Thursday, 28 February 2008

Swedish Update 3 (Finally!!)

“Give God His glory by resting in Him, by trusting Him fully.”
– Andrew Murray

Hello friends,

See the conclusion of my Swedish placement in photos here!
(Just look toward the end of the album if you've already seen the first ones...)

It is impossible to believe that my placement in Sweden has drawn to a close and I am writing to you from my own little English garden-view room at college. The time has flown by, each minute more full than I can ever hope to describe. Everything about my month in Sweden played out so purposefully, from my long and frustrating journey to get there when every placement opportunity seemed to shut in on itself, to every precious person He put in my path during my time there… Our God is so much bigger, so much grander, and so much more attentive and loving than we imagine.

My Little Secondhand Church
My last weeks in Sweden saw many exciting things in the Secondhand Church , the tiny international, rag-tag congregation that met at the Secondhand on Wednesdays and Sundays.
* My second to last Sunday I preached, much to my dread, and even sang, much to my further embarrassment! Despite how awful it felt, I’m told it went fine, and God had another opportunity to prove Himself strong in my weaknesses. I shared a message of God’s unconditional love, teaching from Isaiah 43:1-7—a passage that He had been using greatly to speak to my heart. So it was intensely personal and deep and I really found myself struggling with lots of personal negativity about myself afterwards, (maybe a sort of inverted pride?) but God had much to teach me even through that, so in the end, it was a positive challenge that I imagine He’ll thrust me into again in some way in the future J
* When I first came to Rescue Mission, Amida, a Muslim man and his family had just moved to Göteborg and had found us friends at the Secondhand. He began joining us at Sunday services and cell group on Wednesday nights. Mike assured me that by the end of my month with them, Amida would have given his life to the Lord… Well, my second to last Wednesday night, he did just that, and everyone at cell group had the privilege of seeing him ushered into the kingdom of God !! When he came to my last cell group a week later he had changed his name to Joseph and was joyfully seeking the face of God. It was a beautiful thing to see. I met 3 Muslims turned Christians through working at the Secondhand, though 2 of them were Christians in secret for fear of murderous ‘friends’ and family who wouldn’t be so happy to hear they had found Christ as I was!
* My last week in the church God really spoiled me with attention. Firstly on the Sunday a guest pastor prayed over each of us in the congregation from God’s heart and He used this prayer of prophecy to assure me in particular of specific work He’s doing in different areas of my life, and to affirm me. It was very powerful as this stranger didn’t know me from Adam, but God knows these things in my heart better than I do. Then at the end of my last cell group meeting the night before I left Sweden , everyone there anointed me with oil and prayed for the ministry God will use my life for! It was very precious and I felt entirely spoiled by the amount of love and goodwill God was showering on me through the special people of my little Secondhand Church . Also very humbled and awed to think that God wants to equip each of us, even someone such as myself, to carry His heart with powerful effect—the purpose He can infuse our lives with, even mine, is just… mind-blowing!!

Surprised by Belonging
Though I’d been there before and went somewhat familiar with the Van Weiden family and my Göteborg surroundings, I could never have foreseen how well and how quickly I would fit there. In 4 short weeks I found myself entrenched in real and lifelong friendships with people from the Secondhand Church, and I melded into that beautiful Dutch/Irish family filled to the brim with little brothers J There were days about town with Terri-Anne and slumber parties are her house, coffees and evenings with Betty, understanding chats and walks under the stars with my lone compatriot Robin, parties with other young adults from the Secondhand’s sort of sister church, Smyrnashyrkan, where I was instantly taken in as one of that close-knit crowd, Lots of playing with Bionicles and Transformers with my “baby brother” Jesse, hugs, hugs, hugs, and more hugs from my “little brother” Micha, so many talks on faith with “Papa” Mike, and myriad giggles, talks, and tears with my lovely Brôna as I worked through some deep things God was bringing up in my life… God has been using all of these people and more to whisper to me of His unconditional love—a love I am still getting a handle on and may forever be surprised by.

Lessons, Lessons, and More Lessons
My mind and heart are still all abuzz with the many lessons God seemed keen to teach me through those people, those situations—the biggest one being confidence. Over and over again what He was impressing upon me is that it is not by might, not by power, [not by skill, training, talent, method, technique, or inclination] but only by His Spirit (Zech. 4:6 in living colour!). Pastor Mike is a great man who seems intimidated by nothing (except heights J) and living with and working with him meant those of us who are intimidated by everything have countless opportunities every day to “turn fear into faith’, as Hannah Hurnard once wrote. And all placement long, I was seeing His response to faith despite my fears and insecurities and issues. “Papa” Mike drew on so many analogies to his father/son relationship with his boys to describe much of God’s relationship to us and in so many ways I felt like I was understanding that tender Fatherly heart for the first time, and so living in a new kind of boldness of faith because of it. I felt a boldness to reach into the lives of the people around me and place a soothing hand over any brokenness to be found, or simply to extend a hand of friendship through walls that needed breaking down— and sometimes they were my own. It’s forever that simple touch of human vulnerability pointing to the God of all strength that makes all the difference in people’s lives.

“With His love, He will calm all your fears…”
-- Zeph. 3:17

Hej då to Sweden
This placement, like last year’s placement, had the distinct mark of being right in line with the will of a masterful God, who sees every one of our life stories from start to finish in a glance. I am left with the hopeful feeling that He has started some big things in this girl of His this month in Sweden that He will be lovingly carrying on to glorious completion (and that is very exciting!). For those of you who pray, Mike and Brona have stated in no uncertain terms that they would take me back any time for as long as they can have me... as have the people of the Secondhand church. Perhaps it's no coincidence that I have been praying about what to do after graduation for the past 3 years now :) Perhaps you could pray with me for God to make His best way known to me and then to prepare the way! Perhaps I'll be back in Sweden before too long-- perhaps not. Needing direction!

"If you need wisdom-- if you want to know what God wants you to do-- ask Him, and He will gladly tell you."-- James 1:5

Thank you so much for your support in prayer and giving and simply caring what He’s up to in the hearts of His people the world over and experiencing that through my eyes!

His (and yours) back in England,
Leah <><

p.s. Slideshow of Photos:

Monday, 4 February 2008

A LONG Swedish Update #2

Dear All,

View photos of Sweden so far Here!

Sweden and The Sacred Romance of God…
The lovely crisp Scandinavian beauty of Göteborg is sweeping me up in itself again.

Coming back to Sweden for an extended period of time is a sort of coming home. It was Sweden where I remember God first really wooing me to trust Him in a radical way. I was 14 and came here on the good graces of an Aunt and Uncle spending a few years here for a job. Officially I came to be a help in the home and family, a bit of a youngish au pair; unofficially I came to learn a new side of God and His ways than I’d known before—chiefly how amazingly big and unlimited He is. Little did I know at the time that those 2 months would be the start of a lifelong love affair with Europe , with its people and cultures and histories, and the beginnings of a call into a life of ministry here.

So, He has brought me back full circle for this last of my college placements, into the arms of this beautiful port city, lifetimes older and more experienced and fully aware that all of those experiences began here 7 years ago when a lovely Aunt and Uncle and 3 little cousins invited a dreamy 8th grader over to their American home in Europe. Very young and quite fearful by nature, I discovered I had to throw myself on God again and again in hundreds of ways every day during those two fantastic months, and in so doing, I discovered He is more faithful, more attentive, more loving, more personal, and perhaps even wild about little old me, than I had realized was possible. I fell in love with Him then. And it has changed the course of my life.

“Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that.” – Galatians 6:4 (The Message)

This Year’s Swedish Experience
This month’s experience makes me miss my Aunt and Uncle and Cousins as all of these familiar places hold memories of them for me! But ‘my family’ this time around, dear friends of my relatives in fact, is completely delightful. I feel happier in life just knowing people like this exist in the world! Their 4 boys make sure I get a completely sufficient amount of hugs each day, Mike doesn’t leave a minute lesson-less, and Brôna models for me the kind of wise, loving, and fabulously fun!, woman of God I would love to be. We delight now in keeping girly secrets from all the boys around us and she seems to sense when I most need a hug these days J

The Secondhand store is no ordinary charity shop, I assure you. People come simply to hang out in the special atmosphere of the place, drawn to the fragrance of Christ there whether they realize that’s what they like about it or not. My first day I had the delight of hearing a lovely old Norwegian man telling me stories in very difficult Swe-nglish over a cup of tea in the shop café, stopping in only for the company of the place, and this past week I had an extensive and amiable conversation (in perfect English!) about relationship with God with an Atheist professor from the local university!!

The volunteers too spend their days at the shop because of this atmosphere, and the dynamics are unlike any I have known before.
» Elin is a young Swedish agnostic who works there 4 days a week and isn’t afraid to tell people she doesn’t know what to think about God right now, opening up doors to dialogue about knowing Him (as she deals with a drug problem she keeps on the down-low).
» Demitri is a smiley old Bulgarian man who lives in a room at the back and does odd jobs like carpentry, cabinetry, and roofing. He has a testimony of Hollywood action film proportions and can tell you of God’s pursuit of His heart through a shipwreck, a near-death-experience in the Saharan desert, and 2 years in an Italian jail for a murder he didn’t commit. The man exudes Christ’s joy and his name for me is usually “angel” J
» Teri-Anne is a young mother from Singapore married to a Swede who spends long days helping at the shop simply because she enjoys the people so much. She communicates her faith with straightforward profundity to anyone who will listen, and feeds as many mouths at meal times as Mike musters up. She’s already become a lovely new friend and we marked the completion of my first week in Sweden by spending a day on the town together with her gorgeous 7-month-old boy in tow…
And those are just a few of the rag-tag group of volunteers God has drawn together to run this shop!

We have a cell group meeting there after closing time on Wednesdays. Mike is very purposeful about the church feeling like a family, and eating together is an important facet of that so we all share a meal and then share our lives. My first week we discussed Matthew chapters 1-4 and Mike explained the gospel to the Muslim family who joined us for the evening (!!!). Like I said before, the shop is a pivotal location for this group of Believers to be meeting because unbelievers can join in with such ease. It is a beautiful thing.

Sunday service has a small active membership of about 20ish people and sees upwards of 40 on a full day at the moment. The morning of my first Sunday here Mike announced at the breakfast table that it would be great if I could present my testimony in the service that day. Naturally, I panicked a bit and when it actually came time to stand up front and speak I had to grip the podium just to keep from falling over on shaky knees. Stage fright forces everything I mean to say straight from my thoughts and leaves me floundering for the right words. I felt appalling, but I’m told it made sense despite my wordless state and afterwards I got many (needed!) hugs and a strange man asked for my number (?!?), which I think is probably the weirdest reaction I’ve ever gotten after inflicting a bout of public-speaking on a room!

In a church this size it is impossible to get lost in a crowd, and getting lost in a crowd is something I tend to find rather comfortable! But I can appreciate what God is up to in bringing me into this body of believers where everyone has a part to play-- even if it means that I’ve spoken at my first week, led worship at my second, will be preaching at my third, and probably leading the Sunday School class at my fourth!!!

“It has been said, ‘Attempt something so big that without God’s help it will surely fail.’ In other words, we need to stretch beyond our comfort zones if we’re to discover the joy-filled reality of ‘quietly depending upon the Lord for his help, and not on our own skills’ (2 Cor. 1:12).” – Marlene Bagnull

Some Things He’s Up To in My Heart
There’s some poetic beauty in the fact that it was a Sunday in Sweden 7 years ago that God was coaxing me out of my shy and insecure shell by putting me up front and asking me to share as if I had something of value to give. I was 14 and my Auntie Melissa talked me into singing a duet with her up in front of the huge International Church they attended. Before this time, I wouldn’t even sing aloud in the car. It was a big, big deal in my young life and a tremendous step in following hard after a glorious God.

Insecurity has been getting the best of me again lately; an inability to trust God when He says I am infused with worth despite any and all short-comings and faults. I go blind to all strengths and gifts and suddenly find everything about myself now, then, and in the future a terrifically mortifying flaw. Putting my hopeless self in a position to be noticed is the LAST THING I would ever desire to do then, and so naturally it is exactly what must be done. Oh, the mysterious ways of this King Jesus… J So suddenly I’m here in a new place, new situation, with new people desperate to put my best foot forward but unsure about whether I have a “best foot” at all… Dire straights, people-- without His grace I am in dire straights! So He’s using this time of life to bring me into this biggest of my life struggles, to walk through its sources, face my giants, and come away with some enlightenment and healing so I can go on to serve Him better, fuller, truer. A broken vessel, yes, but one that doesn’t condemn itself for being so!

Sweden is a special place to me as it is one of the many places that an Almighty Sovereign God has stooped to confront a shocked-and-awed me at eye level. He uses it to whisper yet again of purposes He has for my life in its every nuance that I can only vaguely see. Passing through this fire the Lord is gently coaxing me into, I shall emerge from the other side more alive than I began… because I’ll be more fully His. And that end is worth everything it takes to get there.

So, I’m praying you’ll join me wherever our awesome God in His loving sovereignty has you. I’m praying you too will let Him challenge all your motives for your perspectives, probe all your wounds, and that you’ll listen to His call out of all your comfort zones. I’m simply struck by how much more He wants to do in all our lives than we let Him…

“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.” -- Romans 5:1-2

Here’s to looking forward confidently and joyfully!
His (and yours) in Sweden ,
Leah <><

(Link to Photos again:
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