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July 2018


Stocki Last Day

I have experienced the hand of God, a Godless financial scandal, bombs, terrorists, plane crashes and potential Ebola. I have driven the roads of Uganda’s former killing fields, escaping the violent LRA by that sleight hand of God. I have then crossed borders to other killing fields, the recent history of Rwanda, as well as the current atrocities in Burundi, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have heard the celebrations as an Irish President visited a poor Ugandan village, have traveled in a seventeen vehicle convoy with the President of Burundi and even been part of a visit by that President to Northern Ireland. 

In all of this drama, almost too much for one Hollywood blockbuster I have peered into the life of a very ordinary humble man from County Wicklow as he tumbled and stumbled the next step in following Jesus. While slaloming all of the above, he set in motion a Christian NGO that has built 120 schools and drilled well over 700 boreholes, touching the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in East Africa.

For six weeks I feel that I have been living in the middle of someone else’s life. Almost every day, I have been reading someone’s story. I do not mean that I am reading a holiday biography, like the Paul Simon one I hope to read next week. I have been writing a memoir. That is a much more intense experience than reading one. 

In January I travelled to Uganda with Trevor Stevenson, the founder of Fields Of Life. We celebrated 25 years of that organisation with a huge party in Mukono. We visited historic sites in Fields of Life as well as some of the current work. As we drove thousands of miles I listened as Trevor shared his story. It was like an unofficial audiobook! 

I then started reading Trevor’s Memoirs. Many of the pages were so familiar, as I had seen that tree or met that person or heard Trevor narrate that humorous or tragic story. My job was to take Trevor’s memoir and, with my knowledge of Fields of Life, shape it into a book that you would want to read. I wanted to take that drama and make it flow, not just for dramatic effect but for something so much deeper.

So, I took six weeks sabbatical in Uganda with my family, to do the writing part. I want the story of how God guided one very willing human to leave his comfort zone, and with a passion for Jesus and compassion for the people of East Africa, help bring God’s Kingdom on earth. I long that it is a resource to discipleship and mission. If anyone is considering spending short or long term time in Africa generally, or East Africa particularly, then I want this book to help orientate to the culture, warn about the pitfalls and inspire to the potential.  

My six weeks are up. What a gift it has been to write in so many fun locations, two different apartments at Shalom in Muyenga, Kampala, The Fitzroy Room at Onialkeu School/Church in Arua, The Hotel Delambiance in Arua, the poolside and the balcony of our room at Serena Resort. I even worked on the text as we travelled on the Arua-Kampala Road.

I feel at the end of this phase. I finished my reshaping last night. Today, two days before our sabbatical is over, I am scanning through the first draft. I suppose it is not technically the first draft as I have been working off Trevor’s draft. I am not sure how he will react to my severe editing, reshaping and in one or two chapters rewriting! I hope that maybe tomorrow I will be sending this draft, first to Trevor, then to a few other Fields of Life folk. We will look at the accuracy of facts and I will seek Trevor to elaborate, go deeper and add a couple of chapters. We will need real professional editors after that!

My hope is that by year’s end you will be reading the story that I have had the privilege of living in. I believe that if we can get it right, it will be a  real resource to many spiritual lives… and a gripping read too!


Water - Onialeku well

Water? Is there anything in the developed world that we take for granted more? Washed hands and face and teeth. That boiled kettle. Cup of tea. Minutes after we waken up. Without even thinking. We are not even aware that the same process for people in East Africa might takes hours, cause them to miss school, lead them to being raped by humans, or eaten by animals. Even when they make it safely home and use the water for drinking, in their cooking, the very water itself can kill! 

Often the water, gathered at polluted often stagnant pools, breeds mosquitoes, which bring malaria. Infectious diarrhoea, dysentery, cholera and malaria. These are some of the top killers in Africa. Deaths that our children never have to even think about because of that clean water coming out of taps all across our houses.

I am currently on sabbatical in Uganda. I am shaping the memoirs of Trevor Stevenson, founder of Fields of Life. Today, I am writing about Fields of Life’s water drilling, a miraculous life saving work. I am inspired by the hundreds and hundreds of bore holes across the poorest areas of East Africa that have given women and children back the hours they carried water, so that they could do more productive things for their families. I am writing about the clean water that makes for healthier children who can attend to school without constant sickness causing absenteeism or high drop out rates.

I am asking myself, and all of you Soul Surmise readers, to stop today and give thanks for that tap… in your bathroom, kitchen… even garden. I am asking that you stop and give thanks for the clean water that flows forth. I am asking that you then think of those less off than yourself and give just a little money every month to change someone’s life.

Apparently Martin Luther asked his congregations to remember their baptism, every time they washed their faces. Remembering the new life we have in Jesus means action. Will African children know we have been baptised by how we love them, our neighbour, with the key to life? At the bottom of this poem you can save lives for just £4 per month! 


Turn on the tap

And wash your face

Remember your baptism

Jesus grace

Fill your glass

Bow and pray

Give thanks 

For blessings every day


No tap to turn

Her broken cup dry

Holding her belly ache

To her brother’s cry

Look in her soul

by her yearning eyes

Is she asking us

Are we baptised


She will walk and walk for miles

And then walk all the miles back

She will carry what she can carry

Until her little back breaks

For miles and miles


If your neighbour had no water

Would you give their children yours

I know you would for sure

So who is your neighbour?

Who is our neighbour?

Who is my neighbour?


Turn on the tap

And wash your face

Remember your baptism

Jesus grace.

for £4 per month... save lives with Fields Of Life... HERE!


Odie at Full Tilt

I loved you

But not anything like you loved me.


I loved you

Beside me in Ballycastle Forest

Those steep steep hills

Across Ballycastle beach

Pirouetting for pebbles, thrown in the sunset

Together at Giants Ring

Where you crossed and wondered why I went all the way round!

You were fast


So sleek

Beautiful in full stride.


You loved me

When I took you for granted

When I scolded you for barking at the neighbours

When I dismissed your very presence

You loved me anyway

There was nothing I could do to stop you loving me

You cared for me

You protected me

You watched for my coming home.


The thing you loved most was loving and being loved

A scratch of the belly

A rub of the ear

A touch on your nose

You were sensitive to my feelings

You were constant in my moods

You were faithful, loyal, unconditional

A near Godly love that humans can never attain.


I loved you

But not anything like you loved me

The thing you loved the most was loving and being loved.

It was the very essence of you.


HE WAS YOUR BOY (For Janice and Odie)

Jani and Odie

Sometimes love lands perfect

Like the day we brought him home

He knew then who would love him most

And he never left your side, alone

He lit up at your voice

On your knee he sighed content

I often glanced at both of you

When I wondered what love meant.


He was your boy

You were his love

He loved loving

And being loved

That love lives on

Now he is gone

That love lives on


So go back down Lagan Meadows

The Dub sniffing' in the snow

Sunset walks on Ballycastle beach

Give a pebble one more throw

Oh he knew every single word

Before you even said it

Love it never needs spoken

And love never needs regretted.

Jani and Odie beach 1


Stocki performing

photo: Michael Fitch

A Fitzroy Short Term Mission Team in Arua, Uganda.

It was last night relaxation. A sing song and some party pieces. I have been doing this as performance poetry since 1991 when i lived in Central Park - not New York but Antrim town! Either me or my mate Richard had this first verse as a dream and the other said, "I bet you she was glad that you fell asleep!"

I have changed it down the years and so the second verse was redone for the World Cup and I've even redone it for this blog. The last verse is a confessional and inspirational sum up of the team's work in Onialeku Primary School! 


I found myself in New York City

I was looking all around

I wanted to get to Central Park

So I took the underground

I heard a woman screaming

I saw a mugger with a knife

I ran across and kicked it from him

Saw him running for his life

I picked her up and wiped the blood

A life to save and keep

I bet that woman was glad last night

That I fell asleep!


I found myself in a Moscow Stadium

There was just a minute to go

I looked across at the referee

He was just about to blow

So I got the ball in the centre circle

And took off at some pace

A quick one two with George Mullen

And I shot, and picked my place

1-0 in injury time

It was Croatia's cup to keep

A bet Luka Modric was glad last night

That I feel asleep.


I found myself in Onialeku

The children were going wild

And I had 22 other leaders

But I am an only child

So picked up my rattle

And I there it from the pram

Thank you that just like Jesus

You all loved me, as I am

And I looked across the playground

Watched everyone of you in your spot

Leaving the lavish love of Jesus

Whether you all knew it or not

The smile on the children's faces

The memories they will forever keep

They all thought that they were dreaming

So glad they had all fallen asleep.


And all of us need to be dreamers

Bringing how it can be, out of how it is

Let us all be prophets of the future

Always finding ourselves in the promise.






How do you measure the success of a short term mission team? In the first two weeks of July my wife Janice and I were leading my 14th short term mission team, our third in Uganda. There were 24 of us, from our church Fitzroy, back in Belfast. We had an age range from teens to 60s. We were working in a Primary School, that Fitzroy had funded the building of, on the edge of Arua, on the very edge of north western Uganda. 

For some of us it was our second, third and fourth trip to Onialeku Primary School. We know staff and pupils. Our Church sponsors 70 of the children. It is like the other half of our church family. This was part of our reasoning for the project. We did not want to be sending money, and Fitzroy gives generously, to projects that we knew nothing about. We didn’t want to be just the giver. We wanted to partner in a way that we would receive. We wanted mutual mission, mutual fellowship and mutual discipleship.

We were on site at Onialeku for nine days. Well, a hastily called council election did give us a day off where we visited another school and two other projects in the Arua area. The visit to the other school, Wandi Progressive Secondary School was so that we could visit three of our Onialeku alumni who we now continue to sponsor through secondary school. 

Anyway, on site at Onialeku we did a wide variety of activities. Some of our teachers took classes, bringing a different angle into teaching English, the national language in Uganda. We had a Children’s Bible club every morning, we taught an I Am Girl course that helps with sexual health education, there was a Christianity Explored Course, we taught knitting, guitar and played board games and lego as well as sport and just hanging out. We also encouraged our teachers.

It is hard to know what you achieve in a week. Some would say, not much. I do not believe that. I hear the children shouting back at me the things we have shared over these last years. They soak up the entire experience. Indeed the entire experience might be more important than the specifics. After all Janice always tells us that turning up is enough!

During the trip, two comments from Africans caught my attention and encouraged my heart. Lydia, a Kenyan and Biblica Rep for East Africa, who spent a few days with us, told me that these children would never ever forget the puppet show version of parable for the House On the Rock. In his closing speech, Pastor David, overseer of the school and our partnership, mentioned how our team reached everyone in the school. 

That is one of the ways that I judge our impact. A school community in Uganda, and indeed anywhere, has a myriad of members. As I, as an overseeing leader, watched this week I was proud of how our team greeted and loved every single player on that campus. The cooks, ululating every time we drove on site, the old man who cleans the ground around the gate and blew us out on a traditional instrument, the guys building the wash room, to every teacher and child. Not one was given less importance. 

As I put it, in a humorous poem for the final night concert:


"As I looked across the playground

Watched each one of you in your spot

Leaving the lavish love of Jesus

Whether you knew it or not.”


That moves us seamlessly into the other thing that I judge the success of the team on. That every member of the team finds their place and gives their all. This year’s team was the most varied team in age, personality, experience and gifting that I had ever been on. The thrill for me on the last day was knowing that not one of them felt like a spare part, that everyone of them found their spot, their role, and lived nine days of “life in all its fulness”… the verse that the children of Onialeku shout at me endlessly… “10:10… Amen!”

I did talk about mutual mission, fellowship and discipleship. Again, I am encouraged. Our team have been WhatsApping their initial feelings, arriving home. I am confident that a team who gave their all, to all of those that they were with, will have been impacted spiritually, and in so many other ways, by the experience. I believe that the transformative God at the heart of our giving, will be the same transformative God in own hearts. I know that the Spirit is making a mark on mine… but that might be for another blog!

INVICTUS - A Pastor's Review


There are many things about the Invictus movie that grabbed my theological attention. They were particularly pertinent to me when I wrote this review as at the time I was preaching preaching from Colossians about the Kingdom versus the Empire.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, it is a historic piece based around the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Nelson Mandela newly elected first black President of South Africa uses a white sport, a symbol of the apartheid regime that has just been overturned, to bring a nation together. Rather than obliterate this last bastion of the white Africaaner, Mandela holds it up as an important part of their identity and uses his support of it to change the perspectives of the white population towards him and the black population towards their white neighbours, former enemies!

Empires are built on military violence and overthrow. The Kingdom of God is built on a humble defeat on a cross of wood. Empire makes people conform and excludes. The Kingdom of God is a loving inclusive world.

Nelson Mandela has always recognised his Methodist schooling as being influential in his worldview. Never has that Christian influence been more powerful than when he started to build a rainbow nation instead of a Black nation that excluded all minorities. No, Mandela’s vision was inclusive. He was working for the good of everyone not just his own colour and race.

In the movie Invictus director Clint Eastwood captures a radically new way to see politics. He puts on the screen a revolutionary culture of love, mutual admiration and esteem of identity. From this he builds a work of deep reconciliation. This approach of Mandela was almost unique in the Twentieth Century and revealed the possibility of Jesus idea to love your neighbour and how that crazy idea, so abhorrent to our natural inclinations brings hope and healing to very hopelessly divided scenarios.  

Instead of building his new country by greed, selfishness and revenge for what had been done to him and his people, Mandela chose the way of mercy, grace, reconciliation and peace. It was seeing beyond himself to the needs of others and indeed the needs of everyone that was so alternative. These are some of the issues Jesus went on and on about, worked out before us on the silver screen but even better in that part of history that it explores.

The other thing that the pastor/preacher in me picked up from the Invictus movie was the ways that Nelson Mandela was fuelling his social transformation. The title of the movie takes itself from a Victorian poem that Mandela told Pienaar had got him through the darkest days of his twenty seven years in prison. He wrote it out for the Springboks’ captain as the World Cup progressed. This reveals the power of the written word to strengthen, console and inspire.

Another thread working its way through the plot is the power of the song. The new National Anthem a little despised by the white Africaaner becomes a song that is used to unite not only the nation but the rugby team; it becomes another source of unifying inspiration.

As I preached through Colossians in Fitzroy I saw how Paul was using both the written word and the song to bring Christ’s Kingdom to take over from the Empire. It would be suggested by many that the wonderful description of Jesus in chapter 1 v 15-20 come from an early Church hymn.

Walsh and Keesmat in their provocative book Colossians Remixed; Subverting The Empire see it as subversive poetry. The idea is that as we read and seep our souls in the written word of the Christian story we free ourselves from Empire thinking and find the alternative imagination of God’s narrative.

In chapter 3 Paul mentions psalms, hymns and spiritual songs and worship becomes more than liturgy to fill a family gathering. The reason that the writer to the Hebrews encouraged Christians to carrying on meeting together is that like Mandela he recognised the importance of the written word and the song in the spiritual formation of the follower of Jesus. Go somewhere on Sunday and engage in these potent resources!

FACTORY OF MAGNIFICENT SOULS - For Mandela's 100th Birthday


Factory Mandela

I loved Nelson Mandela. He influenced my life in so many ways. I had the privilege of visiting Robben Island so many time and even got to get into his cell. Those visits to Robben Island were powerfully poignant, like walking on redeemed ground. I wrote this after one trip and then when Iona asked if they could use it in a song I wrote another verse during another visit.

I think it sums up all that is almost unbelievable about the man's humility, courage and grace... and connects with the Christ story of redemption too.

Somewhat out of the blue it appeared on an African playlist when we were driving up to Arua two weeks ago. I was quite proud, listening to it for the first time in a while. It seems right to share it on what would have been Madiba's 100th birthday!

Thought of you on this island of the leper                                      Thought of you on this island of the mad
Thought of you on this island of the outcast
Thought of you on this island of the sick and sad

And no one ever asked questions
With marks as sharp as these
They pierced the veins of Jesus
Who was one of the least of these

Thought this island had a tragic holiness
Thought this island had a painful grace
Thought this island had the ugliest history
Thought this island was the most beautiful place

And no one ever gave an answer
With as gentle a word as this
You took the most violent indignation
And you killed it with a political kiss

Thought of you on this island of the limestone                                     And the pain of dust torn eyes
Thought of you on this island of the convict,                                         Toiling under the bluest skies
Looked across this island of the reconciled,
And I saw a stone carved cross
Thought of you on this island of redemption,                                             Closed my eyes and thought about what freedom had cost

I saw the altar of this world’s cruelty
I saw the stadium of the devils goals
I saw a man duck and weave the most evil punches
I saw a factory of magnificent souls.



Bish and me laughing

Tomorrow morning 21 Fitzers will join Janice, Jasmine and I in Uganda. We are here to cradle and care for one man's dream.

On Wednesday morning, we will travel to Arua, to a school that we funded through Fields of Life. The school was the dream of an Elim Bishop, Isaac Aswa. As he watched the children run around his Church, he asked God what he could do for them? He decided to give them a school. We were honoured to partner with that school, Onialeku Primary and Nursery School.

In 2015 the first Fitzroy team got to be there for the Opening of the school. For a week I sat with Bishop Isaac under a mango tree. He taught me a lot. He inspired me. He was a man of great faith, resilience, imagination and great compassion for his people. He didn't just talk about his love for them, he took action and transformed lives and his community.

Before we got back to see him in 2016, Bishop Isaac had passed away. I wrote this poem.

On Wednesday we travel north to see his dream. Better still, we go to look after it and develop it. I cannot wait to show thirteen new people that dream, and welcome another ten back again. 

We are in for fun and laughter and love and hopefulness. I pray we learn as much as I did in 2015, under that mango tree. I pray we live the dream... 


You had a dream

And it wasn't about you

It was about the children

Who couldn't dare to dream

You dreamed for them

For their future and the nation’s

And now the children grow in a field of dreams.


You had a dream

And saw it through

We weep at your death

But smile at your dream

For the dream lives after you

God’s dream built on earth

Onialeku as it is in heaven.


You had a dream

And you invited us in

We sat under a tree

You envisioned and inspired

And I felt the dreams 

They flew and floated and fell

I was soaked by their blessing.


You had a dream

You were dreaming in God

And you carried it into being

And now you leave it down

So we will lift it up

We will cradle it and care for it

This dream will go on… and on…

Playtime Onialeku



The Atlas... Jenny D

The Atlas Of Forgotten Places is perhaps the most satisfying novel that I have ever read. It is also the best literary companion I have ever had. 

Jenny D Williams is a writer of beautiful poetic prose. She has published poetry and you can tell. She has a genius for a descriptive phrase and her detail is meticulous, whether a room or a landscape or a character. She creates characters that you soon feel have come friends. The are authentic and warm, complex and alive. You grow to like them, to know them, to believe in them.

The plot in this, her very first novel, is clever and utterly gripping. From the first page you want to follow, to turn the next page, to actually read the last page but you never do because you know that you are into a book that will tantalise and tease and sneak up and surprise.

You can tell that I loved it.

Now, let me get subjective. On no account let the subjective side of my review cause you to think that this is a book is only for Stockman. I cannot recommend The Atlas Of Forgotten Places enough.

The novel is set in north Uganda, the place where I was actually reading it this week. It starts in Kitgum but to my delight Arua, where I am spending more than two weeks, this summer, gets a mention on page 22. Later the story actually stops off in Arua, in a hotel I know well, though too up market for a man like me to stay in anymore. I love reading about the country I am in. That Williams’ book is set in Uganda would have been enough. But in my town!

The Atlas… actually became a friend on my sabbatical. The Stockmans are six weeks in Africa and adjusting to Ugandan life has its challenges. I was able to relate to Jenny’s characters of Sabine and Christoph and they gave me some strange strength for living outside my comfort zone. I was able to imagine them in my room, on the roads, walking around me.

Williams sets her story at the end of 2008. Kitgum has been traumatised by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Liberation Army for decades but by then the LRA were exiled in the forests of Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Rose, one of the main characters, was abducted as a young girl and lost her arm before escaping from the LRA and finding her way home. It was not an easy re-integration.

In 2008 Ugandan, DR Congolese and Southern Sudanese forces launched Operation Lightning Thunder against Kony and the LRA in Garamba. Williams skilfully takes us right into the heart of this real political situation and the violence of it but, amazingly, focuses us on individuals, humanising them in the centre of a violent vortex of history.

In the end the book is not about politics or war. This is a book about the forgotten places within us all. It is a book about finding your loved one who has gone missing, as Sabine and Rose are attempting to do, but it is also about finding yourself while you are doing that. It is the blessing of yourself being transformed as you try to change the world. The whole purpose of my sabbatical in Uganda!

It throws up fascinating questions about belief and making a difference, about forgiveness and redemption. It asks about the white man’s place in the transformation of an African nation that needs transformed. It asked me what I was doing here and who I was finding in the forgotten places of myself as I attempted to help others find their way in this big vast and complex world.

I am so sorry that it is finished. It is like my companions have gone home and left me... but left me stronger for the time together!