CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR 2007/8
March News April 2007Dear Friends and Family,
Every now and again God takes me back to the vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. I guess it's because it reminds me powerfully of the spiritual reality of our own situation. Spiritually, the Auxois valley is a valley of dry bones. God's question to Ezekiel was, «Can these bones live?».
Ezekiel, wise man of faith that he was, gives the response, «O Sovereign Lord, you alone know». He had the faith to believe that they might, but he wasn't going to second guess the will of God.
Every now and again I find myself asking God his own question, «Can these bones live?». Like Ezekiel, I have the faith to believe that they could live. I also know that God's will for all men is that they might be saved. But right here, right now, what does God want to do? I still can't say for certain that I know.
One of the good things about having regular fellowship with David and Diane Bjork; is that we can get their perspective on things. It was good for us to meet with them recently and to discuss with them their own situation as well as ours. Our conclusions were that perhaps none of us really knows what God is doing - but that that's OK!
Both of us however, can see some positive spiritual signs. David and Diane are currently involved with their parish, running their third ALPHA course. Through these evangelistic courses people are encountering Christ in a life-changing way. We too can see some positive signs in the way our Bible study group came about and is being appreciated. We can also see that Sharon has been able to have a positive input in some aspects of parish life. But does this mean that revival and renewal are on their way? We still couldn't say.
It is a great relief to realise that ultimately this is none of my business! My business, my responsibility before God, is simply to be faithful. To do my best. To pray. To work. However, the results of all efforts are entirely up to God. He alone knows if these bones will, or will not, live. But I pray with all my heart that they might.
Do you hear any rattling yet?
Items for Prayer and Praise:
Building Site -We are still living in the middle of a building site. Sadly there has been little sign of much building going on over the past month.
Lycée for Joshua -Just as last year we had to try to find a lycée appropriate for Ben, this year it's Joshua's turn. He narrowed down our choices by deciding he wanted to learn Chinese!
There were therefore only two choices. One is a very 'high pressure' lycée which just didn't seem appropriate for Joshua at all. The other is a church school which requires a parental contribution towards costs. Having visited the church school we were really impressed both by the atmosphere and the staff. We have therefore decided that this seems like the right place for Joshua.
Please join with us in thanking God for leading us to the right place, and in asking that He provide us with the necessary finance (around £500 per annum).
This is probably a good place to remind you of the «school fund» set up and run by John and Maggie Goddard to help with the boys' education. Please contact us if you would like to give a specific gift for this purpose.
Bible Study -Our Bible study looking at Mark's gospel is going really well. Around 8 of us gather each week to read and discuss the scriptures together. It is great to see people getting excited about God's word. Please continue to pray that these studies will be significant in all our lives.
Please pray also that God would use these studies farther afield in cyberspace! Over 21,000 people have visited our website so far!
Moorlands Visit -Stephen's lecture to first year students at Moorlands College went well. It was a real privilege and pleasure (if somewhat nerve-wracking) to have the opportunity to challenge these young people to see the Church as wider and richer than that which they have experienced in their own tradition.
A paper based around this presentation is available from this website, «Moorlands College, Missions Today Seminar on Christian Unity».
Burton Visit -Stephen had a really blessed and wonderful time as he visited our sending church in Burton and went away for the weekend with the Pastor and 5 other guys from the church.
A great time. Some great conversations. Good fellowship and a stonking Anglican liturgical service in the Axminster church, where God just showed up big time! Whew!
Clarification -Given some of the hassles and problems we have been going through, we both felt it right to spend a day fasting and praying for God's perspective on our circumstances. Our friends John and Maggie Goddard joined us in this.
At the end of the day we felt God affirming through Jeremiah 29 that our long-term future - both for us and our children - is in France, that we should put down roots here. We also felt God encouraging us from Isaiah 42 in the section about 'unfamiliar paths' (as you may remember, a key scripture which led us here in the first place!!) - it's okay not to know where you are going as long as you know that God is leading you!!
Housing -Given our housing problems we have been again considering options, and discovering that we don't have any! Sadly, our resources are not sufficient to enable us to purchase a home of our own. Please pray with us about this. If God really wants us to put down roots then suitable, long-term accommodation is a first step - we are having a hard time imagining ourselves climbing our many stairs in 15 years' time, or welcoming back children and maybe even grandchildren here!!
We sold our home in Scotland as a means to get to college, and have now spent over ten years in rented accommodation. In the past month, two houses in the village have come onto the market, and both owners, independently, asked us if we would like to buy - to which our answer, is of course 'only if God wants to give us a house'!! So pray with us and wait for a miracle!
Finance -Sorry for the several references to finance in this letter. As you will know, finance is something we try not to mention too often. We are just not comfortable talking about it. We are only too conscious of the sacrificial nature of much of the support that we receive, which is very humbling.
Can we just ask that you pray with us that God will improve our finances in some way, as our current resources seem to be at full stretch. (As an aside, we would like to express once again our appreciation of SKI for their handling of our financial support.)
Easter -Lent seems to have been a real time of trial for us as a family in many ways. Jesus' example in going willingly to the Cross has reminded us again of the need for submission in our lives. We are looking forward very much to celebrating Easter and living in future days in the hope of the Resurrection!!
Again our heartfelt thanks for your prayers, giving and encouragement.
Stephen, Sharon, Benjamin, Joshua and Caleb March
March News June 2007Dear Friends and Family,
In our Bible study group we have been working through Mark's gospel. In our last evening before the summer break we came to the feeding of the 5,000. It struck me once again, the absurd insufficiency of the disciples' resources - 5 loaves and 2 fish for a crowd of 5,000 men (probably 10,000+ in total).
Jesus had no need of his disciples' paltry resources. He could just have easily turned stones into bread or made food appear out of thin air. But he chooses not to. He involves his disciples in the miracle and he performs the miracle through what his disciples can offer to him.
God does us the great honour and privilege of involving us in his activity. He takes what we offer Him and miraculously uses that to accomplish his purposes. He does not scorn our feeble and inadequate gifts, graces, abilities or resources; rather he graciously accepts them and says "Now look and see what I can do with these".
In so doing God honours us with significant involvement in the establishment of His kingdom, but he also reminds us that it is only in His strength that anything can be achieved.
God keep each one of us in that place where we have both the faith to believe our small gifts are significant, and the understanding that only in God's hands can their true spiritual potential be realised.
Items for Prayer and Praise:
Book Encouragement:One of the key European leaders of YWAM read our book, "As Pilgrims Progress" and was very positively impressed by it. He regards our book as helpful to YWAM are they are currently assessing how they relate to the different Christian traditions and trying discern the way forward. David Bjork was subsequently invited to address a conference of YWAM leaders, including the founder of YWAM Loren Cunningham, at Hernhutt in Austria.
David's input was very well received and it may lead to further opportunities to share with this significant missions organisation (16,000 workers).
You can read a review of our book by this YWAM leader on this website - Click Here!
Please pray that God would continue to use our book as a tool to promote understanding and cooperation between Christian brothers and sisters from the different traditions - for the sake of the Kingdom (see my Moorlands lecture on Christian Unity for why this is important! - Click Here!).
Bible Study:As mentioned above we closed our Bible study group for the Summer. These studies have been a very positive experience for us. Here are some photos of the last meeting:
Please pray that these studies of the first six chapters of Mark's gospel will continue to bear fruit in each of our lives.
With Ben's help, the studies have also been typed up (in French) and put on the French side of our website, - Click Here ! - so pray that these too might bear fruit.
Parish Website:Another way in which we have been able to serve our parish here is in the creation of a parish website. You can check it out (and try out your French!), - Click Here!
Again please pray that our service would be a blessing to our brothers and sisters here.
Gardens, Gardens:Stephen has been doing a LOT of mowing due to recent hot and humid weather. It also means that our vegetables are doing well too. So we pray for a bumper crop of potatoes, onions, tomatoes etc.!
Ben Finishes Lycée:On Friday 8th June Ben finished lycée for the summer - first-year lycéens have a shorter year to leave the way clear for the second and third years to sit their exams. So he now has 13 weeks of summer holiday in view! He has tried to get a job, but due to him being only 16 (and also not French - yet!) he has had no success so far.
He has done very well in all his studies. He has been accepted onto a Baccalaureat "S" course (the hardest, all Maths and Science) and he has chosen the option "S I" (Engineering Science).
Please join with us in praising God for how well Ben has adapted to this big change, living away from home in Dijon, organising his own life and study etc. He really loves lycée, has made good friends and really enjoys his maths and science studies.
Josh Goes to Lycée:Joshua has done really well in his final year at collège. He is about to sit his end of collège exams (brévet), but looks to have already done very well - at present he is the first boy in his class!
We have obtained a place for him in his chosen school in Dijon, so he will join Ben and share the nice basement flat at David and Diane Bjork's. He will be able to do the Chinese that he so wanted, along with continuing his English and German studies. He will also start Greek - what is it with these boys and languages!
Joshua also went on a week's school trip to Ireland (although 4 days of this were spent travelling!). But he had a really good time and amazed his French friends by eating a full English fry-up for breakfast on the ferry - the French don't do savoury breakfasts!
Please again join with us in thanking and praising God for Joshua's successful and happy school year, and pray that like Ben the transition to lycée and living Monday to Friday in Dijon will go well.
Caleb Still at Collège!:Poor Caleb is still stuck at collège for another two years! He too has done really well this year. He enjoys school, has some good friends and still loves his sport and music.
Sadly, his best friend is leaving to go to a new school, so please pray that he will be able to make new friends and adapt to this change.
He is still operating the sound system at church and does it really well. Old 'pa is now out of a job (again!).
Building Site:We are still living in the middle of a building site. The new school is approaching completion, however the demolition of the old playground shelter and the landscaping still has to be undertaken.
Please praise the Lord that we have been able to keep our cool amidst the hassle and fairly shabby treatment that we have received from all concerned during this. Pray for continuing grace.
Finance:As we shared last month finance has been a bit of a concern for us recently. We knew that Ben going to lycée would mean significantly more expense for us as a family.
This month Sharon and I had to fill in our tax return. We totalled up all our income and realised that in 2006 we earned slightly less than in 2005. Yet, amazingly, we end this year with slightly more in our emergency savings fund than when we started it!
We cannot explain this except by God! Please join with us in praising God for his "crazy arithmentic" which doesn't make any kind of mathematical sense!
Summer:We thought we were going to have a quiet and boring summer, however at the last minute lots has changed. Friends from Burton delighted us by saying they will come and visit us for a week. They also invited us to share a holiday cottage with them for the following week as well. So we are really looking forward to that.
Sharon has also decided to go and visit her mum. So she will travel back to Burton with our friends, share in the Sunday service at our home church in Burton, and then fly up to Scotland. She will be at her mum's from the 5th to 12th August.
We do thank you again with utmost sincerity for your prayers and financial support - the Lord reward you greatly.
March News October 2007Dear Friends and Family,
'So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, "we are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty." ' Luke 17v10
As we approach the seventh anniversary of our arrival in France (October 13th), this verse has been a challenge. We find ourselves hoping that we can be the kind of servants who, at the very least, do their duty. We hear much about 'rights' and not too much about 'responsibilities' these days.
Yet this isn't a new phenomenon! Think of Jonah! Jonah didn't like what God had called him to do, yet God didn't change his plan. God knew Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh. God tried to help Jonah change his attitude using miraculous means, but he didn't change the message! The call was not different second time around - Jonah had to do his duty.
We thank God for a continuing sense over these past weeks of 'being where He wants us to be' - not that comfortable, sometimes downright scary, sometimes boring and often a mystery - but where we are supposed to be!
We also have thought a lot about finishing well - not fading out halfway 'round the track, not giving up because the score is against us at half time! We don't have the complete picture, but we know God does! Things which seem like mysteries to us now will be clear further along. And the message has not changed - the call is the same. All we can say for Jonah in this respect is that at least he let God have the last word!
Yet Jonah complained all the way along, hopeful that God might change His sovereign plans and purposes to fit with him! Jonah knew God well. He was a Hebrew, part of the people chosen by God. He was a recognised prophet. He had seen God do wonders both for him and the people who heard him. Yet at the end of this episode, all he can say is, 'I am angry enough (with you, God) to die'. What a sad epitaph!
Contrast this with Paul, who says,
'we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.' (1 Cor 9v12).
He reminds Timothy,
'discharge all the duties of your ministry.'
Our prayer is that we might be faithful in this and, like Paul, be able to say,
'I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.' (2 Tim 4v7).
Summer Holiday Photos
And now for something completely different...!
For your amusement here are a few photos from our summer holidays with our friends Chris, Rachel and Eleanor Cook, from Burton.
[Click on any photo to see it enlarged, bigger even!]
Items for Prayer & Praise:
The Boys and their Studies:We do praise and thank God that all three of the boys seem happy and settled into their collège / lycées. Joshua seems really happy with his lycée in Dijon and has adapted really well to living away from home Monday to Friday. He is especially enjoying the Chinese he was so keen to take!
Ben has also settled back into his studies; he does quite a lot of engineering science this year and is enjoying the practical lab work. We think he is also enjoying being with Joshua in the evenings, he was quite lonely last year on his own.
Caleb is back into a school routine too. He is knuckling down to a bit more work and a little less fun this year (which is good!). He officially became a teenager on Oct 5th, so no 'children' left in the March household!
Sharon at Center Parcs:Sharon had a great time with the ladies of Burton Church when they went to Center Parcs for a weekend in September. Good fun and fellowship, eating, walking and especially talking and laughing all 'round!!
The swimming also seemed to help with Sharon's shoulder problems. She is still undergoing physio twice a week. She has very little pain now, but movement is still quite restricted. Please pray for a complete recovery.
Sharon's Work:Sharon has restarted her English teaching work. She has a little less hours than last year, but still 4 pretty full days. Please pray for her relationships with the staff and pupils in the 8 schools she visits - some staff have been quite unfriendly towards her.
Stephen's Work:Stephen's gardening work is tailing off now, as autumn approaches. He has some winter garden work to undertake but not much. Our old landlord has recently asked Stephen to work with him in some renovation work he is doing on a canal lock house. So far Stephen has worked a couple of days helping fit replacement windows and doors (another learning experience!). It would be nice if this project led to more work over the winter.
Stephen has also had an interview with the agency he works through, to ask about possible work opportunities on the computer side of things. Please pray that we would find God's way of providing for our financial needs.
Ministry Opportunities:Sharon has been asked to take more of a rôle in the music side of our parish. So she is now involved in helping choirs from both sides of the parish learn and practice new songs together.
Please also pray about a sense Sharon has that she might be called to work on the admin side of things for the parish. It is difficult to see how this could be possible; it is currently an unpaid job and we couldn't financially survive without Sharon's teaching wages. Pray that God would make clear his will and either open up the way, or take away Sharon's sense of being led in this direction.
Stephen continues to develop the parish web site and meets with Père Jérôme Richon every two weeks to discuss changes / additions. He also continues to work on our own website (24,000 visitors now!). His Bible studies and meditations have been used by other websites too.
Our Villy en Auxois Bible study began again on Oct 4th. We are continuing from where we left off last year - chapter 7 of Mark's gospel. 9 of us meet to study and pray together, and this is as close to fellowship for all involved as it gets!
Our retired priest and neighbour, André, has been ill recently and this week goes into hospital to have a kidney removed. This is a serious operation, and recovery is complicated by the fact that he is now an insulin-injecting diabetic, (as well as being 82!).
You can imagine how our village feels about not having a resident priest here to do a service every Sunday for the first time ever. Change is very difficult, and more so the older we all get! Please pray for us as we gently try to encourage the parishioners to go to Vitteaux on Sundays whilst André is away - a short journey, but a big shift in ideas!
The Bjorks:Our friends and colleagues David and Diane have some interesting opportunities which we would appreciate your prayer for. They are currently involved in the running of an Alpha course at their Catholic church in Dijon, this is the 4th course that they have helped run at their church.
On Oct 17th they lunch with the Archbishop of Dijon to discuss ideas for evangelism in the diocese. Please pray that this meeting would be a significant factor in putting evangelism "back on the agenda" in the Burgundy area.
Also our book, "As Pilgrims Progress" continues to generate positive feedback every now and then. A couple who are regional leaders for YWAM in Europe recently emailed David with an encouraging appreciation of our book. They are also close friends with the couple who run the ALPHA organisation in France - so who knows where that might lead!?
We again thank you and bless you for your prayers, encouragement, emotional and financial support which enable us to be here, seeking to serve the God we love and to encourage and strengthen his Church here in France. God bless you.
Stephen, Sharon, Benjamin, Joshua and Caleb March
March News Christmas and New Year 2007/8
Dear Friends and Family,
Welcome once again to the festive experience which is the March Family Newsletter - those of you who manage to avoid receiving the quarterly editions, just consider yourselves lucky, and stay 'shtoum', unless you're hungry for more of the same!
First off, can we express our hopes and prayers that this Christmas time has been a joyous and blessed time for you all, and may we wish you all the very best for 2008.
Christmas is, for most of us anyway, a happy time, but it should also be a joyful time. The difference between these two is in the 'centre' of the emotion. 'Happy' is about external things - events and people that move our emotions to celebration. 'Joy' is more about a deep interior condition, something that external events cannot touch or spoil.
Happiness lasts only as long as the external stimuli are present, whereas joy can be a continuous mode of life.
For the Christian, joy is closely tied to Christmas because this is the only solid basis for joy. Christmas is the celebration of the day when hope became something you could touch. The promises of the Old Testament, that man could become free of all that diminishes him - sin, sickness and death - finally found their fulfilment, amazingly and unexpectedly, in the birth of a baby. 'Emmanuel' - God with us. Hope and help are now at hand. And that is an unshakeable basis for joy.
May each of you know the joy of that hope in your lives. God bless you all.
2007 - How was it for us?
JanuaryThe building works for the refurbishment of the village school (above which our flat is situated) involved the replacement of the central heating system. Thus we shivered through what proved thankfully to be a mild (by our standards) winter.
Initial delay estimates came and went and we were finally without proper heating from September 2006 'til October 2007. We certainly appreciate the fact that the new heating system is working now! Stephen also celebrated his 43rd birthday in this month!
FebruaryStephen went to visit our home church in Burton where he spoke at a Men's breakfast and at a Sunday service (both on the theme of Jonah) and also taught a session at Moorlands College, a 'Missions Today' seminar on the theme of 'Christian Unity' (all downloadable from this website!).
MarchWe visited Notre-Dame lycée in Dijon, looking for a place for Joshua to go after the summer when he would finish collège. We were very favourably impressed and Joshua was delighted to find a place where he could study Chinese - something that he absolutely wanted to do!
AprilAfter 18 months we finally completed our 'dossier' concerning our application for double nationality. We are still waiting for the French government's response - but 18 months is apparently the average delay, so we've a bit to wait yet. The glories of French bureaucracy!
We celebrated our epic achievement of satisfying the kafka-esque demands of this process, with a 3-day break at a Center Parcs resort in France.
Sharon's Mum also visited us this month and brought lots of goodies as usual!
MayJoshua went on a school trip and discovered Ireland for the first time! He really enjoyed it, being a good traveller, unlike some of his friends. They left him alone at the breakfast table on the ferry when he insisted on eating a 'full English breakfast' - just like we will try to on Christmas Day, although good sausages are always hard to find!
JuneWe finished school with sighs of relief all round - it was great to be back together again!!
JulyWe had the joy of seeing Benjamin go forward for confirmation, which took place in a big ceremony when the Archbishop of Dijon came to the nearby church in Vitteaux.
This month Joshua also received notice of his exam results. He had obtained his 'Brevet du Collège' with a 'Mention Très Bien' - the highest possible award (just like his big brother did). The boys definitely follow their Mother not their Father in their intelligence (thankfully)!
Our friends from Burton, Chris, Rachel and Ellie Cook paid us a visit. During this time we managed a major day out visiting Paris on the train. We also went with them to a farmhouse gîte not far from the beautiful, historic city of Bourges.
'Mothman', the greatest super-hero of them all, made an epic appearance. Funny how he always turns up on our family holidays?
AugustSharon visited Scotland. Stephen's Mom visited with us for a fortnight. Sharon and I took the opportunity to have a romantic two-day break - our first for a very long time! We had a really great time visiting Vézelay and Avallon. This was a belated anniversary weekend - we have been married for - gulp - 21 years!!
Joshua was 15 on the 23rd.
SeptemberSchool recommencing, we waved goodbye to both Ben and Joshua, as they went off to live in Dijon Monday to Friday, at our friends David and Diane Bjorks' home (we are constantly thankful for their willingness to do this!!). It took some time for Sharon, Caleb and I to get used to being just the three of us! A bit too quiet and spooky! But we at least look forward to Friday evenings when everyone is re-united for the weekend (and lots of washing and ironing for Sharon!).
OctoberSharon re-started teaching for the year. She visits 8 primary schools in a 30-mile radius of our home. Caleb was 13 on the 5th. This month too, Stephen was asked to develop a parish website. When a parish comprises 46 villages you need good tools for communication! So he began this task, and a routine of fortnightly meetings with the parish priest has developed which enable him to keep the website reasonably up to date.
Sharon was also asked to take on responsibility for organising parish-wide choir practices and music co-ordination. This involved trying to get people from all 46 villages to co-operate and work together for the first time! She has been encouraged to see a significant group of people respond to this initiative.
Our friends Gordon and June Bell from Kilsyth came to stay for a few days. Which was something we greatly appreciated.
NovemberStephen managed to get some work helping our previous landlord renovate one of his properties. Thus much fun was had and new skills learnt, fitting replacement windows and doors and altering an en-suite bathroom. The extra money came in very handy too!
Birthdays, birthdays!! Sharon was 45 on the 14th, and Ben was 17 on the 18th! We celebrated together, but it is tough on us all being apart for these special times - although Ben assured us that Diane's birthday cake helped make up for it!
Sharon had the idea of holding an English Carol Service. Our parish priest was all in favour but we had no idea what the response would be. We were delighted when 50 people turned up (35 ex-pats and 15 French people).
We had a really great time singing all the old carols in a traditional 9 lessons service. There is something very moving about singing in your own language! People were very positive about the service and we now have quite a few new contacts.
That was then - This is now!!We' re not sure when we'll be back in the UK. Ben would really like to earn some money - he is 17 now and would like to have driving lessons - so would love to find work for the summer, but the nationality problem and very limited possibilities locally meant that this was not possible this year. So if you know of any openings for a computer whizz, tri-lingual student, get in touch!!
Joshua is keen to develop his Chinese and drawing skills, and would ideally like to combine this with the two-week work experience he has set up for the last 2 weeks in June. Again, all offers welcome!!
It is hard for us to believe that it is now 12 years since we left Scotland and 7 since we left Burton! As Caleb reminded us on his 13th birthday this year, he's lived longer here than anywhere else in his life!! We are grateful for a happy family life, a lovely village (see the postcard for some of Stephen's photographic handiwork) and a quiet life. Although some things have been tough, we face 2008 and all it brings with hope!!
Again our best wishes and prayers go out to you all.
Stephen, Sharon, Benjamin, Joshua and Caleb