The selfless courage of Andy Peat

In a unique ceremony Warrant Officer Andy Peat, a British soldier, was recently awarded the Anders Lassen Award by Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark. The Award recognised Andy’s extraordinary courage while serving alongside Danish colleagues in Afghanistan. It is the first time any solider outside the Danish military has received the honour. Andy is a credit to the British Army and the brave men who are serving alongside him in Afghanistan.

In January 2013 Andy, of 33 EOD Regiment, was supporting a Danish task force patrol. In the early hours of the morning they entered a compound in the Upper Gereshk Valley which was being used for the manufacture of improvised explosive devices. As the team moved into the compound an IED was triggered on the roof, severely injuring Oversergeant Rene Brink Jakobsen. At the time of the explosion Andy was only five metres away. He immediately went to provide medical assistance to Rene. However, there was the threat of more IEDs close by, one of which lay underneath Rene. Andy painstakingly searched under Rene cutting two wires to disarm the IED. As Rene was being stretchered off the roof Andy lay across the path of another IED using himself and his body armour as a shield to protect the stretcher party. Andy’s selfless actions saved several lives that night but, sadly, Rene, aged 39, died of his wounds, leaving behind a wife and three children.

At the Award Ceremony Andy and his wife, Candice, and their 3 year old daughter, Sophie, met Rene’s wife, Camilla, and her children, Sara, Maia and Thor. Andy donated the £3000 awarded to him to Rene and her family. He spoke with striking modesty about his surprise at receiving the award, “To be honest it’s just about doing your job and thinking about what you’ve got in front of you and trying your best to get out of that predicament as quickly as possible. If you take any IED operator and put him in front of the same predicament, all the guys would have done exactly the same thing.”

Andy’s actions remind me of another young man, Jesus of Nazareth, who told his disciples, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” By laying down his life on the Cross Jesus secured forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life for people from all nations who trust in him.

Reflections on the River Amazon

I have been in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas. At Manaus two great branches of the Amazon River meet – the Solimões and the Negro. It is one of the great sights of the natural world. The water of the Solimões is light brown and the water of the Negro is black. As the 2 great rivers converge the waters do not immediately mix, but flow together side by side for many miles. The massive scale of the Amazon River is difficult to appreciate until you actually see it. One fifth of all the fresh water which flows into the oceans of the world comes from the Amazon. When the Amazon flows into the sea it takes 70 to 80 miles before the fresh water is fully mixed with the salt water.

The book of Ecclesiastes explores the meaning of life when lived without God. The author wrote, “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. To the place the streams come from, there they return again.” The water cycle of rain and evaporation means that rivers continually flow and yet the sea does not overflow. Many generations of people have lived by the Amazon River, travelled on it and fished in it. They are now no more, but still the river flows. What does this say to us about the meaning of our lives?

In the Bible rivers are a symbol of God’s blessing. There was a river in the Garden of Eden. In his vision of heaven, in the book of Revelation, John says, “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.”

Water is also a symbol of spiritual refreshment and heavenly blessing. In Psalm 23 David says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” In Revelation 7 John says, “For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” So the beauty of rivers like the majestic Amazon points us to the deep and lasting fulfilment we can find in God himself, who created us to know him.

Give me neither poverty nor riches

A project in Staffordshire which gave foodbank vouchers to some shoplifters has been suspended after the police and crime commissioner intervened. The commissioner ordered a review and said it was “absolutely not acceptable” for it to appear criminals were being rewarded for stealing. During the 5 months the project has been running just 7 vouchers have been given to people who had been caught shoplifting. The vouchers entitled the people to receive an emergency supply food from a local foodbank. A recent report said that one in five British households is now borrowing money to buy their weekly food.

The first food bank was established in a garden shed and garage in Salisbury in 2000. There are now more than 300 foodbanks nationwide run by churches and communities. In 2011/12 they gave emergency food to over 128,000 people. The Trussell Trust, which coordinates the foodbank project, is concerned that people in crisis should not go hungry. They prioritise families with children under the age of 16 and people over 65.

The film Les Misérables tells the moving story of Jean Valijean who was sent to prison in 19th century France for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. When he was released on parole his life was changed when a Bishop offered him food and shelter and graciously intervened to stop him being sent back to prison again. Because of the Bishop’s kindness Jean was a transformed man. He tried to find freedom and a new life, but spent the rest of his days in constant fear of being discovered, all because he stole a loaf of bread to feed his wife and children.

In the book of Proverbs Agur prays, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.” Agur was a wise man who knew that poverty may bring great pressure on us so that we do things we know to be wrong. But he knew also that riches are a greater danger. Jesus said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Kindness and compassion can transform lives in a way that self-righteous condemnation never does.

Maureen Greaves prays for her husband’s killers

The murder of Alan Greaves in Sheffield on Christmas Eve 2012 was described by his parish priest as “senseless and evil.” Alan was a retired social worker and an Anglican lay reader. He was on his to play the organ at the late night Eucharist service at St Saviour’s Church when he was attacked by two young men. They used a pick-axe to inflict catastrophic head injuries on Alan. His wife, Maureen, a Christian outreach worker, spent Christmas praying by his bedside, where he was on a life support machine. He died 3 days after the attack. At a service of remembrance for Alan Maureen said, “I have not stopped crying for him and I know you have not stopped either. I have wept over the evil that has been done.” Soon after the attack his killers were seen laughing in a nearby park.

Following the trial of the men who killed Alan, at which both were found guilty, Maureen spoke outside the court. She said, “Alan was a man driven by love and compassion and he would not want any of us to hold on to feelings of hate and unforgiveness. So, in honour of Alan, and in honour of the God we both love, my prayer is that this story doesn’t end today. My prayer is that Jonathan and Ashley will come to understand and experience the love and kindness of the God, who made them in his own image, and that God’s great mercy will inspire them to true repentance.”

Maureen’s prayers for the men who killed her husband are a great testimony to the transforming power of God’s grace. She did not minimise the seriousness of what they had done or say that they did not deserve to be punished. But, she knows that justice and punishment are not the whole story because, in Jesus, it is possible for us all to find forgiveness for our sins, however great they may be. On the Cross Jesus died in order to satisfy the righteous demands of God’s justice against our sins. He did this so that through him we might experience forgiveness and find peace with God.

Many hymn writers have focused on the Cross of Jesus. Paul Gerhardt wrote, “Thy grief and bitter passion were all for sinners’ gain: Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain. Lo! Here I fall my Saviour: ‘Tis I deserve thy place; Look on me with thy favour, vouchsafe to me thy grace.”