In the busyness of the day-to-day, we can so easily miss spotting what has changed - and equally, we might overlook or take for granted things that remain constant. I have been struck by several of those in recent days - not least the arrival of autumn and the rhythm it is part of.

Having returned from a work trip to Thailand in late February 2020, I was effectively 'grounded' by COVID for more than 18 months. Whilst people will have various different views about the handling of the pandemic and our response to it, the fact is that it has had an enormous impact on everyone and we at Feba are no exception. With very little notice, our established pattern of working together in a fairly conventional office environment was brought to an abrupt halt as we switched to a new way of working remotely - each based in our respective homes, with various associated challenges.

I am so thankful for the many ways in which God's faithfulness has been so clearly evident in recent months. The initial disruption was of course 'bumpy' but in truth we adapted to the new work practices quite readily. All core activities were maintained and we even started some new things, including a monthly online Prayer Meeting and a Volunteer Speaker Programme. We had some staff changes too, and conducted some online recruitment which has led to a couple of great appointments to the staff team.

Having not all attended the office together for a considerable length of time, it has been important to find ways of building and maintaining relationships and a sense of 'team'. We have a daily Zoom call when we all meet for Staff Prayers at 11.00am - which also provides a great opportunity to touch base with each other and share important news updates, but it's not the same as a conversation in the kitchen over a coffee or lunch. It was therefore a real treat when we were able to spend a day sailing in the Solent last month - a new experience for several members of the team, some of whom were keener than others by the end of the day!

Being unable to travel internationally did have a detrimental effect in terms of our ability to spend extended periods with partners. The increased use of video conferencing platforms helped plug some gaps, but there is no direct or adequate substitute for more immersive times of fellowship. After ten years of fairly frequent work-related travel for me personally, the COVID restrictions forced not only a rethink about how we could do things differently, but also the acceptance of a new reality. To be clear: I wouldn't advocate for unrestricted, unthinking travel (- for it is right that we should consider the impact), but the inability to travel at all was a significant limitation.

Even visiting other parts of the UK became difficult or impossible at times: my elder son contracted COVID over the summer, and his positive PCR test coincided perfectly with the start of our planned fortnight's holiday in the Lake District and Cotswolds; we were therefore restricted to the confines of our house and garden for the mandatory ten day isolation period, which was definitely a disappointment. Even the beach at the end of our road was off limits - which seemed particularly hard to swallow on the days that were sunny! We were all conscious, however, that our inconvenience was not a patch on the acute suffering endured by so many families in the UK and further afield - including a number of Feba's international partners, such as the team in India.

It was a real pleasure to be able to visit Ukraine in late September to spend time with the 'Radio M' team in Kyiv as they marked the opening of their new studio facilities. They have a young and dynamic team, and a terrific new suite to operate from - not only to serve the people of Ukraine (coordinating work across the country), but also liaising closely with sister organisations in the Eurasia region to promote the sharing of best practice and peer support. It was a privilege to spend some time with them in general conversation as well as taking part in a live radio interview and the formal opening ceremony plus celebrations. The visit served as a reminder of both the wider family of which we are part, and the fact that despite recent limitations there are still new beginnings worthy of celebration and thanksgiving.

As Chief Exec at Feba, my of sense community and belonging extends not only to that network of international colleagues (including the US, Canada, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan as were represented in Ukraine) but also our Board of Trustees here in the UK. Having been unable to meet in-person since the beginning of last year, it was very special to be able to host the Trustees this past weekend for what had previously been an annual residential event. It was very deliberately scheduled to coincide with a key date in our calendar: Feba's financial and planning year runs from 1st October to 30th September, so we were able to 'launch' the new year together. The Board members met with staff in the office for a service led by a local vicar, before sharing fish and chips for lunch. There was a wonderful spirit of togetherness and mutual appreciation for people's respective roles and contribution to the ministry. The formal Board meeting then continued through the afternoon, before relocating to a nearby hotel for where things continued through until Saturday early afternoon.

I am often struck by a sense of gratitude for God's protection and provision, and that was certainly true once again as we reviewed Feba's past year and current position: we are in a healthy position financially, and therefore anticipate some growth in the ministry over the coming months, and even years. Being able to visit partners and projects is an important part of that, so we do pray that progress would continue to be made in the effective management of COVID, and that neither ill health nor the related restrictions would hamper plans as we seek opportunities to extend Feba's reach - to inspire yet more people to follow Jesus Christ, by His grace.

A year ago today, I ran the virtual London Marathon around a local course down here on the south coast of England, on what was indisputably a foul October morning! It was hard going - even with the valuable support from my brother, wife and sons. That was my second marathon distance run in 2020 (having also run on the original date in April), and I was looking forward to taking part in the real event on the streets of our capital this year; unfortunately, however, I was unable to run for five months of early 2021 due to a leg injury so my marathon plans were shelved. In truth, I think it is fair to say that being unable to run during that period did affect me: I missed the opportunity to get some exercise, the head-space, and the enjoyment of our natural surroundings - all of which had helped me during the pressures of 2020.

Whilst my brother and several friends completed the full 26.2 miles yesterday, I marked the occasion by running my first half marathon since December last year. There was a great sense of achievement and satisfaction associated with knowing that 'all is not lost' - and that I'm gradually building back a level of fitness and endurance; there is a obviously a considerable leap from 13.1 to 26.2 miles, but I have a full twelve months to get ready... whilst very conscious that I am getting older! It was good to see several runners out in our locality yesterday doing their own virtual marathon courses, and to be able to lend them a cheer as they went on their way. It is a remarkable event, and I sincerely hope to be able to take part properly in 2022.

The coming twelve month period is likely to include the sale of Feba's current office - Skywaves house in Worthing - and a subsequent relocation. Some (but not all) of the changes to our core work practices that have arisen as a direct result of lockdown have actually proved popular and effective; we therefore have opportunity to think about not only how we work but where, and can address both in parallel. That opens up all sorts of possibilities, which can seem at turns exciting and daunting! It is my prayer, however, that we would know God's leading as we earnestly seek what is right for the ministry in this emerging new season.

So - a relaxing of international travel restrictions, face-to-face meetings becoming more possible, new ministry projects in the pipeline, a building sale, preparation for the London Marathon 2022 - what else might the coming year hold?! Although the turning of leaves as autumn sets in might be fairly predictable, of course none of us can know the future in full - just as no-one foresaw COVID, the recent fuel distribution challenges, or today's Facebook outage. But what we can be sure of is that God's faithfulness endures forever; He is unchanging and utterly dependable. It is my prayer that the Feba team and I myself would look to God as the source of our security in all things, and I pray that might be true for you too.

I will sing of the LORD'S great love for ever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. (Psalm 89 v.1)

PS: If you'd be interested in running next year's London Marathon - joining me on the streets of London - then please note that the public ballot is now open - but do be quick as it closes on 8th October 2021. For full details, please see the official website by clicking here. Why not give it a go? You could even do it as a sponsored event for Feba! Please do get in touch if you do choose to undertake this event or any other for Feba, and we'd be delighted to be able to support you!  :)

To read more about my marathon efforts, please click here.

Photo credits: © Diane Edwards (sailing) / Bob Chambers (running).

Published 4th October 2021