Happy New Year for 2003!Dear Friends and Family,
We do thank all those of you who have kindly sent us Christmas cards. We have hung them up on the wall and they have really brightened up our flat! As a family we want to thank you for your prayers and support and to wish you all God's richest blessing for 2003. May you grow closer to Him and experience Him at work in and around your lives in wonderful ways.
In reading through a summary of the Christian movement from its origins to the present day ("Perspectives on the World Christian Movement"), this particular quote got under my skin;
"Mission exists because worship doesn't"
The author makes the point that the purpose of everything is that God should be worshipped. The great tragedy of human existence is that God is outrageously under-worshipped. Thus the primary motivation for all prayer and activity is our outrage that God isn't worshipped as He should be. This is the divine aspect to the tragedy.
As people who have come to know God and to appreciate the wonder of Him, and as those who have come to revel in an intimate and passionate love relationship with Him through Jesus, we need to revolt against the way the world is. We want people to worship God - because He is worth it, but also because it is the highest calling and privilege of mankind. As G.K. Chesterton wrote,
in kneeling before God mankind feels freer than before,
in bowing before God he feels taller
... prayer and sacrifice are a liberty and an enlargement
in bowing before God he feels taller
... prayer and sacrifice are a liberty and an enlargement
from "The Everlasting Man".
This is because mankind is made to worship. If we turn away from worshipping the true God we don't then worship nothing, rather we worship anything. As Jeremiah poignantly remarked, people come to resemble what they worship (Jer 2:5, 10:8 see also Psalm 115:8). In worshipping "lesser gods" mankind is diminished. This is the human aspect to the tragedy.
May God keep this motivation before all of us as we move into 2003. May our prayer be that God will be worshipped by us and by those around us - which is the way things should be. It is the glory, privilege and also the responsibility of man to choose the object of his worship.
Making a Splash!:We have just returned from a wonderful 4 night break at a Centre Parks resort in France. We went away to celebrate Sharon's 40th birthday (Oh no! Four Oh!). We were also celebrating Ben's 12th birthday in the same week and we really had a great time. I taught the boys to play squash - brilliant game, sadly not popular in France - it's more expensive than golf here! We also played badminton and table tennis, not to mention the water slides and 'wild river rapids!' Our best memory is of swimming outside at night, under a full moon and a starry sky - wonderful!
Boyz 'n' the 'hood:Back in 'real' life - we have all adapted well to our new pattern of life. Ben is doing well at "college" and near the top of his class in most subjects.
Joshua is also doing well in the last year of primary school. He has recently joined a theatre club in the valley (at the request of his teacher). In March and April they do 8 performances as they 'tour' the nearby villages. His rôle is Vercingetorix, complete with handlebar moustaches and swordfights! He loves the whole business and is a natural 'clown'. I'm sure he will completely ham it up and bring the house down!
Caleb is also doing well at school. His year group comprises him and 5 girls! He is quite sporty - mostly through having to try hard to keep up with his big brothers!
Madame March:Sharon's increased teaching schedule is quite a challenge, but we seem to be getting up to speed with it. She is meeting with the Inspector in February to talk about the possibility of moving towards a 'proper' permanent contract. At present Sharon works under an 11 month contract which is annually renewed.
Paper Chasing:Part of Sharon's motivation in looking into the possibility of a permanent contract is that it would enable us to apply for a longer-term residency permit. As many of you will know, bureaucracy in France is legendary! At present we have to re-apply each year for a residency permit. We had a scare over this in October when we were mistakenly told we had only been granted a 3 month permit! Happily this proved to have been a simple mistake, but we had a horrible weekend wondering what was going to happen to us. The application process is very onerous and involves photocopying every piece of paper we possess at least 3 times! (Even the ones we have already presented several times already!)
If one of us had a permanent job - even if it was part-time job - we would be able to apply for a 5 year residency permit. Please pray for guidance about this and good advice from the people Sharon will speak to. Please also pray that we would get our French National Insurance cover sorted out. Even after 2 years we have still not got this properly sorted out. Part of the difficulty is our unusual circumstances, but most of it is the labyrinthine French system. A million and one different departments - none of which communicate with each other! I can laugh now, but sometimes it gets beyond a joke.
Support:In our last newsletter we offered you all the opportunity to re-assess your involvement with us, be it in prayer or financial support. To date we have not had anyone withdraw, but rather we have had a few new people request to be involved with us! We are amazed at the people God has raised up to be partners with us, in whatever crazy thing God is doing in our lives!
I read recently something about missionary giving. The author said there can be two motivations. Sadly, some churches and individuals give to missions in order to get out of the obligation they feel to be involved in missions. In effect they give in order to 'buy themselves out of missions'. Others however, give to missions as a genuine desire to be involved with the missionary God, they pray and give in order to be a part of what God is doing in the wider world. In effect they 'buy themselves into missions'. We are delighted that most of you seem to be firmly in the latter category! Your prayers, letters, tapes, gifts etc. convince us that you are missions-hearted people. You want to be a part of the awesome, world-transforming activity of our missionary God. Bless you! May the Lord give a good return on your investment.
Attic Attack:Last time we also asked you to pray about God's provision re accommodation. As yet no other possibilities have been forthcoming. However, we approached the local council and they have expressed an interest in transforming our attic into two bedrooms! Nothing is definite yet, but they have had people in to prepare quotes and if all goes well work could begin in May! If this work went ahead it would make a great difference to us. We would even be able to use one of our present rooms as a study - yes I might be able to get my books out of their boxes!!
Further Studies:As a related issue, we would ask you to join with us in praying about whether or not I should seek to continue my theological studies by doing a Masters degree in theology by distance learning. It is an idea that keeps coming back, but it would be a big commitment in lots of ways (and for all of us!). Thus we need to be clear that it is God's will before we commit ourselves.
Making a Contribution:We continue to try to do all we can to encourage and support the life of the church in our village. Sharon plays the keyboard and practices with the choir. She is also very appreciated by the children she teaches catechism. I do what little things I can and helped to decorate the church for Christmas in putting up the tree and the crèche. I have also been asked to do one of the readings at the late night service on Christmas Eve. In all these little ways we seek to demonstrate our love for God and to encourage others in their love and service for him.
We also continue to try to make a contribution to the life of the village. I am about to undergo a 5 day fire-fighting course for my volunteer fireman activities. Our adults' English evening class continues with around 6 students. Please pray that even through these activities we might influence others for Christ.
Again our best wishes for 2003, and our heartfelt appreciation of your concern, prayers and gifts.
The March Family
APRIL 2003Dear Friends and Family (Haven't BT used that somewhere?!),
I have been reading a book called "Finding Faith" by Brain McLaren (a real hero of mine). This is a wonderful book to give to friends who are spiritually 'searching'. One of the sections in this book really impacted me. He gives spiritual searchers advice about how to evaluate religious belief using four tests;
- Does the belief make sense?
Is it credible, does it fit with what you already know of the way the world is and how life is? Is it convincing, believable?
- Is the belief workable and liveable?
Does this belief impact lives positively or negatively? Does it lead to life and hope or to destruction and despair?
- Do I want to associate with people who profess this belief?
What is the fruit of this belief in the community life of those who profess it? I don't expect perfection but I expect honesty, forgiveness, love, unselfishness, acceptance, vitality.
- If I affiliated with this group, would I feel comfortable bringing an interested friend to visit?
Healthy faith should be contagious, so I should want to share this with my friends. Would they be welcomed at my church? Or would I be embarrassed to bring them knowing that it would be incomprehensible, unwelcoming, offensive or irrelevant?
I find these questions quite powerful. I think it would do Christian churches a great service if they were to evaluate themselves according to these criteria. Or, even better, to get non-Christians to evaluate them by these criteria - now that would be brave!
I guess at the root of it all is the fundamental constant that the best advert for Christianity is,
'life lived well at close range'
May God help you and I, and the faith communities of which we are a part, to fulfill this difficult but vital calling.
Now for our News:
Toulon:We spent a few days in February at Toulon in the South of France. In the process of getting there we discovered that Villy en Auxois is exactly equidistant from Toulon (on the South coast) and Calais (on the North coast). It takes 6½ hours driving time to get to both of them! We went there to meet up with David and Diane Bjork and another family Eric, Ashley and Jesse (only 10 months old!) Brendle.
The Brendles are young American missionaries based on the island of Corsica. It was good to meet up with them and to hear how God is leading them into the same kind of collaborative approach to evangelism and discipleship that Servant of Servants Foundation seeks to promote.
Book:Whilst at Toulon David and I spent some time developing the outline for a book we have decided to write together. This is a long-term project as David won't finish his doctoral studies until June. However, such a long timescale gives me the opportunity to do the reading and study I will need to do for the chapters I will contribute.
Please pray about this project as I am really excited about it but we still need to find a publisher etc.
Visits:We greatly enjoyed a weekend visit from our friends John and Maggie Goddard from Burton. We were also delighted to have Sharon's mom come over for a weekend - a birthday present from the family! They all took advantage of the BUZZ flights to Dijon which makes such short visits possible. Sadly, those flights have now been suspended following the Ryanair takeover of BUZZ. We hope that in future months this service will resume, but as yet there is no news.
Sapeur-Pompier Training:These past few months I have been doing a lot of training with the Sapeur-Pompiers. I completed a 5 day basic fire-fighting course, and a 1 day first aid course. These have pushed my French language skills on a good deal, to say the least! Happily I was also able to pass the assessments.
Guidance:We asked you to pray about whether I should do a Masters degree by distance learning. As we prayed we didn't sense God giving us the 'green light' for this. So we have shelved this project for the time being.
We also asked you to pray about whether there might be other job possibilities for Sharon. She met with the main guy from Dijon and he was very impressed with her teaching skills. He signed a certificate on the spot to validate her teaching ability! However, after discussion it seems unlikely that there will be any other employment possibilities unless she were willing to travel even further afield than the 250 miles a week she drives at present.
We did receive a 'phone call from someone saying that the local hospital in Vitteaux is looking for a new gardener and, knowing of my previous odd-job experience, our acquaintance wondered if I would be interested. I went and filled in a form (always the first step in anything French!) and we pray for God's guidance about whether anything comes of this.
Lent:As part of our lenten preparation Sharon and I decided to buy a lenten daily devotions booklet. We felt God's leading to buy a pack of 10 and to distribute them amongst people we felt might use them. This proved to be a great encouragement. Not only were the booklets well received but the people were so positive about us and our family, and the contribution we try to make to the church here in the village. We praise God for this foundation of appreciation that He has created and we pray that He will build on this.
Acting Debut:As you will see from the picture, Joshua (the one in the winged helmet!) is in mid-tour with his theatre club. He is doing great, hamming it up and ad-libbing like a pro! He plays Vercingetorix, the great Gaulish hero, complete with moustaches! (About as odd as Liam Neeson playing Rob Roy and Mel Gibson playing William Wallace!)
The boys are all doing well. Fit and healthy again after some winter colds etc. They are all working hard at school and spend at lot of their spare time preparing for their future career - testing Playstation games!
UK Visit:As many of you will know, my Dad's health situation continues to deteriorate. Mom and Dad have therefore had to concel their plans to visit us in May. Instead we will fly to the UK for a week 1st - 7th May. Please continue to pray about Dad's palliative care, pain relief, absence of side-effetcs etc. Also please pray that this time we will spend togther in May will be a precious memory for all of us.
Attic:We told you in our last letter of the possibility of our attic being converted into 2 bedrooms. Well the council have decided to go ahead with this project, which is a wonderful answer to prayer. This is a significant expenditure for a small village like this. In fact it is the second largest budget item for the financial year! They have informed us that work is scheduled to start in April. Thus we had to empty the attic of all our belongings, including 2,000 theological books! Happily there is a garage that we have use of, so it is now packed floor to ceiling with our stuff! PLease pray that the work would start soon, not be too messy and not take too long!
Again we bless you for your concern, prayers and support. May the Lord reward you all.
In my reading of the history of Christian spirituality I came across an interesting quote from Martin Luther. He was referring to some excesses being experienced in the 15th century regarding the veneration of saints.
"Of course there are abuses," he said, "but are they eliminated by destroying the objects abused? Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shall we then prohibit wine and abolish women? Such haste and violence betray lack of confidence in God."
Luther was unhappy with current excesses with regard to the place of saints in the spirituality of his time. Yet he also appreciated that the lives of the saints - those who have lived the Christian life well - are a great source of encouragement and challenge for us as we live through our own struggles and difficulties. Keeping alive the memory of our spiritual predecessors helps us to feel our 'connectedness' with those who have gone before us, those whom the Bible tells us are now cheering us on from glory (Heb 12:1). Luther's point was that the healthy response to abuse is proper use, not non-use.
As I meditated on Luther's statement I reflected on how many times, within the history of Christianity, abuses have not been met with such a wise response. Sadly, abuses are more often countered with over-reactions; over-reactions which then themselves often lead to an unbalanced and impoverished spirituality.
May God give us all grace to meet the excesses of our brothers and sisters in Christ with patience, gentleness and, above all, with confidence in God.
Promoted to Glory:As many of you will already know, my father died on Friday 16th May. It was a wonderful blessing that we as a family had been able to visit just two weeks before. It was a very precious time that we spent together with Mom and Dad. We had the privilege of joining together in prayer as a family and of having Dad pray a final blessing on each one of us.
After our departure Dad's condition rapidly worsened, and on Wednesday 14th he had to be hospitalised. The doctors and nurses were brilliant and did everything possible to keep Dad (and the family) comfortable. Dad was not conscious very much, but in his last conversation on earth he recommended Christ to his GP!
I went over on my own to the UK for Dad's funeral in order to be able to stay on for 10 days and help Mom start sorting everything out.
We do thank the many, many people who have supported our whole family through the past few years of Dad's illness, and especially over the past few weeks. We have been overwhelmed by the cards, flowers and practical gifts which have been given to us. It is at these times that we do feel so very far away from our families - the harsh realities of a missionary calling. Thank you all again so much for your love and support.
Wedded Bless:An English couple that were our first landlords when we moved to France, and who have since become our friends, came to tell us that they had decided to get married - after 17 years of living together! We were delighted to hear this and even more amazed when they said that, although they had decided to have a civil wedding, they would like me to do a blessing ceremony for them! They also wanted the ceremony to include a blessing on their 9 year old son, (and as it turned out, for their 4 year old grand-daughter as well!). I was delighted to be asked to do this and worked with them to prepare an appropiate service. The ceremony itself went very well, Sharon and I both sensed the presence of God as we met in a tiny village chapel which the Catholic priest had kindly allowed us to use. We presented each one with either a Bible or some Christian book to help them go further towards faith.
Bjork News:We spent a great afternoon with David and Diane and also with David's parents (Dave and Lois) who have come over to visit them for a month. It was a privilege and a honour to meet them - they're great fun! They are here especially to attend David's defence of his doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne in Paris on Wed 2nd July. Please pray for David as this is a daunting prospect for anyone, but in your second language even moreso!
We also rejoice with the Bjork's in that their son-in-law has finally been granted US residency. This is great timing as Jean-Marceau and Marie-Rose are expecting a baby this autumn!
Coffee and Surprises:A few days ago we were telephoned and invited to coffee by one of our near neighbours. This was the first time that we had been asked into their home. When we arrived they explained that the reason for inviting us was that so we could meet the husband's brother who, it just happens, is the priest at the big cathedral in Dijon!
Will this prove to be a significant contact? Who knows? But again it has surprised us the things that God brings into our lives!
Attic Conversion:Well, as I write this the workmen are busily working overhead - quite tough for them as it has been 38° in the shade! The insulation and plasterboarding has been completed, the wiring laid, the floor levelled. In fact all systems are go! If all goes to schedule the works should be completed by the end of June.
This will be such a major blessing for us, and a real answer to prayer. To be able to have proper bedrooms and also a study - bliss! We praise the Lord!
Scotland:We have booked up to come to Scotland for a month this summer (17th July to 13th August). We will fly from Paris to Prestwick airport. As normal we will be staying at the Arnbrae Road Hilton! Sharon and I will celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary during this time and we have booked up to go away for a special weekend together - our first weekend on our own for 4 years! My Mom will also come to Kilsyth during our time in Scotland and stay with my sister Elisabeth. My other sister Sarah and her husband Glen (and their children too, of course!) will also spend some time with us, so we will be able to see everybody which will be great. This will be good for us as a family as Sarah and Glen have just accepted a post, which he will take up in October, as chaplain of a large Christian private school in Vancouver. So we really are going to be a far-flung family!
During our time in Scotland we would like to see anybody that would like to see us! We are planning a Sunday afternoon informal 'come and meet us' type of thing and we will communicate details to those of you who live in the area once we have sorted it out. Anyone who can't make this date (or who would just like to meet us in a different setting!) is invited to contact us and we will arrange to see you separately.
Again we thank you and praise God for your prayers, love and support. May the Lord reward you all richly.
Grace and peace,
The March Family
Dear Friends and Family,
While doing some internet research on theological books, (yes, yet more books to buy!), I came across a review of a book about Christian unity. The reviewer stated that people often make much of Jesus' prayer for the unity of the future church (John 17:20ff). He asked people to remember that Jesus' other prayer request that, "this cup be taken from me" (Matt 26:39), wasn't fulfilled either. By this he seemed to be suggesting that the divided Christian world we live in is simply God's will.
I was not able to agree with this reviewer. The cross was essential to God's plan for salvation. Although Jesus prayed that it might be avoided, once it was clear that this was God's will, Jesus willingly accepted it. Unity amongst Christians, however, is a very different matter. We know for a fact that God's will is always for unity amongst his people (Psalm 133). Thus disunity within the family of God can only ever be the result of human weakness and sinfulness. (This must not be confused with diversity, which is a healthy and natural thing.)
But what kind of unity should we seek? If we think about families; some families live together, some families work together and some families just get together at times of celebration. I think this analogy helps us picture three different possibilities for Christian unity - Physical unity, Functional unity and Celebratory unity.
Physical unity - Christians 'living' together, becoming a unified world church, is probably not very likely before the return of Christ. When the Bridegroom appears, then the Bride certainly will be united! Before that, however, I can't even imagine such a thing in a positive way.
However, I firmly believe that Functional unity - Christians working together and Celebratory Unity - Christians worshiping together, ARE possible.
I believe that we all need to pray and work that Jesus' prayer might be answered in our lives and in our fellowships. That the Holy Spirit would lead us to discover ways to work and to worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, even when they belong to Christian traditions different to our own.
News and Prayer Requests:
Bigger and Better:We are greatly enjoying our two new rooms upstairs - PTL! It is an amazing answer to your (and our) prayers for more suitable accommodation. The rooms are great, (you can now see for yourselves by doing a virtual tour of our flat on our website!), and the downstairs room has now been turned into an office. I have all my books around me - sigh! And I even managed to find a space for my dartboard!
I have been on my best behaviour over the past few days as the Mother-in-law has been here! It has been great to see Sharon's mom. She is very brave, travelling all the way from Scotland to France on the train.
We really appreciate being able to have her stay with us, now that we have two more bedrooms. Again we are very grateful to God.
The Book Project:The book that David Bjork and I are writing is now coming together. Over the summer, David met with a US publisher and also got several people to review what we have written so far. The reaction he got was very positive and also gave us a much better 'feel' for our target readership. Please continue to pray for this project as I believe that it is important.
On the Buses:A minibus service collects the children from the outlying villages and brings them to the school in Villy. The lady who normally looks after the children getting on and off the bus etc. is going to be off for two months and asked me if I would be her replacement. This will be a couple of hours work each day and so will be a help financially (more books to buy!). If it all goes through I should start mid October.
On the Road Again:Sharon begins work again in the first week of October. If you remember, she found the driving quite tiring last year, but was asked to come back and do teaching again even before the summer holidays! We see this as part of God's provision for our finances, and a big part of getting to know lots of children in the area well!! Despite having the same number of visits (20 in 4 days) it looks as though there will be less mileage, having sometimes 2 classes in the one school.
Carte de Séjour:Yes, it's time to renew all our paperwork yet again!! Having visited our friendly local council worker, we are in the midst of preparing a request for residency papers for another year. We have been advised that finances and the lack of full-time permanent employment may be the sticking points to us being granted longer term papers. As only God can do anything about either of those, we are continuing to pray and will probably write yet another explanatory letter to send off with our fat bundle of photocopies!
Back to School:After a shaky start, the boys are settling back to school. It's tough!! Joshua moved up to secondary school this year. He and Ben are finding the day is long and the food is not very good (but in order of importance it's the other way round, if you ask them).
Caleb has really missed them and found getting back into French this time round quite difficult. But the work never gets any easier, and he has a big year ahead.
The three boys are growing up fast. Sharon and I are very conscious of our need for wisdom. The boys have no peers who are Christians, have no small groups or church-based organisations to encourage them in their faith. Please pray for us all as they approach the years where parents turn stupid overnight!!
Père Claude:Please pray for Claude, our new priest. It is crucial that we have good links with him, and we haven't met him yet. We were delighted to meet another family, however, the day of his parish welcome. This family expressed interest in getting together to form some kind of small group, led by them and concentrating perhaps on different aspects of family life. This would be such an answer to prayer for us, but we felt it important to leave it with them so that we can participate without taking on reponsibility, in case there would be any objections to that. So please pray that God would move in this, if indeed it is his invitation.
Sapeur-Pompier:There is no let up in my volunteer fireman training schedule! Straight after our return from Scotland I attended a 5 day first aid course. Happily I passed the exam and I am now accredited to use a semi-automatic defibrillator and to administer oxygen - Is that scary or what!
Website Encouragement:Our website continues to grow and to bring us encouragement. As I mentioned above you can now do a virtual tour of our home and surroundings. Hopefully this will give you all a better 'feel' for where God has put us.
We have also had some amazing encouragements from people who have appreciated the Bible studies etc. that can be downloaded from the site. 'Thank you' emails have come from as far away as Edmonton and Madagascar! To date we have had over 1,000 visits!
Well, there you are, all our latest 'bits'. Again our sincere thanks and appreciation for your prayers and support - we would not be here if it wasn't for you continuing to uphold us, encourage us and support us.
May the Lord bless and reward you all.
Grace and Peace. The March Family