We all know what the news has been about recently, and it has been hard to find a news item that does not mention the Covid pandemic, apart from a brief update on Brexit, and something about the US elections.
However, life still goes on! Our last report left us on our boat in Nantwich in the middle of July. We had been unable to invite people on board as we usually do, but we were able to chat to a few people, and we managed to give away a small number of Bibles, but with social distancing it was not easy.
From Nantwich we travelled to Middlewich, which was our furthest north for 2020, where we turned south to travel down the Trent and Mersey, through Harecastle Tunnel to Stoke-on-Trent. The lovely Caldon and Leek canals followed, before continuing south to Fradley Junction.
Here, we met Barbara, of folk duo Braunston Pickle, and we had an unplanned music session on the tug-style bows of her boat. Also, at Fradley we came across two ladies in distress. They had just been mis-sold a boat that turned out to be full of fleas, unlicenced, with no boat safety certificate. It started sinking the next day, and we discovered a large hole in the bows. We helped them to get sorted out. Thankfully, we were there at the right time – a divine appointment.
At Fazeley, on the Coventry Canal, we coincided with three other Christian boating couples that we knew, and we enjoyed fish and chips together on the towpath, socially distanced of course. We journeyed south via the Oxford Canal to the Grand Union, and our daughter came to join us for a few days on the Leicester arm to Foxton and back.
Due to Covid advice, we had decided not to contact some good friends, Jim and Jan, church leaders in Yelvertoft. Remarkably, they chose the very day we went past to send us an email asking how we were. The result was that they joined us for a meal that evening: we sat on the bows of the boat, and they sat on the towpath. The Lord's timing is perfect!
And then it was down the Grand Union back to Aylesbury. This year, instead of wintering on the boat, we moved into our apartment next to the canal basin and managed to get in quick visits to family members in Suffolk, Leatherhead, Farnborough and Poole before the second lockdown.
We have been busy sorting out the apartment, putting up curtains and pictures, and buying more furniture to store all our bits and pieces. We have some new wardrobes arriving very soon, and until then our clothes are in bags on the floor. We would love to invite our neighbours in for meals and to get to know them, but circumstances do not allow that at the moment.
We have been able to keep in touch with our church all year using online technology, which has been a blessing as churches on our route were not available to visit. We have also been able to take part musically in both our church services and in folk clubs via the internet.
We plan to have some work done on our boat in March, which will involve a 7-day delivery voyage to Weedon, Northamptonshire. The work will take several weeks, and then we hope to be part of the mission in Milton Keynes in June, postponed from last year. We will have to see whether this can proceed or not.
It is unlikely that we will be able to perform in pubs this time, or invite people on the boats, so the event will have a different feel to other missions.
We praise God that the vaccines are rolling out rapidly now, and we pray that these will be successful, allowing more opportunities for meeting people and sharing good news. Our boat name is Gabriel, and we feel called to be God's messengers.
In His Name
James and Hazel Bell
Canal Ministries - sharing God's Love on the Inland Waterways.