Dear Family, Friends and Supporters,
Those of you who worship in churches which follow the liturgical calendar will know that the liturgical year has just finished with the celebration of 'Christ the King of the Universe'. We move now into the season of Advent as we look forward to celebrating the Incarnation of Christ.
I find it quite a shock to the system one Sunday to be celebrating Christ as the exalted King of the Universe, the next to be looking forward to the incarnation of that same Christ, born as a baby and lying in an animals' feeding trough.
But I suppose that was the whole point that the Church Fathers were trying to make. We need such helps to be reminded of the outrage of the incarnation; of just how unthinkable it is. In juxtaposing so incongruously these two festivals the Fathers sought to help us be shocked by the incarnation. By the unthinkable degree of God's love for us.
As we celebrate Christmas this year may we all, once again, be shocked by God's outrageous love for us and may we be moved to respond with our own costly acts of love and worship. May we be inspired to live out what we are;
'inheritors of a glorious past, and destined to a still more glorious future in the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem which is the home of the saints'
'Jesus and His Church', R. Newton Flew, Paternoster, 1938.
A blessed Christmas to you all from the March family.
Our News;We continue to appreciate your prayers and support on our behalf and pray that the Lord will bless you and reward you for your committment to us. As a family we are all in pretty good health at present for which we are grateful to God. So far we have mananged to avoid most of the 'bugs' that are going around.
We are quite busy at the moment. Mondays and Fridays are very full for Sharon as she visits 5 Primary schools to do English lessons. We have also had a lot of stuff to do for 'Telethon', a French equivalent of 'Children in Need'. Villy is to be the centre of activities for the valley this year. The Sapeur Pompiers are involved and we are demonstrating our 100 year old hand-powered water-pump (fortunately we do also have some more modern equipment!). People who buy one of our 'Telethon' keyrings get a 'free' go pumping water! Sharon for her part is organising a musical concert. All of this takes place on the 8th December.
The adults' English evening class that the villagers requested is going well. We have around 14 people who come along and it is great fun! It is the one time in the week where the tables are turned and I'm not the idiot making all the stupid mistakes!
Sharon's catechism class is going well. She has 4 children who attend on Wednesday afternoons.
My theology course is proving to be really interesting and a real challenge linguistically! It is quite philosophical in its approach to theology and reading Thomas Aquinas and Augustine is bad enough in English never mind in French! However, it is helping me to gain a perspective on the French Catholic approach to theology. It is particularly insightful hearing the questions that my fellow students ask - and the ones they don't ask!
We had a minor disaster last week when our T.V. blew up, 5 minutes from the end of a James Bond video that someone had taped for Sharon (is there a moral in that I ask myself!?). However this has caused us to investigate other pastimes. One of these is family readings of Shakespeare! Benjamin had seen a 'Veggietales' video which was based loosely (oh, so very loosely!) on Hamlet. So he wanted to know all about the story. We crashed around in the attic and found my old copy of the collected works of William Shakespeare (£5 at Bargain Books!) and now Ben and I are reading through it - I feel I'm making a particularly good job of being the King, but my protrayal of the Queen probably leaves something to be desired! But I had forgotten what Shakespeare's like - full of ghosts and 'dodgy' jokes (and they're making a fuss about Harry Potter!) But it does seem like Ben is turning a bit 'high-brow' - goodness knows where he gets it from! Needless to say we are looking out for a second-hand T.V. with some urgency!
[Praise the Lord, but as I write this our local t.v. repair man has just delivered a second-hand t.v. - to whoops of delight (and that's just Sharon and I!)]
We are happily receiving many 'Christmas parcels from home' - all of which we very much appreciate. We will be celebrating the holidays here on our own for the first time, and would value your prayers for that, and for family and friends, whom we will miss and we think will perhaps miss us too! But we are grateful at such times that God has placed us here where there is much less commercialism. It's only last week we started to have decorations, etc. appear in the shops! We know too that the holidays are not easy for many people, and assure you of our prayers over the season.
We hope that the points below will help you have some idea of our present situation and prayer needs.
Please thank God with us for:-
- Continuing good health and great half-term results for the boys at school - thanks for all the prayers!!
- Those of you who have sent us tapes which we have greatly appreciated.
- Those of you who have decided to continue with our support.
- God's invitation to be increasingly involved in village life through English classes and catechism. 'Your family have really added something to the life of the village' Not our words, but those of a local man we sat with at the village meal on Sunday. We see this positive reponse to us as direct answer to our (and we hope your) prayers that God will draw people to himself, using our life and witness here.
Please pray with us especially for :-
- More suitable accommmodation. We are grateful for our central heating, electrics that work well and being able to reach everything in the kitchen whilst sitting at the table!! However, we do feel the strain sometimes - even our Christmas tree has to be in storage this year (we'll put one outside)! Inviting even 2 people round for a meal is impossible without re-arranging the furniture, and we're finding that tough - and of course it isn't possible to have anyone to stay.
- The continuing paper-chase! We applied for the renewal of our papers on 1st October - we're still waiting!!! And whilst Sharon has had a contract, she's yet to be paid for the 2 months she's worked
- We will also have our first dealings with the French tax system in Jan. 2001 - by which time we'll be operating in Euros, aargh!!
- Friends!! How we miss people to talk/share pizzas/watch videos/go second-hand shopping with... Saturdays and Sundays can be very long! The boys will grow up very close, but naturally would appreciate other children to share with, never mind the opportunity to go to a Christian club, Boys' Brigade, etc.
Again, a blessed Christmas season to you all and our prayers for a New Year full of God's activity in and around your lives.
Grace and peace to you,
March News - September 2001Dear Friends,
Grace and peace to you all in the name of our Lord Jesus. We continue to greatly appreciate and thank God for your continued faithfulness towards us expressed in your prayers, encouragement and financial support. The Lord bless you.
It is hard to appreciate that we are approaching our first anniversary of life in France. Yet in another way it seems like a lifetime! As we look back over this past year we review 3 house moves completed without too much trauma; 3 boys integrated into the French school system and doing fine; a family learning how to live in France and beginning the process of shaping our lives in a French style; positive relationships begun with several families in the village and good opportunities for interaction with the community here; a welcome to participate in the life of the local church and a growing appreciation of many elements of the spirituality of the Catholic church - for all of these we are tremendously grateful to God and for your prayers that have sustained and supported us through all this. We give praise to the Lord and our heartfelt thanks to you.
In order to be honest with you I must share that it hasn't been, and isn't now, all 'unalloyed joy'! There have been, and still are, many struggles and difficulties. Some we expected, such as the sense of isolation; the feeling of 'not properly belonging' in France; the frustrations with language; the hassles with bureaucracy. Others have come as more of a surprise, such as our spiritual lives becoming much more 'up and down' than they were in Britain; the painful lack of fellowship and mutual encouragement that we didn't realise how much we benefited from in our church in Burton; the difficulty of living out a type of ministry that is incarnational i.e. more about what you 'are' than about what you 'do'. In all these, and in many more that I don't have space to mention, we stand in constant need of the grace of God.
We'd like to bring you up to speed on recent happenings since our previous letter. We received an unexpected cheque due to back paid French Child Benefit and so we decided to use this to fly back to Scotland for pretty much the whole month of August.
This was a great opportunity to meet family and friends and we enjoyed celebrating Joshua's 9th birthday together. We also were able to visit our previous home church in Kilsyth. You may remember that this church felt they could no longer support us due to our calling to work alongside the Catholic church in France rather than in opposition to it. Happily we found those who disagree with our approach gracious enough to greet us warmly and to at least be willing to have personal relationships with us. We praise the Lord for this blessing.
One highlight of our holiday we must mention was the Friday evening we spent at Sharon's Mum's with those of you close enough to get to us in Kilsyth. The French aperitif seemed to go down very well - if not the olives!! - and it was so great to be able to talk in person with around 40 of those of you who are faithful in your expressions of love and support for us.
On return to France we were greeted with the news that our freezer had gone 'on the blink' in our absence. Fortunately we didn't have too much in it and the lady who had been looking after our flat had cleaned up all the mess for us - the Lord bless her! Due to God's provision we were also in a position to be able to go out and buy a new fridge freezer for which we praise Him.
Sharon was approached by the lady who organises foreign language teaching for the primary schools in this area and asked if she was interested in doing some English teaching! Having said she was, she spent a morning visiting the six primary schools (including Villy) she will be giving lessons in.Work begins in earnest on October 1st. We praise the Lord for this provision of employment and for Sharon to be able to use again the teaching gift that God has given her. We also pray that somehow God will use this and the many contacts it will lead to in some way.
I hope to begin my theological studies at the Centre Universitaire Catholique De Bourgogne on the 8th October. I am looking forward to this although I am a bit intimidated by the idea of studying in French! Please pray for me! But I hope it will be a very good opportunity to get an insight into the differences between the Protestant, Evangelical approach to theology and that of the Catholic world. Some people have asked why, having obtained a theology degree, I am still studying theology. Well, in answer I would like to share a quote with you that I read in a Christian book today;
'Car s'il est possible de vivre sans connaître toutes les réponses, il est impossible de grandir sans se poser de questions.'
'For whilst it is possible to live without knowing all the answers, it is impossible to grow without asking oneself questions.'
One of our former lecturers at Bible college was famous for never answering questions. Whenever a student posed a question he would always bounce it back to the class with, 'Well what do you think?' And this was right and proper, because the primary goal of all theological education is not about teaching 'answers', but training people to think through problems biblically. Jesus Himself used the same method. In the parables He led people to explore a certain aspect of the nature of God or of the human condition. But He never lead them to closure. Jesus never gave 'pat' answers, but required people to go away and come to a conclusion themselves - in short, to ask themselves questions. It is one of the evidences of the grace of God that those who seek after truth with an honest heart will be led by the Spirit to find it. God says;
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jer 29:13
Indeed this is one of the primary activities of the Holy Spirit;
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. John 16:13
I know how much our lives have been enriched and blessed by the questions we have had to ask ourselves as we have engaged with different faith traditions to our own, be they Charismatic, Anglican, Orthodox, Catholic, Southern Baptist etc. This has both helped us 'negatively' in bringing a biblical critique to elements of our own tradition and also 'positively' in affirming and better appreciating its strengths. It's a little worrying that fewer and fewer Christians seem to be asking themselves questions, reading books that will stimulate them, exploring their faith and being willing to talk about it. Sadly some of our experience over the summer months left us frustrated in this respect. We would have really appreciated the opportunity of having deeper discussions with those who (dis!)agree with our approach, and for those who set aside time for these things, 'thank you!!' Our prayer is that you and we might continue to experience in our walk with God the wonder and freshness that comes from discovery as the Holy Spirit reveals to us more and more of God.
As I mentioned at the start, one of things we have found difficult is the lack of fellowship. We have therefore been really glad to have people come and spend some time with us. Over the past few months we have had friends from Kilsyth, the Birket family with whom we were at Moorlands college, Pastor Duncan Ridgeon and Jon Morgan from BCC and most recently Peter and Ann Squire from BCC. All these visits have been times of spiritual refreshing and growth for us and we praise God for them. We must also thank David and Diane Bjork for their continuing support and friendship, especially over our first year here.
With regard to our 'winter session' fast approaching, we are looking forward to the fact that will at least know something of the village calendar this time round! We look forward to our parish 'thank you' to our now officially retired priest - although in fact he is staying on here in the village to assist Didier, the priest from Vitteaux, who, incidentally, will be teaching some of Stephen's courses. We await with interest to see the plans God has for the combined parish of Villy-Vitteaux. At the beginning of December the village is hosting the local area 'Children in Need' event with which we will all be involved in one way or another.We have also been asked to help at an English carol service.
If I could ask for specific prayer support I would mention the following;
- More suitable long-term accommodation, it is difficult having no space for the boys to run around in, or mom and dad to be quiet in!
- Sharon's English teaching in the 6 primary schools and her work and witness through that.
- My theological studies, that I would keep up with the French and be stimulated by the material.
- The boys as they plug back into school and for their French to keep improving.
- For our spiritual lives to stay vibrant and healthy despite not having many opportunities for fellowship.
- Wisdom as to how best to use the school holidays - all 8 weeks of it over the next 6 months! Whilst this may not seem crucial, given our lack of space it is an issue, and at the moment we have no plans to return to the UK.
Thanks again for all your prayers and support,
March News - June 2001
As I write this, the March family is in the midst of moving house - again! This makes 3 times in 8 months, and all in the same village! Again I'm afraid that it's only a temporary solution - not because we have to move from here, but because it is really too small for us - we're going to a 3- room apartment above the village school. But we are forced into moving as the house we are renting has been sold. So after a lot of prayer (thanks so much to those of you who have joined with us in this) the village council have offered us the let of this apartment until something more suitable comes up. It will be a bit of a squeeze - most of our stuff, including my theological books (sob!) have had to go into storage in the attic and garage, but we are grateful to God for enabling us to stay in the village.
We are all in good spirits and happy with life most of the time. The boys are doing well at school and their teacher told us that they have largely been able to cover the work required and so will not have to repeat this year.
We are so grateful for the way that God has answered prayers in helping them to adapt to the French school system and to cope with the language difficulty.
Our integration into village life continues amazingly well. The picture here shows me - the pride of British manhood - in my Sapeur Pompier uniform. For the uninitiated a Sapeur Pompier is a voluntary fireman!
The Sapeur Pompiers are the first port of call for help for small scale emergencies - chimney fires, cats stuck up trees, corks stuck in bottles, etc! Our most regular duty is forming the "guard of honour" at all village events - of which there are many!
I have joined the village corps as it is one of the few things I can do at present to contribute to village life. I am officially Sapeur Pompier 'Stagier' and have to complete 4 courses on first aid and fire-fighting over the next 12 months to graduate as a fully-fledged Sapeur Pompier.
I have also been able to find a little bit of work through an agency that helps the unemployed do odd jobs - but all legitimate and 'above board'. So I have been doing a lot of emulsioning and also a bit of gardening. It doesn't pay very well (minimum wage and all that) but it helps keep me fit and gives me an opportunity to meet people and to practice my French.
Sharon continues to build friendships with many ladies from the village. She also teaches English to 4 school children each week. She is pursuing the possibility of part-time work involved in helping to teach English in primary schools. Please pray that the Lord will show us clearly whether this would be His will or not.
So how are we doing?Well we have been made very aware that that it is sometimes in the small things of life that we become tired and 'battle weary'. We have found material crises the most difficult things to deal with (remember the mice, chimney fire, blocked toilet, overflowing sceptic tank......?) Each day for a time we woke up thinking 'what now?' and had to struggle through sleeplessness and a sense of unease at what was going on. We had to make an effort to focus on the goodness of God and on the present and the future rather than the past.
We do feel isolated from time to time - having had friends from Britain over recently has helped, but most of the time we lack fellowship. We love having contact with you all, and have particularly enjoyed tapes of ministry we have been sent (preaching to each other doesn't really seem like a good idea!) Each Sunday evening we listen to a tape in order to have some 'input' in our own language!
We have had opportunities to testify and minister into difficult situations and believe this is still the place God would have us live. We have attended our first funeral here - a very sad occasion as the baby boy was one week old - and are in contact with that family. We have been able to pray for the boys' teacher whose husband was involved in a bad farming accident and will be immobile for three months.
On the home front, we are now registered with a local doctor and have gone through rigorous health checks in order to join the Social Security system. Thankfully the news was mostly good (apart from Sharon's battle with French cheese, chocolate and the scales!) But you can imagine our dismay when we were told that Joshua has the highest level of cholesterol of all of us and has now to cut out his favourite soft-boiled eggs! He will have a further blood test in a few months and we are hoping that he will not need medication. Ben and Caleb are now awaiting eye tests as these medicals showed that they may need glasses.
We thank you all sincerely for your prayers on our behalf. Please join with us in bringing the following before God.
- Residency papers received (only 7 months' wait for a 12 month permit, so we have to re-apply in August!)
- Our old car being returned to the UK by some friends in order to be sold. This was a major test of faith as the cylinder head gasket went the night before they were due to leave! 2 bottles of special 'goo' and much prayer got them back to the UK without incident! The gasket has now been repaired, the car is MOT'd and now up for sale.
- We have been able to buy, either new or 2nd hand, a cooker, washing machine, TV and video.
- We received the Gift Aid element (re-claimed tax) of our financial support through SKI over recent months. This has greatly helped with the above purchases. We really praise God for the services of SKI and the continued faithfulness and generosity of those who support us.
- A stress-free move (Stephen really hates moving!) and help with the heavy stuff!
- For us to be able to find more suitable accommodation as quickly as possible.
- Grace with each other as we adapt to living in a confined space - and for Mum as she cooks in a 5-foot square 'cupboard' with six shelves as storage!
- Guidance about whether we should try to visit the UK this summer and all the practicalities involved.
- That Joshua's cholesterol level would reduce in response to a change in diet.
- Ben and Caleb's eye tests and possible need for glasses.
- Help to find further French language training for Stephen.
- For God to reveal clearly His will with regard to possible English teaching work for Sharon.
- For opportunities to share the love of Christ and the gospel of Christ with those we are getting to know in the area.
- That the amalgamation between our church and that of Vitteaux in September will be a positive thing and for guidance as to how we should be involved in this bigger parish.
We will continue to remember that our God is more than big enough for all of our situations, and are comforted by the fact that nothing comes as a surprise to Him!
"Sow righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up our unploughed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord until He comes and showers righteousness on you"
Much love and thanks from,
The March Family.
March News - February 2001
Intrigued but Clueless!Warmest greetings to you all, our friends, family and supporters! We give thanks every day to God for the people He has placed alongside us who strengthen us and resource us through their prayers, encourage us with their letters, cards and e-mails, and sacrificially share with us the resources God has given them.
May each one of you be blessed with all spiritual blessings for your kindness towards us.
Well, where do I start to give you a picture of how we are getting on in our new life in France!? The title of this letter really sums up our current situation. We are intrigued as we see very clear evidence of God at work in and around us, however we remain largely clueless as to how things will 'pan out'!
Let me give you a few examples of how we have been amazingly warmly welcomed to this village;
- The old lady who leaves us a dozen eggs (from her hens!) and potatoes from her garden each week.
- Sharon being invited to be a town councillor (her French was so good they thought she must have dual nationality!). Her being British this wasn't possible but she has been invited to join a local committee which runs the annual arts festival, and maintains the rambling paths.
- The church chose Sharon to be one of their representatives working with our neighbouring parish planning a visit our bishop is making.
I hope these few examples help you understand how incredibly God is answering your prayers for us. We have met many people who have moved to France, we know NO-ONE who has experienced such a welcome!
Isn't that intriguing?!
We can also see God at work in our church situation. Our priest is to retire in September (he is 75, the average age for a priest in France is 72!). Due to the lack of priests our parish is to be amalgamated with the neighbouring one of Vitteaux. Whilst we are sad about this in one respect it also excites us in that it 'just so happens' that the priest of Vitteaux is also a professor in the Catholic seminary in Lyon. It turns out that he is the very professor who has invited our friend David Bjork to co-teach a course on the sacraments with him!
Thus, without our knowing any of this when we moved here, God has placed us in the parish of about the most 'open' priest in France in terms of Catholic/Protestant co-operation!
Isn't that intriguing?!
Sharon took Ben to Catechism class at church (Catholic Sunday School) and proceeded to be invited to the diocesan training morning for Catechists! She found that meeting very interesting and has been invited to help out with the teaching in our church.
Isn't that intriguing?!
I hope that the above examples suffice to give you a sense of the excitement we feel as we perceive God at work around us. We are sure we are in the right place and continue to look to God for opportunities to serve Him in demonstrating the love of Christ and proclaiming the truth of Christ.
Home LifeWe praise God for the way in which we as a family have adjusted to living in France. Both Sharon's Mum and my Mom and Dad have commented on how happy the boys are. They are also happy at school and the teachers regularly remark on how pleased they are with their progress. We do give thanks and praise to God for this blessing.
We are about to move home, as the place where we are currently living is a holiday home and is let from Easter. We praise and thank God that He has opened up an opportunity for us to stay in the village. An English couple we have become friends with have bought another house 30 minutes away and have moved there recently. They are willing to let us rent their house in Villy while it is on the market being sold. It is MUCH smaller house than the 'mansion' we have enjoyed for the past few months! But in this we again see God's 'call to contentment' regardless of our circumstances.
While we would have preferred to have had a more long-term solution to our housing needs, we see this very much as God's provision and we therefore embrace it and wait to see what will happen!
We have been amazed at the helpfulness of the local people with regard to our move. Someone is coming 'round with his van to help us move our big stuff. I was even interrupted in the writing of this letter by another lady saying her husband will give us a hand as well, and that he has a trailer if we need it. She has also helped us to arrange the emptying of the septic tank, as we had to do this before we could move in - some things are just ESSENTIAL!
The house we are moving into is currently in 'a bit of a state' as the owners are having central heating installed at present. They feel it will help to sell it. This will be great for us, but we just hope it will be finished on time!
We also have to get hold of a cooker and washing machine, as there are neither in the house. But we are confident God will provide what we need.
Study LifeI completed the semester's language course and managed to achieve a 'Mention Bien' in my exams, which was encouraging. However God indicated to us that it wasn't right for me to continue with the second semester at present. I am therefore continuing to work on my French at home with Sharon. I have the opportunity of returning to the language school in October to do a further semester's study then.
I am also continuing to broaden (and hopefully deepen!) my theological studies and trying to get a hold on the historical development of the French church. I am also glad to have been given an opportunity to assist David Bjork in doing a little background research for him into evangelism methods and conversion models for his doctoral thesis. So I have a dozen books to review over the next few weeks! For me this is a genuine joy - strange creature that I am!
Ingleesh LessonsSharon was approached by one of our neighbours and asked whether she would teach English to his grandchildren. She agreed and now each Saturday a brother and sister of secondary school age come and have an hour each of English lessons. We wonder whether this is something that could develop further, or whether it might be possible for Sharon to assist in some way in the local secondary school. We continue to pray for God's leading and guiding in this.
Prayer LifeI hope by now you have got a feel for the sense of praise that is in our hearts for God's gracious leading and guiding and blessing over the past few months. Added to that must be a wonderful answer to prayer in the provision of the means to buy a French car! We are now learning the joys of left hand drive vehicles - Praise the Lord!
Please take a moment even now to join with us in expressing thankfulness to God...
With regard to points for prayer I hope those are also obvious;
- Housing and related needs.
- Deepening relationships with people from the village and opportunities to encourage them in their relationship with God.
- Further opportunities to serve God and share in the work of the Kingdom through His church.
- Residency papers still elude us. We continue to send backwards and forwards letters, photocopies, bank statements, sworn affirmations etc. But as yet no result. This is a hassle and also a little worrying as without residency our medical cover is a little vague. With 3 active boys we would like to be clearly 'in' the medical care system! Please pray that God will grant us favour with those who have authority over this matter.
Finishing WellIn our letters we usually try to share something with you of what the Lord has been teaching us in our own walk with Him over the recent weeks. I found that God has recently taken me back to the topic of 'finishing well'.
David Bjork shared with us almost a year ago that a study of contemporary Christian leaders and of biblical characters revealed the worrying statistic that only 33% of those who start well with God finish well. When those who did finish well were studied, it was seen that they shared several characteristics;
- They had perspective, which enabled them to focus.
- They enjoyed intimacy with Christ and experienced repeated times of inner renewal.
- They were disciplined in important areas of life.
- They maintained a positive learning attitude all their lives.
- They had a network of meaningful relationships and several important mentors during their lifetime.
©‘Connecting’ by Paul D. Stanley and J. Robert Clinton, Navpress, 1992
I find the first of these particularly significant. It indicates that strong finishers don't lose sight of the 'big picture' and get lost in the details of daily work and life. So many Christians lose the wonder and sense of awe at the majestic out-working of God's salvific plan in human history. They are too busy with the mundanities of 'the day to day routine' - even of 'the day to day routine of church'.
We need a regular diet of wonder in order to keep a healthy perspective on what is really important, who we really are and on what we are really on this planet to do.
May God grant you and us those regular moments of wonder in order that we can maintain our perspective on life. May He grant us the grace to do all that is necessary to 'finish well' with Him - which is really only the 'finishing' of the 'beginning!'
Grace and peace to you,
The March Family