March News January 2006
Dear Friends and Family,
As part of our satellite TV package we get 'God TV'. Whilst it is not all my 'cup of tea', I watched a programme the other evening which was genuinely inspiring.
It was a docu-drama recounting the story of a small-time, dodgy car dealer in a small American town. Brought to the edge of financical disaster, he decided to give himself and his business to God. The programme recounted how, as he began to run his business by Christian principles (including refunding previous customers and apologising for having ripped them off), God turned his business and his life completely around.
It was a really wonderful story. As a 'born and bred' Evangelical I am 'wired' to respond to such testimonies positively. Our tradition rightly values testimony as something which inspires and builds faith.
However, as I reflected on this story, one thing bothered me. Never once was the Church mentioned.
This man and his wife had obviously had some contact with Evangelical Christianity - they knew what to do in order to get right with God. They also knew that Bible reading and prayer are at the heart of the Christian experience and that they ought to practice in their lives what they read in the Scriptures. But in the whole of their testimony of how God turned their lives and their business around, it seemed like the Church was, at best, peripheral.
Now I did miss a few minutes of the programme, so maybe some passing reference to Church was made, but the implication of the story was that anyone with a Bible in their hands can come to an authentic understanding of the Christian faith without reference to the Church.
This, sadly, is not always the case. In fact a major part of the New Testament is comprised of the Apostle Paul's letters to 'Bible-believing' people, telling them that what they believe the Bible says, is just plain wrong. He condemns their interpretation of the Bible and he calls them back to an interpretation of Scripture in line with that of the Apostles.
An interpretation rooted in the Apostles' experience of Jesus and transmitted by them to the churches which they founded. In other words, to be truly Christian, our faith needs to be historically authenticated. And the Church is the place where this authentification takes place.
This is an important subject for the Church today. Whilst our contemporary culture has become quite positive about spirituality in general, and even sometimes about religion, it is highly antagonistic to many of the central beliefs of historical Christianity.
Beliefs such as the universality of sin, the unique salvific nature of Jesus, the reality of hell and damnation, not to mention the biblical limits on sexuality and morality. Thus the greatest challenge facing the Church today is to hold fast to the doctrinal truths of the historical Christian faith, and not to downplay, or drop completely, elements which 'jar' with our post-modern culture.
May each of us, and the fellowships to which we belong, remain faithful to the historical Christian faith. A faith rooted in the life and ministry of Jesus, preached by the Apostles, recorded in Scripture and preserved and proclaimed in the Tradition of the Early Church.
Crash and Burn WeekIn mid-November we experienced one of those weeks in which you career from one minor disaster to the next! One evening 'someone' failed to shut the freezer door properly. The morning saw a nice puddle on the floor and all the freezer contents had to be thrown away.
The next day our CD player 'died' - after only 18 years faithful service!
The following day Sharon noticed a burning smell from our old Renault. Subsequent investigation showed that our brief tenure as a two car family was now at an end - the old girl had to go (that's the car not Sharon - she's still good for a few thousand miles!).
The next day the boys' school bus was involved in an accident as it slid on black ice. Only a collision with a telegraph pole prevented the bus from sliding over the edge of a steep slope and rolling to the bottom of the valley below.
We are grateful for your prayers for us, which we truly believe carried us through this difficult time and which we are sure brought the protection of God to the boys in the accident.
A neighbour has since kindly loaned me a CD player but please pray for funds to buy an eventual replacement. Also please pray about whether we should try to buy a little economical car for Sharon to do all her work travelling, 200+ miles a week!
Burton 10th AnniversaryIt was great to be present for the anniversary celebrations of our church in Burton. Good for us to be able to spend time with many old friends from the church and to make friendships with new members. The event was held in Moorlands College - it was weird to be back there after 7 years!
The whole weekend was a very positive time for us all and especially for the boys. It was good for them to meet people who are passionate about God and about His Church. It was also good for them to experience a more contemporary style of Christian worship. We remain very grateful for God for this fellowship that does so much to support us and to encourage us.
Christmas in ScotlandWe had a good time with family and friends in Kilsyth. We received many generous gifts for which we are truly grateful. These gifts enabled us to get new passports for the boys, as their old ones were due to expire shortly. However we nearly fainted when we discovered that the total cost would be £250!!! So praise the Lord for these timely gifts!
We are also grateful to God for safe travel. The trip back from the airport in Belgium was a nightmare journey through snow and ice. We were very grateful to God when at 1:30 in the morning we finally arrived safely outside our home. 10 hours of mechanised 'Torvil and Dean' impersonations was not a pleasant experience!
French WebsiteUp until recently the French part of this site was somewhat 'thin' in terms of content. I decided to rectify this and have spent quite a lot of time translating some ministry articles and updating the site (with Benjamin correcting my French - in a professional capacity you can be sure!).
I then decided to try and promote the site a little by registering it with some of the main French religious websites. I was delighted when the major French Catholic search site accepted it. I was even more delighted when they included it in an email to all their users as one of their 'sites of the week'. I was astounded when over the next 24 hours 300 people visited the site and I was bombarded with emails from people who had read our story and been touched by it and wanted to express their appreciation.
Several wanted to correspond by email about subjects raised by our living as British Protestant Evangelicals in the French Catholic world. Please pray that these on-going conversations will be helpful to all concerned. That we would come to better understand each other and would encourage and inspire each other as we each seek to live an authentic Christian life.
Please also pray about the continuing ministry via this website - some 20,000 internauts have visited it since it was first created 4 years ago! Some of my ministry articles have also been included on other websites around the world.
ALPHA in BurgundyDavid and Diane Bjork's church in Dijon now has 15 ALPHA trained people, and their first APLHA course will begin at the end of February. Please pray that this first course will go well and that it will really be the start of a major movement of renewal and outreach in Dijon and all over Burgundy.
As Pilgrims Progress ProjectIn a somewhat surprising reversal, the book project is now ON. As you will remember, David and my attempts to find a publisher for our book proved fruitless. The board of Servant of Servant's Foundation encouraged David to look at 'print on demand' publishing.
This is a fairly new type of publishing whereby books are held on computer and only printed one at a time as ordered. This means minimal cost and minimal risk both for the author and the publisher.
David and I have subsequently entered into an agreement with Aventine publishing. Our book will be available for purchase via the major internet outlets (i.e. amazon, walmart etc.) from around March/April time. Please pray that this book will be used by God to help Christians from different traditions to better understand and appreciate each other.
Summer 2006It seems rather bizarre to be talking about summer when the snow is gently falling outside! However, David and Diane Bjork have finally taken us up on our longstanding offer to show them something of Scotland. They will make a 5 day Scottish stop-over on their way to the US for the holidays.
We would like as many as possible of our Scottish friends to meet David and Diane - a couple who mean so much to us as a family - thus we are hoping to have a get-together on the afternoon of Saturday 22nd July in Kilsyth. Nearer the time we will ask for numbers in order to decide upon the best venue.
Again our heartfelt thanks for your prayers, giving and encouragement.
Stephen, Sharon, Benjamin, Joshua and Caleb March
March News APRIL 2006Dear Friends and Family,
I have been thinking recently about the subject of «preparation». One thing that particularly struck me in my studies in Jonah, was that it only took an 8 word sermon (5 in Hebrew!) to cause the whole city of Nineveh to repent. What at first glance seems totally impossible, becomes much more believable when you consider the hidden preparation of God.
In the years just previous to Jonah's arrival, the Ninevites had been struck by a whole series of events - total solar eclipse, drought, flood, famine and political insecurity. They no doubt believed themselves to be under the wrath of the «gods», but none of their religious efforts seemed to be helping. Presumably they were asking themselves serious questions about the reality of their «gods» and their willingness, or even ability, to help them in their suffering.
Jonah himself had also been prepared by God to speak powerfully to the Ninevites. His message confirmed what the Ninevites surmised - that they were the subject of divine disapproval - but Jonah points them away from their «divinities» to the «divinity», Yahweh, as the source of their troubles.
He then tells a people struck by violent, unnatural weather patterns a story about the God who controls the storm. He also tells them about how Yahweh can use giant sea monsters to do his bidding.
This is significant to this people as «Ninua» is one of their chief «goddesses», and their town is actually named after her. The cuneiform script for «Nineveh» is a fish symbol (Ninua's name) inside a square.
We see therefore that almost every element in Jonah's story was a divine preparation which had a corresponding divine preparation in the people of Nineveh. No wonder then that even a 5 word sermon is sufficient to bring about real change in their lives!
What I draw from all this is a real sense of hope and a stimulus to faith. Like Jonah we are often completely unaware of God's preparatory work behind the scenes in our lives, both preparing us and the people in whose lives God will use us.
May reflecting on Jonah's story encourage us all to keep praying, to maintain lives which both «show» and «tell» the gospel and, above all, to have confidence in God.
News and Items for Prayer:
Book ProjectDavid Bjork and Stephen's book «As Pilgrims Progress - Learning How Christians Can Walk Hand in Hand When They Don't See Eye to Eye» has finally been published!
The book explores the surprising and often confusing degree of diversity with the Christian Church. The book aims to help ordinary lay Christians to understand the origins of these differences and to help them to discover ways in which some of these differences need not be seen as issues over which to divide, but rather as riches to be shared.
The book is available through most of the major online retailers (amazon etc.). A specific page on our website has detailed information and clickable links to buy a copy. Anyone without internet access who would like to purchase a copy please get in touch. Please pray that God will use this book to promote understanding and good relations within the body of Christ - that brothers might become friends.
Rev Duncan and Pauline Ridgeon's VisitWe were delighted to have our pastor and his wife for a visit in February. It was great to see them and to catch up over a few days. We really enjoyed showing them some of the «treasures» of our area. It was good for us to hear how things are going in our home church in Burton, and some of the exciting opportunities that are in view.
ALPHAThe first Dijon ALPHA course has begun at David and Diane Bjork's church. Please pray that this will be something God will use in a major way in evangelism and discipleship. It is being run as a pilot project within the diocese and many parish priests are paying close attention to this initiative. Should it prove to be a success, it is highly likely that many other parishes will want to run their own ALPHA courses.
Please pray for this course, for those running it and for those who will attend. Pray that it would be used by the Holy Spirit to have a significant impact on the life of the church.
Another ALPHA-related incident happened last week. I had been asked for help by the priest in Vitteaux (our main local church) as he was having problems with the church sound system. At the end of our morning together he said, «Let's talk about something completely different. I was thinking we should really run an ALPHA course in this parish!»
I was totally amazed! You could have knocked me down with the proverbial feather! This then led into a conversation about evangelism and discipleship and some honest assessment of the current weaknesses within the life of the church in the area. It was a very positive time, with a real sense of us being on the same «wavelength». Please pray that this concern for evangelism and renewal will continue to grow, and that Père ANDRIOT will know God's leading and God's strategy for renewal and revival in this area.
Lent Prayer GroupAs we did last year, Sharon and I are holding a small group Mon-Thurs during Lent. We meet each evening for half an hour to pray and to read scripture. This year we decided to try to encourage discussion around the scripture readings for the day, with each of us sharing what speaks to us in the texts. So far this has gone very well, and although we are only a handful, it seems to be appreciated by those who come along. Please pray that this engagement with God's word would be used to really help us all to grow in our faith.
Bishop's VisitArchevêque Roland MINNERATH visited our sector of the diocese on the 19th March. The day was part of the «pastoral project» he has inaugurated. This project is designed to help him assess the state of the diocese and to plan for the future.
We were around 420 gathered together to hear the results of an in-depth process of reflection and assessment of how things are spiritually in Bourgogne. On a purely human level things look grim indeed - fewer and fewer priests (our priest is alone responsible for 46 parishes!), falling congregations, etc.
However the spirit of the gathering was one of hope and excitement. There was a real sense of desire for things to move on and an openness to consider new initiatives which may help - of which ALPHA is one.
Please pray for vision and discernment and that changes would be made that would work to release the Holy Spirit's power in this area.
Théâtre au VillageSharon and Joshua's amateur dramatics season is in full spate. They have an 8 performance run, travelling to all of the villages in our valley. «Dr James BON(D)» and «Madame BRITISH» are rolling them in the aisles!
Family NewsThe boys continue to thrive. Ben is now officially the tallest member of the family - he «looms» over me now to put me in my place! We are currently in the process of choosing his lycée (sixth form college) and course of study for the coming school year. He has done extremely well in 'mock' exams so far. Joshua is only one year behind, and seems to be getting along better than previously with some of his class-mates. He felt a bit lonely for a while, but seems to feel more part of the group now. Thank you to those of you who have prayed specifically for this. Caleb loves life in general, and is by far the most active of us all!!
It is partly for the three boys that we have decided to go ahead with the final stages of preparing the «dossier» in which we ask for dual nationality. Much of our French paperwork would be easier were we to have it! Endless photocopies have been made, stamped, and signed, and many documents translated, and we hope to send off the dossier around Easter. Our mayor has been very supportive, and that has been a real encouragement to us.
David and Diane Bjork's Visit to KilsythCan I remind Central Scotland readers that David and Diane will be visiting Kilsyth this summer. On Saturday 22nd July, in the afternoon, you will be able to come and meet them, hear them talk about their work and ask David ANY difficult questions you might have! Please keep this date free (and think up some good questions!).
Central Scotland readers please remember that the prayer meetings for us are continuing. The next meeting is on 27/03/06 at Gordon and June Bell's home.
Again our heartfelt thanks for your prayers, giving and encouragement.
The March Family.
March News JUNE 2006Dear Friends and Family,
I have been thinking recently about St Paul and the rather shocking word picture he paints of himself and his ministry in 2 Cor. 11 and 12. He goes out of his way to present himself as a scandal (publicly flogged by the authorities), as possibly cursed by God (shipwrecked three times), certainly cursed by men (both Jews and Gentiles), and often, as a cold and hungry outcast.
He concludes this sorry picture by deliberately reversing a Roman award for bravery, the 'Corona Muralis'. This award, a sort of Roman 'Victoria Cross', was a crown of gold awarded to the first soldier over the wall in the besieging of a city.
The surviving soldier (and there weren't that many) would go to Rome and give on oath an account of his actions. Once his story was corroborated he would be awarded this golden crown, crenellated like a city wall.
St. Paul humiliates himself by turning this image upside down. He swears on oath to the Corinthians that when things got 'hot' in Damascus he was first over the wall - but he wasn't entering the city, he was fleeing it!
Thus St. Paul spends nearly two whole chapters deliberately shaming and humiliating himself, recording and recounting to the Corinthians his failures, his misfortunes, his weaknesses. He does this, because for him it is the very basis of his ministry -
"For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Cor 12:10b.
In his self-humiliation he makes a creative space in which the power of the Holy Spirit can work.
We see the same approach in the life of Jesus. He seemed to go out of his way to scandalise the moral majority - he frequented the inappropriate, he touched the untouchable, he did the unthinkable.
We can probably not imagine the horror of the disciples as Jesus began to take off his outer robe, put a towel around his waist and started to wash their feet. That the Master, the exalted Rabbi, the Prophet, maybe even the Messiah should voluntarily undertake a task so demeaning that not even a slave could be forced to do it was nothing less than scandalous.
I spent three years training for Christian ministry. I don't think that we spent more than one afternoon thinking about the place of humility in ministry. Rather we concentrated on developing our professionalism and ministry skills. We were there to learn how to impress and influence others by our abilities and knowledge, how to inspire confidence so that others would follow our lead.
It strikes me that either Jesus and St. Paul were mistaken, or that we have lost sight of what true Christian ministry is all about. God help us all.
News Items For Praise and Prayer:
Summer UK TripAs previously announced we will be visiting the UK this summer. Our friends and colleagues David and Diane Bjork will be visiting Kilsyth during our stay. We have arranged to have a meeting on
Saturday 22nd July at 4:30 pm,
at Banton Baptist Church, Banton.
at Banton Baptist Church, Banton.
Any friends and supporters in the Central Scotland area would be very welcome. We are keen that you get to meet the couple who were so instrumental in bringing us to France, and who continue to impact our lives in such a positive way. They are as close to 'family' as we have over here, and great friends! Please feel free to contact June & Gordon Bell if you need transport from Kilsyth to Banton, or if you need directions. David has bravely said he will answer any questions and give a short summary of their call to, and ministry in, France.
School DazeThe boys continue to do well at school, although we are suffering from an early summer heatwave, and concentrating is quite difficult! We thank you sincerely for your prayers on their behalf. Ben takes his end of school exams on the 26-27th June, and his results will hopefully allow him to gain a place at the Lycée he has chosen in Dijon. He will be following a course based mainly around science, maths, and computing, his favourite things in life at the moment.
He has even put together some video material by himself of a LAN party he and his friends held.
This change will be a big one for us all, as Ben will live Monday to Friday with David and Diane Bjork. We would value your prayers for us all that we might all adapt well, and that Ben would make friends quickly in his new school.
Joshua has successfully finished his year and has done very well. His main interest at the moment is cartoon drawing, at which he excells! Caleb is delighted to be having swimming at the moment, and has made it through his first year, doing well at French and maths but loving music in particular.
Parish BusinessOur neighbour, the retired priest, has had to go into hospital. His replacement hip has worn out and had to be replaced. As he is 80 years of age this is quite a big thing. The operation seems to have gone well. However he is now in a convalescent home, for how long we are not sure. Please pray for his speedy recovery.
This has meant that there is no Sunday service in our village, and we have to go to main church in Vitteaux (8 miles away). This is not something we generally feel too positive about as it is not as welcoming and friendly a church as the one here in the village.
However, whilst we were at church on Sunday the priest announced that he is leaving in September and will be replaced by a young priest who is only 31!! We did some asking around and we have heard very positive things about him. David and Diane Bjork know him and say that he is very open to working with Protestants. So please pray for this change and that God would lead this parish forward into a real spiritual renewal.
Another consequence of our retired priest's absence is that our bible study group has not continued past Lent as we had hoped. However, we had decided to study Mark's gospel. It was interesting to hear announced on Sunday that our Archbishop has called on all Catholics in our diocese to begin studying the Bible more - and he told them to start with Mark's gospel! Thus it seems certain that we heard God right and that our Bible study will take place, but when is not too clear. Please pray that we will know God's timing in this.
As Pilgrims ProgressThe book project is now in the 'publicity' phase. In order to sell significant numbers of copies we need to get (positive!) reviews in magazines and on websites etc., and also to get some well-known individuals to recommend it. To this end David and I have been sending out review copies and we would ask for your prayers that this would bear fruit. We have been encouraged by positive feedback from some who have read the book. Please remember that the book is available for purchase via all the major online retailers - there are links from this website.
Double NationalityWe finally completed our 'dossier' in order to apply for double nationality. We gained the support of our local M.P. as well as our Mayor and have sent off all the paperwork. We now wait to see what the infamous French bureaucracy can make of it! Seriously, we would appreciate your prayers that our request would be received favourably and that we would be able to become French citizens.
Financial UpdateOur sending church in Burton have felt it right that the extra costs incurred by the boys' schooling should be specifically addressed. Having asked about bursaries or grants for Ben, we were told there is no financial help available at this stage - maybe for university! So John and Maggie Goddard have opened an account in the UK specifically to help pay for the boys' studies (Joshua will leave his school next year) like living expenses at the Bjorks', train and bus travel, books, canteen bills and so on. If you would like to give a gift at any time for this purpose, please contact me I will send you John and Maggie's contact details.
We are very aware that many of you already give sacrificially and have done so over a long period. Please be assured we trust God to supply the boys' needs for their future studies as He has faithfully done in their past!
May the Lord reward you. Grace and peace.
Stephen, Sharon, Benjamin, Joshua and Caleb March
March News OCTOBER 2006
"The Foundation of the Church of Christ - Forgiven Failure."Dear Friends and Family,
In preparing for the Bible study we are beginning in our parish I have been reading up on Mark's gospel. We all know that John-Mark was the young man who accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. We also know that, early on in the journey, he abandoned them and went back home.
When Paul and Barnabas were about to leave on a second missionary voyage, Barnabas wanted to again take John-Mark (his relative) with them. Paul would not hear of this; it seems that Paul had decided John-Mark was an unstable character and more trouble than he was worth. Such was their disagreement over John-Mark that Paul and Barnabas separated, Barnabas taking John-Mark with him in one direction and Paul taking Silas with him in another.
Our Bibles happily inform us that this time around, John-Mark proved his value, and that ultimately Paul was reconciled with him. Paul subsequently asked for his assistance in his ministry and finished by calling him 'his son'. That alone is fuel for many an inspirational sermon!
What I didn't realise until studying recently was that John-Mark became the first bishop of Alexandria (the second city in the World after Rome at this time), and it was his ministry there which founded the whole Eastern branch of the Christian church.
Thus we have the Western church founded in Rome through the ministry of Peter, and the Eastern church founded in Alexandria by the ministry of John-Mark - and both of them were forgiven failures! Peter had denied Christ during his passion, but he was forgiven and reinstated as leader of the apostles. John-Mark had abandoned his missionary calling, but was forgiven and given a second chance, firstly by Barnabas, and later by Paul.
I don't think it is a coincidence that God has so worked that the founders of both the Eastern and Western Christian traditions were men who failed but who were forgiven, reinstated, and given a second chance. I think somewhere in this we see expressed the very heart of the message of the Church of Jesus - failures can be forgiven, your past does not determine your future, God can make all things new.
May God give us all the grace to forgive others and to receive forgiveness ourselves. May He grant us the courage to get up and to try again when we trip and fall. Failure should not lead us to frustration and despair, but to humility and to absolute dependence upon God. Forgiven failure is the very foundation of the Christian Church.
News Items for Praise and Prayer:
Ben Leaves Home! -The biggest change for us recently has been Ben's move to live in Dijon Monday to Friday. It certainly is strange not having him around during the week! We do praise the Lord that he settled in quickly to living in Dijon with David and Diane Bjork. He also really likes his lycée, and finds his studies right up his street. He also seems to be making friends with his classmates. All of these things are major praise points for us as a family. We count it a great blessing that all has gone so well.
Joshua and Caleb Stay Put! -Joshua and Caleb have both settled well into a new school year at collège. Joshua is in his final year at collège and will follow Ben to lycée next year, although probably not the same one, as his interests are less science and more literature / languages / arts. He will almost certainly have to stay in Dijon during the week like Ben.
Père Jérôme Richon -The new priest has been installed for our sector. Père Jérôme is only 31 and this is his first solo parish - a bit of a tall order given that it comprises 46 villages! He has been very open towards us and keen to accept our offers of help. I am currently working with him designing a new parish website. He also wants Sharon and I, with Joshua's help, to work with him to start a young people's group for our area. The first meeting is scheduled for 30th October - please pray that God would work in these 14-15 year-olds and make them receptive to our invitations.
When I asked Père Jérôme what we could pray for him, he replied 'pray that God would send me some young people', so please pray especially for this.
Bible Study -Our Mark's gospel Bible study has begun. The first two evenings seem to have gone well. We have around 7 people plus Sharon and I. Please pray that as we study God's word in a way that is quite different for many of our fellow parishioners, the Holy Spirit would speak all our heart's and that our lives may be changed.
Gardens, Gardens! -My part-time gardening jobs have really taken off recently. Two further people have taken me on to look after their properties. I now look after 4 gardens in the village, including the 4,000 m2 grounds of the château! As you can imagine it is quite a lot of work, but the extra income will help greatly with our greater heating costs at this time (see below).
Kilometres! -Sharon has started work again, and as usual is driving around the countryside teaching lots of children to speak English with Scottish accents! There are lots of opportunities to talk with adults too, so please pray for grace under pressure with staff and pupils alike!
Christmas already? -We are well ahead with preparations for our mid-term break, including the celebration for All Saints Day on November 1st- something we appreciate very much, having suffered through lots of imported Hallowe'en advertising to get there! Our church choir is even looking ahead to Christmas, when we hope to put on a Nativity Play using non-church folks as actors… watch this space!! We will not be travelling this year and so will be at home for the holidays.
Builders, Builders! -We are very grateful for the recent mild spell of weather, mainly because we have had no heating since September. The rebuild of the school property started with the demolition of our boiler! So we have had to borrow electric heaters from various friends. The whole experience has been fairly negative so far, with problems arising from mistaken bills for our heating for last year, non-communication on the part of the council, losing our garage completely… all in all, we are feeling the strain. Apparently three weeks in and the project is already three weeks behind?! This could be a long winter!
We would ask you to be much in prayer for us. We could so easily damage our witness in the village by reacting in a wrong way, yet we don't want to be doormats! The council have made all sorts of promises verbally about helping with increased costs for electricity, etc, but we have yet to see anything in writing. We really need your prayers for protection from wrong attitudes and negativity, which could so easily set in.
A distant memory… -Many thanks to those of you who were able to participate in our time in Scotland. We had a great time over the summer, enjoying travelling together, spending time with family, going on holiday on our own and of course welcoming David and Diane Bjork. They were delighted to be able to meet with you at Banton, and we all believe God met with us that day. We are so appreciative of those of you who made so much possible by gifting time, effort, and finance. Sharon really had a great time in September too, joining with a great group of ladies from Burton Community Church at Center Parcs. It felt like packing a year's worth of talking, laughing and fellowship into one weekend!!! What a brilliant idea - she's already saving up for next year!!
Again our heartfelt thanks for your prayers, giving and encouragement.
P. S. Huge thanks to the folks in Kilsyth who faithfully meet together to pray for us - they saw a minor miracle recently when, as they were meeting to pray, we received a gift enabling us to sort out some outstanding financial difficulties!!Praise the Lord!!
March News Christmas / New YearDear Friends and Family,
Whilst British people send Christmas cards (apparently invented because a certain Sir Henry Cole couldn't face the prospect of writing dozens of personal greetings letters!), French people send New Year cards. As "inbetweenies" we decided to send our greetings halfway between these two holidays!
So on behalf of the March family a very happy (belated) Christmas and a very happy (early) New Year!
Some of you know about (and receive) our quarterly news / prayer letter, in which we try to let family, friends and supporters know about what's going on in our lives and invite them to pray for us. As we decided to send out this Christmas / New Year letter to a much wider circle of friends and family; it is a little different from normal. Normal service will be resumed in April!
So what did 2006 bring to the intrepid March family, here in Burgundy?
janvierAfter a great holiday in Scotland we battled snow, slush and sheet ice in a nightmare 7 hour drive from Belgium!
févrierDavid Bjork and I finally published our book - "As Pilgrims Progress - Learning how Christians can walk hand in hand when they don't see eye to eye" (available from all good internet bookstores!).
Our Pastor, the Rev Duncan Ridgeon, and his wife, Pauline, visit us.
marsJoshua's theatre group perform in 8 villages.
35cm of snow falls in 24 hours - GREAT sledging!
We start our Lenten prayer group.
avrilOur friends John and Maggie Goddard visit.
We submit our request for French nationality - to date we still have no news, but that's French bureaucracy!
maiA young girl joins our church choir - a great encouragement!
We help our neighbour the retired priest as he has a hip 're'-replacement!
juinBen gets top marks in his "Brevet" (equivalent to 'O' levels).
A new priest is nominated to our parish - to our shock and delight, we discover he is only 31!
juilletWe are invited to our retired priest's 80th birthday party.
We visit the UK - Scotland, England and Wales. We hold a meeting for our friends and supporters at Banton in Scotland, at which David Bjork talks about our work together.
aoûtOld friends, ex-missionaries, now missiological lecturers at All Nations Bible College, Dr Paul and Wilma Davies visit with us.
septembreBen gets a place at his chosen lycée (sixth form college equivalent) to study engineering science. He liveswith the Bjorks in Dijon through the week. We have to get used to a quieter house!
Sharon has a 'Center Parcs' weekend with the ladies from Burton Baptist Church.
Building work begins on the schoolroom below our flat. The central heating boiler is removed and the demolition starts.
octobreWe start a Bible reading group once a fortnight. We follow our archbishop's invitation to study together the gospel of Mark.
On the 13th we celebrate the 6th anniversary of our arrival in France.
Stephen helps the Bjorks with some electrical work at their new home.
novembreWith the new priest we have the first meeting to try to set up a youth group for our parish. The priest sets himself the target of visiting each of the 46 villages for which he is responsible before the end of December.
décembreThe mildest winter since records began is much appreciated as we still have no central heating!
We prepare to spend Christmas here in France - for the first time in a few years. We have invited our retired priest neighbour to celebrate Christmas with us.
Pause for Thought:Regular readers will know that in each of our quarterly letters I try to include a little thought or meditation, to share with you something from my recent reading and studying. A few weeks ago I came across an interesting book about the origin of Christmas customs. One particular custom that I have always appreciated is "kissing under the mistletoe"!
I had always assumed that this was a custom of pre-Christian, pagan origin, probably linked with some obscure fertility rite! I was amazed and delighted to find that instead it is a completely Christian practice. Allow me to explain.
In the Middle Ages the custom was to place an image of the Holy Family at the entrance of each home and to garnish it with evergreens - such as mistletoe. During the feast of Christmas, this was to be a reminder to Christians that, in this time of joyous celebration, kindness was to be especially practised.
This meant even strangers were to be greeted and welcomed as if they were family. At this time, the customary family-member / close-friend greeting between British people was a kiss (oddly, at this time the French greeted with a handshake!). So even strangers were, at this special time of year, to be treated as if they were family and friends and "kissed under the mistletoe".
Thus rather than being a dodgy, pagan fertility rite we find that "kissing under the misteltoe" is a wonderful expression of purest Christian charity. Treating strangers as if they were friends. And all because of the birth of Jesus. If ever you wanted a cameo of what true Christian faith really should be, I think that this is it.
May God bless you in 2007. Grace and peace be with you.
Stephen, Sharon, Benjamin, Joshua and Caleb XXXXX
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