be time-consuming. What I do is just plan to visit a city large or small and make my own discoveries. So I get into my car armed with a couple of post codes and high spirits.  The best approach to enjoying a place is to be flexible and have loads of positive expectations.

Sometimes I know what I want to see and just drive there but on the way I notice places that a worth a visit and so I make plans to visit. That is the only way to discover another country and exactly what I did during the August Bank Holiday weekend. I went to Folkestone on the southeast corner of England. It took about 2 hours to get there – it was an enjoyable trip once I got out of the labyrinth of London.

A view of the Clifton Hotel from the esplanade.
A view of the Clifton Hotel from the esplanade.

I stayed at the Best Western Clifton Hotel which has been in existence since 1864. A traditional Victorian hotel. Nothing seemed to have changed. It has high ceilings and spacious rooms or at least the room I stayed in.  I was allocated a really nice spacious room with spectacular views of the English Channel. It was so peaceful, warm and inviting. Folkestone appealed to me big time.

A view of the Clifton Hotel from the parking lot
A view of the Clifton Hotel from the parking lot

I could feel there was a buzz in that city. Streets were clean and quiet. We drove through the famous Leas – just beautiful.  We drove by what I could say was the longest  cemetary I’ve ever seen. the city was a tidy little place, come to think of it.

That night at dinner I met a couple who also said they felt the buzz driving to the Hotel too. But why? I could only put it down to the fact that this city is set to grow with its close proximity to the Ashford international train terminal and the last stop in the UK for Eurostar before passing through the Channel Tunnel to the Continent and the first stop on its return to the UK (St Pancreas).

Folkestone’s history as a seaside port dates back to pre-Roman days. It’s economy seems to wax and wane with the changing fortunes of the Continent and of Kent since the thirteenth century. It was once a fishing village. In the fictional film the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’, Sir Edward Blakely was in and out of Folkestone helping French royalty escape the French Revolution. During WWI Folkestone became a refuge for fleeing Belgian refugees from the war. It was also an economic and cultural centre and up until recently it faded off the face of the economic map for southeast England. But its luck may be changing.

Nice sandy beach...
Nice sandy beach...

It is said that about 10 years ago Folkestone was an economic and cultural ‘no man’s land’. Now it is a designated ‘regeneration’ project area and a number of significant developments are taking place. That was it! That was the reason why I felt such a buzz about the town.

Developments along the coast...
Developments along the coast...

There are quite a few eating places around town and the Clifton Hotel attracts alot of the locals in its restaurant at breakfast and dinner time. It has a bar which I did not allow myself the opportunity to visit – but there’s always a second visit. I think that the future of Folkestone is bright and progressive.

An expanding port area...?
An expanding port area...?

I can’t help thinking that the introduction of a ‘bullet train’ between London and Paris will renew old economic and cultural ties between the Continent and England for the better.

Besides, with the completion of regeneration of the city in future, Folkestone’s prosperity is assured.

On my way to the Folkestone Methodist Church on the Sunday morning I walked along the esplanade and the views of the English Channel were just simply beautiful. I felt so grateful and privileged to have made it to Folkestone. Up until the August Bank Holiday weekend, I have never paid attention to Folkestone even though I’ve made several trips across the Channel to Lille, Brussels and Paris. What a change to be able to stop at one of the two frontline seaside cities to the Continent – Dover is the other seaside city.

Some of the views along the esplanade.
Some of the views along the esplanade.

In the evening on my walk back to the Hotel, I called into the cafe not far from the hotel. I was surprised to find that they only served patrons of the theatre below. Wow! that was the biggest surprise. Not only can you enjoy a walk along the esplanade with georgeous views of the English Channel and the Folkestone coastline but you can take in a stage play. I had not planned to see a play that evening and the ticket booths had closed so I headed back to the hotel.

The cafe above the stage theatre below...clever.
The cafe above the stage theatre below...clever.

Anyway, I know that I will try to see a play here next time I visit Folkestone. It will have to be about the same time – August Bank Holiday weekend. I’ll have the time and hopefully nice Summer weather.

I wondered what it would be like to live here. There were so many properties up for sale. Wondered where the residents are heading to? Aaah, the tentacles of the credit crunch are not leaving any stone unturned.

Leaving on the Monday morning, I also wondered whether Folkestone is England’s sleeping economic giant.  I reckon, that rests on how much tourism it can attract from the Continent as well as from within the UK itself and how much of the regeneration scheme is going to be a catalyst for economic and social development. For me, I have added Folkestone to my growing list of must-visit holiday destinations.

Writers’ Block! A Blogger’s Nightmare, But…

I have been struggling to write something these past 48 hours but nothing doing! I don’t know why. It feels like starting with so many headlines and topics! But as soon as I commit pen to paper whatever I wanted to write about just fizzles out. So I got to thinking! I need to be a bit more creative. Sometimes the best posts come by when you are least expecting the sort of stuff you end up writing about and publishing. I reckon the best approach is to start writing, whatever comes to mind. Perhaps look through your collection of photos – remember there’s a story behind every photo! Dig deep into stuff you’ve done, places you’ve visited, events you’ve atttended, food etc.  So hey, I am going to practice what I preach. This post is about the arrangement of mugs I saw at a Garfunkels restaurant recently. This experience helped me overcome my momentary writers’ block.

The light through the gaps in this mug arrangement is amazing!
The light through the gaps in this mug arrangement. Amazing!

I was most impressed by the many displays of mug arrangements around the restaurant. I have been to many restaurants but none as keen on in-house advertising as this Garfunkels restaurant in Central London. I have never seen anything like it! It seems to me by these mug displays that Garfunkels is not taking its business for granted nor its customers.

This creative line-up was my idea...hmm...different...
This creative line-up was my idea...hmm...different...

I also think that the mug displays do not only serve as Garfunkels advertising but also serves souvenir seekers with discerning tastes in food, service and ambience. Yes, the creative mug arrangements and displays add to the ambience of the place. Well, I left the restaurant not only satisfied with the fare, service and cost but also the ambience.

A beautiful castle of mugs...
A beautiful castle of mugs...

I heard somewhere that often times the customer pays for the ambience more than the food, service etc. In the case of Garfunkels, the one I went to on this particular evening, it had it all!

The great friendly service, the great food enjoyed – most delicious, the cost, the ambience and of course the amazing mug arrangements that were pleasing to the eye, were a great ending to a wonderful Sunday with my family.

What more can a woman ask for? Quite right! what more could I have asked for.

Driving home that night, I looked back on the day and decided that having dinner at Garfunkels that night was a great decision. A fantabulous time was had by all.

Close up of the line up...garrrreat!
Close up of the line up...garrrreat!

Half Moon Blue: An Invitation To An Island In The Sun

Footprints on a sandy shore...
Footprints on a sandy shore...

I just couldn’t browse past this without stopping. I was just checking other blog posts when I came across this ‘invitation’ or at least that is how I intepreted this beautiful advertisement. I have never been to the islands of Trinidad and Tobago but have quite a few friends from that country. It is also a member of the Commonwealth. The only island in the Caribbean I’ve been to is Barbados.

Now where is the hammock when I need it...
Now where is the hammock when I need it...Photo courtesy of Glow Images

I also realise that the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) is going to be held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. So this published post on Half Moon Blue couldn’t have come at a better time.

When I think of Trinidad and Tobago, I think of white sandy beaches, swaying coconut palms, pina colada, steel bands, pan music, rum, carnival etc etc. I also think of Trinidad and Tobago as the French Polynesia of the Caribbean.

Visit this blog: http://halfmoonblue2008.wordpress.com

16th September, 2009: A Day With A Difference

Dawn on 16th September, 2009 - from my window
Dawn on 16th September, 2009 - from my window

I woke up on Wednesday, 16th September and as I drew the curtains, this was the sight I beheld that morning. As the rising sun gradually chased away the night clouds, it was anybody’s guess what kind of a day was going to mark PNG’s 34th Independence Day.

What sort of day is today going to be...I wondered
What sort of day is today going to be...I wondered

I recalled when growing up that if the previous day ended with grey clouds the following day would be a great sunny day. Well, when I watched the dawn slowly break over Middlesex I kept on wishing that it was going to be a great sunny and dry day. I could not remember what the sunset was like the previous day!

Beyond the horizon the sun rises....16th September!
Beyond the horizon the sun rises....16th September!

As the sun sluggishly rose behind the leftover night clouds,  I began to feel an adrenalin rush. Today was a big day for all PNG wantoks who have been invited to the Independence Day celebrations that evening to be followed by the first ever contemporary PNG art exhibition. I really was looking forward to an Independence Day celebration with a big difference – to witness history being made. Wow, tarangu PNG yet ya!

Watching the sun rise for the very first time was an interesting experience...
Watching the sun rise for the very first time was an interesting experience...

Funny how every so often I stopped to think about nature and how God’s hand is in everything that’s around us. I wondered if the day was going to be different but more importantly whether the difference was more about my own thoughts about the day than the rising sun outside or anything else for that matter. I decided that I’d allow my thoughts to shape how I was going to celebrate the day. How many of us take a day for granted everyday? – just plowing through the day without thinking about it’s significance for that moment in our lives. I know, I am one of those people.

The excitement of 16th September and the fact that in a few weeks after the Independence Day I would be clearing 5 full years on my job contract was significant. My thoughts turned to that momentarily. But I decided I’d remain focused on the celebration of 16th September.

So peaceful and tranquil...not a car in sight!
So peaceful and tranquil...not a car in sight!

Meanwhile the rising sun, although not as spectacular as some of the ones I’ve witnessed growing up in Milne Bay and later on in Port Moresby, created a brief suspended moment so peaceful, it was hard to describe. All I could think about at that moment was how great our God is. He is Omnipotent.

I wondered whether the sunrise, the fact that I’m noticing if for the very first time, was a direct correlation to the significance of 16th September. The lyrics of the beautiful Hetei Dickson classic came to mind, “…16th of September, a day to remember, as brothers united we stand.” Oops, perhaps I can sneak in “…as wantoks united we stand” – just so gender-sensitve people don’t get hot around their collars.  Anyway, as far as I was concerned 16th September was  going to be my bestest day.

Yes, "...16th of September, a day to remember..."
Yes, "...16th of September, a day to remember..."

The curtains now fully drawn, and with the sun’s rays streaming through the double-glazed glass windows, I allowed my adrenalin rush to take over as I charged the battery to my Nikon D80 and looked forward to the photographs I would be taking at the Independence Day reception.  I was definitely taking photos! As I buzzed around getting ready for my daily commute to the office, I hummed the timeless Hetei Dickson classic and felt extra special. I was the only PNG person – yes, mi wan pis tasol long wok ples so why not. Feeling special for a special day was free.

"Let the flag of our nation fly high..."
"Let the flag of our nation fly high..."

Additional excitement…this was the day when the PNG flag will be flying high over my office building. This is a tradition of the organization, don’t know when it started, but whenever it was a national day for one of the Commonwealth member countries, that member country’s flag will be flying over the building on the designated day. Today was PNG’s and how fortunate, privileged and proud I felt as I anticipated seeing the PNG flag atop the building today. I felt blessed and excited as the day unfolded. The flags are always fresh and crisp and what pride one feels when one sees one’s country’s flag flying high over London. Perhaps not so high as my office building is only 3 storeys high. But it was better than nothing.

I looked up expectantly and there it was! What a proud moment as I sailed into the courtyard.
I looked up expectantly and there it was! What a proud moment as I sailed into the courtyard.

Back home as I took off for the train station my thoughts turned to the “Hailans to Ailans” historic international exhibition of contemporary PNG art which was to be officially opened by PNG’s High Commissioner to the UK and Northern Ireland and, I was going to meet five iconic PNG artists. I wanted the day to be the best for all of us – the PNG wantoks and me. I wondered too who I was going to meet at the reception and whether the wantoks I know were going to be there…

Well, the day ended, a dry sunny day not a rainy and windy one.  I recalled the grey dawn and sunrise over Middlesex at the beginning of that day and wondered whether there was a great sunset on 15th September and therefore a good omen for our 34th Independence celebration on 16th September. I’m not sure whether the traditional anecdotes from my Suau-speaking tribe handed down through generations of mothers and aunties is  worth keeping in my bank of traditional knowledge of unwritten facts of life.  Could I hang on to it? That a grey end of the previous day heralds in a bright sunny day in the next? As the celebration ended and I headed home, I smiled and grinned like a Cheshire cat as I reflected in silence – yes, without a doubt,  it was a great 16th September, a day with a huge difference. How many wantoks felt the way I did that evening…one of these days I’m sure to find out.

Infront of one of Martin Morububuna's cubic shape masterpieces
Infront of one of Martin Morububuna's masterpieces

Question Answered: Order Of St Francis Of Assisi Includes Women!

I attended Church service at the Hendon Methodist Church with family on Sunday morning, 4th October.  I enjoyed the sermon because I learnt something new.

My family and I outside the HMC after the service.
My family and I outside the HMC after the service.

What was that? St Francis of Assisi whose life so inspired the creation of the Order of St Francis or Franciscans.  He was born in 1182 and died at the age of 44 on 3rd October, 1226. He preached to birds and turned his back on great wealth to be able to witness for Christ and Christianity. I am sure that there are many stories of his life which I’ll never know unless I devote myself to reading books about him or become a Catholic.

The interior of the HMC
The interior of the HMC

Although I don’t think that would be necessary. Apart from the brief and simple description above, he may have done a million things which are probably not recorded but great ideas emerged from some of these characteristics have become very much a part of the life of a latter day Christian.

Beautiful stained glass window
Beautiful stained glass window

I did a quick Google search and found something really interesting. The Order of Franciscan Sisters. I found the blog called “Franciscan Footprints: Sisters in the Making”. The blog is by Sister Veronica, a Novice with the ” Third Order of  St Francis dedicated to healthcare apostolate”.  She says being a Novice is “the second step in the process of becoming a Roman Catholic Sister”. Wow! I thought Franciscans were made up of just men! Well, as they say, you live and learn.

Her post for 3rd October read, “This evening we attended a Transitus Service celebrating the death of our Holy Father Saint Francis. It was a time to reflect both on his life and his death culminating in the veneration of a relic of St. Francis by Monsignor Oberch (our Chaplain), and all of us Sisters. What a rich heritage we have, both as Franciscans & in our community. God is SO good to us!”.  Read more at:  http://blog.franciscansisterspeoria.org

Women are amongst his followers. His prayer captures my spirit...
Women are amongst his followers. His prayer captures my spirit. Image courtesy of http://prayerguide.org.uk/stfrancis

I am still learning about great iconic characters in history who have shaped our modern understanding and imterpretation of Christianity. So I felt inspired to learn something that will help me remember this character. This is probably a great way to learn about great witnesses for Christ in the history of humanity – remember something unique about the person. For St Francis of Assisi –  for me, it would have to be is his prayer.

I am so pleased that the Order of St Francis is not exclusively for men. I now know that women are part of this Order.

I am really grateful for Sister Veronica’s  blog and her continuing contribution towards demystifying some of the practices of Catholicism.


Prayer of St Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.