Ecuador was one of the first countries I visited with a team to build an eye clinic. I went back several times to Santa Domingo De Los Colorados, where this picture was taken. I lost my heart there. My song, “Heavy Heart” was written a few hundred metres from the barrio where I met some amazing people. I remember Chapilo, a ten year old boy who was going blind. A doctor on our team was able to organise specialised treatment and when we returned a year later, his sight was fully recovered. I still carry a small piece of wood in my guitar case which came from a small shack in the barrio. These life experiences stay with you.
I travelled around India many times and met some amazing people including Mother Teresa who was an amazing woman of God. She told me that when I got back to the UK, I was not allowed to talk about her work – only about what Jesus was doing among the destitute and dying. The average lifespan of a rickshaw puller was around 27. They worked 18 hours a day, renting their rickshaws and earning a pittance. Many died of TB. I met many of them in a rest centre where we were giving out shoes and hot food. One asked me to preach. I had no idea what to say to these people – it seemed so inappropriate. So I asked for a volunteer and got him to sit on his rickshaw. I stood between the two wooden pull bars, taking the place he would normally stand, and started pulling the rickshaw around the compound. At the end I said to them all, “God loves us all equally. He knows what our lives are like, because He came in the person of Jesus and stood in our shoes.”
03 DOMINICAN REPUBLIC
This is the bus that probably saved my life, along with a few others, on a fateful journey back from a day out in Sosua Beach – one of the tourist areas in the Dominican Republic. We had about 28 young people on our UK team and we were joined by 50 or so Americans. It was a joint venture, building a clinic in an extremely poor area. We worked hard, so on our day off, we went to the beach in three buses. On the way back, it was dark and we suddenly hit a cow in the middle of a country road. The driver lost control and drove off the road, down a steep bank and then hitting a wooden electrical pylon. The bus came to an abrupt halt. We were all thrown forwards and glass was smashing around us. “Don’t move!” someone shouted from outside the bus. “Electrical cables have fallen on to the roof of the bus!” We froze. Miracle #1: There was a 20 minute power cut that day, just at the moment we hit the cables! Miracle #2: No one was hurt! Not even a scratch! Miracle #3: That morning I changed buses from the regular, rather flimsy bus we normally used, to an American School Bus. The engine compartment took most of the impact, protecting us from serious harm.
04 SRI LANKA
I worked in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The first time I went, the Tamils and Singalese where throwing petrol bombs at each other on the street. This is me with Noni, a working elephant. I had to climb a wall to get on to her back! I have been to some of the toughest and poorest places on the planet, but have learnt so much from local people. My faith has been stretched, my eyes opened to what life is like for most on this planet, observed injustice and stood with the marginalised. Our Practical Aid Mission Teams never stayed in posh hotels because we wanted to identify as much as we could with the people we had come to work with. We went to every place resolving to give of our time, money and care. We always came away having received far more than we could ever give.