Saturday, 6 December 2008

Stand with Me...

The long-awaited News!
I am wildly, passionately, fabulously, and at the risk of all else in love with a Risen King of grace unfathomable and love unalterable. He has set me on a journey that I would love to invite you along on...

You might have noticed from the last post that when I left Sweden in November, it seemingly was not going to be a long absense :) Those of you who have come along with me on the journey into world missions in Europe that God set me on at 18 (well, from the day I was born, really!) will remember what a worrisome mystery the whole concept of "what comes after college" has been all the 3 years I spent studying my degree in Theology and Mission. O Leah of Little Faith-- Did you really think worrying about it would get you there any faster?? I cannot tell you how wonderfully pleased I am to be able to write this post for you!!! Are you sensing any excitement here? :) (Perhaps the uncontrollable over-use of smileys gives it away! :))

I have a place in the world :)

In my final year of college I did a mission placement with a non-profit in Gothenburg, Sweden-- Rescue Mission Ministries-- and more recently was back at the end of my summer to spend a few more months working with and learning from my missionary friends who run this organisation. This has been all-around on-the-job training in every aspect of running a ministry in post-modern, secular Europe! And, naturally, all-around, on-the-job refining of my faith, as the Vine nurtures one of His branches... Everything from office work, to pricing and displaying and working behind the counter at the ministry's Secondhand shop, to working in the church in nearly every role (the more uncomfortable it was, the better, apparently!), but most especially, investing in people, building relationships, and magnifying Christ. As is the way He works-- as I'm forever discovering-- I'm convinced as much as He used me there, I came away far more blessed and more of a whole, God-glorifying person through the work! I have discovered that the more I surrender to serving others, the more I get to see of His heart... And I am addicted to that heart :)

They've asked me back, longer term, and God confirms this next step again and again and again. Thus far I've lived with my missionary friends, and stayed with various friends in the church at various times. But for quite some time God has been birthing in me a vision for a flat (or, to speak American, an apartment) to live in with another young woman whom God's at work in from my Rescue Mission Church. We envision it as being God's space in a spiritually dark country, and hope to expand what Rescue Mission is already all about-- reaching out in Christ-- to the international student community in Gothenburg, and anyone else drawn by Christ. Gothenburg is a bustling port city-- with the largest harbour and the largest University in all of Scandinavia-- and the international presence in Gothenburg is huge; making up nearly 20% of the city's population. I discovered while BEING an international student and living with international students in England, that I love working with internationals! And there is such room for ministry in this realm as we, as internationals, are so vulnerable and can feel so lost in a culture which is not our own and with everything so unfamiliar. Team that with being a student, in that phase of life which is an especially seeking one, and you might find hearts open to the gospel of Christ in ways that others aren't. My calling from His heart is to pour my life out to love people to that Christ.

So, FINALLY armed with a much prayed for specific vision for ministry, a missionary couple with a ministry organisation willing to invest in me and train me up as a younger missionary, a church community awaiting me, and a heart more keen and ready to follow Him in faith than perhaps ever before, I take steps to move to Gothenburg, Sweden and dig into life there pursuing and proclaiming Him with this ministry...

But I can't do it without you.

You've probably all heard at one time or another the mandate of "The Great Commission"-- Go into all the world and make disciples in His name. But chances are most of us haven't been given a specific call to leave our home countries and home cultures to live for Him. As He has been confirming over and over again in my passion for and experience of Europe, I have this call and this specific grace for cross-cultural ministry. But I cannot be enabled to do what He has made me for without the help of you doing what He has made you for.

Realizing I was reaching this stage of the journey into full-time mission work, I initially panicked at the thought of having to ask people to support me!! Most Christians I know are already supporting many ministries and missionaries and I instantly think, why in the world would they want to support ME?! But God breaks in with, "Leah, this is MY business, this is MY work. You can trust ME to provide through MY people for MY work..." And so I can calculate the costs and feel it's all impossible as much as I like, but in the end He expects me to follow Him in faith, do my part, and watch Him work. So, I don't know how often I'll make my needs known to all of you and how often I'll only tell my Abba, but I am earnestly praying for some monthly supporters to join me in serving Him in this corner of the globe. I'm new at this, but I know instinctively I will need prayer warriors, I will need financial partners, and I will need help with the practicalities of serving overseas on this end (some kind of administration and guidance on financial issues, insurance, taxes, etc!). Really, I'll need friends, who have a passion to serve as much as I do, but who need to be enabled to do it from Stateside!

"In God's family some are primarily senders/givers while others are primarily goers/receivers. Each is equal in His family. For you to be able to do what God asks of you as a goer/receiver, others need to do what God asks of them as senders/givers. It's how God funds His family business."-- Myles Wilson, Funding the Family Business
God has challenged me so very much over these intense years of study and these intense months of working with Rescue Mission to give from what He has, not from what I think I have. Because I was pretty sure I had nothing of value to give to His work. He has been painstakingly teaching me to draw from all that He is, to fill whatever I am, to do whatever He places before me. As you read this post, I pray that you too will be compelled to give from what He has, not from what you think you have, in whatever way He stirs you to be involved! Join me in making the whole focus of your life to use everything He has given you in the best way you can to ensure that people hear, see, and feel this extravagant, life-changing love of God...

The Life-Changing Love of God

I have already watched in wonder as He has changed lives through Rescue Mission Ministries. In my first month there back in Jan/Feb, I had the privilege of getting to know and eventually to pray with a muslim man as he committed his and his family's life to Christ. In my last few months there, I have had the joy of seeing them firmly rooted in the body of Christ and growing!! And it all started with them wandering into the Secondhand to find some things for their flat :)

Some of my favourite (if I'm allowed to have them!) growing relationships have been with Romanians who've immigrated to Sweden (which, I suppose, is no coincidence since God planted a piece of my heart in Romania after falling in love with my gypsy babies those months in Bucharest!). The Lord has swung open some doors in my friends' hearts even in just the past few months and I've watched and prayed and loved with joy as we've worked together, played together, prayed and praised and grown in Him together!

His grace is still setting people free as they take in and believe that Christ has made the way through His death for us to stand in the presence of God; even holy and blameless and without a single fault in His grace-filled eyes (Col. 1:22). His love is still transforming lives and minds and hopes and dreams and He's calling each of us to be a part of it, to stand firm in believing this truth and proclaiming this truth to anyone who will believe the Good news (Col. 1:23).

Stand with me in Europe. Stand with me in Sweden. You've heard it said that we are the only Jesus some will ever see. In Europe it's estimated that only 1.1% of the population are active followers of Christ. God's love and longing for these people so caught up in their self-serving lives, so fed up with religion but so aching for relationship, is vast and He's pouring it into me to overflowing! Pour it out with me...

His (and yours) home for the holidays in the good ol' USA,

Get in touch!

"By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life." -- 2 Peter 1:3

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Just a Quick Catch-up!!

Hej då Sweden

I can hardly believe my 2 months in Sweden have already drawn to a close! Nor can I believe how truly difficult it was to leave. God has woven my heart in to the fabric of the place and the people now and I can't wait to get back!! In my last week we had many little goodbye get-togethers and He lavished me with such precious times just basking in His love poured out through His people of my little Rescue Mission Church. I just never would have written this into my own story if I was holding the pen. Perhaps the sheer surprise of belonging makes it all the more precious.

Thankfully, He knows best and is Himself the Master-poet because though I wouldn't have thought that Sweden might be the place for me more long-term, He knew what He was doing all along. It makes sense now how He, from the beginning when I first tentatively sought Him about mission and ministry at age 18, insisted that it wasn't a specific country that I was to cling to, but Him and His heart for His people. Let me tell you, His heart is all over and all through and all around these people, and many more I have yet to meet who have and will come into contact with this Secondhand shop, and I've been asked to come back to Rescue Mission Ministries...

And so, as I head home for the holidays and a time of sorting out my next move now that I have a destination for my step, a whole new leg of the journey on this adventure of following Him into world missions commences... And I am breathless with excitement, bubbling over with joy, trembling with fear, and infused with Love.

(Photo gallery of my time in Sweden: here)

Hello Again England!

So, upon leaving Sweden I headed back to England to quickly repack and reprioritize all the things I've left here in the Austin-Sparkses attic and see as many friends as could be seen in about 2 days time!! It has been a whirlwind and I'm exhausted, but so so blessed as He has again revealed His heart in the hearts of these people I get to love here in my 'European home' of England. It has been precious to come together and catch up and to share our hearts and know that wherever living for Him and loving Him takes us all, His spirit does bind us together and we truly have family in one another all across the world...

Coming Home for the Holidays!

I'm arriving back to U.S. soil after nearly a year of being away completely on Monday, November 17th and I am so excited to spend the holidays with my family, and a few weeks sorting out my return to Sweden, seeking for God to make straight the paths for His purposes...

What I'm needing prayer and advice for now is:

* Praise with me that He's bringing me home! And please pray with me that I might be a real blessing to my family throughout this long visit

* Please pray for support partnership opportunities-- will you please pray with me that those God is raising up to partner with me in mission will be keen to step up and let me know how they feel called to help (in taking care of practical things for me back home when I'm abroad, in committing to pray for me and to be in contact with me about prayer needs, in committing to helping to raise or to give financially, etc)?

* Please praye for wisdom and courage within myself as I step into this new and difficult terrain of support-raising-- but praise with me that even in a 'credit crunch', He still owns the cattle on a thousand hills and knows just how to shift finances around to glorify Himself in our lives!

* Praise with me that He has revealed a next step to walk toward!! And pray with me that He will continually strengthen my faith and my trust of Him and identity in Him as I look toward this vision for ministry, that I will not be discouraged or lose heart concentrating on what little I am instead of how great He is and how His power is made perfect in weakness!

* Please pray for earning opportunities for my 6-8 weeks back in the states-- does anyone know of any temp jobs I might take on during my visit to my family in Northern MN?

* Please thank God for travelling mercies!

Oh, the list could go on if I let it!

Continue to expect a proper detailed explanation of Rescue Mission Ministries and where I fit in, and how God has moved to keep me there as soon as I stop moving countries and continents for long enough to sit down and take a deep breath!!

You are so loved...
His (and yours) in England tonight, America tomorrow, Sweden yesterday--

Monday, 10 November 2008

"Your covenant with death will be annulled;Your agreement with the grave will not stand."

-- Isaiah 28:18

This verse jumped out at me from Isaiah today...
Somehow it means to me freedom. He's paid my debt with His life and bought for my soul eternal life and in that truth lies everything. But He's also died that I might have abundant life here and now. I am not a captive to circumstances or mindsets or insecurities so ingrown in me that I can hardly imagine a life without them dictating to me how to live. He has broken that covenant; He has torn up that agreement.
Praise You, Holy One.
Please teach me how to live outloud this truth of Your love, of your sacrifice. Teach me not to fear in any capacity, Lord, except for the right and just fear due You in Your awesomeness...

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Hej från Sverige!

Hej Kompisar!
(Hi friends :))

So I've finally got all the photos I've taken here so far uploaded to an online gallery so please do check them out! This city is so very beautiful and these people in my life here so very special. I'd love to share it all with you :)

Gallery of photos here

These 2 months in Sweden so sovereignly given by God are quickly drawing to a close. I came here really, really low, and wondering what in the world I was good for-- if anything-- especially in mission and ministry, and yet sure as ever that He'd coaxed me into ministry in Europe for a reason, despite everything looking like it requires so much more than I have, both within me and without me. Working in this special Rescue Mission Secondhand, God suddenly gave me a day-to-day purpose, working with the lovely Rescue Mission Church, God suddenly gave me a beautiful extended family from all over the world to share life with, learn from and minister to, and living with the Van Weidens, God suddenly gave me a home (complete with a fabulous family whom I adore :)) and a secure place to work through issues and challenges, and learn to rest in Him (I'm constantly taking it all on my shoulders and feeling inadequate for the job, but OF COURSE I'm inadequate :) I'm not meant to do this myself!)... I feel like after 22 years of Christian exposure, I should have this faith thing down, but this patient God is forever stripping it down to the roots and building it up again as I seek His face. He's refining and shaping my faith every day, and I'm endeavoring to live the process wide open, that He might spark something in anyone I meet along the way... He's using my life in Sweden to teach me more of His boldness, more of His confidence, more of His grace... and I watch Him wide-eyed.

On November 12th, I'm headed back to England for a few days to repack and say some goodbyes (Nov12th-17th.) Then it's home for the first time in a year to spend the holidays with my family-- and I CAN'T WAIT to see them!!! (Nov 17th to January). From there, God is slowly revealing the next step and I'll soon reveal to you what I can! It started with a bright blue dressor last Jan-Feb when I worked for a month at this same Rescue Mission Secondhand for my mission placement for college :) And it's been fueled by the earnest statements of two missionaries here that I deeply respect, and many church friends. God just may be sending me back to Sweden for my first few years in European mission...

But for now, thank you so much for your prayers and encouragement. You are used of Him in this scary life of learning to trust a God who is more faithful than I know whether you realize it or not... On that note, would anyone be interested in getting involved in a missionary support team? I'm praying that God will raise you up for me!! Perhaps you've been wanting to get more involved in world missions or in ministry of some kind to serve the Lord, or simply want to be a help and a blessing to me and haven't the funds to financially support mission? (Or, of course, you could always do both!) Regardless of whether this interests you, will you please join me in praying for the right people (or even a willing person) to step up to form a team that can handle all the practical issues for a missionary overseas? Thank you!!!

'May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you...'
--2 Thessalonians 2:16

Monday, 20 October 2008

Surprise Visit!

I had the greatest surprise this weekend when Adriaan, one of my best (Dutch) friends from Redcliffe, walked into the Secondhand shop on Friday, with his big smile intact and many stories to tell. He hitch-hiked all the way up from the Netherlands, starting Thursday afternoon! I was so surprised and delighted my hands were literally shaking!! There I was behind the counter, just another day, and he was the last person I expected to see walking through the shop door :)

He stayed for 2 days and we wandered around this lovely city and revisited all the places we'd visited before when we came up here together from England 2 1/2 years ago.

(At a beautiful old square called Kronhusbodarna)

(throwing leaves walking along the canal by Haga)

(Meeting some friendly fishermen outside the Feskekyrk)

(Like I said, very friendly fishermen!)

(With the Swedish flag on a ferry around the islands just off the coast!)

For so many reasons this surprise weekend was a gift from God. When Adriaan was praying about whether or not to try this crazy thing, he did something very out of character for him and he asked God to give him a sign if he should go ahead and try hitch-hiking up here. That very day, he "randomly" ran into one of my other best Dutch friends, Mirjam. They live in the same city but they have never met at random before. He couldn't help but feel that was not coincidental. For me, it all just goes to drive home the truth that God loves me, personally, individually, surprisingly :) Adriaan says it's like God's winking at me :) Whatever it was, I hope I won't soon be forgetting His faithfulness and attentiveness and delightfulness that this weekend represented!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

A Few Happenings...

My Church (family) in Sweden

Hello Everyone! I thought it was about time I updated you on a few more happenings going on these days in my little life here in Sweden. I really just feel like one of the family now-- and not just Mike and Brona's family, but our church family too. I've never been in such a church-- so close, so family-like. I imagine this is what the early church looked like-- believers from every walk of life meeting together and praising the Lord together and eating together and sharing one another's burdens and praying for one another and carrying on the relationships by intertwining their lives throughout the week as well! I am excited by it, and I am blessed by it.

Terri-Anne and Sian and I
Sorinella, Brona and I
A meal after church one Sunday
My Church (Challenges) in Sweden

It doesn't come without its challenges, for me at least. Mike is always asking me to step one foot more out of my comfort zone, and sometimes a few feet at once. On Sunday this week, I was sort of thrown on to a rag-tag worship team that went to another area church to lead worship, then Mike and Eddie and I did the worship back at our own church (to be honest, I can never get enough of worship... It's just doing it up front that causes me to pause!), then I led Communion! Ugh! I hate hate hate being up front and especially when it means speaking on the spot... But I'm hoping that the more I'm able to say Yes without hesitating to things asked of me by human leaders, the more quickly I'll say Yes to things asked of me by God! And it was beautiful to see how God was moving in the hearts of each of us speaking in church that day to give us a common theme without any of us actually speaking to one another about it beforehand!
When I told Mike I would do Communion I was thinking, "What?! I don't even know how I feel about Communion, let alone how to lead it when I'm not comfortable leading ANYTHING!!" Haha. So, I took it to God and basically said, as I was opening my bible to read about the Last Supper, "Look, this is Your thing, not mine. I can't do it, so You're going to have to." To be honest, I've never really understood why believers who live in grace keep on perpetuating this ritual. Growing up in church, I've taken more communions than I can count and over the past few years I began to feel uncomfortable with how... blase and routine it felt each month to drink the little glass of juice representing Christ's blood and nibble the tiny bit of bread representing Christ's body. I can still hear the oft-spoken, "This do in remembrance of Me" on the lips of my whole church together once a month all my life. Doing Communion this Sunday gave me a chance to actually sit down and say, "Hey God, I don't get it. You say to us 'You worship me with your mouths but your hearts are far from me' and certainly Communion has become just such a thing."

As I was praying the first verse He brought to mind was 1 Cor. 1:30. Speaking about Christ it says, "He is the one who made us acceptable to God. He made us pure and holy and He gave Himself to purchase our freedom." That simple.

Then I read Luke 22:19-20 which is simply an account of the Last Supper and God answered my questioning heart asking a sincere 'Why' with: We do this because Christ asked us to do it in rememberance of what He's done for us. He reminded me that He often asked Israel to set up visual reminders of things He'd done for them-- like a stack of rocks at a certain place in the desert to show that this is where He'd performed a miracle to provide for them. Reminders of His faithfulness. Because He knows what we're like as humans, how easily distracted we are.

Suddenly, He showed me at least, that Communion is not some dry religious ritual some tradition set up by the church that we follow legalistically. But a regular chance to take the space to encounter a living, breathing God who loves You so much-- in all your sin, in all your faults, in all your un-acceptability-- to die to make you pure and holy and acceptable so that He could keep you near to Him for all eternity.

That's the God we're remembering through this. And Communion is a reminder set up to remind us to seek Him, and in His faithfulness He will be found...

"And if you search for Him with all your heart and soul, you will find Him."
--Deut. 4:29

Substitute Teaching??

He showed me a bit more of His faithfulness and provison this week in completely unexpected ways. My friend from church, Terri-Anne, is headteacher at a little International 'Dagis'-- which is the excellent Swedish system of preschool/daycare. She was in a panic on Sunday because she was short a teacher for Monday and she asked me if I would step in and volunteer. The term 'substitute teacher' freaked me out, but I had a friend in need so I volunteered for the day. My 'class' were the babies, which put me at ease a little as I'm much more of a baby person than a child person and the only 'lessons' they have at age 1 1/2 is basically structured play. So, I spent the day with 4 delightful little ones under the age of 2, was utterly exhausted at the end, and newly appreciative of Terri-Anne (whom I already appreciated to the moon and back again!)

That night as Terri-Anne and I were driving away to go and pick up her own darling little ones (Sian is 3 1/2 and Liam is 1 1/2) from their Dagis, she told me her boss was going to pay me as a substitute teacher! That was completely unexpected and completely God. This whole time in Sweden has been a thing of faith. I haven't really been asking for financial support, only leaving the door open should anyone want to support me. This has meant I've been avoiding looking at my bank account knowing that if I do I'll panic!! Early on in my stay in Sweden, someone from the church handed me an envelope one day saying they felt God was asking them to give it to me. Mike and Brona keep providing all the practicalities for me, even when I ask them not to. And now God's proving again that He will take care of me, just like He promised, if I trust Him.

And this is just in time as I have friends coming over from England and the Netherlands to visit and I want to be able to go out and show them the sights and must be able to pay for travel fare! : )

He is good, He is good, He is good. And He'll prove it over and over and over again. In dark times, in light ones, in hardships, in joys. He is the same. He will not stop doing good to us; He rejoices in doing us good (Jer. 32). And He is not tired of teaching me yet...

Praise God.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Church Weekend Away

Our church had a weekend away at the North Sea this weekend here in Sweden. It was so brilliant. God does beautiful things in a group of people by simply taking them out of their ordinary setting of meeting together and putting them together somewhere else :) We joined another small international church from near Gothenburg and we spent the days living, laughing, eating, walking, playing, worshipping, and talking together. I was so encouraged at the level of confidence He gave me moving amongst this group of near strangers. And so blessed to come home with a few more friends : )

Our camp was right here on the Sea

Our little rooms overlooking the sea,
Playing on the dock
On a fresh walk around the grounds
Me and Sorinella

Friday, 3 October 2008

It's a Man's World

It’s a man’s world in this household.

I’ve discovered that every toilet seat in the house is left up—and I guess it makes sense. Majority rules, after all. 7 to 2.

The other day I was doing laundry because I stayed home from the shop (which is about 25 minutes drive from the house) to be available to collect Jesse from a play group a half an hour’s walk through the countryside away, and I can honestly say I have never seen so many boxer shorts in my life—in every size from littlest of boys to biggest! It kind of makes me giggle. Brona says you just never know and I’ll probably end up with a pack of boys too someday and to chalk this up to training for then : )

I love these boys. They are VERY boyish, with all the Xbox playing, hip-hop music, silly inside boy jokes, and messes (though they all clean and cook and tidy when they’re parents ask and it’s usually always their job to clean up after the evening meal, which is just unheard of in my family! I’m not even sure my little brothers know how to clean up after a meal, much less cook one!), but they are so lovely—every one of them.

Oisin (O-sheen) is nearly 18 and you can tell he sort of feels entitled to rule the roost, constantly picking arguments with his dad, and attempting to push every boundary. He got a tattoo this week, much to his parents chagrin : ) He’s also gorgeous— all of their boys are—and has a bit of an Orlando Bloom from ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ look going on. I still remember when I first met them when I was 14 and he was this cute, little 10 year old, showing off his sketches to me and teaching me how to speak with an Irish accent : ) What I love about Ois, despite the attitude he so often puts on with his parents and little brothers, is that he always always comes round and kisses us all goodnight. How many 18 year old guys do you know who do that?! Oh, I love Europeans : )

Abdi is 18 and he’s the new foster son and he’s rarely here so I can’t say much for him.

Amir (Ah-meer) is 16 and he’s been living with this family for a few years now and is very much one of the family. He is great because he’s always so careful to be polite with me and he’s forever trying to make conversation in English for my benefit even though his mother tongue is Swedish and all the boys and Mike can speak Swedish with him. He’s really one of the boys to me now and I love his kindness.

Bjorn (b-yourn) is 15 but looks older than Ois. He can be very very quiet and seem a bit shy, but he’s always happy-go-lucky and has a lovely, goofy, off-the-wall sense of humour, and I love that. I think he may have the kindest, most selfless soul of all of the boys, but he’s also been the hardest one for me to get to know since he’s not one to be talking all the time. I’m praying for inroads and just enjoying the snatches of his company I get. Lovely Bjorny : ) He’s ridiculously handsome for a 15 year old as well. Brona calls him her best boy when none of the others are around : ) But then, I’ve heard her say that to Micha and Jesse too, when none of the others are around : )

Micha is 14 and I love this kid!! He is a riot, and a snuggle-bunny, and is forever cracking jokes, so naturally he wins my heart instantly. He’s forever coming round for hugs and cuddles and being a very affectionate person when at ease, I love that! He is truly like a little brother to me and we treat one another like it and he just puts me at ease in the whole family. He asked when I came whether he and I are actually related : ) I told him “no, but we can pretend!” He calls me his buddy and lords it over me a little that he’s taller than me at age 14 : )

Jesse is very nearly 8 and he’s everyone’s pet. He’s my roommate for these 2 months and I’ve discovered that he thrashes around and talks in his sleep just to keep things interesting, but I honestly couldn’t ask for a better one. One with less toys laying around, maybe, but not a better one : ) We went for a walk today and picked a vase of wildflowers for our room : ) Jesse has the most beautiful compassion and consideration for others, and I seriously learn from this child’s big faith! He also has the most stunning eyes—a very unique mixture of green and blue and brown, and I love his sweet little voice… Brona was telling me the other day that when she told Jesse I was coming she asked him if he remembered me from the last time and he said, “of course!” so she asked him what colour my eyes were, just to test and see whether he really did know who she was talking about. She said he got really thoughtful and a bit dreamy-eyed and said, “sort of light green, but not totally light green because there are little flecks of yellow in them and they have dark green around the outside”—woah, the detail! She took in the way he was speaking and the way the little wheels in his head were turning and the way he described my eyes for her in such detail and asked, “Jesse, is she a beautiful girl?” and he smiled a bit sheepishly, blushed a little, ducked his eyes and said, “yes” Haha!!!!!!!!!!!! At least I know one boy in the world thinks so : ) So she says I need to watch out for the little man : )

Jesse and Mike have a little song they sing together and it’s the cutest thing. We’re driving along in the old Toyota people carrier and Mike sings, “Jesse is my little—“ and Jesse pipes in “Man” and they repeat that til the last line when Mike sings, “And I love him very—“ and Jesse finishes, “much.” Ahhh, it moves my heart.

I feel like God let’s me witness these little snatches of exchanges between Mike and his boys so that I can see on an understandable level what He is like as our Father in Heaven, only on a level beyond full human comprehension.


p.s. So I'm off for a special weekend away at the sea! As a church we're going away for a little retreat with another small church for the weekend. I think it shall be marvelous...

Thursday, 2 October 2008

I Want to Live Faith Like This....

I just read a book about a British missionary to Hong Kong, Jackie Pullinger, called Chasing the Dragon and God spoke to me through it's pages of what real trusting in Him looks like. It is such a timely read for me. One section that really hit me was when Jackie was speaking to a pastor about how she felt sure she was called into missions, she just didn't know where or how or what. It said:

I told him that God and I had reached a stalemate; He had told me clearly to go—I knew why I was to go, but He would not tell me where. So how could I go?

Richard’s reply was extraordinary, “If God is telling you to go—you had better go.”

“How can I—I don’t know where to. All my applications have been rejected.”

“Well, if you’ve tried all the conventional ways and missionary societies and God still is telling you to go, you had better get on the move.”

I felt frustrated.

“If you had a job, a ticket, accommodation, a sick fund and a pension, you wouldn’t need to trust Him,” Richard continued. “Anyone can go that way whether they are Christians or not. If I were you I would go out and buy a ticket for a boat going on the longest journey you can find and pray to know where to get off.”

I did not exactly hear bells but this was the first time in all those months of searching that anything made sense.

“It sounds terrific—but it must be cheating because I’d love to do that.” I still had the idea that anything to do with God had to be serious. I was sure that Christians always had to take the hard way and enjoyment was no part of suffering for their faith.

But Richard Thompson told me that it was quite scriptural. Abraham was willing to leave his country and follow Jehovah to a promised land without knowing where he was going because he trusted. In the same way thousands of years later Gladys Aylward journeyed in faith to China.

“You can’t lose if you put yourself completely in God’s hands, you know.” Richard was quite serious. “If He doesn’t want you to get on the ship He is quite able to stop you—or to make the ship go anywhere in the world.” I had visions of being storm-driven like St. Paul. I might land on a little desert island where one person wanted to hear about Jesus. It was an exciting proposition.

“Maybe you will go all the way round the world just to talk to one sailor about Christ, or maybe you will go as far as Singapore to play the piano for a week of youth meetings and then come back.”

Richard’s advice was extraordinary, but completely wise. Never at any time did he lead me to the impression that I was to get on a ship, grow a bun and get off as a missionary ready to do a “work”. He never suggested that I had to achieve anything at all, I had simply to follow wherever God led. I, too, felt I could not lose on this adventure.

Slowly, slowly, He is teaching me the truth about trust.

It's about living in love-- knowingknowingknowing to the very centre of your soul that He loves you, and it is a love without flaw. And then living confidentally in that knowing.

...There is no fear in love.

Monday, 29 September 2008

My Godson

So when I became a godmother a week and a half ago, I gave my new little godson Alex a card and some candy, just to mark the day as special for him (most kids are just babies when they’re dedicated, but Alex is nearly 4 so will probably remember the day). His mum wrote me the other day to tell me that Alex has this special place where he hides all his treasures—under his mum’s pillow—and she found the card there : ) How cute is that?!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Mission Ponderings

Dear All—

The long-awaited update!
As usual, it’s long : ) But it’ll have you well informed. So grab a cozy cup of hot chocolate, put your feet up, and let’s have a good catch-up…

Missionary Mire

“You need a specific reason to stay home, not a specific call to go to the missionfield.” -- Keith Green

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about mission. 3 years studying it and training in it! And this intense summer questioning whether I can actually do it. I’ve often felt I have a growing body of evidence to attest that the doubts are right. Yet the passion to see lives in Europe know the love of God and be transformed by this love lives on in me, despite my willing admittance that I am not the ‘best for the job,’ that I have real issues with confidence that hinders so much good I would like to do. I think even my strengths don’t necessarily fit the traditional mold. I keep a lot to myself, in hopes that I might not burden anyone. I fear that I need too much encouragement. I fear I will tire people out I struggle to fight off the feeling that I ought to somehow “be better first,” as if there is a certain standard to meet, a certain line to cross, and then God can use me. Or, in the darker moments, that I just cannot be used by Him at all because I am just too mortally flawed…

I’ve struggled with this before, you all know, and I’m perfectly aware that it is absolutely unbiblical, yet the struggle continues as I wrestle with doubt and fear, and so, with believing God.

How belittling that must be to this God whom a few weeks ago led me powerfully to a passage in Isaiah saying, “Does a clay pot ever argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you are doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be!’ […] This is what the Lord, the Creator and Holy One of Israel, says: ‘Do you question what I do? Do you give Me orders about the work of My hands? I Am the one who made the earth and created people to live on it. With My hands I stretched out the heavens. All the millions of stars are at My command” (Isa. 45:9,11-12). And a few verses before, speaking to me very specifically about a life of ministry: “And why have I called you for this work? […] I called you by name when you did not know me. I am the Lord; there is no other God. I have prepared you” (Isaiah 45:4-5).

My problem is, I get so hung up on what I’M NOT, that I can’t focus on everything that HE IS, which is what a life of mission is meant to be all about anyway! When all else boils down and all talk of method and skill and measures of effectiveness hushes, what is the mark of a missionary—someone who takes the good news of Christ’s grace to people who need to hear it? It must be passion for God. It must be a desire to be more and more conformed into the image of His Son. It must be simply wanting to delight in Him. It must be about living as if He is all that is important. When I look at it from this angle, all the things I am not and have yet to learn or become confident in… they fade in their importance and serving Him because of Who He is and what He’s done becomes all that matters, whatever the cost.

“If I am abandoned to Jesus, I have no ends of my own to serve.”
-- Oswald Chambers

A Call to Europe

So my calling is confirmed and true, regardless of how I sometimes feel.

But I’ve struggled to wait patiently for God to open the doors He’d have opened for me to serve Him. My heart for Europe is right here, right in place, and so often these days I feel my soul-home is more England than Minnesota! But every time an opportunity for my next step in life here looks promising, it seems to fall through. And that is incredibly discouraging.

Over the summer I met up with a lovely Australian friend, Annette, who is following God to mission in France and He used my interaction with her as yet another confirmation that I am not wrong to continue to press on toward Him and His plans for me in Europe. With she and my common passions for ministry in Europe and common fervor for non-traditional mission, we also share some common struggles and somehow there is something so reassuring about knowing that it’s not just me walking this discouraging road. And like Annette following His heart to France right now, my passion doesn’t go away and I must see it through, no matter the doubts I have in myself. I think what I’ve realized this summer is that… I can’t help myself. I’m compelled.

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.”
-- 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Europe moves my heart. What was once the hub of Christianity in the world, is now one of the most resistant to the Gospel as post-modern thought takes over. While the gospel has advanced in most parts of the world over the past 250 years, in Europe it has declined. An estimated 1.1% of the people in Europe actively follow Christ. 1.1%!!! The need for the reality of God’s love to penetrate hearts is VAST on this beautiful continent of intricate culture and history, wealth as well as poverty (though, in comparison to other continents throughout the world, the poverty here is mostly of the heart), and people who are so utterly disillusioned by the church for having “been there, done that” for hundreds of years already that the once over-flowing worshippers of the King of Kings have slowed to a mere trickle. I am passionate about this part of the world, and about the specific way of doing mission that is required for this part of the world as opposed to the 10/40 window and such. And after a long and delicate journey into His heart starting at my mother’s knee as a 4-year-old girl, I desire to live out His love here in this land and in His way.

But in so many ways the journey is only beginning…

“Perfect are the good desires You have given me;
Be their end, as You have been their beginning.”


Missionaries to this Missionary

On Friday I arrived back again in Sweden for the next 2 months, welcomed into the home and ministry of some European missionary friends in Gothenburg—to live with and learn from them as they include me in the work of God here. This is ideal for many reasons:

I love this family. They have made a massive impression on my life since I first met them my first time in Sweden to stay with an aunt and uncle when I was 14. Mike is Dutch, Brona is Irish. They have 4 beautiful boys: Oisin (17), Bjorn (15), Misha (14), and Jesse (8), and 2 foster boys: Amir (16) and Abdi (18). And their lives are living, breathing, walking ministries to the world around them. It’s not a job or a career, but a life. And that’s how I endeavor to live.

(The Van Weidens!! Jesse and Micha-- my best boys :) Oisin, Amir, and Bjorn-- the crazy older boys. They have one more older foster son called Abdi who's not around much so not pictured here!)

They have been missionaries in Europe for a long time and they’ve got the vision for mission in Europe—building relationships, creating community, reaching into the brokenness, and offering relationship rather than religion. Working alongside them feels a bit like an apprenticeship, learning by example but in a sort of “on-the-job-training” capacity.

Most importantly for me right now, I think, is that they know me. They see all the fears trembling in my spirit these days, all the insecurities of this stage of life, and understand a lot of the refining process God is bringing me through. More often than not, they’ve been there too. Missionaries are a rather special breed of people, you might have realized : ) And we’re even more specialized according to the region of the world God’s drawn our hearts to : )

And God’s given the Van Weidens extra portions of faith and grace. A part of me feels like if I hang around them long enough, their natures may just rub off on me a little : )

So, this time here is vital in so many ways to the journey God has me on.

“Everywhere you go, you will be on land I have given you… For I will be with you… I will not fail you or abandon you.”
– Joshua 1:3-5

A Ministry for this Missionary

I had my first Sunday back at the little church plant in the Secondhand shop this past weekend and it was a sort of coming home. Not just because I have friends here that it was lovely to reconnect with, but because God just speaks to my heart so much in the intimacy of our little church. This past week my American friend Robin (whose been married to a Swede and living in Sweden for the past 14 years or something) was preaching and it was about having confidence in God rather than self-confidence… speaking directly into the struggles I’ve been walking through these uncertain days.

Today is my first day back to work at the Secondhand! The Secondhand is a charity shop, proceeds going to a Swedish organization called ‘Barn i nod” (Children in Distress) which runs children’s homes all across the world. But it’s so much more than that. It’s the hub of a Christ-centred community of believers and people on their way to becoming believers. It draws in people of all kinds. The shop itself is run by a ministry called Rescue Mission Sweden which exists to reach out to the broken, the down-and-out, the lost—and not in just the non-Christian sense of the word. The store employs addicts and alcoholics trying to come off their substance abuse and be facilitated back into society, as well as a whole host of seemingly random individuals who come and join in the work for a vast variety of reasons. Whenever I ask Mike about how a certain person got involved in the work, his reply is always the same, “God brought them to us, they just don’t know it yet.”

And that is truly the feel of the place. When I was here last time I knew people who came to the shop weekly and stayed for hours, just because they said they felt happier here. Soon, people who may ordinarily never step foot in a church (like the Muslim family I knew last time I was here) come along to the mid-week bible study, and then the English-speaking church service on a Sunday, because having it in the coffeeshop of a secondhand store is so non-threatening, and soon, they are committing their lives to Christ as well (like the aforementioned Muslim family!). Sometimes the process takes a lot longer than that. But regardless, the premise of the work at Rescue Mission Secondhand is the same: Be there for people, right where they are.

And it is a beautiful thing to be a part of.

“We won’t solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life… but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home.”
-- Jamie Tworkowski (TWLOHA)

Prayers and Contact!

So, for the next 2 months or so, I’m here again in the lovely city of Gothenburg! There are so so many blessings about my being here, but there are so so many challenges too. It seems God is forever doing intense soul work on me during my times in Sweden. So please be praying for me as I live and learn here!

Please pray too for the ministry of Rescue Mission Sweden, that we will all be discerning about people’s needs and how to best point them to Him. And for health and wholeness of everyone involved.

Please pray for and consider giving financial support for this particular time of my life doing mission here as well! And if God lays it on your heart to contribute to this ministry, just get in touch with me or my mom (my contact email is on the side and through that I can give you my mom's and my physicaly address in Sweden if requested!)

Thank you thank you thank you! Please do be in touch! Please keep me up-to-date with how I can best be praying for you and your circumstances. Please let me be involved in your lives from however many thousands of miles away. Drop me a line and I’ll grab my hot chocolate, put my feet up, and get all caught up on you too : )

Lovelovelovelovelove (from Him and from me!)
His (and yours) in Europe,

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Slow buses, Stansted, and Sweden!

So, I’m in Sweden-- though it took a bit longer than expected!

Things didn’t go down quite as planned and I ended up spending Thursday night alone on the hard, cold floor of the dreaded Stansted airport. I’m forever guarding against these instances by booking all the legs of my journeys with hours of leeway in between, but yesterday the inevitable happened and my connecting bus out of London was stuck in traffic for hours. By the time I arrived at the dreaded Stansted airport (I call it dreaded because things so rarely go smoothly for me there!) my gate was already closed…

Fighting the rising wave of panic, I called upon the compassion of the Ryanair airline personnel and asked what I must do. It’s always amazing to me how little the customer service actually cares about one’s plight! I suppose they deal with it all the time and it’s easy to forget that these are real people with real lives and real agendas and real fears and families and plans.

I took my place in a queue right next to 3 cursing Irish men in a similar dilemma to mine and before the tears of panic could come, God quickly brought to mind the verse in Jeremiah that I am trying so hard to embrace with my heart—the one that proclaims that He will never stop doing good to us. As if it is impossible for Him not to do us good. And so it was quickly planted in my fluttering heart that there may be a Kingdom reason behind even this, and the thought calmed my heart. It infuses a long night at the airport with purpose.

To top off the whole experience, my mobile phone battery was very low. I quickly used it to ring Mike in Sweden and say I wouldn’t be coming in that night after all and could he pick me up at the Gothenburg City airport in the morning instead. Then I texted a few friends here and told them of my situation and asked for prayer. They all burst into action by praying for me and soon my spirit was settled and I felt at great peace that God has it all under control, even the extra ₤50 that it took to change the ticket to the next day—₤50 that I don’t actually have extra of. He reminds me that He is Jehovah-Jirah and my place is only to glow with the radiance of one who trusts that her God has her completely covered!

The whole thing just seemed so utterly unnecessary and inconvenient to the earthly eye, but He reminded me through it in a very real way that His ways are higher than mine and I am asked to trust whatever the circumstances. I’m thankful He only had to use a relatively easy circumstance like this to remind me of that truth this time :)

And so, Stansted seems to be my most frequented of London hotels. The beds are nonexistent and the service is rubbish, but at least it’s not the streets! And it’s better than Birmingham train station… I know that from experience :) And I had my lovely 'Swedish' family to look forward to (actually, few of my friends here are actually Swedish as the church plant is international!)

So, I am safe and sound in Sweden, after a hitch or two. Mike greeted me with a “Welcome home” and Misha and Jesse have been my constant companions since I arrived. I’ve just been back to the beloved little Secondhand shop church for the first time-- and it seems the whole service was God speaking just to me--, and took a walk through the mountainous countryside around the Van Weiden’s home yesterday. Very soon I will update you on everything that’s going on-- so stay tuned!

His (and yours!) in Europe,

p.s. So, I looked back on how I asked you to pray about flying through Stansted and I wanted to let you know that I had NO problem with the weight of my baggagge this time :) Haha.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Points for Prayer!

So, I'm off to Sweden in the morning and I wanted to give anyone out there who prayers a few immediate prayer points!!!

My thoughts are all a bit messy at this minute. It's nearly 2am and it's been a busy few days of trying to say good goodbyes and pack well. My Dutch friend Mim was in the country on a visit and it's the last time I'll see her before she heads off to serve long-term in China and the whole concept of that has just hardly sunk in yet. My mind isn't really too prepared for Sweden yet, but I'm sure once I'm there I'll be really caught up into His great purpose and feel really alive in it all. But more on that soon!!

Please pray that I won't have any hitches at the airport tomorrow. Stansted is a particularly hostile airport, in my experience, and Ryanair is VERY rigid on luggage weight and all. Please pray that both my check-in and carry-on luggage will fall into the right weight!! Oh, and keep on praying about the computer, of course. I think we have a lead as to how to fix it a bit, but it's not for sure and I can't afford it to be costly!!

And that's another thing you might bring before God for me--- please pray that finances will come in for this time in Sweden. I'm afraid the little I have left will just run out and that's scary!! But I'd really like too not have to beg outright for financial support this trip. So far one person has already asked where they can send some support for my short-term work in Sweden to-- hurray!!! Please pray that God will stir up other hearts of the people who follow my journey in mission. He knows what's needed to do this...

Ooh, can you also pray that I pick up on the language quite supernaturally? I always start to learn bits and pieces whenever I'm in a foreign country for awhile and Sweden I've been to a few times so it's vaguely familiar, but as far as actually comprehending it, I have a long way to go. Most people can speak English so I do alright, but it would be really nice to be able to read signs a bit better and if I could actually understand what people say to me before they realize I'm English-speaking, that would be great! I'd love to be able to meet the people where they're at and speak their own language, but I'm not going to be too hopeful in 2 months! Languages don't come naturally to me. But you might bring it before Him anyway and see what He does!

Finally, please will you be praying for me that throughout these 2 months God is at work opening the doors for me to get a visa to work in England? Or opening the doors to go straight into mission (possibly with ECM or GEM) in Ireland... or somewhere else? Mike and Brona have already invited me to stay and work with them in Sweden for a year but even that would take fundraising and somehow I just feel like it would be sort of delaying the inevitable--- but we'll just have to wait and see what God does... Please pray for me, though! I get so easily discouraged.

Thank you!!! I'll let you know I arrived safely as soon as I get to some internet access :)

Monday, 15 September 2008

A Dedication Day

I'd like to introduce you all to my new, gorgeous, little godson, Alex!

Yesterday at my last week of church at Kendal Road Baptist , I became a 'godmother'-- in the baptist tradition here I believe 'sponsor' is the preferred term for it-- to a darling little English/Peruvian boy that I've babysat, along with his older brother and sister, off and on these past 3 years. His parents were at Redcliffe in my first and second years, and their family has a heart for South America (where his daddy is from!) and hope to move there for mission within the next few years! They are a special family and Caroline and Julio have two very beautiful hearts and have been blessings to me and my life in England.

It was a real honour to be asked to be a part of Alex's life like this; to commit to praying for him and the development of his faith throughout his life, and to pray for his parents who have dedicated themselves to bringing Him up in the Lord. My and the Robles family's paths will be parting, but this links us together in prayer for life, and I think that is a beautiful thing! I'm really blessed that they chose me for it...
And that God has surrounded me with friends all across Europe who have become like a great big extended family to me.
He is faithful and He is enough....

Friday, 12 September 2008

Oh Computers....

I need prayer.... for my computer!!

It's acting extremely sick and somedays I can't use it at all but my anti-virus software isn't picking anything up. I even had my pastor who used to work in computer look at it and he spent hours on it and yet it's still having problems on-again-off-again.

The thing is, my laptop is my main form of communication with everyone back home and now that I'm off to Sweden next week it will also be my communication with everyone here in England! And besides that, it's key to me as a writer.

Please will you pray with me that God in His mercy will heal my laptop? Or provide another, but without losing all the information that I keep on this one?

Thank you!!! You're prayers are more invaluable to me than you know...
p.s. While you're at it, you might pray for a graceful transition from England to Sweden, but more on that later :)

Sunday, 7 September 2008

A prayer of my heart inspired by Jeremiah 32:38-41:

"They will be my people and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul."

Lord, make me your own, Your very own, and be my God.

Give me a singleness of heart and action that narrows down my every desire until it is only You I focus on, only You I long for, and only You I live to please-- for the good of my life and for the good of generations of lives to come.

Lord, make a covenant between You and I that can never end, committing my heart to You as much as Yours is committed to me-- and within the security of that covenant show me that everything that comes in or out of my life is Your good for me, because You are goodness itself and can never stop doing good.

Inspire me to truly know You, and to trust You, so that I will never turn away to any lesser loves.

Rejoice in doing me good, Abba, and plant me confidently and securely in the land You have for me to serve You in, living out Your heart and living out Your soul.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Seasons of Life

It's been a strange summer at the centre of an odd season in my life... I suppose I've struggled to write because I am still so very much entrenched in processing it all.

I've completed college! I've never not been a student and it's hardly sank in that it's actually over. By the grace of God, I did well academically and achieved my B.A. Hons in Applied Theology in good standing (a 2:1, for any English readers!) and I'm very pleased because it wasn't an easy feat and I didn't necessarily expect to come out with that high of a mark. So, praise God!

You'll recall from the last update that after graduation I promptly went off gallavanting around the UK with my lovely Mom and her two lovely friends who came over for my graduation! Then I had a little get together at the beach in Cornwall with friends I'd just graduated with 2 weeks before. Reality didn't really close in until after those busy (and beautiful) weeks.

So, I'll attempt to catch you up on my summer since then!!

A Home and a Family

I've been based this summer here in Gloucester with "my lovely English family"-- The Austin-Sparkses. Steve and Debs have been my church leaders and friends these 3 years and when they heard my predicament of not knowing what comes next but needing to remain in Europe until all doors close, they took me in. They have been more than room and board to me, though, as I've fumbled my way through the transition out of a tough year and hard goodbyes, and into an uncertain future. It's not an easy thing for a fully-functioning family to suddenly take on a whole new and different person into their system of doing things, but they have been so gracious and I have been so grateful. I've pretty much officially adopted Bex and Megan as the little sisters I never had. Meg has been especially close and has demanded that I live here with them forever... so we try to avoid the fact that my 2 1/2 months with them is nearly up!

A Job to Stay Afloat

The hunt for a summer job was FRUSTRATING!! I ended up applying to places I never would have expected to and still couldn't get a job! I take comfort in the fact that it wasn't just me, and friends all over England were having the same problem, but it was really discouraging in a time that was already full of emotional upheaval. At the beginning of August I finally got signed on with a temp agency to attempt to keep up with a few of the summer's expenses until I leave the country mid-Sept. Praise God!! The shifts I can most readily get are at a gorgeous, expensive old hotel in the Cotswold village just outside of Gloucester called Upton-St.-Leonards. By car it's about 15 minutes from where I'm staying, but I'm doing life on foot these days which makes my commute (a combination of buses and walking) a little over 2 hours each way!! God being the good God He is, saw that this might be a rather discouraging side of the job for me so He made sure that the long walks just happen to be in the stunning Cotswold countryside-- which is my favourite region of England. Somehow I can have just gotten off a grueling 5 hour cleaning shift and look toward the prospect of a long walk to the bus stop with a smile because my romantic heart thrills at the thought of tredding across the perfect picture of land known as the Cotswolds. I just come home in such surroundings...

A Gift from God Wrapped up in a "Holiday"

"No two of us are alike, each one stands alone before God. Your valley may be a darkness where you have nothing but your duty to guide you, no voice, no thrill, but just steady, plodding duty; or it may be a deep agonizing dejection at the realization of your unfitness and uncleanness and insufficiency. Let God put you on His wheel and whirl you as He likes, and as sure as God is God and you are you, you will turn out exactly in accordance with the vision He gave you. Don’t lose heart in the process."
– Oswald Chambers, So Send I You

I've felt very overwhelmed this summer as I transition from college which has been such a supportive family for me since living in Europe. I've felt a bit lost and alone in a great big world, knowing so distinctly my life is meant to be out here and not at home with my own loving family, yet feeling a bit of a waif here as well as I wait on Him for my next step. I've been deeply pondering my place in mission and ministry and constantly battling my feelings of inadequacy. I've been attempting to emerge from a long season of discouragement.

A turning point for me this summer came in the package of a holiday (what Americans would call a "vacation") in the Netherlands. 2 weeks travelling about to see friends in the Netherlands and then Wales was really just what the doctor ordered to gain a bit of encouragement and perspective! I booked an overnight bus (because it was cheapest!) from England to the Netherlands for the end of July (which meant driving through 4 countries one way!) and just relished the experience from start to finish. I just found myself utterly spellbound by God's extravagant attention to me. It's like He just kept on laying out before me circumstances to simply delight me heart. One thing after another.

A few highlights:

  • On the bus ride over I ended up crossing the English channel on a ferry at midnight, the stars glinting down and reflecting off the pitch black water. I sat out on the deck for hours in the open air with a cup of coffee and a kind young man having intellectual conversation about our passions-- his being ecology and sustainable living and mine being God and pointing people to His love. He was fascinating. He was a 26-year-old Englishman living on an organic farm in the Netherlands. His house was a Mongolian tent in a field. After I inquired into the ins and outs of his life, it being so foreign to me, he began to ask me about my faith and what I meant by "mission". He was disillusioned with the church and Christianity. He explained to me his agnostic views on God and his "faith" in Astrology. It was interesting to me how things he would describe as disproving God, systems of the way the universe works, simply strengthened for me the fact of God, as the very designer and maintainer of those systems. The interaction completely energized my spirit as we communicated with and listened to one another, learning from one another. My heart just felt like, "Yes. This is what mission in Europe looks like." I won't be forgetting that night crossing the channel, or my 3 hours conversing with an interesting, searching, God-appointed man called Jack and the passion it stirred up in me again for living out Christ's heart in Europe...
  • Adriaan met me the next morning in Utrecht when my bus pulled in and we were off to spend the first few days at his family's home in the southern province of Limburg. It was beautiful. We took long walks through the countryside for ice cream cones, spent hours one night around a fire in the backyard with his lovely family, and spent a day taking in the Limburg tourist sights, like Drielandenpunt-- the place at the very bottom of the Netherlands where 3 countries meet: The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium! I thought it was so great to be standing with one foot in Germany and the other in The Netherlands :)

(Adriaan, his little brother Otto-Jan, and his friend Guido in the beautiful Limburg town of Valkenburg)

  • We met up for a day with another friend from my first year, the lovely Henk, in Delft, a beautiful Dutch city I'd always wanted to visit since studying the artist Vermeer in Art History! It is always so encouraging to get together with these friends because no matter how long it's been since we've last seen one another, we just reconnect. And the united passion for world mission aligns my focus aright somehow...

(The Dutchmen and I taking in the city of Delft)

  • Another day Adriaan and I hitch-hiked to The Hague on the coast! It was SUCH an adventure! I've kind of always wanted to have the experience and we were running low on cash and The Netherlands has such a kind of "anything goes" culture that it's not at all an unusual way to get around, and I was with a guy for protection! We were picked up 4 times and met 4 people with completely different life stories and we were in our element :) And we made it all the way to the beach!!

  • Next I met up with another Dutch friend, Mirjam, and my English friends Polly and Amanda came in from the UK and we had a little reunion in the Netherlands-- our first time seeing one another since graduation! You might remember these ladies as my "Hug Club" :) They are my own precious little sisterhood and our days gallavanting about the Netherlands were good ones full of laughter, tears, sharing, praising, and HUGS! There is just something indescribably right about the kind of relationships where you can just relax into one another, knowing that you are loved without exception... These girls are that space for me, a tangible expression of the heart of God for us.

They threw me a surprise birthday party since we were all apart on the actual day!

We went canoing down one of the Netherlands famed canals

We visited a hundreds of years old working windmill

We met up with some more Dutch friends from Redcliffe

And we spent a day meandering around the great city of Amsterdam

  • My holiday was finished up with a lovely weekend in Wales for "my little Welsh sister" Paris' surprise birthday party :) Beth, who studied at Redcliffe my first and second years, and the kids constitute my Welsh family and I love escaping to their beautiful little village in North Wales every time I get the chance!

Beth took me to Liverpool since I'd never been! This is us on the ferry.

Somehow, in getting out into mainland Europe again, and back into the arms of friends who know everything and love me anyway, I felt really empowered and my passion for Europe and call to work in this part of the world was strengthened. I may not know how or what or when or why, but He does. And that's enough for me...

"The great motive and inspiration of service is not that God has saved and sanctified me, or healed me; all that is a fact, but the great motive of service is the realization that every bit of my life that is of value I owe to the Redemption; therefore I am a bond-slave of Jesus. I realize with joy that I cannot live my own life; I am a debtor to Christ, and as such I can only realize the fulfillment of His purposes in my life. To realize this sense of spiritual honour means I am spoilt for this age, for this life, spoilt from every standpoint but this one, that I can disciple men and women to the Lord Jesus."
-- Oswald Chambers, So Send I You

Winding Down

So as my student visa comes to its end, my time in England (at this point, anyway-- but more on that later...) is coming to a close!

The wedding I was staying in the UK to be involved in has come and gone-- a beautiful celebration of the love and commitment of my two friends Lizzie and Neil. Love them! I drove up with some other LOVELY married friends whom I just graduated with, Abbie and Paul, and so got to spend a few days with them at their home in Salisbury catching up and saying goodbyes...

The week of helping out my church at a youth event called Soul Survivor has come and gone-- we were camping and the weather was atrocious but the kids got so much out of it. And so did I as I stood amongst 11,000 young Europeans worshipping God! Thousands of young people came to Christ in the 3 weeks Soul Survivor ran. This is an event that God works through mightily every summer and it was really a sort of honour to be involved with the awesome Kendal Road Baptist Youth Group-- despite living in mud up to mid-calf for the week :)

These days my heart is constantly saying its goodbyes to my time in England since I still don't know when/if/how I'll be back. Whatever faces and places my eyes take in, my heart is simultaneously kissing farewell. My beloved cathedral, the ivy growing up the brick fences, the Gloucester skyline from a particular angle on a walk into town, and the myriad of lovely people who have found homes in my heart... I know the God who calls equips and He will provide every strength of spirit to cover any seemingly impossible change He takes me through. But it all feels very tender to the touch...

Life Beyond the Summer

So, I'm off to Sweden from September 18th to November 12th in 2 weeks time!! My missionary friends there and the church plant and charity I worked with last January and February have faithfully reminded me they await my return and so I'm headed back for 2 more months of "on-the-job" training of mission in Europe :) I will write in more detail about my return to Sweden soon, but in the meantime, please pray again for funds to keep me those 2 months there!

Seasons of Life

Summer is beginning to turn over into Autumn in England. The days are growing shorter and more and more chilly and schools everywhere are starting back up again. My summer in England is quickly drawing to a close, and who knows what Autumn in Sweden will bring with it! My funny season of brokenness, healing, and ambiguity isn't over yet but I'm in a constant state of flux, a constant state of growth-- in relationships with both God and the people in my life. And I'm hopeful.

"My grace is sufficient for you, because power is made perfect in weakness."
-- 2 Corinthians 12:9

So here's to waiting on God through the seasons...


For full albums of photos covering much more than was said here, see:

Summer in England Photos
Holiday in The Netherlands and Wales Photos

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