I’m currently in New Delhi, slowly making my way back home after completing our latest ‘Boxers for Peace’ mission in Syria. Unfortunately, in order to get the cheapest tickets, I had to opt for a 12 hour wait between flights in Dubai and a seven-hour wait here. Even so, nothing can dampen my spirits after the week I’ve had.
Nothing went as I expected, and yet it was fantastic!
The boxing match I’d been hoping for with Ben Ali did not materialise. Even so, Jacob Najjar (my fellow boxer for peace) and I were certainly kept busy. Indeed, we must have boxed more than a hundred different people over the last week, amongst whom were some great fighters and many champion human beings! Moreover, our support team – Issa (the national boxing coach) and his boys – were simply excellent! It was a very humbling experience to be so well looked after.
We boxed with the Syrian Olympic team in Damascus
We travelled north to Lattakia and had more than 200 kids show up to train with us, many of whom were displaced persons living in UNICEF-provided tents that ringed the stadium.
We headed south to Tartous and helped open a new boxing gym (and did some more boxing while we were there).
We made it back to the refuge on the outskirts of Yarmouk where in April I’d been told that while the children there were clothed and sheltered, they had no pillows. I promised to do something about that when I returned and, thanks to contributions made by friends in Sydney, I kept that promise! We also distributed soccer balls to the kids as well as boxing gloves and mitts, all courtesy of our friends as SMAI.
Apart from all the boxing, we also visited other sports complexes, schools and hospitals, and we met with numerous officials, including the Minister for Health, the Minister of Information and the Prime minister. Most enjoyable for me though was catching up again with my much-loved Mufti – Dr Hassoun More on that another time.
Indeed, I won’t say more here as I really need time to process it all. God was in it! I’m sure of that. And if nothing else it’s given us an excellent framework for pursuing a bigger and better ‘Boxers for Peace’ program in 2016. I do sense that we are starting to make a difference and that much good can yet come of this.
It will take me a while to process all the photos so for now I can only offer you the two promotional videos that I put together on my iPhone.
click either image to watch the video
I’ll get back to you after I’ve had a little rest. Thank you for all your prayers and for the financial support that made it all happen.
Soren, Terry and Shannon survey developments at Binacrombi
Stewart works the Binacrombi bulldozer
there's nothing like a blazing fire to keep out the cold
Kids on quads at Binacrombi
Bob turns 89, and he's still powering on! 🙂
Dimitri - the Dominator - fights for another title
with artist extraordinaire - Miriam Cabello!
Soren and Fran have a great time at Luna Park (well, Fran had a great time)
Fran at Luna Park
Dinner with the Grand Mufti of Australia
with Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad (Grand Mufti of Australia)
my beautiful girls
commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Ali in Melbourne
commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Ali in Melbourne
Forgive me for being out of touch for so long. As you may know, I took a month’s long-service leave shortly after returning from Syria and I tried to go dark for a while.
That’s a term normally used by spies so perhaps it’s not really appropriate in my case. My point is that I tried to go off the radar so that I could concentrate on developing our ministry at Binacrombi Bush Camp over that month and also focus on other work not directly associated with my responsibilities as a parish priest. I had also hoped to get a bit of rest.
I wasn’t very successful, particularly in terms of getting rest. I did though enjoy the extra time at Binacrombi very much, and I have great hopes that we will continue to build that place up as a centre for both intense fitness training and prayer. We’ve seen some remarkable things happen down there recently with men who have completed prison terms, using Binacrombi to help them transition back into the community. Please keep this work in your prayers.
The latest news is that Boxers for Peace are about to head back to Syria! It looks like I’m going to have the opportunity to box the former Syrian middleweight champion, Mahmoud Ben Ali. I’ll also be taking with me Jacob Najjar – two times professional World Kickboxing champion. Apparently the Syrians have an opponent for him too!
My hope is that I’ll be boxing Ben Ali for a Middle Eastern Middleweight Title (old bastards division). At this stage the Syrian Sports Ministry hasn’t confirmed the bout, nor do I know exactly what weight I’m supposed to come in at! Even so, I appreciate that the Syrian government has other priorities at the moment so I’m trusting that it will all come together on the night.
Mahmoud Ben Ali
I know little about Ben Ali as an opponent except for what the Syrians tell me – namely, that I won’t last one round with him! We’ll see. The man is five years younger than me and is way more experienced. Even so, I have one great advantage over him. I live in Sydney. He lives in Aleppo.
I received an email from a friend in Aleppo last week. I won’t mention his name but let me share something of what he said:
“We didn’t sleep all the night. The attacks of yesterday 2nd July started around afternoon and continued up till today 8:30 am 3rd July. They said that 3-4 civilians died, but 87 civilians injured. The ambulance voices didn’t stop all night long.
You had to hear the people over here in Aleppo. Aren’t they Syrians? After all these years and after all these attacks on them and after they lost their income sources and family members, they are asking the Syrian army to terminate the terrorist attackers and their nests, which have become like cancer in Syria’s body. They don’t care if that termination happens by chemical weapons, bombs, or whatever. Yet, around the world and in the mainstream media, they dare to demonize the so called “barrel bombs” and talk about the lost in lives of the terrorists …”
Aleppo is a city of both suffering and frustration. I imagine it is also a difficult place to train for a boxing match. I pray that Ben Ali and all the residents of Aleppo will be protected by Almighty God. Even so, I cannot but think that I will come into this boxing match fitter and better prepared as an athlete, and that may even the odds between us and make for a great match! I pray so.
Whatever happens I’ll be giving you all the details just as soon as they come to hand. You’ll get those details most quickly if you’re following me on either Twitter or Facebook but I’ll try to send out another newsletter to you before my bout takes place too.
One place that I ha43ve really enjoyed visiting in Damascus is the home of Ananias in Straight Street. Readers of the New Testament know this place well. It was where St Paul, who had initially come to Damascus to arrest and persecute Christians, was prayed over by a godly man named Ananias. He was never the same again!
The 2000 year-old home of Ananias is still standing and was long ago transformed into a chapel. I have spent time in prayer there twice now and this has enhanced my appreciation of how radically Paul was transformed through his encounter with Jesus.
Until Paul met Jesus he had been convinced that they key to pleasing God was to abide by all the laws of the Torah. He had believed that he had to climb the ladder of moral and religious purity in the hope of meeting God at the top of the ladder. What Jesus taught him was that it works the opposite way round – that you meet God at the bottom of the ladder, after you’ve fallen off!
One dimension of that realisation was that it gave Paul a very radical understanding of what it mean to have authority as a religious teacher.
If you’re having trouble with my accent you can read this sermon here.
I’m avoiding doing any big funding drive for this trip as it’s all been planned very quickly. Even so, my dear friend Ophelia Heragli is organising a Boxers for Peace fundraiser Iftar dinner for this Sunday night – July 12th. It’s all been put together in the last few days but apparently she’s already had 60 people confirm that they are coming! I believe that they are all friends from the Islamic community which is very humbling. Hopefully a few Christians and other supporters will be able to make it too. You’ll find all the details on the Facebook event page that Ophelia set up.
Of course you are welcome to also donate funds via my ‘buy me a drink‘ page or you can contact me for bank account details if you want to make a direct transfer. In truth though I feel that I’ve asked too much of my online community already. Even so, be assured that anything we receive beyond what we need for air tickets will be given to the refuge in Yarmouk that I visited in April – the one that needed pillows for the kids to sleep on. Even if they have the pillows by now I’m sure they can make good use of anything extra I can offer them.
You’ll have to forgive me if I wind up this newsletter at this point. I do have a lot more that I want to share but the pressures of preparing for this trip are mounting and time is of the essence.
Pray for me please. Pray for the success of this Boxers for Peace mission. Pray for the success of our work at Binacrombi, for our church, our work with young people, for my family and for the people of Syria. These are critical times. Enshallah – God willing – we will see brighter days ahead.