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Category: BLOG_2016

Only two problems to be solved when going to the moon.

This is part one of a series of six articles specifically commissioned and scripted for ‘one minute’ radio slots. They were written and narrated by John Callister and broadcast a number of times.

Neil Armstrong once said, “There are only two problems to be solved when going to the moon. The first is how to get there, and the second is how to get back. The key is, don’t leave until you have solved both problems.”


It was in 1961, that US President, John F Kennedy, made his famous declaration, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

When Kennedy set the goal, complete with time frame, no one knew exactly ‘how’ it was going to be achieved. But they started preparing as if it was going to happen, and it DID happen.

Maybe there’s a lesson here that too often we’re reluctant to set the goal because we don’t know how it’s going to be achieved. Maybe there are times we need to move forward in faith, believing that the HOW will be found as we do.


I recently spent some time with Ray Barnett, founder of the African Children’s Choir, in Portstewart, Northern Ireland, where he was born. Ray has recently updated and re-published two books that were written more than three decades ago, but are more relevant today than ever.  

Ray_Portstewart_op Ray, (March 2016) enjoying a visit to one of his favourite places – Portstewart Strand, N. Ireland, a stones throw from where he was born.

By normal standards, Ray could have retired and put his feet up around fifteen years ago. Instead, he feels compelled to do what he can to bring prayer and practical support to displaced and suffering Christians around the world. These books, ‘Where The Brave Dare Not Go’ and ‘Uganda Holocaust’, are a means towards that end. They have just been released on Amazon.

Ray Barnett is well known as the founder of the African Children’s Choir, who have been the subject of a recent award winning feature documentary shown in cinemas around the US and they also played a major role in Gary Barlow’s “Sing” which was commissioned for the Queen’s Jubilee celebration. For this, they were filmed in Africa with Gary Barlow as he developed and rehearsed the song with their help. The choir also performed live at the spectacular Buckingham Palace celebration event that was beamed live around the world.

It’s a lesser known fact that The African Children’s Choir was formed as a project of ‘Friends In The West’, the first organisation that Ray founded. The original books focused on the early activities of Friends In The West, when Ray was working to help Christians who had been imprisoned for their faith in the former Soviet Union. Attention was then directed towards Africa when it was learned of the plight of thousands of children who had been orphaned in fighting there. Christians were suffering and were under threat of death by the Idi Amin regime in Uganda, so that’s where Ray headed at great personal risk to his own life. It was also here that Ray experienced what could only be described as miracles and divine interventions. One of the outcomes was The African Children’s Choir, which is still doing a great work, more than thirty years later.

Born in Portstewart and raised by foster parents in Coleraine, Ray left Northern Ireland in his late teens to study at a Bible College in Canada. Although he lived in Vancouver, he has always regarded Northern Ireland as home and has frequently visited over the years. Portstewart Strand holds a special place for him since from here he can literally see his place of birth. This is a location Ray has come to in the past when he has been at one of those crossroads points, where he needed to pray and seek guidance for challenges he was facing and for the next chapter of his life.


Ray is at one of those junctures once again. He feels he’s being called to a new phase which will be less about being the CEO of organisations, and more about sharing his experiences of the past and encouraging and mentoring a younger generation.  His greatest desire is to do everything he can to help the current crisis that affects Christians around the world who are suffering  – especially those who have had to uproot from their homes and are currently displaced. Ray believes that when things are critical as they are today, God is calling every Christian to be part of His answer.  That essentially means prayer and action, and believing for divine intervention and miracles. Ray fervently believes that miracles will happen when we are obedient to the call to “think of those who suffer as if you shared their pain”. (Heb13:3)

Friends In The West has been highlighting some of the current stories of suffering of the Christian family around the world.  Often these go unreported in the secular media, so it’s important that the Christian community is kept informed with regard to some of the things that Christians and other groups under attack are facing. This is not just for the sake of information alone, however, but that we will stand in prayer and support of our brothers and sisters who are suffering.

Ray believes the Christian community can draw encouragement from the stories in his books from events of thirty years ago. These in turn can help shape a strategy as we face difficult situations in the future. In the past, miracles solved problems that appeared to be unsolvable. Hearts were changed in the most hardened and unlikely people. Battles were won without killing anyone and without resorting to military might. Love overcome hate and good defeated evil. These are the central stories of the books Ray is re-publishing, with the underpinning message being that the difficult situations we are facing today in the worldwide Christian community, requires us to learn how situations can be changed through the power of prayer.

If you feel a burden for Christians who have been displaced and are suffering hardship because of their faith, then Ray would love to hear from you. It would be a huge encouragement just to know that there are others out there who are willing to pray and act as doors open up. He would also love to hear your story, no matter where you’re at on your journey. Maybe he could offer a word of advice or encouragement. And if you have a prayer request, we have partners who would love to pray for you.



Why not drop Ray an email at ray@friendsinthewest.com.  Also, Ray is now available for interviews either by telephone, SKYPE, or in person at your studio or office. If you have a connection with a publication or radio or TV outlet, why not get in touch and arrange for Ray to tell his story and encourage a wider audience.  Ray will be visiting Northern Ireland during May 2016 and may be available for local meetings or to share at your church. So do get in touch. He’s looking forward to hearing from you.

Bernish Viewpoint and more

I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve driven past a signpost on the way to or from Dublin that says, ‘Bernish Viewpoint’, and thought to myself, “sometime I must explore that”. Well earlier this week on my way back from Dublin, I did. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Bernish Viewpoint is just a few miles off the main carriageway close to Newry, albeit it was a few miles of a single lane, twisty, steep and bumpy road. But it is manageable since the destination isn’t too far away and the local Council has provided a nice car park and other facilities to accommodate visitors.

The view was indeed rewarding. Of course, I wouldn’t have made the trip if I hadn’t been travelling with the camera on board. I had packed it deliberately that morning in the knowledge that I’d be returning in the afternoon, and although showers were forecast, so too was sunshine. From experience I’ve learned that sometimes days like this, between the showers, can reveal a spectacular quality of light on the landscape, even much better than a hot summer day with all sunshine and often an undesirable accompanying ‘haze’. Judging by the light I was observing on the surrounding hills as I made the journey between Dundalk and Newry, I was optimistic that the time was right to discover what this Bernish Viewpoint had to offer.  I would procrastinate no longer.


No need to wait for summer to enjoy a good view from Bernish Viewpoint


View over Newry from Bernish

This short detour on my way home made me realise that Northern Ireland has a number of ‘gems’ that we take for granted. As it turned out, Bernish, as good as it was, wasn’t even the highlight. Close by is an ancient Cairn, at Ballymacdermot – an extremely well preserved Neolithic burial site with three chambers, dated between 4000 and 2500 BC. The marriage of historic interest with scenic beauty make this a truly amazing location. Yes, I’ve got the photos and will share these later.

Driving home after this experience made me think of another roadside sign that I’d seen on the journey: It read, “Ring of Gullion Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”. Yes, my appetite has been whetted. I know I’ll be back for a more thorough exploration of this whole area, and might even bring the camera.

Crumlin Presbyterian at night and Grandad’s 90th.

I was visiting at my father in law’s house in Crumlin, Co Antrim, on Sunday past, on the occasion of his 90th birthday. After a nice celebration meal at the Dunadry hotel, we continued to celebrate at his home. It so happens that his front garden has a viewpoint to the rear of Crumlin Presbyterian Church, where Sylvia and I were married 30 years ago.

As darkness fell, I realised that the church was nicely lit up, so having brought the camera I didn’t need to be persuaded to take the opportunity for a photograph.

When I’m shooting night scenes, if possible, I don’t wait until the sky is pitch black. There’s often a short window just before that point, where the sky still has some light and is therefore much more interesting. I tried to capture that moment in this photo.

The Church is situated on Main Street, Crumlin and was built in 1839 to the designs of Belfast architect, John Millar. The site was donated by the Hon. General Pakenham.  The bell in the tower was made by M. Byrne of the Fountain Head Foundry, James’s Street, Dublin in 1905 and was erected in memory of Rev. Alexander Canning, the first minister of the church, who died in 1896.

Glad to report that after thirty years, both church and marriage are still going strong.


Crumlin Presbyterian Church, Co. Antrim, N. Ireland



Father in law, Johnston Barnes, at 90. Still driving his car and enjoying good health.


The clan – after the birthday celebration meal.


My son, Timothy, returned a couple of weeks early from a nine month trip to Australia, so he could be home for his Grandad’s 90th.

My two daughters, Clara (left) and Chloe, enjoy a 'selfie' with their grandad.

My two daughters, Clara (left) and Chloe, enjoy a ‘selfie’ with their grandad.

Our three children played a MASSIVE PRANK on Sylvia and I last night.

The countdown had begun to our son Timothy’s return from Australia, after being away for nine months.  February 23rd, 23.10, at Dublin airport, was embedded in my mind as the date, time and place where I’d pick him up.


Our three grown up children, Chloe, Timothy and Clara; still capable of pulling a prank on their parents.

Yesterday’s ‘story’ was that my eldest daughter, Chloe, was on a days leave and was planning to spend it in Dublin since her husband, Stephen, would be there on business. The arrangement was that they would call in for a ‘cuppa’ on their way home since they’d practically be passing our house. Nothing unusual about that!

In the afternoon, our youngest daughter, Clara, sent a message to let us know she wouldn’t be home for tea since something had cropped up at work. Nothing unusual about that either since that sort of thing was a regular occurrence.

Evening came and we received a text from Chloe, “leaving Dublin now”… Sure enough the couple arrived at our home as expected, and we relaxed and began a chat about how their day had gone in Dublin. Just a few minutes later, Clara arrived from work and joined us. It wasn’t long before the conversation centred around the fact that Timothy would be back in a couple of weeks time. Clara then took orders for teas and coffees and went to leave to put the kettle on. But as she opened the door to leave, who was standing at the other side? Yes, to our disbelief, Timothy.

To say Sylvia and I were shocked is an understatement. We were stunned and speechless for a minute – the pictures didn’t match. The others had a good laugh at us as we tried to discern if this was ‘reality’ or a dream. Eventually the confession was made, there was no ‘day in Dublin’. Chloe had picked up Clara from her work and the two of them had driven to Dublin airport and collected Timothy. Sylvia and I had been well and truly ‘had’.

All in all, as parents, Sylvia and I are grateful for a number of things with regard to our son’s return. (1) That he has returned safe and sound. (2) That he enjoyed the experience of the past nine months and didn’t have any accidents or nasty incidents in spite of lots of travel. (3) Now that he has the experience behind him he can concentrate on settling down and putting his University degree to good use. But in addition to these more obvious points for gratitude, I can’t help but feel grateful that my wife and I have such a good relationship with our grown up children. There’s actually something nice about the fact that they were willing to go to the extent that they did to pull such a prank on us. In a funny way, it tells us that we’re held in high regard, and we hope that won’t ever change.

It Couldn’t Be Done? Edgar Guest

At the start of 2016, many of us will have new year resolutions or plans for this year, either for our business or personal lives. If we are looking for ‘growth’ this year then it’s possible that our plans may be quite ambitious. They say the definition of ‘insanity’ is to keep on doing the same thing and expect a different result. So this year, our plans may need to take us out of our comfort zone and involve some risk, albeit hopefully a calculated risk, if we are to achieve that desired growth.

If you run your own business or have decision making responsibilities for a business, then you will know what it’s like to have that ‘vision’ for where you want to be in one year or maybe even five years time. It’s crucial to set the vision and develop a plan for its achievement. If you don’t know where you want to go in the first instance then you’re unlikely to arrive at the right destination.

Goals that involve growth aren’t usually easy to achieve. It may take hard work and resilience on our part and, of course, there will be the naysayers – those who will discourage you from setting the bar so high, those who will remind you of the economic climate and will give you all the reasons why it can’t be done. The truth is, sometimes it’s not even other people, it’s the voice in our own head that’s the worst enemy.  When those negative thoughts come, it’s good to replace them with positive ones, just like the poem below:


Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,

But he with a chuckle replied

That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one

Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.

So, he buckled right in with the trace of a grin

On his face, if he worried he hid it.

He started to sing as he tackled the thing

That couldn’t be done, as he did it.


Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;

At least no one ever has done it”;

But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,

And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.

With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,

Without any doubting or quiddit,

He started to sing as he tackled the thing

That couldn’t be done, and he did it.


There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,

There are thousands to prophesy failure;

There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,

The dangers that wait to assail you.

But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,

Just take off your coat and go to it;

Just start to sing as you tackle the thing

That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.


Edgar Albert Guest 1881–1959