If you'd like a flavour of the Cyprus tour, here are edited highlights of some of Helen's emails to family, friends and supporters back home.
Just a quick message to you to let you know how we're getting on. We landed in Cyprus early on Wednesday evening and then were taken to hosts. Yvette and I are staying with a lovely lady called Jeanette and her husband Adam - we're in a visitor flat attached to her house. She left us lots of goodies in our fridge which is so kind.
Yesterday we had a meeting at the flat where Roger, Mary and Mick are staying. We went through the programme in detail and talked a bit about logistics and also a bit about the spiritual things that are going on here on the Island. It really is the crossroads between Christianity and Islam. In the afternoon we went for a walk along the seafront at Larnaca and then had our evening meal at Alexander's (second night in a row)! I've been very touristy and had a kebab in pitta bread on Wednesday evening, and then moussaka last night!
Today we cross the border between north and south and our tour begins in earnest. We have a performance at the Colony Hotel in Kyrenia tonight - apparently 200 tickets have been sold - please pray that particularly Alan and I remember our words as it is a long time since we have had to perform these parts. We had a couple of runthroughs yesterday.
Then tonight after the performance Yvette, Bill, Alan, Devon and I travel on to the next venue, Famagusta, which is about an hour's drive. At least we can have a lie in!
Two days in the North
We got back to Larnaca late last night after two days in the Turkish north of the Island and our first two performances. The first day was spent in Kyrenia, which is incredibly beautiful and full of white ex-pats from various places. We had trouble getting the van full of PA equipment over the border despite official letters from the hotels who were inviting us to do the concerts and various other bits of paperwork. This meant the initial setup in the hotel in Kyrenia was very frantic when the van finally arrived. But all was just about done in time for the choir rehearsal.
The venue in Kyrenia was on the top floor of a 5* hotel. It had amazing views of the mountains on one side and the sea on the other. Sadly we didn't have much time to explore. The performance went well, and there were almost 200 in the audience.
The team then divided and Roger, Mary, Devon and Mick stayed in the hotel in Kyrenia, and Yvette, Alan, Bill and I travelled on to Famagusta, arriving beyond midnight in northern time, which was an hour ahead of the south. The hotel wasn't up to the standard of the Kyrenia one, but one of the good things about travelling over the night before was that we did have some time to explore old Famagusta, which has amazing walls and fortresses. It is pretty run down, which is such a shame as it could be a really impressive tourist attraction.
The techies had also travelled with us the night before, so setup was much easier. We had a lovely lunch with Justin who is the student chaplain at the uni (the north has a 200 000 local population and a 300 000 student population, mostly Africans) - he had had Bill and Alan to stay overnight and was brilliantly laid back and calm.
We were a bit worried about probable lack of audience at the hotel last night because most of the choir had come over from Ayia Napa or Larnaca, and there aren't really any white ex-pats around in Famagusta, but in the end, the students gradually wandered in, some as late as song 5, and it was a really decent turnout.
We made it back to Larnaca about 11.30pm southern time, and this morning we're heading to Larnaca community church just to be part of the congregation here and then join in the shared lunch.
Performance in Larnaca
The last two days have been good. On Sunday morning we went to Larnaca Community Church and attended the service there. There were lots of familiar faces in the congregation (at least to Devon) and they were very welcoming. After the service there was a shared meal which was epic to say the least. They had expected maybe 50 for the lunch but had well over 100. There was more than enough food to go around, although it took forever for everyone to get served and the noise in there was incredible! We had to keep going outside for a rest. While we were all waiting for puddings Roger had an opportunity to go to the front and share about the musical - many of the choir were in that congregation so he had a good reception.
Lunch finished about 3pm so there was only enough daylight left for a stroll along the front and an ice cream. In the evening Yvette and I had Devon, Bill and Alan round to our flat for some time chilling out. Mick joined us as well, leaving Roger and Mary to rest. We semi-watched the football - it was clash of the titans with Cyprus taking on Gibraltar. Alan and I had vaguely considered heading over to Nicosia to watch in the stadium - perhaps we should have, as we'd have been pretty much the only ones there!
Yesterday we had a lazy morning and went for a short walk next to the Salt Lake which is right by our flat. It was incredibly hot out there. Then we travelled into Larnaca and Bill and Devon helped unload the van into the venue at the Sun Hall Hotel. Alan is struggling with a lot of pain in his wrists, so he tends to be left on van guarding duty! Once Richard was happy with the equipment in the venue we all went to lunch, and then came back in good time for the afternoon rehearsal with the Larnaca choir. We'd seen most of them two nights before in Famagusta, so the rehearsal went very well as there wasn't much to do.
The performance went very well indeed - the room was completely packed out. They kept bringing in more and more chairs, and then people were standing round the sides. Health and safety went out of the window and into the sea! The local organisers I think were delighted with how things have gone so far. Also, I think financially things in the north went well too, which is encouraging for the overall leadership team.
Today is a day off, and it is Mick's 70th birthday so we are having a BBQ at the house where the boys are staying (a family with 5 children at home - should be fun!).
Performance in Paphos
We had a good and restful day off on Tuesday - we had a short stroll by the salt lake in the morning and then had Mick's 70th birthday BBQ over most of the afternoon. It was good to spend time with our hosts, along with the organising team for the tour, as well as some of Mick's other Cyprus friends. In the evening we went down to the seafront again for another stroll and had a coffee.
Yesterday was a much, much longer day. We left fairly early on for Paphos, which is about a 2 hour drive from Larnaca. The venue was the UKCA (UK Citizen's Association) Club about half way between Paphos and Coral Bay. The venue was not the easiest - low ceiling and lots of pillars, but they had once again completely sold out, and there was standing room only by the time we got started.
We had a little bit of free time in the afternoon, so we travelled into Paphos to see the archaeological park - although in the end only Alan, Devon and I went inside - the others went to the seafront. They really missed out. We saw the proconsul's house, as well as some incredible mosaics.
We managed to fit in a good long team meeting too, which was great. The locals seem really thrilled with how it is all going and the team seem to be doing ok.
The choir did really well - the Paphos group had only had two rehearsals because their choir conductor had returned to the UK, so they had learnt it all from the part-learning CDs. They were joined by a few from Limassol, including a group that have come over from Staines.
The performance was different - there were pillars right at the front and to either side of the stage making it very awkward, but the audience seemed to really love it. There were some amazing people there - loads from the UK, including Roger and Mary's great friends the Southgates from Norwich. Roger and Mary had no idea they were coming, and they were utterly delighted.
We have a day off today - we are planning to go to Salamis, and then tomorrow it is the Limassol performance.
5 down, 1 to go!
On Thursday Devon, Mick, Alan, Bill, Yvette and myself travelled across the border to the north again, but this time as tourists to visit Salamis. Yvette and I had already been there, but it was certainly worth a second visit. It is such a shame that there is no continuing excavation there, and probably no attempt has been made to develop or add in any signage at all since the war in 1974.
In the evening, once Roger and Mary were up and dressed (Mary woke up after midday following our late return from Paphos) we all went out for a Chinese meal, which was great.
Yesterday was the Limassol performance day. We arrived in Limassol at lunch time where we shared a lovely lunch with some members of St Barnabas' Church there, including the vicar and his wife, Derek and Sue Smith. They were being visited by a group of friends from Staines Methodist Church, where CMM is taking Barnabas in a couple of months' time. Three years ago we performed Two Sisters and a Funeral in St Barnabas' church, but this time they wanted a bigger venue, so we walked 10 minutes down the road to the beautiful new building of the International Christian Fellowship in Limassol.
Fitting the choir on the stage was a bit of a squash, but the venue itself was lovely and big. The performance went really well, and although there were a few empty seats, the audience was still pretty big and really responsive.
The finale in Nicosia
Thanks for your prayers. We had a good day off in Larnaca on Saturday - a few of us went and had lunch on Richard and Tim's boat (safely moored in the Marina due to high winds) while Yvette spent some time with our flautist Claire, and Roger, Mick and Mary visited some friends who live a little way away in the hills with 12 dogs. Then in the evening we all spent an evening together in mine and Yvette's flat, which was nice and relaxing.
Yesterday we didn't have time to go to church as we needed to get to the municipal theatre in Nicosia. It is a lovely auditorium that seats 600 or 800 depending on who you talk to! Sadly there had been problems with choir and publicity in the city, so we weren't expecting a huge crowd. There were representatives from all of the choirs in the massed choir though, and together the 80+ singers made a fabulous sound.
We had a lovely time praying and ministering with the choir at the end of the rehearsal, and then again just before the performance. In the end there were just over 80 in the audience, which felt very sparse, but they seemed to enjoy it. Among them there were a group of Muslim refugees, so it'll be interesting to hear what they thought of it. It turned into a pretty late night once we had had dinner afterwards, but I guess you could call it acclimatising back to GMT!
Today we are going to a retreat house up in the hills to reflect on all that has passed. I'm really looking forward to it.
We had a lovely retreat on Monday. We spent time on our own with God, as well as worshipping and praying together. The retreat house, Katafiyo, was lovely - not huge with big grounds, but in the middle of a little village in the hills.
On Tuesday we had a debrief meeting with the tour organisers from each venue. After a little bit of feedback, there was a lot of discussion about what to do next. Essentially the decision made was for the Cyprus team to meet together in early February to pray together and wait on God. It's great they have decided to do that, because from our point of view of a team, it is hard to say yes or no when asked outright, 'So are you coming back?'! So do be praying for the group out there that they are able to keep the momentum and to follow up from the different events in a way that is appropriate and effective.
That evening all of the team except for Alan and myself headed to the military base in Dekalia to watch the dress rehearsal for the pantomime that will start tonight. Alan stayed behind to write his sermon and I managed to do a little more work on Spirit works! It was good that most of the team were able to support some of the choir members in something they were working on locally.
Yesterday we went for one last stroll on the seafront with one of Mick's great friends Erica, and then had lunch with her and her husband Tim, who had come as tech support for the visit to the north.
Then after a huge number of farewells (including tearful ones from the children at Devon, Bill and Alan's hosts) we caught the plane from Larnaca to Heathrow. We were really blessed - we landed a few minutes early, and both collecting our cases and getting back to the cars was quick and smooth.