Norfolk minister's words of faith in India
A Norfolk church minister who is just back from a third mission trip to India, will never forget the day when he prayed for hundreds of village people. Among them was a mute child who spoke for the first time after being prayed for by Rev Canon Simon Stokes - who is registered blind. Mike Wiltshire reports.
This healing incident had a profound effect on Simon, vicar of Sprowston near Norwich for the past three years. Simon was exhausted on the day he prayed for hundreds of eager villagers in Tamil Nadu, the populous state in south-east India reknowned for its 34,000 Hindu temples and sacred sites.
After sharing the Gospel message several times for up to an hour each time, and then praying for vast crowds of people for three hours after the services, Simon admits he "really longed for a cup of tea" - and was startled when his interpreter assured him that the once-mute child who had not spoken before, was now speaking.
"It certainly wasn't my faith. I can't boast about it," says Simon. "I was humbled and out of my comfort zone. People there in rural India are just so expectant that something will happen when you pray.
“In those villages, it's often a 'life or death' thing . . . if God does not intervene in a miraculous way, who will?"
"Because I can't see, I was completely reliant on the translator to tell me what was happening - you never knew who was coming forward for prayer."
Simon, 52, who is on a well-earned sabbatical break, is known for his many remarkable adventures, despite being registered blind since he was 24. Even as a child of five his eye-sight was failing - but he went on to become an accountant and has two university degrees.
His adventures for charity include jumping out of a plane; sailing as a bosun's mate on a tall ship across the Atlantic, climbing 130 feet above deck to work on a yard-arm; running numerous marathons and completing a leg of the Olympic Torch relay in Norwich city centre.
Very recently he was on a two-week walk and camping trip with a friend round the blustery North Norfolk coast - "that put me right out of my comfort zone!" admits Simon.
His other incredible achievements have included missionary work in Nepal, Namibia and India, and serving as a minister of three different parishes and a member of the General Synod.
Hope, his third guide dog, is also a lively national celebrity at the age of two-and-a-half, having been featured on the cover of the Christmas guide dogs' fundraising campaign.
Simon's former faithful guide dog, the very intuitive Tigger, is still part of the family but doesn't like being retired, says Simon.
However, Tigger "literally goes to school once a week", offering "Tigger Time" to Bowthorpe children who benefit from reading to her "as a non-critical friend" - thus boosting the children's reading confidence. Tigger wins over even the most reluctant readers.
Simon and his wife, Christine, a teacher, have three children: James, 23, and just engaged; Matthew 21, and Mary, 19.
Simon's adventures have at times "pushed him to the limit", though as a deeply spiritual man he says he is beginning to accept the limitations of sight-loss "and embracing what God is using that [disability] for."
Simon hopes to run the Beachy Head marathon again this year to help raise £6,000 to build a strategically-located Christian church - in a needy area of Tamil Nadu.
"We've bought the land after three years, and are now ready to build. From the first time I went to India six years ago, I just fell in love with the Christian work there," he said.
The new church project supported by Simon is one of five new churches in Tamil Nadu which are being supported by Christians in East Anglia.
Readers who would like to support the project can call Simon on 01603 411194 or email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pictured above is Canon Simon Stokes with guide dog, Hope
Norwich crosses given away in India
While in India, Simon gave away handmade 'holding crosses', all made in Bowthorpe, to newly ordained ministers. Simon is an enthusiastic patron of St Michael's Workshop which this year celebrates 30 years of pioneer community service. Before moving to Sprowston, Simon was minister of the adjacent Bowthorpe Church. Read more about this story.