March News New Year 2004
And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead thay were longing for a better country - a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Heb 11:13b-16 NIV.
Dear Friends and Family,
As someone who lives as a stranger and an alien in foreign country, I find these verses especially poignant. At celebration times, such as Christmas and New Year, I particularly feel the separation from family and friends and my alien-ness compared to those whom I live amongst.
I think that it is good for me to feel this way. It helps me remember that this is the proper Christian state of mind. I should NOT feel comfortable or settled anywhere this side of Glory. I should live my life haunted by a hunger for something over the horizon. Because that is where I truly belong. That is where I will finally fit in. That is where I shall know that my restless pilgrimage is over. I will find myself back in my Father's house. I will finally be home.
The second aspect to living as a pilgrim is that you don't invest in what you can't take with you. In his book 'The Waters of Silence', Thomas Merton wrote,
A monk is a man who has given up everything in order to possess everything.
If we are convinced of our status as pilgrims, we will hold lightly the possessions we have. We will enjoy them and use them as we can to do good, but they will have no hold on us. Deep down we will be convinced of the truth that every possible possession this world has to offer is ultimately of no more substance or value than a disposable paper cup.
I think it is good for all of us to experience home-sickness once in a while. It helps to remind us that the church is a community of home-sick people. We should all be living with a longing for Home.
How was 2003 for us?Well, the start of the year was very difficult for us as Dad's battle with cancer was drawing to its end. This was another period during which we were sharply aware of the distance separating us from our families. In the grace of God we were able to visit Dad together just before he died. That was a precious time for us all. Dad's passing and funeral were of course very painful, but through it all we were aware of God with us, supporting us, and we are very grateful for the prayers which released that into our lives.
A happier visit to the UK was our summer holidays. For once we were appreciative of the Scotiish climate, after the unbearable heatwave of central France! One particular highlight of our holiday was a day spent on the beach at St Andrews with Sharon's mum, Lynda and Douglas and their boys. The 6 boys spent nearly all day in the sea and had an absolute ball!
Another highlight was a visit to the Glasgow Science Centre and the Imax 3D cinema next door! The 'BlueNoses' amongst you will be pleased to hear of a visit to Ibrox - actually my first professional football match! On the day, Arsenal proved somewhat too strong for the 'Gers', but it was nevertheless a great atmosphere. We were also able to spend a precious day with Mom, Lis and John and Sara-Beth and Sarah, Glen and their family before they moved to Vancouver.
The summer also saw the transformation of our attic space into two bedrooms. An incredible answer to prayer, and a real sign for us that God wants us to stay put in Villy for the foreseeable future. This effective doubling of the size of our flat has really changed our lives. We have even been able to recommence hospitality - one of our spiritual gifts that had been forced into temporary retirement by our circumstances.
Autumn saw another great blessing as I received a definitive social security number. This was followed in turn by the granting of a 5 year residency permit. To top it all we were also granted health insurance until 2007. So we should have much less in the way of forms, photocopying and general red tape to deal with in the coming years - a heartfelt 'Hallelujah!' for that!
We also saw God's miraculous provision as we went through a period of financial struggle. This provision enabled us to replace our old washing machine (which takes a pounding with our trying to keep three active boys presentable!) We were also able to buy curtains for our odd-sized windows, which will hopefully make things less draughty (though we are making it a matter of prayer that the council will eventually replace the badly rotted single glazed windows with double glazed ones!). Another purchase was 7 bookcases for all my theological tomes! Finally after languishing in cardboard boxes for three years, I once again have my old friends around me!
Generally speaking, our financial position remains adequate, if precarious! We praise the Lord for His provision through many of you. We want to thank those amongst you who have increased your giving recently, (taking into account the poor exchange rate that seems to be established between the pound and the Euro!), and also to welcome some who have come 'on board' this year for the first time. It is always amazing to us how God moves people to invest in us.
Stephen's temporary school mini-bus job has been one incidence of God's provision for helping us 'make ends meet', and Sharon's teaching work also continues to be a big help. As we look towards next year, one particular matter for prayer is our car. At 15 years of age it is not going to last much longer. Odd things are starting to happen, like the rear sub-frame has bent slightly (!) and that means the rear tyres now wear out quickly (maybe we all just weigh too much!). As always, we can only look to God for his provision, in his time and in his way.
The writing project that I am undertaking with David Bjork has been both a challenge and a real source of encouragement and excitement. Both David and I are really positive about the way it is coming together. At present we have written around 100 A4 pages, and these are currently with external readers from different Christian traditions, who will give us their comments. Please continue to pray for the completion of this project and for us to find an interested publisher.
Looking Forward to 2004Our hopes and prayers for 2004 are for deepening relationships with local people and for God to use us to bless them. We are very grateful to God for the friendships made, and for several recent opportunities we have had to develop these relationships, particularly with neighbours.
We also pray for opportunities to serve the church here and to use the gifts that God has given us - particularly in encouragement, discipleship, teaching, hospitality and worship. We are very conscious that only a divine work of renewal can breathe life into the church in this area. We therefore pray that God will send his reviving Holy Spirit in a wonderful way.
We have decided that it is better for Sharon and I to make solo visits to the UK this year, rather than to try to visit as a family. The costs involved, accommodation difficulties and the state of the car, have all led us to this decision. Thus I will visit Burton over the weekend of 8th Feb. I will be preaching at our home church, maybe even doing a few 'spots' over the weekend, probably sharing what God has been teaching me from the book of Jonah. Sharon will make a trip to the UK, probably in September when she isn't working.
We look forward to my mom visiting us for two weeks in January. She will help us celebrate my 40th birthday (Oh no, I feel a mid-life crisis coming on!)
Thinking about the (long!!) summer holidays ahead, we are praying about what would be most helpful for us to do. We feel we would all benefit from some spiritual input as well as a holiday, and are asking that we would be clearly guided as to what we do. It might seem like a funny thing to ask for prayer for, but as any time away is a major investment we don't want to waste it! Some of you know that Spring Harvest have a holiday camp here in France. It is quite expensive, and 90% of those visiting are English, but it is one possibility. If you think of any other options, please get in touch and we would gladly consider them!!
We feel that the boys would also benefit from some spiritual input. They do very well in the main, but are at the age where it is important for them to have people other than their parents to model the Christian faith to them. Thank you for those of you who have committed to pray for them every day. We have had a few moments recently where they have pleasantly surprised us! Something like a Christian holiday week would perhaps be of encouragement to them right now.
The boys continue to do very well at school. Ben appears to be very bright, and excells in languages, but finds relationships more difficult. And for our fun-loving Joshua, secondary school has proved quite a change! He is coping really well with the workload. He is also undertaking no less than 3 rôles in the local theatre club production this year! Caleb has settled down a lot after finding himself without brothers in the school in Villy. It is difficult for us sometimes to see them struggle with friendships and a school system geared totally towards academic achievement. It is easy to forget that they are living through things that neither of us have had to do, and we just have to trust God that in his plan for their lives all of their struggles will be of value.
Well I hope that this review of 2003 and look forward towards 2004 has been of interest and will help you in your prayers for us.
Again, we want to express our absolute dependence upon your prayers; our heartfelt appreciation of your financial support; our gratitude for the letters, emails, parcels and 'phone calls which are such an encouragement.
May the Lord reward you. Grace and peace.
March News Easter 2004Dear Friends and Family,
Perhaps the most famous maxim for relationships between Christians from different traditions is,
In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.
This maxim appears in almost every call for Christians to live at peace and in unity with each other. However, it is only recently that I discovered the origin of this famous quote. Although it has been attributed to various Christian authors, it has recently been traced with certainty to one 'Peter Meiderlin'. He was an otherwise unknown 17th century German divine. In 1627, at the height of the Thirty Years' War in Europe, Peter Meiderlin published a tract calling for peaceful toleration between the warring Christian factions. It was in this tract that first appeared this now famous sentence,
In a word, I'll say it: if we preserve unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and charity in both, our affairs will be in the best position.
Prof. Philip Schaff states,
It was during the fiercest dogmatic controversies and the horrors of the Thirty Years' War that a prophetic voice whispered to future generations the watchword of Christian peacemakers, which was unheeded in a century of intolerance, and forgotten in a century of indifference, but resounds with increased force in a century of revival and re-union.
The English divine Richard Baxter quoted Meiderlin's sentence in a publication dated 1679 and referred to him as 'the pacificator' or peacemaker.
I find it very moving to think that this lone voice, speaking out for peace and unity amongst Christians, originally ignored in the maelstrom of religious hatred and intolerance, comes to be used some 300 years later as the watchword and rallying cry for a world-wide movement of Christians working for unity. Sometimes God just does beautiful stuff. God bless you Peter Meiderlin, the pacificator, you are an example to us all.
Now for our news.
The Book ProjectThis project is continuing to go well. The working title is 'As Pilgrims Progress - How Catholics and Protestants can learn to walk hand in hand when they don't see eye to eye'. Initial reactions from external readers have been positive. In terms of our progress, I have just finished the first draft of my last chapter, whilst David has just to write one more chapter and then a short conclusion. However, we are FAR from being finished! Much re-working and re-editing will be required, to take into account the response from external readers.
We do hope, however, to be on schedule to finish the manuscript by the summer. David will then be able to take it with him to the USA and to make contact with a few publishers. Please continue to pray about this project, for inspiration and the ability to complete the writing phase. I am very conscious that I am still just learning how to write at this level. We also need to get some people who are well known in this field of Christian studies to write a foreword and 'blurbs' for the book.
If we can get some 'big names' interested, this will help us to interest (a) publisher(s) in taking on this project. Our hope is that a Protestant and Catholic publisher would undertake to produce this book as a joint project. This would help to distribute the book in both communities. We believe that it has clearly been God's inspiration for us to create this work and we rely on God to bring it to completion. On a personal level, I am still greatly enjoying working on this.
Relationship BuildingWe have been delighted to have opportunities to develop relationships with our neighbours recently. We have started to get together with four sets of neighbours for a monthly aperitif. This has been an important step in deepening our relationships with these people.
We were also encouraged that our priest spent some time in Unity Week with Protestants from the local area, and found this to be very positive! We chatted in our home for some time after one Sunday service recently, talking over his vision for the future of the church here, and we were delighted that this was such a positive time for us all. He told us of his hope that there would be a vibrant sharing community in each village, and also was very open in discussing Alpha (we had previously sent him details of this) - all we need is a French couple to volunteer to head it up!!
Oh No Four O!I was hoping that my 40th birthday would simply be marked by a gentle slide into depression! Sadly, Sharon had other ideas. On the Saturday evening before it we were invited to some friends for an aperitif, ostensibly for them to meet my Mom who was staying with us. Whilst we were there the telephone rang. Monsieur Brigandet answered it and came running into the living room. He told me that there was an emergency and the Sapeur Pompiers were called out. I raced back home, shot upstairs, changed into my uniform. Crashed down the stairs at 100 MPH, only to find all my French friends waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs singing 'appy birfday to yoo'! We then had a surprise party with about 25 people. The whole experience took years off my life! And at my age…! Seriously, it was a great time and good for us to recognise we have so many people that we have got to know here.
Burton VisitMy visit to Burton went well. I shared with one of the home groups (now led by people who we discipled - what a blessing that is!) I also had the opportunity to preach at a men's breakfast run by the four congregations with whom BCC is linked, and also at the Sunday service at BCC. It was great to catch up with all our friends from the church in Burton. My sermons from Jonah are available for download from our website. However, my preparation for these sermons went a bit wild! Without trying, I have ended up with 75 pages of applied commentary on the book of Jonah! I don't know if maybe God has put another publishing project across my path. My working title is 'The Scandal of Wild Grace'. Please pray about whether this is something I should pursue.
The BoysWe were all happy to get to the winter fortnight off school!! The weather was very chilly, (happily the sun is beating down now!), but we managed a few trudges round the countryside and had a great 'arty' day decorating our own T-shirts!! Joshua's theatre season has now kicked off and he is performing every weekend in March and April and LOVING it! The next half of this school year looks like it could be difficult, as strikes seem to be on the agenda again! But all in all, this has been a peaceful, happy time for the boys, and we're grateful for it!
SummerIn our last newsletter we shared with you our questions about what we should do this summer. These questions have now been wonderfully resolved. As our ability to go anywhere is seriously curtailed, God has decided to bring everybody to us! (By the way, a 'car' account is now in place - if you want details, contact us.) We will therefore have the delight of Douglas and Lynda (Sharon's sister) and their family visiting us. Our boys are already excited about spending time with their three cousins! We will also have a week's holiday meeting up with the Birket family, our friends from Moorlands. We will share a gîte in the Champagne region. Such meetings are very precious to us and we look forward to it with great anticipation. If that were not enough we will also have the pleasure of our old friends from Kilsyth, Paul and Elaine Mitchell and family, coming to visit us. It will be great to show them something of the area that has become our home. A good opportunity for us to play at being tourists too!
May the Lord bless you. Grace and peace.
March News June 2004Dear Friends and Family,
Dear Friends and Family, A 19th century church historian named Schelling had an interesting 'take' on the history of the Church. He reviewed the 1,800 years (as it was then) of Church history and he saw that it was defined by two great 'ages'. The first 1500 years or so he called the Petrine Age. During this period the Christian movement was mostly centred around and directed by the hierarchical leadership structure of the papacy. The second great age he called the Pauline Age. This was the Post-Reformation period where new impetus and energy were given to the World Christian movement by Reformation theology, a period of great missionary expansion and an explosion in new ways of 'doing' church.
As Schelling looked towards the future he predicted a third and final age for the Church. He called this the Johannine Age. As he foresaw it, this would be an age of harmony and unity, an age in which the fire of Peter and the energy of Paul are linked with the pensiveness of John. It would be an age during which the conservative tendency of Peter and the progressive tendency of Paul would find their harmony and balance in John, the mystical Apostle of Completion who brings unity in diversity and yet maintains diversity in unity.
Now I am not enough of a futurologist to be able to assess whether this will in fact prove to be the future direction of the Church - but I know enough about the Bible to know that it is definitely the destination of the Church. When the Bridegroom appears, the Bride will certainly be united as one! The distinctives and differences of our traditions of which we are often so proud and guard so preciously will finally be seen in their true light as mere chaff and bunting compared to the glorious riches which we share in common in Christ.
It is important that we always remember these truths - that true followers of Christ all share the same origin - rooted in the person and work of Christ - and the same future, united as the Bride of Christ in His kingdom. Holding in mind this shared past and looking towards this shared future can help motivate us to try to find ways of uniting in the present with followers of Christ from different traditions. The Lord bless us and help us all as we work with our brothers and sisters in Christ towards the coming of His kingdom. Marana tha (Come, O Lord!)
News Update and Prayer Points
Book ProjectWe have had some very helpful feedback from external readers and this has enabled David and I to rework and sharpen our relative chapters. Almost everyone David talks to about the project seems to be very excited by it and seems to want to read it! Please continue to pray for the final sections to come together in time for David to be able to take a completed manuscript to some US publishers in August. Please also pray for continued positive interest and that we would be able to secure a good publishing and distribution deal for both Catholic and Protestant audiences.
Sapeur-Pompiers Away!Every two years the Sapeur-Pompiers (and wives/husbands) of Villy go away for a weekend, paid for by selling the calendars and cakes over two years. This year we decided to go to the Austrian Tyrol. Amazingly a family in the village offered to look after our three boys so that Sharon could go too! It was a great time, the mountains are just SO impressive - a bit like Scotland on steroids! We went down a salt mine, sailed to the foot of the Rhine Falls and visited Hitler's Eagle's Nest Tea-room (the result of a totally mad idea for a present for the Führer's 50th birthday - let's build him a tea-room on top of an inaccessible mountain!!) All this in only three days!! It was a great break for Sharon and I, but it was also a good opportunity to develop friendships. I think it was also good for the boys to experience French family life, and even spiritually to see the difference a Christian home makes.
Zimbabwean RefugeeWe were telephoned recently by missionary friends in Lille to say that a man who is a political refugee was coming to live in Dijon (sorry, but it would not be wise to disclose his identity). He has a tragic story to tell. He was tortured by the political regime in Zimbabwe and fled the country in fear for his life. He recently heard that his brother has been murdered by the Mugabe regime. He ended up in France and has applied for refugee status here. He knows no-one in France and doesn't speak French but somehow found his way to the Anglican (English speaking) Church in Lille. The church there (where our friends worship) helped him, and when they found out he was being moved to Dijon, asked us to help him find his feet here. Happily we were due to go to Dijon (an hours' drive for us) for an orthodontist appointment that week, so we were able to meet up and have lunch with him. We were subsequently able to help him out a little by providing him with some reading material in English.
Sharon was also able to help by acting as translator for him and his French social worker, as they needed to prepare for his hearing in Paris later in June. Please pray for this man, and his wife and children who are still in Zimbabwe and who he hasn't seen for over a year. We recognise God's activity in bringing him to us, and are interested to see how things develop.
Baby John-DavidWe will have the pleasure of meeting David and Diane Bjork's new grandson in the coming weeks and also witnessing his baptism. Please pray for the wider Bjork family as they gather in France for one of the rare times when they can all be together. May this be a wonderful time for all of them.
Grow Yer OwnAs most of you know, one of the down-sides to our living in a flat above the village school is that we don't have a garden. However, recently a near neighbour and fellow Sapeur-Pompier offered me the use of a spare furrow in a field where he grows his vegetables. So I now have 3 varieties of potatoes, 2 varieties of beans and 10 tomato plants to take care of (it is a LONG furrow!) It has also been an opportunity to develop friendships as this field is split up and used by many different families, rather like an allotment. So I am rarely alone when over there, weeding, watering and worrying (which pretty much seems to be all that vegetable growing consists of!) I am also developing a healthy crop of 'gardening stories', like the night only 0.5 °C stood between my tomatoes and certain doom, "aah yer late frosts, ooh aar nasty!" Seriously, we are very grateful for this opportunity of (hopefully!) reducing the housekeeping budget just a little, as 3 growing boys take some feeding!
FriendshipsWe have had the joy of seeing friendships develop in key ways recently. One such instance was the above-mentioned offer of a French family to look after the boys whilst Sharon and I went away for the weekend. Another was an invitation for a meal at a young couple's house. This was the first time that they had invited us for a meal - a significant milestone in French culture - also very brave of them with our 3 hungry boys! Also I was recently approached by a man with a sick computer - I have an undeserved reputation as a computer expert in the village! Happily I was able to sort out his problem and this has developed a new friendship with him and his wife. Please pray for continued opportunities to develop and deepen relationships with local people and for opportunities for us to encourage our friends from wherever they are in their spiritual pilgrimage.
FutureWe can't believe that we are getting to the end of another school year. The boys continue to do very well generally, and are looking forward to the holidays. Joshua is hoping to take Latin next year and Ben will continue to do German. Caleb has another year at primary school, so there shouldn't be too much of a change after the summer break, at least for the boys. Things are not so simple for Sharon. It seems that she may lose some classes as some new teachers will be arriving who are able to teach English, so she will not be needed. As we have shared before, all we can do is trust God for his means of provision, and if this job disappears we look forward to seeing how he will do that!! Talking of finances, many thanks to those of you who have sent specific gifts for the car. We so appreciate this extra commitment from you (contact John Goddard on 01202 490270).
Prayer requestsWe covet your prayers for our boys. We have had quite meaningful talks with them about our role in the church here recently and about how they fit into that. We are delighted and grateful to God that all three boys have expressed the desire to become more fully involved with our local church and we are considering with them about how they can deepen their religious commitment in the situation in which God has put us. It is not easy for the boys lacking any meaningful small group to meet with. In France the schools are most definitely 'religion-less' institutions, and becoming even more so under recent legislation.
Football fever has gripped the household, or at least most of it! These are the times when Sharon feels the lack of fellowship even more than usual, remembering those days in Burton when the ladies sometimes headed off down to the beach or for a coffee, just to escape!! It would be great to have some company, so she is really looking forward to the summer when visitors descend!! Please pray that we have the energy to pursue friendships locally.
Please keep praying that God will bring the right people to us at the right time. Pray that he will help us to be sensitive to his leading. Pray for protection and for his provision for our many different needs.
May the Lord reward you. Grace and peace.
March News September 2004Dear Friends and Family,
"I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." John 10:16 NIV
In this parabolic saying Jesus reveals to his disciples that the Kingdom of God was to be much wider than their current expectations and experience. Up until this point the followers of Christ had been drawn almost exclusively from within the Jewish nation. Through this teaching Jesus reveals to his disciples that the future of the Christian Church is to be much wider than this narrow ethnic group.
As I read this passage recently it struck me that Jesus defines one of his key activities as the bringing of these diverse disciples into unity with one another. Jesus the Shepherd seeks and saves sheep in many different sheep pens, but his activity doesn't stop there. He goes on to bring these sheep into relationship with each other - a unity founded on a common relationship to Christ.
May the Holy Spirit help each of us to reflect on this passage and to be open to recognising, embracing and celebrating sheep from outwith our particular sheep pen. May the Shepherd himself work amongst us to bring us into unity with each other.
Family News:We mentioned in our last newsletter that we had had some interesting talks with the boys about how they will express and live out their relationship with Christ in the place where God has put us. As parents it is of course our deepest desire that they should follow Christ and grow into a mature and adult faith. That they should be talking with us about such things is an amazing answer to prayer and we praise the Lord for it.
A day's retreat for Caleb's catechism group led to a family discussion about baptism and its importance. We are delighted to say that the boys have, without any pressure from us, each decided that that would like to go forward for baptism.
Although their decision delighted us, it caused us much reflection. Should the boys go back to the UK to be baptised as Protestant Evangelicals, or should we encourage them to seek baptism in the local church where God has placed us in France? After much prayer and discussion we felt that we should pursue the second of these options. I believe that in some way maybe our family will itself be a symbol of the 'unity in diversity' of the Christian family, a passion which God has placed in us as His calling for our lives. Maybe we can be a three-dimensional example of the unity within the flock as we follow Christ together regardless of our different 'sheep pens.'
Having come to this decision we spoke to our priest and he interviewed our boys (he was very impressed by their understanding of what baptism meant!). He agreed that the boys could go forward for baptism as adults. This means they will follow four stages of baptismal preparation. The first two steps took place on 29th August, in a moving ceremony where the boys each shared with the congregation why they wanted to be baptised and what it was about Jesus that attracted them to love, serve and follow Him.
This is an exciting step for us as a family. We are delighted to see our boys make a positive step forward in their desire to follow Christ and to be involved in His church. We also pray that our boys' baptism - which will be the first adult baptism within our congregation for a very long time - might even be used of God to encourage others to reflect on their relationship with God. Please pray particularly for this.
Some Things to Think and Pray About:We learned last week that the school below our flat is to be extended. This will mean quite a bit of noise and upheaval for us over the next year. We will also lose the use of an area outside where we can sit, have BBQ's, hang out washing etc. as it will become a new playground area. In the same week two people approached us separately to tell us that a property in the village has been put on the market at 120,000 euros (£85,000, in fact quite a lot more would be needed as it would need some renovation). On a human level buying anything is impossible - we just couldn't get - or pay - a mortgage, given our financial resources. Neither are we clear that this is a direction God wants us to take. But since He took the trouble to make sure we found out about it, we ask you to pray with us about this.
Perhaps it would be appropriate here to share with new prayer partners just how our financial support is raised. In fact for the past three years, about half of our total income has been raised through Sharon's teaching work and our Family Allowance. The remaining half comes from financial gifts received on a month-to-month basis from individuals and our sending church. Most of this gift income is processed through the Scriptural Knowledge Institute, a charitable organisation that collects this support and pays it into our bank account. (Incidentally, anyone who feels God's calling to be involved in our support should contact us for details of how to go about this.) Our total income is sufficient for our day to day survival, for which we heartily praise God, but there is no surplus to enable us to budget for the future, nor for major expenses - such as replacing our car. Nor, as stated above, could we afford to buy a house on this level of support. Please pray with us about this practical issue. As Christians we need to be content with the level of support God releases to us. In fact we would not choose anything different from God's will for us, as we are well aware that our relative poverty has opened up doors to us that would have been closed had our financial situation been different. But as we are only human, we do have the odd moment where things seem more difficult and we feel a bit frustrated! We are also aware that there is the possibility that we might be in a 'season of change', that God might be at work to change some of the circumstances of our lives and our provision. (Talking of provision, Sharon was reading in Isaiah 37 this week about God's provision over time - go on, look it up!! - and it was really amazing that at this very moment we are reaping the benefits of all Stephen's hard work vegetable growing! We are enjoying potatoes, beans and tomatoes and we should have enough for the next few months.)
Having said all this, we are still very sure that we are in the right place, doing the right thing. On our first Sunday back from holiday the Gospel reading from Luke 12 reminded us that as servants we need to be always ready for the Master's return, no matter how long we have to wait. It was good to reflect on that and to recommit ourselves to continuing in obedience and to waiting. Good too that we really felt part of things this year at the Sapeur-Pompier meal and at the 14th July celebrations. Perhaps for the first time language was not so much of a barrier for us and we were really able to feel part of what was going on. The boys had asked David Bjork to be their godfather, and at their special service yesterday, David and Diane remarked on how well integrated into the local Christian community we were - praise indeed from veterans of living and working in the Catholic world! So we continue to be obedient to what we believe God has called us to do, living out our Christian lives here in the community in which God has placed us.
Summer Hols:We have had a great summer here in France. We were blessed with visitors who came to us in Villy and also with a shared holiday in the Champagne region with some great friends from Bible college. It was great to reflect together on the lessons learnt since our time at college, to share the highs and lows, the questions and the answers that we have encountered as God has continued our education process … still a long, long way to go!
Book News:Quite a few people have now read our manuscript and David and I continue to be very encouraged by the positive response that we get. Several people have told us that they believe that our book could make a helpful contribution to the study of relationships between Christians from different traditions. One particularly exciting development has been that a well-known author of theological books and university professor, having read and enjoyed our book, has agreed to recommend it to his contacts in a major theological publishing company. Please continue to pray about this.
Car News:At the start of the summer we had some major repair bills to pay for the car. Logically speaking, if God wants us to live out here in the country then a reliable vehicle is an essential part of His provision for our lives. We are encouraged that we are about half-way towards a realistic target for a replacement car. However, our car fund has stagnated somewhat recently (a big thanks to John Goddard for his sterling work running this fund for us, John can be contacted on 01202 490270). Now we know that our God is not short of cash, so is the delay merely a timing issue, or is God trying to say something to us through this? Please pray for us that we would correctly discern the meaning of this situation.
Back to School:The boys are all set to go back to school this week. We are thankful that we have been able to purchase all the clothes, shoes and school items like books and paper that they needed. It will be odd to have just Caleb at home for lunch again! We will not know about Sharon's teaching hours for this year until October, as there is no English teaching in the month of September.
Burton Visit:Sharon is really looking forward to spending a week in Burton this month. It will be great for her to meet up with dear friends again, and she will follow more or less the same programme as Stephen did in February. It will be especially good to go to a Ladies' Retreat Day and have some fellowship, which she misses very much! Stephen will hold the fort at home.
Again we thank you for your partnership with us in the calling that God has placed on our lives. We thank God for so many people with whom we can be 'real'. People with whom we can celebrate our joys and who will also pray with us about all the concerns of our lives. The Lord bless you all for your faithfulness towards us.
May the Lord reward you. Grace and peace.
March News Christmas 2004
Dear Friends and Family,
"But if I go east, he is not there; If I go west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; When he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
But he knows the way that I take; When he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold." (Job 23:8-10 NIV)
But he knows the way that I take; When he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold." (Job 23:8-10 NIV)
Job describes here an experience of the absence of God. Such experiences have been common to followers of God down through the ages. St John of the Cross wrote about such times in his 16th century work 'The Ascent of Mount Carmel'. In this he talked about an experience which he called 'the dark night of the soul'.
Job describes his experience in the verses above as an inability to encounter God and an inability to perceive the activity of God. In such times all encouragement to continue in our walk of faith is withdrawn. Worship brings no emotional feelings of joy and excitement. We are not aware of God working in us, or through us, or around us in any way. In these times we are faced with a stark choice - will we continue to love, worship and serve God anyway? In other words, are we only interested in a relationship with God when it brings us benefit, or are we at that place of maturity where we are willing to love and serve God solely because it is our highest privilege and created destiny?
Job managed to get to this point. His faith is expressed in the latter half of the verse above and also in the stark statement,
'Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.' (Job 13:15a NIV).
Job's relationship with God survived the test and was strengthened, matured and deepened because of the experience. Maybe you, like us, are going such a testing time. May God give us the faith, courage, grace and determination to reach the other side. May we proclaim with Job, in faith,
'… he knows the way that I take; When he has tested me I shall come forth as gold'.
Review of 2004We thought you might appreciate a summary of our year here in Villy.
JanuaryWe celebrated Stephen's 40th birthday with a surprise party. Snow and ice followed (an omen?!).
FebruaryStephen visited Burton for a weekend of teaching on Jonah. Praise the Lord for evidence of his presence, particularly at a prayer breakfast for men, and the welcome and continuing support of our home church.
MarchJoshua and Sharon started their 'run' of theatre performances locally. We met with a refugee from Zimbabwe and began to pray for him.
AprilThis month brought friends for an Easter visit and saw Stephen begin his vegetable growing.
MayThe 8th is a day we will not forget. Caleb spent the day with Sharon and the priest from Vitteaux preparing for communion with the rest of his group. This led to great discussion at home and the eventual request from all three of the boys to be baptised.
JuneThis month we welcomed friends from Scotland. We began translating for our Zimbabwean refugee friend. Euro 2004 (football!) made Sharon long for female company.
JulyThe 'March Hotel' was open for business and pretty full - great fun! We really enjoyed having friends and family spend time with us in Villy. Our neighbour, Père Lhuillier, celebrated 50 years of priesthood and we helped with the mass and reception afterwards. The 14th saw us join with most of the village for a celebration meal (Bastille Day). We remarked that for the first time language had not seemed to be so much of a barrier. Stephen was again on firework duty (Danger! Danger!).
AugustWe went to our favourite gîte near Reims with British friends from our Bible College days. The last Sunday of the month saw around 100 people gather on the hilltop overlooking Villy for a service at which the boys gave testimony to their love for the Lord and officially asked to be accepted as candidates for baptism. We found out later many were truly moved by the service and some were in tears. Theirs will be the first adult baptisms the parish of Villy has seen in over fifty years.
SeptemberSharon's turn to spend some time in England, at Burton. As well as experiencing great fellowship, she was able to indulge in some 'retail therapy' thanks to specific gifts! School restarted for the boys. Caleb decided he would like to take up judo and so Wednesday night sees him off to Vitteaux. Stephen and David's manuscript was finally completed. We reaped the fruits of our vegetable growing - beans, tomatoes and potatoes. These summer months saw us share our faith with a few families who spent time in the gîtes in the village, and we pray our testimony will still echo in their lives - as far afield as Germany and New Zealand!
OctoberSharon's annual meeting regarding work, and to her surprise her timetable is full - an answer to prayer for financial provision. Stephen spent a week doing more Sapeur-Pompier training, this time complete with breathing apparatus! We welcomed Scottish friends for a short visit. The priest from Vitteaux invited Sharon to be involved with a monthly young peoples' group. Sadly numbers are few.
NovemberBen developed a sudden interested in socialising and started going along to a Scouts group (mixed!!) in Vitteaux. This month saw us close our car fund account and begin looking to try and buy a replacement vehicle. (A real heartfelt thanks to those of you who have given sacrificially towards this - the Lord bless you).
David Bjork bumped into the Archbishop of Dijon on the train. This led to a 45 minute conversation and a subsequent meeting. The Archbishop said to David that the 'Catholic church really needs to learn from evangelicals how to take the gospel to the people outside of the church'. He wants David to meet with the person responsible for evangelism for the diocese.
DecemberWe are really looking forward to spending Christmas in Scotland this year. We hope to meet many of our Scottish supporters during this time and we look forward to some spiritual refreshment.
Praise and Prayer Requests
|a stable financial support base||the on-going preparation for the boys' baptism (hopefully this will take place on Easter Saturday evening 2005).|
|continuing fellowship with David and Diane Bjork||whether to set up a prayer group for Kilsyth based supporters - watch this space.|
|the fact that we still love God and we still love each other||finding a publisher for the book.|
|those of you who came to visit and the encouragement your fellowship brought us||our continuing language development.|
|the completion of the manuscript||accommodation difficulties - development of the school below due to start in March will have significant implications for us and may make it difficult for us to stay here long-term. It seems that we will lose our garage, a major storage area at the moment, as well as our place for eating outside - but our financial situation makes buying impossible and renting anywhere else difficult.|
|the provision of enough money to replace our car. We take delivery of a 3 year old Ford Mondeo on our return from Scotland - PRAISE THE LORD!||financial restraints - at times we feel this a real problem area|
|the granting of full refugee status for our Zimbabwean friend||Our struggle with how to help those who are now our friends begin to move closer to God. We pray for a passion for this, and for God to put sinews, flesh and bones on the skeleton of the church that exists here at the moment.
'Can these bones live?' (Ezekiel 37:3).
Late News!Please pray for Stephen as he will be going to Burton to give some teaching on Natural Church Development the weekend of 16th January 2005. This is part of a process that the church in Burton is going through over the first few months of 2005, in order to seek God and to develop and focus their vision for the coming years. Pray that God's anointing would be on Stephen to bless and encourage the church at this time.
May the Lord reward you. Grace and peace.