CHRISTMAS / NEW YEAR 2009/10
Nos Meilleurs Voeux pour 2009!
The March family wish you all the very best and God's richest blessing for 2009!
I think the over-riding impression that 2008 will leave on most people living on this planet will be a deep sense of insecurity. We have seen a major collapse of the world banking system - even whole countries have gone bankrupt! Everyone now seems resigned to the inevitability of a long-term, world-wide economic down-turn.
If this were not enough, we have also become painfully aware that we now live under the threat of terrorist attack. Enough failed, or thwarted, attacks have been discovered to prove the very real nature of this threat.
Growing awareness of the economic and political fragility of our world makes «the Perilous Realm» (a title borrowed from J. R. R. Tolkien) a very appropriate description of our world.
Of course from a historical perspective, human existence has almost always been perilous. For the vast majority of human history life has been, to quote the famous phrase, «nasty, brutish and short». Sadly, for most of the people currently living on this earth, it still is.
We in Western Europe have merely had the «dumb luck» to be born in a particularly blessed time and in a particularly blessed region. Our generation had the double good fortune of missing the horror of world war and benefiting from a technological revolution that has brought great improvements both in medicine and in economic prosperity. Worryingly, it now appears likely that these halcyon days are drawing to an end.
The Christian faith has, however, always clearly taught that anything which promises us security in this world is only a lying illusion. In all the important areas of life - in health, economics, relationships and in politics – potential disaster lurks never more than a heart-beat away. 2008 has only served to support this Christian understanding of the inherent fragility of human existence.
The Christian faith teaches that real security can only be found in a relationship with God. It is neither in provision nor in power that we can find safe haven against the storms of life, but in a person - the One who is all powerful, all loving and unchanging. The 23rd psalm, that most famous of all the psalms – the Lord is my Shepherd – reminds believers that whatever difficulties we face in this «Perilous Realm» we can face them with confidence when we face them with God.
Even the very worst that can happen to us in this life - death - is transformed by faith in Christ into a friend that simply ushers us into the very presence and eternal enjoyment of our loving, heavenly Father! It is for that reason that St Paul can exclaim, « Where, O death, is your sting?! » (1 Corinthians 15v55).
It is our prayer that in 2009 each one of us will know the true peace, real security and joyful hope that can only come from a relationship with God – may God bless us all. As the gospel of Luke we read on Christmas Eve reminds us « Do not be afraid » (Luke 2:10)
The March Family Review of 2008As is now traditional in « Christmas letters », we will try to give you a run-down of where all the Marches are at, as we stand facing 2009. We will try our best to avoid falling into the common trap of turning a Christmas letter into a « bragging fest »! So all references to honours gained, Nobel prizes won and planets saved from extinction have been removed from this letter!
2008 was a momentous year for the March family in that Benjamin recently celebrated his 18th birthday. Our « little boy », (all 6' 3" of him!) has now become a man! Hard to think where all the time has gone. He continues to head towards a career in computing, and will choose in the next few weeks which course and which establishment he will apply for, in order to begin his studies in this domain. Until then there is the small matter of baccalauréat exams to sit in June/July, so it's going to be « nose in the books » for Ben over the coming months!
Joshua also continues to progress well in his studies at lycée. He is thinking of perhaps going into language teaching as a career, but as yet he is not certain. He still enjoys learning Chinese and loves 'manga' (Japanese cartoon) art. He has a good group of friends at lycée and they all attended a manga festival together in October, dressed as characters from manga books. They caused quite a stir on the bus ride across town!
Caleb is now in his last year of collège. This is a big year for him academically and in terms of deciding which lycée and which baccalauréat to apply for. He too has a good group of friends and often gets together with them to hang out and play video games.
One milestone we particularly enjoyed celebrating together this year was that of finally receiving our French naturalisation! We were able to lustily sing the French national anthem at the 14th of July celebrations in the village, and our friends here were genuinely pleased for us, presenting us with rosettes for the occasion! Organising these same celebrations took up a lot of Sharon's time, since she was elected a councillor at the municipal elections in March. 205 people sat down to a village meal, followed by fireworks and a 'fête' the following day - great fun!
A big change for Sharon this year has been a reduction in her teaching hours (now down to 6 hours a week) in order to work in the parish office doing admin. She enjoys doing this and it certainly places her at the hub of parish life. She has restarted catechism for 11 year olds this winter, so that, plus the choir, playing for worship each Sunday, and occasional cleaning and tutoring jobs, makes for a varied work pattern! We are in a good relationship with our priest, Father Jérôme, and the boys too get on well with him. After Ben being confirmed in 2007, Joshua and Caleb have decided to follow suit in July of this year.
In terms of ministry we are becoming increasingly involved with the wider parish and we now worship at Vitteaux (the parish centre) each Sunday. We also had the joy of leading an English couple through the ALPHA course over this year and we continue to meet with them and to study John's gospel together. Sharon's change in teaching hours meant a big reduction in terms of income, but we felt it was something God was calling us to do, and so we stepped out in faith.
Happily God has responded to our obedience by providing building work for Stephen almost continuously since October, so this has helped to fill some of the financial « gap ». Stephen has been working on property renovation projects, building an extension at a canal lock house and fitting double-glazed windows to two holiday rental properties. Stephen really enjoys this work, both the learning of new skills and even the hard physical side of it. It certainly has got the « pecs » back into shape!
This year is likely to bring big changes for our colleagues David and Diane Bjork, and consequently for us. David will defend his doctoral thesis in March, and is currently applying for theological teaching posts. We pray for them as they seek to discover God's will for their future work and ministry. From a family perspective, should the Bjorks move away from Dijon, we will have to find alternative solutions for the boys' schooling, as both Ben and Joshua currently live with the Bjorks during the week. As in most areas of our lives, we can only count on God and His provision for the future. There is certainly no way that we have the financial resources to pay for digs, tuition fees, travel etc. for the boys' education. But we have been living by faith since 1995 and we still have a roof over our heads and none of us shows any signs of starving! God has proved Himself faithful and we thank and praise Him for it.
We do take this opportunity to express our gratitude and thanks to those of you who continue to pray for us, to encourage us and to support us financially, particularly in the current climate and with a rate of exchange now the worst we have ever experienced. May God bless you for your faithfulness and generosity.
As an expression of our thanks and as an encouragement to remind you to pray for us, we send a « March Family Fridge Magnet » to everyone who prays for us. This wonderful item is shown in all its glory at the head of this prayerletter! Hopefully each time you open the fridge you will see us peering out at you and offer up a little prayer on our behalf. So if you would like one of our fridge magnets, please drop us an email with your name and postal address and we will get one off to you!
Truly, without your prayers we're done for!
With much love from
The March Family
Dear Friends and Family,
. . . Hope is Rooted in Knowing You're Not There Yet . . .
You can only hope for what you don't yet have, or don't yet experience. So hope is rooted in a deep conviction that things are not yet as they should be.
Each disciple of Christ experiences daily this sense of 'things not yet being as they should be'. This is true personally in our individual walk with Christ, and corporately in our faith community's attempt to be an authentic response to the Christian gospel.
Each day we need to accept the uncomfortable truth that we are not yet perfect. Each day we need to embrace the challenge this poses, and seek the grace of God which will enable us to make progress in our 'perfecting'.
As we face the likelihood of major changes over the coming months, it is good for us to remember that expecting and embracing change, this sense of 'things not being as they should be', is a vital element in a vibrant Christian life. May God help us all to live as people who embrace change, people of hope.
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15v13
The BjorksSince we last wrote to you in the New Year, a big change has occurred in our lives. Our friends and colleagues, David and Diane Bjork, have felt God's leading them to return to the USA. As you can imagine, after 30+ years of ministry in France, this has not been an easy decision for them to take.
As yet they have no definite details of their future activity but are sure God will use them in the formation of the next generation of Christian missionaries. David is therefore responding to this by pursuing teaching posts in Christian training establishments in the USA.
They have sold their home in Dijon and travelled back to the US on 11th April. They will stay with their daughter and son-in-law until God's direction becomes clear about the way ahead.
We would ask for prayer on their behalf that God would guide them clearly and provide for their material needs as they take this big step of faith. Although we hope to remain in regular contact with them, we will greatly miss their personal involvement in our lives.
We do thank God for them and for the love and generosity they have shown us over the past 10 years and especially for their spiritual input into the lives of our boys.
What Next for Us?David and Diane's leaving France is an opportunity for us to reassess our own involvement here. We want to be completely open to anything that God might have for us.
We would therefore ask you to pray with us that God would guide us clearly in what we should be doing, about where we should be living and for how we should be supported. We are really seeking confirmation that we are still in the right place, doing the right thing and in the right way.
Before leaving, David and Diane introduced us to the Archbishop of our region, Monseigneur Roland Minnerath. He listened to our story and was very open to us.
Please pray that God would guide any further involvement this might lead to. David was also keen to introduce us to the ecumenical prayer group in Dijon and we have been invited to their next meeting in the summer. Please pray again that God's will in all this would become clear.
StudiesThe next few months are also important for our boys. Ben will sit his Baccalaureat exams the last week in June. Please also pray about his application for university which has now been sent off. His first choice is a 5 year Masters degree course in Information Technology at Belfort.
Please pray for Caleb as he sits his final high school exams for the Brevet on the 30th June and 1st July. He also sits specialist entrance exams in English for the lycée in Dijon that he wants to go to. These are on the 15th and 30th April. Please also pray for Joshua as he sits his exams at the end of June.
It's not only the boys who have studies in mind! We have been given a specific gift to enable Stephen to pursue a distance learning Masters degree with Redcliffe College in Gloucester.
His application has been sent off and (if he is accepted!) he will travel to the UK for a three week Summer School induction course on June 15th. This means three years of study beginning soon, so Stephen is getting his thinking head on!
It will certainly be a big change from all the physical building work he has been involved in over the winter. This was naturally coming to an end with the tourist season starting and the houses being rented out. We are trusting God to replace this income.
IMPORTANT FINANCIAL SUPPORT CHANGES!
As most of our regular supporters know, our financial support is collected and passed on to us by the Scriptural Knowledge Institution (SKI) - a part of the George Müller organisation. The SKI is being grouped together with two other charitable trusts within the Müller organisation. This will not affect anyone who gives regularly through an already operational banker's order.
However, should you wish to make a 'one-off' gift via SKI you need to make cheques payable to "The George Müller Charitable Trust" (GMCT) and NOT to "The Scriptural Knowledge Institution" as before.
Gifts must be accompanied with a letter expressing a wish that the gift be used towards the financial support of Stephen and Sharon March.
We do take this opportunity of expressing our appreciation of the work of the GMCT - SKI and their invaluable help in the collection of our financial support.
Anyone wishing to start supporting us can contact us, or GMCT-SKI directly, for details. Those who already support us can at any time change the amount of their support - or even cancel it!! But please let GMCT know about any changes in advance:
The George Muller Charitable Trust - SKI, Müller House, 7 Cotham Park, BRISTOL, BS6 6DA Tel. 0117 916 6659 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Latest newsStephen's planned trip to the UK for a men's weekend in March had to be cancelled. The very day he was booked to travel was declared a general strike day in France, and his train to catch the Eurostar cancelled. This meant that the trip couldn't happen.
Whilst he was disappointed not to be there, it is interesting that the last time Sharon went to the UK there were travel problems too. We feel we need to work at keeping live links with the Burton church in particular, but this is not always easy.
Having said that, we now have three lots of visitors booked up for the coming months! It is always good to see people, and we appreciate very much all the effort people put in to keeping in touch.
We are already wondering about the next academic year and what it will bring - Ben at university, Caleb maybe living-in at school in Dijon, Joshua living back at home, Stephen studying - and Sharon, well, who knows!
The parish work is great - she really enjoys it. She has many opportunities to share with lots of people and even have some input into the spiritual life of the parish. It is exactly where God has called her to be, and so we're not worried about that, but 'juggling' school, parish work, village council, catechism, music group, tutoring, and so on, makes for a very 'bitty' week. The boys say they can tell what Mum is going to do today by what bags go in the car! Can this continue to supply our increased outgoings next year, or does Sharon need to look for a 'real job' (as someone once put it - unthinkingly, we hope!)? Only God knows, and we can trust Him!
Recent contacts with English people in the area have led to us being more involved with a few families who have expressed a desire to talk through spiritual things in their own language. You can imagine that coming up against illness or bereavement in a foreign country is not easy.
We would ask that you pray for us as we find this area of ministry quite stressful - neither of us are particularly gifted pastorally, and yet God has chosen to bring people to us who often have deep needs and are in desperate situations. All we can do is point them to the Father and do practical things when they are required.
We do thank you for reading this newsletter; we are dependent upon your prayers that God might direct our lives, meet our needs and use us in the establishment of His kingdom.
Grace and peace. The March Family
Dear Family and Friends,
During our Summer visit to the UK I had the privilege of preaching at our home church in Burton. I had been asked to introduce a new series of sermons looking at the subject of faith.
I introduced this topic by reminding people of the well-known cartoon character 'Mr Magoo'. I don't know if you remember, but Mr Magoo had dreadful eyesight. It was so bad that he got into all kinds of scrapes because most of the time he had no idea, or completely the wrong idea, about what was actually happening around him.
It struck me that in spiritual terms Christians are very much like Mr Magoo. The Bible tells us about a spiritual reality surrounding us - the most intense conflict between good and evil. The Bible tells us too that our prayers, choices, actions and words can make an incredible difference to the outcome of this conflict. But most of the time WE JUST CAN'T SEE IT!
Faith is the process of learning to live in this world that we cannot see. Faith is choosing to hear what God says about our situation and behaving as if it were true. This challenge is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian - learning to live in a world that we cannot see.
'Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see' Hebrews 11v1, NIV.
[N.B. My notes for this teaching can be downloaded from our website]
The News:I have noticed a pattern emerging in my life - that whenever God gives me opportunity to teach on a subject, he often calls me to live through it beforehand. Asked to teach on the subject of faith, it didn't come as a surprise that we were placed in a very difficult situation over the summer months.
As you will have gathered from our previous newsletter, what with Ben going off to university and Caleb going to live-in at lycée, our financial commitments have risen substantially. Our ability to cope with this increase was non-existent! (In fact for various reasons, our income has actually dropped significantly over recent months).
We were therefore placed in a very difficult position, having to believe that God could provide for our children when we couldn't see any possible way. We prayed much asking God if we were still where He wanted us to be. We got to the place where we felt at peace about where we are and what we are doing and so concluded that this was just one of those moments where God was asking us to trust Him 'in the dark'.
Summer came and went with no change. I took Ben off to university and saw him settled in his student flat. Still no change. Caleb went off to live in at Dijon, still no word.
Finally last Monday as I was settling down to my Masters studies I received a 'phone call. Would I like a job accompanying the primary school children on the school bus run starting that evening?! This job is the IDEAL job for me! I don't need transport to get to work. It leaves me most of the day free for study. And guess what? It pays almost exactly what we need each month for Ben's rent!
In the same week Sharon went for a second interview with Linguaphone in Dijon and was offered a job too. They offered her 2 or 3 full days work a week! Again this is exactly what we need and still leaves her free days for her work in the Parish!
We know that these answers to prayer have not been won by us alone, but by those who have stood with us in prayer over these long summer months. We therefore express our heartfelt thanks to those who have faithfully reminded God of our situation and asked for His provision. We particularly thank the Kilsyth prayer group who had prayed only a few days before that we would see God move before Sharon's mum (who was about to come and visit us) went home! What an amazing answer to prayer and a confirmation to us that we are still in the right place and doing the right thing.
To be completely frank about our situation, even with these new jobs our financial situation will remain 'tight', but having seen God move in this way gives us the faith to believe that He will also provide whatever else we need to survive.
The 'big news' out of the way we can now fill you in on the rest of what's been happening in our lives!
Stephen went off to Summer School at Redcliffe College to begin his Masters studies. It proved to be a real challenge to his rusting synapses but as he is starting to get into study mode again it is proving enriching and enjoyable. Please continue to pray that he would be a good student and learn things that will prove useful in our calling. We all enjoyed a great summer holiday back in 'Blighty', in Burton with our friends and enjoyed the opportunity of fellowship at our home church over three Sundays.
Here with our friends and hosts for the holiday - the Cooks
Heard of the Statue of Liberty - Statue of Stupidity?
Joshua throws his 'Rock God' pose
Our three 'little' boys!
The March Family on holiday 2009
The holiday was a great family time, all the more precious when you can see that there may not be that many more family holidays left!
As indicated above, Ben is now installed in Belfort (2 and a half hours drive West from Dijon) at university on a 5-year IT engineering course. He is loving it so far and has adapted well to living on his own. We do praise God for the provision (by gifts of practical things as well as finance) to kit out his flat with all the necessary paraphernalia of student life!
Caleb has started as a boarder at his lycée in Dijon. He too has adapted well to living away from home. Please pray for him in his studies as he has a LOT of work to do!
Joshua continues in the same school as last year. He travels in to Dijon every day. Please pray for him in this his final year. He is considering going off to university next year and he thinks he would like to go to Scotland to do it. Please pray as we try to find out about this and make applications, etc. Obviously finance is a key factor, but we believe that God has plans for each of the boys, and Joshua has felt strongly for some time that he should return to the UK.
It is more than just a 'feeling', and we would ask that you pray for him as he seeks God's will for his own future. We are once again not in a position to do much for him, but we know God can! Getting through paper work is difficult enough on the spot, but seems even more complicated from a distance. Please pray for good information, and that God would grant us favour with the necessary authorities. In one long phone call we had to fight to let the agency concerned agree that he is actually British and doesn't need to be considered as a foreign student!!
Our friends the Bjorks still have no definitive news about a teaching post. David has applied to 20 Christian universities in the USA and will attend a conference in November where interviews will take place. Please continue to pray for them as they too face a test of faith. We continue to miss them but are able to keep in touch through regular 'phone calls.
Sharon continues to do a lot of work with the town council. The 14 July celebrations were again a tremendous success. Sharon really enjoys her council work and the opportunity to contribute to village life and hopefully to be a positive influence.
Our involvement with the parish continues to flourish. Sharon now plays the keyboard at church on most Sundays, along with leading choir practise, doing admin, leading a catechism class. A new group for 're-beginners', people who are currently outside the church but who would like to explore spiritual issues, has just been started. Stephen is going to be involved with this group - both in participating and studying it as part of his Master's studies. Please pray that this group might be a real evangelistic tool and would help people come to a more vibrant and deeper faith in Christ.
Stephen, Sharon, Benjamin, Joshua and Caleb March
Dear Friends and Family,
First of all our very best wishes for a blessed season of Christmas and for a blessed, peaceful and joyful 2010! We want to express to you our deepest and heartfelt gratitude for your prayers, support and friendship over this past year. May the Lord bless you all!
As we look back over 2009 one verse sums up a truth God has been reminding us of once again;
'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble' (Proverbs 3v34, James 4v6, 1 Peter 5v5)
When both leaders of the Early Christian Church quote a verse from the Old Testament, you've got to take notice, for it is certainly a key truth for living the Christian life. As we have meditated on this verse in the light of this past year we have been struck again by the degree to which pride is deadly to faith. We have been forced to realise once more that the only remedy for the disease of pride is humiliation - it is only in being shown our utter weakness that our pride can be broken, that true humility can emerge - and that we can therefore become useful to God.
In our walk with God, it has been finance that God has most often used as his agent of 'humiliation' to break our pride and to remind us of our total dependence upon Him. This year, as we contemplated Benjamin going off to university, we knew that things would be 'beyond us' financially. Little did we realise just how difficult things would get! Just as Ben left, a series of circumstances converged which God used to take us into several months of severe financial struggle - a series of bank errors, two massive car repair bills and all this on top of the extra costs of setting Ben up in his student life.
We cried out to God asking for help. We did the usual inventory - Have we stepped outside the will of God? Does God want us to make changes in our lives and ministry? Have we got something wrong? In praying and talking through this (by the way, a big 'thank you' to those close friends and the folks of Burton church for standing with us during this time of prayer and fasting), we became convinced that we are still where God wants us to be and that this is just 'one of those times' which God uses periodically to remind us of our weakness and our total dependence upon Him. So we prayed confessing this, embracing it and asking God to do that which pleases Him and which best fulfils His purposes. And in that we came to peace.
In this time we have certainly seen God at work in our circumstances. Sharon found a new part-time job at 'Linguaphone', which she loves, and which pays a little more than her previous teaching in schools. This job is ideal in that it is flexible and still leaves her free to work for the parish two days a week. Also, Stephen was phoned 'out of the blue' and offered a job on the school bus run that pays exactly what we need for Ben's student flat rent. This job is also ideal in that it leaves Stephen free-time for his Masters studies. We have also seen people respond to our circumstances in great generosity - sometimes even when unaware of these circumstances, just prompted by the Spirit of God - we do praise God for these answers to prayer.
Yet, despite all these wonderful answers to prayer, our financial situation remains fragile, but we accept this for as long as it pleases God to call us to walk in this way. We thank Him for it and we pray that we will be humbled by it and learn again the absolute truth of our dependence upon Him.
We praise God that there have also been some real encouragements for us during this time. In our parish involvement we have been encouraged this year by God using us as a positive influence. For example, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Father Jérôme preached two wonderful sermons - clear presentations of the gospel of Jesus Christ and calls for people to respond to this gospel in conversion. It was so fantastic, it almost made you cry.
This year has also seen a new group created in the parish for people who currently situate themselves outside the Church but who want to explore the Christian faith. This group (which Stephen co-leads) has started very small, but has been very positively received in the parish. The smallness of this beginning is again a reminder that we can do nothing by ourselves; (John 5v19) if anything happens in peoples' lives it is by the power of God at work, not us. But we are encouraged to see this first step towards evangelical outreach.
Sharon also continues to be a positive influence at the centre of parish life with her service in the parish office, her teaching a children's catechism class and in her running of the musical side of worship in the parish.
In our family life we also have much to be thankful for as we look back on 2009 -
Benjamin has settled in well and is enjoying life at university. He is working hard and doing well - first in his year for maths in his latest examinations! He saw a real answer to prayer recently. Needing to find a month-long work placement on a production line as part of his studies he had sent off many application letters without success. He asked us to pray specifically as a matter of urgency some ten days before the closing date. God answered prayer in a wonderful way and he will be working in Dijon for one month beginning January 18th!
Joshua is also thriving in his final year Baccalauréat studies. He has made an application to study Philosophy and French at several universities in Scotland next year. We would welcome prayer for this application and for the financial and practical arrangements to enable this to happen.
Caleb has adapted to living in at school Monday to Friday in Dijon. He loves school but is in an elite section and will need to work hard to succeed. Please pray that he will be able to adapt to this new level of study.
Sharon loves her new job teaching English to business people. This is a new challenge that she has found really stimulating, as well as enjoyable, meeting lots of new people and getting to know them.
Stephen's Masters studies have also been very stimulating and thought-provoking for him. He has now completed half of this year's assignments - no marks back yet! - and is really enjoying this new challenge to think seriously about mission in Europe in the 21st century and the challenges and opportunities the contemporary context brings.
Again, we want to express our appreciation for your prayers and support over the past year(s) and we would greatly appreciate you standing with us in prayer as we face the many challenges of surviving the next 12 months! Those of you who receive a paper copy of this prayer letter will also have received, a (now traditional), March Family Prayer-Reminder Fridge Magnet©®!
To those of you reading this prayerletter on the website, who would like to have one of these prayer reminders, you have only to email us asking for one! We desperately need prayer and would be only too happy to send you a fridge-magnet!We heartily invite you to place them judiciously on your fridge door and be reminded to offer up a quick prayer for us each time you open it!
Similarly, those wanting to receive a paper copy of this prayerletter, or to stop receivning one, or if you would like information about supporting us financially, you have only to email us using the button on the website at www.marchsite.com.
We can't finish this prayer letter without asking you to remember our dear friends David and Diane Bjork. Now back in the US, David is seeking a teaching post. Please join with us in praying that the Lord would lead them to a place of fruitful, joyful service as soon as possible.
Please accept our sincerest thanks and our prayers that you would know God's richest blessing in 2010.
Stephen, Sharon, Benjamin, Joshua and Caleb