Welcome! It's wonderful to see you here!

I'm a passionate writer - and therefore spend most of my time writing thriller novels. But I also live an interesting life in the nations. This blog is here for that aspect of my life - our life - I live with my wonderful wife and two daughters.

I believe in encouragement. I live for obedience. I believe in learning from our experiences, and this blog exists for both of those, and more.

So that you stay connected, getting every new update, please add your email address to receive all updates directly, or follow the RSS feed.

I was part of the leadership team in St Petersburg, Russia - which planted Hope Church in 2009.(www.hopechurchstpetersburg.com).
In March 2012 Hope Church sent my family to plant into Tallinn, the Capital of Estonia. I therefore lead this small but growing church plant team. Here is the website for Hope Tallinn (www.hopetallinn.ee)

For details on our journey here, read the series called Adventures of Faith which is linked for you on the right hand column, just below. That details our original journey to Russia and then onto Tallinn 4 years later.

Author for fiction novels - Cherry Picking (2012), The Last Prophet (2015), The Tablet (2015) and The Shadow Man (2016) are available on all major bookselling sites. Please visit: www.timheathbooks.com

Some want to help in practical ways:

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Life & Times - Part 6

Sunday's 'The St Petersburg Times' made some interesting reading. In a Reuters article titled "Islamist Militants Say They Killed Mayor" it says;

"Islamist militants claimed responsibility on Thursday for killing a mayor in Russia's North Caucasus, an attack that prompted security services to warn that violence in the region could destabilize the entire country.
A sniper shot the mayor of Vladikavkaz, capital of the mainly Christian region of North Ossetia...
..."The execution of the enemy of Allah was carried out by the amir of Kataib al-Khoul", a statement posted...
...The group said it had killed the mayor because of his policies that insulted Islam and women"

It goes onto talk about how these arms attacks and bombings are threats to Russian national security.

Closer to home the paper also reported in an article by staff writer Galina Stolyarova about an explosion in a car that killed three and left one injured here in St Petersburg. You get a glimpse into the Russian political scene in trying to play down any foul play when they are quoted as saying "The most plausible version is that Simonov (one of the victims) happened to be carrying a grenade on him, which exploded accidentally"

Erm...yes, that would sound the most plausible solution.

In all these things, as a foreigner coming into this different culture, and as a Christian living here, reading things such as these can make you feel worried. And outside of God that would probably be the case. And yet, we know we are in the will of God here - so in reality this is the safest place for us to be on planet earth today!

We have been here just over 4 months now - we're into December, the light of day is not here for long now so its starting to feel constant evening and night time.

We've had some good times, some rough times and some tough times. But we are here. We are glad that God called us. We are glad that we listened and went. Now we want to press on to win the prize...

Blessings everyone.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Life & Times - Part 5

Life continues to get interesting here - partly why I've not been able to update much lately!

We have now been here over three months and there isn't a day that goes by that we haven't been learning something. Life is certainly different, challenging and we need God in every situation. It's not possible to just use the word 'hard' because we used to say that about life in England. So maybe its hard+ here?

Most Russian's know that life is hard and this comes out in their attitudes to smoking, drinking and even HIV. They know the dangers but just don't care because the sort of feeling is "lets have fun, enjoy the moment, we have enough to worry about besides cancer, AIDS ect" It's tough to hear but we've learnt this from the mouths of Russian's themselves! So I guess to some degree we carry on our shoulders that same "thing" that makes it hard+ for them (as yet unidentified but I think it's loads of things rolled into one) plus we have the language issues as well!

But we have God...which is a HUGE bonus!

October had a very wet end to the month, two weeks of constant rain which just don't compare to what had been 'wet' weather for us in Manchester (we're it is rumoured that it rains all the time). Two things help paint the picture. Firstly, even though the roads are resurfaced quite regularly (yearly maybe) there are entrenched tired tracks that all the cars and lorries drive down. When it rains these track fill with water and the cars then spray the pavements - whether you are clear or not! Plus, they don't have drains for the rain water from the roofs, instead it comes down these giant foot wide metal tubes that are spaced every 20 metres and they just spray the water across the pavement and into the road! So just walking alone, rain pouring down, you also have to avoid the spray from the road and the rivers that cover the pavement every 20m....your shoes get covered in dirt with all that run off from the roof. My trainers in just three months have worn down! But that's just a little image of life here.

Last week we changed to a new Russian language teacher last week - basically our old teacher wasn't able to get in on time so she arranged the switch. But it was God's provision really. The new teacher is fantastic and the level has jumped so much. We are getting loads of homework which has to get done that day as the next lesson is usually the following day. So its hard, but good!

The last fortnight though also offered a great opportunity with Russian and with social action, though it also added to what became a crazy week - let me explain. On about the Sunday 26th October, Hannah Henson (wife of Dave who's family we joined here in St Petersburg) noticed a lady begging at the station with her two children, a girl of 4 and a boy who was only 1. She befriended her and Dave & Hannah both agreed to invite them in and help them. To keep them off the street they stayed at their house on the Monday night in order to get their clothes completely cleaned, and on Tuesday we both went round to meet them all (both parents and the 2 children) in order to try and find them somewhere to stay from that night onwards. We'd arranged for a lady from one of the churches here to come round and she made loads of calls.

The family are Moldovan and had come to St Petersburg, like many like them, to look for work in order to make more money. Their story though was that they had lost their home in a flood and they'd been sleeping rough here for one week before Dave & Hannah met them. By about 6pm Dave & I went off with the family and the Russian church worker to take them to an office of a hostel that could take them for a week from the next day onwards (we also had somewhere lined up for that night which we'd go onto after). Having travelled to the hostel they said that they wouldn't take non Russians and so that option was closed. We then went onto the venue for that night, to which, as is common, the owner seemed to change her mind on the doorstep about the price before saying she didn't want children and turned us away! It was now about 7:30pm and after about 7 hours of efforts we were back to square one with a family needing somewhere to stay and now we had no time and few options. We finally got the lady who runs the hostel we all stayed at on first arrival here in Russia to agree to take them in for two nights. The lady occasionally goes to the same church as the Russian church worker with us and she also was quite good friends with Dave Henson. We therefore went there, glad we'd got them somewhere to stay for two nights at least, paid up and got them into their room for the night. You could physically see the relief on their faces. But then.....the lady who ran the hostel spoke to Dave for 10 minutes and said she was very concerned about them....she assumed the worst...and they could only stay one night, of which even that made her very upset and worried about her other guests! It was now 9pm and another slap in the face, a difficult reaction even considering she was only a nominal christian.

Just before Hannah had met them begging outside an Orthodox Church building (as is a very common spot to find people begging) the lady had been beaten up by two men who said she couldn't beg there. Apparently she then prayed to God and Hannah showed up and offered her help.

The family joined us all for dinner at group last Wednesday though didn't make the church we went to on Sunday. Having made contact later through our Russia friend Nadia, from our small group here (and after another incident while begging outside the Orthodox Church) she has said she wants no more help and nothing to do with the Church (unfortunately, as is common, we all get tarnished with the same brush in this one).

Since the above was written now further contacts have been made so we have to leave them in God's hands and pray that they don't completely reject Him because of the criminal actions of the Mafia gangs that ultimately control and charge the people to beg outside the churches.

November has come in with only dry weather (a welcome relief) but the temperature has been constantly dropping and this morning got to zero and will drop minus from tomorrow onwards, I'm guessing not going to get above zero again until well into next year, April maybe? So we are bracing ourselves...

God has given us a break and we go on holiday tomorrow for 10 days - we'll come back refreshed, recharged and geared up for all that is to come.

If life is going to be hard+, it just means God is going to be even closer than ever.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Life & Times - Part 4

Sticking tape to children's bottoms to test whether they are ready to go swimming and owners kicking their dogs in the street.

The 'joys' of life in Russia!

Add to the above the bitter wind starting to pick up even though its only October. The clocks go back tonight so I have no idea how dark it's going to feel tomorrow night.

I started to think to myself recently that as an English man (where lets face it the weather IS a big deal) going to Russia on mission is quite high up on the chart of difficult places to be - topped only by maybe the Poles (where, I believe, the weather is even worse!) or maybe a Jungle Tribe with no written language. After that I'm stuck? There are other very tough places, don't get me wrong - the 10/40 window being one - but at least its hot there? That's a bonus for an English person.

But praise God that we don't base such choices on our own plans (if so I think I'd be 'working' for God somewhere around Palm Springs in southern California!) No, God is about more than that in us all. I am so thankful for many people I personally know who are all around the world because God has spoken to them.

And God spoke to us too about Russia, so we came with that in mind - this is where God wants us. How long for, who knows? But it's at least a season.

It has struck me as I've walked the streets here trying to go about 'normal' life that Russia is a very harsh country to grow old in. Seeing much older men and women searching through bins, begging, working, struggling, is a hard sight. Thinking of the bitter cold, the rising costs, getting about, I might have to face the reality one day that this will be me. I'm sure the harsh climate and pace of life does age people quicker here but has God sent me here to see out my days, to never have the warmth of somewhere but instead the bitter Russian winters which, with other things, the countries famous for.

I need not think this way though. My God is about a good work, a wonderful work. Such thoughts, though they exist I must admit, they do not originate from God. No, Satan loves to try and get in there.

He tried hard at the beginning of this month and for a time I fell - but God's grace was big enough even to reach me again, a sinner. And yet I'm a son. Adopted, forgiven, belonging. All by the grace of Jesus Christ, the work of the cross. That wonderful cross.

So I come to the end of the month as somewhere who's sailed through a bad storm that threatened to sink the boat (the Apostle Paul knows all about these) and get even before the month is out the outlook is much brighter, the rain clouds cannot be seen and the sun, or the SON, is clearly visible where before I had looked only at the clouds that had got in the way.

I praise God that I am in Russia. Only time will tell of all that happens to me in this vast nation but as long as I remain in the Fathers will, as long as I do all that God has for me, I will not complain about anything that might come my way. - Lord, I pray your blessings and protection on me and my family. Please do not allow the enemy to have one tiny fraction of an advantage on us. Keep us all in your will my loving Father. Blessed be your name. Amen.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mission Realities - Good Communication

Communication is vital in all aspects of life nowadays and this is especially true when you are maybe thousands of miles away from those people that have backed you, supported you and continue to do so.

I would strongly recommend that you don't wait until you are abroad or have left your home base before building up your communication.

My experience has been that a lot came out of the strong communication channels that were set up long before be left.

Explore the new technologies - don't dismiss something because you don't understand it.

For me this was Facebook. I have come across people who are 'anti' such networks as a principle, which I just have to accept, but if you are going on mission you need to use as much communication as possible, and therefore you need to use what most other people (including your supporters) are already using.
Facebook for us has become a real tool - which is the real purpose of any new technology as long as you use it correctly and wisely.

I would highly recommend it.

It's most useful function is the Groups that you can set up. In a moment of...guidance?...I set up the 'Tim & Rachel to Russia' group. It is a prayer group that people could join. We can just send one message that goes to all member and they get the messages in their email inbox (if they've allowed that option, otherwise its just on Facebook).
In the first few weeks only a few people were in the group but as our updates were sent out (for us each Tuesday) the numbers grew and today its around 150 people I think - from 6 continents. Christians united around the world to partner with us in prayer.

This group was started about 10 months before we left the UK.

Now, and there have been plenty of times already, we have an instant large group of people to send a message to for prayer when an emergency has arisen.

But also by involving people in your journey, at least a part of your journey, it really helps people know how to support you as they feel they are part of things.

We also had some contact/business cards made up (visit Vista Print who do them very cheap). This gave details of the Facebook group, as well as our email and Skype address (voice over Internet phone service). We strongly urged most people interesting in our journey to sign up to Facebook, of which about 90% were able to, if not already using it. It's just the most convenient way for us to communicate to a large group all at the same time.
Who knows, in 10 years time there may be 10,000 members. Think of the problems you'd have if you'd just relied on emailing people....Facebook could easily handle that number which is why we used it...forward thinking you see.

We also have sent out a PDF news sheet. This serves those who are not on Facebook (yet) or who do not have Internet access (the church prints and sends to them on our behalf). It also puts in more detail and can include photo's and while it took some work to knock it into shape, the comments were all good and it helped people to know a bit more about our life here.

Why not use video? We recorded a short video which was played at our church about two weeks after we got here. And, need I mention it again, Facebook can take all your videos and photo's which you can add to your Group to give your members an even clearer picture of your new adventures.

And for even extra depth, I started a blog (which your reading now). Originally I'd done this on a different site having first written from June 2007, but once here our Internet provider couldn't handle Microsoft so out went hotmail & windows spaces and in came Gmail and Blogger. I decided I really wanted to document our journey, writing a series I called 'Adventures of Faith' and for those that wanted to read more I mentioned this site on Facebook updates (and have even linked the group to here).

I hope in all these things you've understood the value of good, clear communication. It's not about lots of stuff all the time, its about what people need to hear (your most urgent prayer requests for example) in a way that works for all.

Without communication you can't share your vision and why you are going. Without communication you are not going to attract people to support you. Without supporters you are not going to go anywhere (supports do a lot more than finance so even if your financially sound you need people there - see my first article in this series on Loneliness if you are still unsure).

I do hope this communication has been clear. God bless.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mission Realities - Loneliness

Welcome to a new series of entries which I've called Mission Realities. In time I want to touch on some of the realities that I've experience by going through them, talk about them and look at God's point of view on them, hopefully leaving you encouraged should you one day find yourself in a similar situation.

The first one I want to look at therefore is the issue of loneliness. Come with me for a moment and try hard within yourself to picture the scene;

You have just arrived in a totally new location. You don't know the streets, or nice places to go to relax, or where the best value food shops are. You don't have any friends or family around. You don't know any of your neighbours and to top it all of you don't speak their language and they don't speak yours. Welcome to oversea's, cross culture mission! Throw into this picture the obvious problems that arise, eg power cuts, needing help/advice, and you are suddenly stuck, not knowing who to ask, how to ask, not knowing if what you are feeling is real, or normal. Will the electricity just come back on, for example. Should you ask someone? Do you need to report it? How? Help?
I know these feelings because this is what I've gone through - a power cut and needing help with some DIY without any tools and no language.

It's at times like this that you can feel very alone.

If you are blessed enough to have the internet, or a phone line, then that does offer a point of contact back into your previous world. It can also make you feel more alone!
When someone goes overseas and makes the jump, each day is hard and as the days go on they more and more value the odd comment from 'home', where ever that might be. Except, back there, life goes on as normal and what has felt like a lifetime for you, has only been a month or so back home and they'll contact you some time, maybe Christmas. So suddenly loneliness is right back at you again - you have this contact but no body writes. "No body cares" it will try and trick you with.

The truth is, of course, totally the opposite. You'll find, when people do make contact, that they all confirm you are never far from their thoughts and how regularly they pray for you both at home and in groups.

Loneliness also hits when problems come. Some I've already touched on above like the electricity and DIY problem. But when bigger things come and those that are around you are taken away for a time, your lack of friends and local support is raised right to the surface again. For me it came in the form of my wife having to go back to England because of the illness, and then death of her Gran. She'll have been away for 12 days by the time she gets back here in 2 days time. I've looked after our daughter here. At the same time the other family based here, who we don't get to see that often anyway, have been totally consumed as their youngest has been in hospital. So going from a place of relative loneliness anyway (with only 5 other adults around me whom I know in this vast city and nation) I've not seen one of them in this entire time, for one reason or the other, instead having my whole time with a 3 year old!!

Getting to the point when I was fed up at not hearing from anyone, I was a bit cheeky and made a comment that has since meant loads of people have been writing which has been great.

But a reality of mission, it must be said, is loneliness, at least for a season.

The thing to remember in all these experiences is that God is working in you a new thing. Back in England when we were planning on coming out here, our own journey here seemed very lonely at times and very difficult at other times, and sometimes both. So maybe God was just checking what we were made of? We got through that and therefore we'll get through this? Maybe, yes, just maybe God was in that.

And it also must be said from this stand point that my two main occasions when I have actually seen and spoken to the occupants of the two flats on our floor was first with the DIY problem when he came and did the drilling for me (which led us into their home to following day when we went to say thank you) and secondly the power cut which meant I went out the flat and (tried to) speak to the lady opposite who was also out, clearly suffering from the same problem.

Outside of these two problems, we have not been able to meet our neighbours as you spend so little time in the hallway and stairs its difficult to have a reason to see them.

So even through these tough times God was working, encouraging, opening windows of opportunities. And the truth is is that God is never far from you, you just need to take your eyes off your own insecurities long enough to see him right beside you.

And in the long term, just like every experience you have ever had back home (and if you haven't you really should have got out more!) you will meet people. Think of when you first went to a new area, or school, or church, or job, or sports team or holiday camp. You knew no one (probably) and think of how it was when you left any of these.

When I moved up to Manchester to do a voluntary year I knew no one, not even the family I moved in with and lived for a year. I was also on a course where I knew no one.
And yet, 8 years on when we left we said goodbye to many dear friends and have many positive relationships that will go forward through the years, as well as still being in touch with many who were on that year team.

So apparent loneliness in mission is only a small season. It drives us to do exactly what we've come to do - meet people, make friends, build a christian community.

And finally, how ever you are feeling at the moment, remember that the Bible says God promises never to leave us or forsake us.

I hope you have found this encouraging. In time I will look to do more in this series.

At the very bottom of this page you should be able to subscribe to my blog in order to be told when it's updated. I'm not sure how it works but its meant to be the case.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Life & Times - Part 3

"I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.

Mark 10:29-30 NIV.

One of the things that anyone on mission who goes overseas must also count the cost of is this - its not just where you go but what you leave behind. Lately as events have made things tough for us here in Russia, never has the words of Jesus from Mark 10 sounded truer.

Maybe its technology as well. I've tended to allow our computer to randomly display our photo's when we're not using it, which has meant lots of images coming up that bring strong emotions and good memories.

One of the things that I knew I'd miss most about living in a flat in Russia compared to a house in England is the lack of a garden. So having seen photo's of the garden I built myself from nothing it kept reminding me of the above verse. My response is simple therefore - Lord, we've given this up for you. Thank you for already promising us much blessing to come.

Having left my brother, sister, mother, father (add to this lots of friends), home, garden (ie field!) - we did bring our child with us but by coming we have only had one child. If we'd carried on living in the UK I'm sure there would have been more children. As it is we may adopt a Russian child at some point (not sure if it'll be a hundred though?!) But are these things so precious as to be worth holding onto at the expense of serving God as he has asked? Clearly not but sadly, I would guess, to often the case. But for us it wasn't praise God, but all to easily it could have been.
Why was it different?
I believe that God started a big chunk of the work back when I moved from London to Manchester. I had a career, my family, my world: all down in Kent. But God had said to go so I obeyed. And life has worked out very well. Therefore when the call came second time round, though tough (don't think I'm saying we had a walk in the park) it wasn't the first time we'd made such a step and therefore we knew we could trust God.
So my advice on this regards - Learn to listen to God. Obey Him and He will lead you onto all that He has for you. There are no BIG steps with our walk with God - just lots and lots (& lots & lots..) of little steps all along the way. Remember this and you'll see God working powerfully in your life.
It might be only in heaven that I get to plant seeds and to grow a garden again. I do not know. I do not hold these things to closely though - trusting always that God has a better plan for me. Somehow I kind of know that I'll have a garden again one day soon.......a big one at that!
Thanks for reading.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Life & Times - Part 2

There are many things that being here means we have to get used to - another is the fact that we don't have a car. Initially this made us think a little on the negative - walking to the shop to buy food, walking takes longer (compared to doing the same journey in the car), going to friends or to eat out and then having to walk back at the end of the night. But in reality things aren't as bad as they seem. For starters we wouldn't want the hassle of having to drive around this city because city centre driving is so different to driving in the suburbs. Its also much nicer, now we are used to things, to be able to walk to places that in the UK we'd have had to drive to.
We also are able to walk our daughter to her kindergarten, and though this will be a challenge in the middle of the very cold winters they have here, being on foot does add that homely feel to the situation.

So I am glad that we don't have a car - I'd always be a little worried while driving anyway in case I'd be stopped by the police. They seem to be at most junctions and stop anyone at will, and because of being a foreigner, there's always the chance that a 'fine' (or bribe!) will have to be paid.....No thanks.

And in truth, with a metro station about 20 minutes away and trolley buses everywhere, not to mention other forms of transport, we don't need a car anyway.

One thing about cars though that's different to England is that here cars rule! And they have things that look like a zebra crossing in the UK but here the pedestrian waits for there to be a gap in the traffic, the cars just keep rolling through! There are light controlled crossings as well so when its green you can walk, even when traffic is turning towards you. If you stop someone rushing behind you is likely to bump into you so you just have to walk in faith, knowing you can walk and just believing that the cars turning towards you are indeed going to stop as well. And I think (like the USA but unlike England) you can only cross a road at certain points.

Moving on from cars though, having been here a month now it is encouraging to see how our language has come on. The reality is, of course, is that we are always learning. And because these things do not change, once you learn something in a new language, and it gets committed to memory so that you don't forget it, you don't need to learn that again. So over time layers of understanding form and our knowledge grows. I guess lots of things are like this in life, but certainly its like this for us with Russian.

One final thing for this post that we need to keep doing, and an encouragement I'll leave with anyone in our situation, is that we need to remember to keep lifting our heads up and remembering the big vision, the big picture of what we are here to do. City life, foreign culture, language learning - all these things can make you look down, feel so small, see your goals (God's plans!) so impossible and make you shrink back and away from the task. By daily reminding ourselves of why we are here and how we got here is so important. Getting out to see the city is also important. From our apartment we can get to a bridge over the Neva in about 5 minutes and from the centre of the bridge suddenly our perspective changes and we realise afresh it isn't a road or neighbourhood that we want to reach but a whole city of 6 million people!

And beyond the city is a nation!

The theme of our second small group meeting for this church plant was what are our dreams for the city (through the church we plant). There are just 5 of us (at the moment!) who make up the St Pete's church plant - how can we shake a city? Well, on our own be can't. But with God and by working in team, we know we can because we know that God can. So we are here to pioneer on. What it'll look like in a years time, or two years or ten years only God knows now and in time we'll see a little more clearly.

But we're here to reach a city. And that doesn't start when we have a church of 10,000 or 1,000 or 100 but with individuals who lay down their own plans, careers and choices and say Yes to God and what plans He has for us. So we're here now. May God's will be done in this city....

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Life & Times of a Pioneer? - First part

I put the question mark in the title for a very specific reason - words like pioneer, missionary, & church planter are words that get described about someone but don't always sit well with me. Maybe the church planter is best and most descriptive in our regard as in time this is what we are going to be part of doing - setting up a new church here. But a Missionary and Pioneer, like great men such as Hudson Taylor mean that it seems too big a 'title' for what we are doing? No? I don't know either way. What ever life we are now living, whatever ministry and work we see established, it certainly isn't some glamorous life that does it, as you'll see in time.

I guess what I'm saying in these confused sentences is that I'm well aware of my own smallness, my own inability. Thanks be for the grace of God for what He has commissioned. So maybe I shouldn't belittle this, my own life, because God has worked hard to get us here. Anyway, all this aside, what I want to write about from now on is a series on the realities of mission, the life-on-the-ground side of the story.

What does if feel like to be here? What are the new challenges that we are facing? I'll keep (most) of the faith elements and adventures for the Adventures of Faith series (4 of which have already been written) but here I want to start writing about the daily realities of mission.

I've said for some time that mission is not just defined by going to another nation and serving God there. Mission is a state of mind, an openness for God to use you everyday where ever you are. You can be at home, in your every day life and be on mission, just as you can go to another nation, language, culture and NOT do mission (perish the thought!)

But I write this to encourage, and that if our experiences, encounters and adventures can stir you into mission where you are, just because you are reading about someone who has gone overseas, then may God get all the glory and may you serve Him with your whole heart.

One thing we'll have to put aside (and I think I'll find this easier than most, I don't know) is our own nationality and culture. I mean the kind of thing that says "that's not how WE do it in England..."

For us, now, we are Russian? If not by our passport or birth but in order to reach the Russians in years to come. Unless we think like a Russian and more so accepted by Russians we will not have much of an impact on the people, which is what we ultimately came to do - to reach men and women with the saving message of the gospel of Jesus.

But its fun throwing ourselves into something new. I'll have to, for example, remember to START queueing again once I'm back in England!

Another important point that I think I already came here with is that other cultures are different - but different isn't wrong. In time, once we've understood them, I hope we'll come to really enjoy and appreciate these differences.

One thing that we do have to go through and grow in is that we hit this country as infants - in language, understanding, everything. And while our understanding and experience can grow in time as were learn how things are done, our language keeps us as a two-year-old because for a while it will be so basic and we just cannot make ourselves understood.

So far I've already made some funny mistakes. Early on, I was well proud of myself that I'd said to someone "My Name is Tim" until Rachel pointed out I said it in French not Russian! (about the only French I know as well!)
Also, while trying to find a certain DVD in a big shop, I worked out what I needed to say in Russian and said it for the man to reply "I don't speak English, sorry!" I don't know what he thought I said but I thought I was speaking Russian!

This, I'm sure, will be our biggest test and will take the longest to break through.

I write this having been in Russia for just over a month now. Our furniture only arrived yesterday and our daughters room is only being built as I type (we say room but its a door being constructed onto the end of the kitchen here so as to give our daughter her own room). It has taken some effort to get to this point but now we know, we feel, God has allowed us to get to know the area first, otherwise had things arrived two weeks ago we may have hid inside sorting things out! Now we can't as be have language studies starting much more this week and our daughter at kindergarten full time.

So we feel God knew best - yes, we had a 40 day wait for our stuff to arrive since leaving our home in July, but today we are no worse for it. We came by the will of God and we'll keep in with his timing and plans for us.

I'm sure we'll have many more funny experiences and situations to write about - these will be the things that probably will teach us the most as we go forward. Only time will tell.

But I am glad that I'm here. I'm glad that I took God seriously enough to follow what he said - in his timing.

I've chosen the Royal Way - in time, I'll see what it all leads to here in Russia.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Adventures of Faith - Part 4 - First Impressions

...As we arrived at the airport, held up by a customs misunderstanding, we get through to meet Dave Henson finally. Quickly a Mafia man and drug dealer pick up our bags and laptop and off they walk.....

We had arrived in Russia! The customs misunderstanding that held us up some 30 minutes or so, on top of the delay to the flight, was that we'd been told to go through the red line to declare everything we had coming on the lorry. With only the packing list to show them, this created a big problem. They didn't have what they needed. We looked stuck! We prayed and then they suddenly came back and said that we could go through the normal green line and we were through. The first of many small miracles that surely lay ahead of us in Russia. Dave had been standing something like 20 metres away from us this whole time. The opening paragraph is true, apart from the omission of two important words. Ex- & former.

These dear Russian men who had driven Dave to the airport in order to collect us, had indeed been ex-Mafia and a former drug dealer, men who'd had their lives turned around the same way we had – by Jesus and Jesus alone.

We got back to their car to quickly pick up that something was wrong – someone had broken into the car, the starter key block was gone and the drivers business papers, all in his brief case, were gone! They started looking around the other cars, looking for any signs of them. Nothing. They remained calm, prayed strong Russian prayers and kept looking. We stood there not knowing what to do. We didn't understand the language but we knew we were stuck there and that this man who'd come to help us had had his business documents taken. I then spotted the starter key on the floor of the car. Within a few seconds of that, the driver found his bag behind the back seat of the car and a broad smile flooded his face and praises to God flooded heaven. With a little bit of effort the car was started and off we went. We were still stopped by the police once before we got back to the hostel which would be our base for the next 10 days.....several days more than we had first expected.

I'm writing from this paragraph onwards some 18 days into our Russia experience so much of this will now be looking back. Looking back always has the benefit of greater understanding and less surprise by things, but having written the first four paragraph's its good to still have that sudden immersion into Russian life, much of which, if not as dramatic, remains still equally surprising and different.

I've got to say before I write anything more that I love life in Russia. Whether or not I've already 'hit' culture shock (everyone says you'll go through it though quite when you do is different every time) I feel I've got to a place where the difference's are not so different and where things are more understandable and less foreign, if that makes sense.

Another language and culture aside, one thing that we've had to face and will continue to have to is the shift that is city living. You see, going from living in the suburbs or anywhere else to suddenly living in the middle of a city is a big enough shift by itself. A city doesn't sleep. There are always people everywhere. There are queues at any time of the day. There's the heat and humidity of an inner city, the smog and smoke and traffic – oh the traffic! I'm so glad that I'm not driving here. Not that we really need to though with loads of public transport options, and for longer trips our friends do have a car which we can all fit in so that it good. But it takes some getting used to!

But back to our arrival.

In the car back from the airport, we decided that we'd, at least at first, head back to the hostel where the Henson's were staying, instead of the Hotel that we'd originally thought about. They'd also been due there but they hadn't had the room when they arrived so they ended up in the hostel. The hostel did have an internet connection and for us it now had the Henson's there as well. It was also a lot cheaper – for all these reasons, we were to learn in time, made this choice a very good one because we were to end up there for 10 nights, more than originally hoped, which would have stretched the budget had we been in the more costly Hotel. But also being near Dave & Hannah meant we could more easily go through together the difficult process of house hunting!

And what a process it was!

Nothing could really have prepared us for what was next to take place over the opening two weeks to our Russia experience. We came to Russia with the understanding, in relation to our house & furniture, that we'd need to have a permanent address to give to our shipping agent in order for the goods to pass through the border. Once at the border it would take about 2 days to arrive. The plan had therefore been that having arrived on the Friday night and settling in on the weekend, we'd get registered on the Monday (which we did and had to due to visa requirements) and then start house hunting (which we did as well I think) and that we'd find something within the first three days or so (highly optimistic as it turned out) and then could give them the address and maybe by the end of our first week the stuff would arrive and we'd move in on the same day. This is how our agent had led us in relation to the timing of things – first we needed to find somewhere to live!

In Russia (well certainly in St Petersburg) everyone has an agent – the landlord & tenant. The agent will find suitable properties and arrange viewings to which you have to race around town in order to see the places. It's all done in Russian, of course! (We were very grateful to Hannah Henson in this regard as well as our two new Russian friends mentioned in the opening paragraph's, one of whom was a property agent from another area so was able to help a lot!).

We were to find out that new properties were listed everyday during four times – 8am, 12pm, 4pm and 8pm. So it meant that even if you thought you had no viewings that day, come the afternoon we'd be racing out again with two or three to view! And of course, we didn't know about this at the beginning. On the Monday morning of our 4th day, we were due to have a 9am viewing across the city. First thing in the working week! What would traffic be like at that time of day! Well, both families were up and out by 8am, which was no small effort. As it happens, life doesn't really start until 10 or 11am in Russia. Most places only open at 10, which is 'rush hour' as we'd understand it (though it never gets that quiet!) but at 8am it was quiet. We were across town by about 8:30 and waiting outside – only to be told that they'd cancelled the viewing! This was a frustrating but accurate imagine of the week we were to experience ahead of us. I think that same property was due to be viewed again at 11pm that same day, before once again cancelling, though we hadn't left that time. Such a late viewing, so different to home.

What was difficult for us was especially difficult for our new friends Dave & Hannah. Not only had they been looking for 5 days already having arrived just before us, they had three children so needed more space – and the right size flat was proving hard to find. Plus, prices were such that even our budgets which had been accurate some three months before would now only be the starting points to what we'd had to pay. Prices were rising all the time.

It was an extremely difficult week but having come through it, even now it seems not so hard. But it was. There was the constant danger that as Westerner's we'd be ripped off. One flat that was quite run down but OK we had nearly accepted. Negotiations are done straight away by both agents and the landlord if they are around. We were pressing for somewhere to live (anywhere by now!). She even tried selling the place to us for about £250,000 – a flat that had just two rooms, a small old kitchen, a bathroom and a large (ish) hall that'd have to be a lounge with no windows! Rent would have been over £800 and then she wanted to increase it each month to reflect inflation! Praise God that we saw sense to pull out and walk away. As it happens, the flat we went on to get was just about 70 metres away on the same road but far better and for less.

But now we knew that our £750 top end budget for rent per month just wouldn't be enough. That was about 35,000 roubles a month and in May, when Dave & Hannah had last visited, that would have got something easily. But not now. (We came to understand that prices do rise in the summer as most people want to move then so I guess demand is high and therefore prices rise, but maybe only the best ones go so even if cheaper stuff was to be available later, if might not be the best quality). Tenants have to do all maintenance. We had looked at one place that needed a kitchen fitted. The danger was (as would have happened with that landlord we were told) was that you'd spend the money fitting the kitchen and doing it all up for them to ask you to leave so that they could move in!

Onto the one we got though. I had waited in the car with the kids I think as by now we'd thought bringing them all around was too much (for us as well as any possible landlords!). Rachel came back to ask for me as she felt this was the one. Initially I wasn't convinced, which I felt helped in the scheme of things. It just was to small! It was also priced at 40,000 roubles a month! Some £100 over budget! It was very nice for what it was, with high ceilings, being all well presented, a good entrance and stairs (its on the 5th floor), BUT it had just one bedroom, a large lounge, a kitchen with extra space at the end for a dinning table, large entrance hall and a very nice bathroom. My immediate reaction was – where do we put Mia (our daughter)?

We were here for some two hours in the end – I think the landlords had probably wanted us to have the place, so they tried to do what they could. Suddenly we were talking about putting in a wall in the kitchen bit where currently the extra space was. After all, we'd have the dinning table in the large lounge anyway so having a separate space for Mia's bedroom would be good – though it would be small. They would put the wall in and then agreed to reduce the rent to 37,000 a month, fixed for the year!

Papers were signed, deposits left and that was that. Though we'd be back to sign the proper papers the flat was off the market and we'd got ourselves somewhere to live. And it was such a relief! Everything, certainly as far as we are concerned and probably therefore most westerner's, is done in cash here. So for the deposits and agents fees as well as the first months rent, plus general food shopping money, we were having to withdraw large amounts of money each day, using our daily limit. The money was there but we just couldn't take it out – then our cards were blocked because of the unusual usage – but things soon got sorted, and we are through the worst of it, we just need to regularly keep taking money out in order to have enough.

By the grace of God our friends found something within about 3 days as well, and they are now in there settled. They have got lots of space, which they need, and though they are a little further away from us than originally planned, it will work well in time for the church plant to have two separate bases from which to build home groups.

Now about our furniture. Our agent had put us in touch with the people in St P's who'd actually do the delivery for us. Being Russia though, what was needed first was the paperwork that would allow them to bring it through customs on our behalf. At first they'd given me instructions to somehow get to a building in the centre and do loads of different things in order to do what was needed. We called them again and they arranged to have a lady come to us to collect my passport in order to get it translated and then I met her at a building where over 90 minutes we went through the process and finally a power of attorney was handed to her. This was day seven of our arrival and we'd just agreed on the flat.

Now the story changed though.

Having done this vital paperwork, only now were we told that this was the 'green light' that our relocation company needed to hear in order to allow the stuff to leave the UK!! It was all still in England. It was the 8th August – the green light had been given but even then the stuff didn't actually leave the UK until the 14th and then we were told that it would take 10 working days to arrive!

It's Saturday 23rd August as I write this section and, still furniture-less, the latest we have heard is that its due at customs on Tuesday or Wednesday and then should take 1 or 2 days to clear before the agent here will call us to arrange delivery. So it might still be another week? Having left our house on 23rd July and with the end of August coming next weekend, how things have worked out is far from what we were told but we've given it to God. We moved into our flat on the 11th August (at the time not knowing the delay to our furniture) and have effectively been camping out with minimal stuff – the wait goes on for at least another week but this will soon be over and we can get on with properly settling in.

So what of the Russian churches? Tomorrow will be our 4th Sunday here, and while we didn't go anywhere last week I had been to 3 churches in the first two Sundays, all of which differed quite a lot. On the first Sunday, 3rd August (which happened to be exactly 9 years since the original picture I had when God said Russia!) we arrived for something like their 4pm meeting and left somewhere like 8pm! The kids were all so tired! The meetings are long, and because its all in Russian its hard to stay focussed. Dave Henson was able to share a little about what we'd come to do. Being 'English Missionary's' (in their eyes at least) we were ushered to the front rows, which takes a little getting used to. Each meeting though we never quite knew what was going to happen next. Worship was quite free though and some good contacts were made. This church was quite a way out from the centre but they were very keen to keep up contact going forward.

The following Sunday both families again made a trip out to another place that our Russian friend (ex-Mafia man) had arranged. We arrived for the 11am meeting and left, after a lunch put on for just us, at about 3:15pm! At the end of the meeting, which Dave had shared at again, he and I were then asked to pray for lots of people, which we did together for about an hour. Our wives, outside with the kids, must have wondered what had happened to us but they did very well.

As we were leaving it was clear that for me and Dave there was another meeting that we were invited to at a different church, one far nearer us in the centre. We all raced back to the hostel and then Dave & I left for the 4pm start (which we were late for). This church had an American team over so it was good to sing in Russian & English as well as to be able to understand the preach! There were also some good contacts made. We travelled back towards the hostel tired but happy, having spent most of the day in meetings. It was now nearly 9pm! Dave stopped off just before getting back in order to pick up some food. He left the engine running and I waited. Though there were other parked cars around us we had no idea whether we could stop here or not so thought it best if I stay in the car just in case – and what a good choice that turned out to be!

Suddenly I noticed a tow lorry stop and sit in the middle of the road facing the other direction.
Having seen lots of crazy driving this didn't totally alarm me because people did all sorts of things on the road. But I kept a close eye, fearing the worst but not actually believing anything would happen. Besides, surely Dave would be back soon anyway. I didn't know how to drive this big 4x4 automatic anyway!

About two minutes later another identical lorry pulled up in front of the first and stopped in the middle of the road – then it suddenly pulled out and in front of the car in front of us! I could see clearly now what was going to happen – they were here to tow us all away!!

I jumped over into the drivers seat. As one lorry driver was taking photo's of the first car I was quickly trying to work out what I needed to do to move this car! The second lorry driver, while signally roughly, with words coming out in Russian that I didn't know, I could see he was allowing me to go! I pulled out, albeit a little jumpy, as this big automatic rolled down the road. I was safe! I thought I'd better just drive the 300 metres to the hostel, which I did, just a little shaky! I walked back to find Dave, who'd worked out what had happened having seen the lorries. Hopefully that'll be the last bit of driving I do in Russian for a long time, but for a few minutes I was quite worried!

So what are my first impressions then? Well, the above experiences have taught us something of the life that we'll live here. But the city that we live, while it might not sleep, is one of stunning beauty in much of its buildings, rivers and statues. The weather is more tropical than British. We can have storms and hot sun in the same day. Heavy showers then sun within 30 minutes several times a day.

The people, behind the expressionless exterior, are very friendly and happy to help. The little Russian we know does go a long way.

It's a very cultural place. We went to the Hermitage yesterday and its spectacular. Rachel went to the Ballet the day before that which sounded very good as well.

There's clearly a city that needs reaching with the gospel. It is not a small task that lays before us. We know that first we need to learn the language and understand culture more fully. But even in these early days its been good to have had a time when Dave & Hannah, myself & Rachel, Nadia (a Russian girl who has moved up from Tver to join us here) as well as another Russian couple looking to move here together with two English New Frontiers leaders all sharing a meal together at the Henson's flat. It may be early days, but the core of the church plant has already been planted.

We are all in this city now. Our journey's here may have been very different, but now our lives have come together for this time, this season, in order to see something equally spectacular established for the Kingdom of God.

In these four parts of this series its taken us from April 2007 until today, 23rd August 2008, sitting here at 4:35pm with a lovely sunny day outside and the temperature showing 31 degrees Celsius. I know that this next 12 months is going to change me more than at any other time in my life. I know that I will be challenged to my very core as I press through here, as winter kicks in and as life struggles on at times. Quite what surprises I'll be writing about in the final part of this series next summer I do not know.

What I do know though is that God, my God who has been with me these past months so closely, will continue to be so close to me going forward. It'll be God that starts the church here. And it'll be God's way that it gets started.

- Lord, I commit this time to you. Please lead me and guide me. Thank you for bringing us all here safely. Though scary at times, you've protected us and you continue to protect us. Help us with the language. Help us to settle. Please help bring our furniture all here safely. Empower us over this next 12 months that when I write next summer, we'd be different people – different because you've shaped us into a new shape – one ready for Russia!

Coming next summer – Part 5 – One Year On.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Adventures of Faith – Part 3 – The Going

We were into June now. God had bought us so far surely he wouldn't leave the job unfinished now, would he? Not until the very last couple of weeks would we know for sure though, either way. The review date of 15th July loomed just over a month away – soon enough it was figured before we go to stop all our stuff being shipped out on the 23rd July, as was due to happen. (The company doing this for us wanted paying 3 weeks in advance though, thereby the first week of July – this would require some wisdom!)

Regarding church presentations, having missed the chance of sharing at the April regional leaders meeting, we felt that we weren't to go down that usual route. We weren't particularly natural or confident communicators though when we did share, to individuals, talking from the heart made it all so much easier to do, and we were always being told that what we shared encouraged those that were listening.

With a couple of good friends in the Chesterfield church plant, they had invited us to see them for a weekend and then arranged for us to share at their church on the Sunday. So following our meeting in Sheffield on the 6th June, and having spent the Saturday with Rachel's parents, we made the short trip down to Chesterfield, arriving on the Saturday afternoon. When we'd been at Cardiff we haven't actually shared anything publicly but on the back of the backing from their leader, Andy, the church had really got on board and such encouragement was received from the time there. In Chesterfield it would be different as I'd actually be talking for about 10 minutes. We have one Powerpoint slide of Western Russia that we used but the rest was just sharing the story & our journey and plans. Our friends had clearly put the word around a little as we got much encouragement before the meeting as strangers came up to us and said how excited they were to have us here and were looking forward to hearing from us!

I shared as best I could – it went well as far as I can remember. Just talking from the heart I took everyone through our journey, sharing about why we were going and where we were going to and what we planned to do. I talked about the need, the financial shortfall, though this, being still new having changed our approach following the Friday meeting in Sheffield, still felt a little awkward. But most of all we asked for prayer support.

We went onto have lunch with a group of them after, which was great. Warm fair-wells were said as we left, people who had been complete strangers to us at breakfast now standing with us in prayer and looking forward to hearing updates from us in the future.

Around this time (can't actually remember if it was before or after Chesterfield) we shared at Colin Baron's church in East Manchester, which was even briefer but worth doing and good to be with them for the Sunday morning.

Then came a busy few days – On the Tuesday morning I led a Bible study at a Stockport Business Men's breakfast, speaking from Hebrews which happened to be on faithfulness – the theme of our journey to Russia – and intertwined with this was our story about going to Russia. Then that evening, after a full day at work, I drove down to Matlock, in the Peak District (a 3 hour round trip) and shared briefly at their church's family night. - Not long before sharing in a question and answer format, I was told 'helpfully' that someone who'd heard me at Chesterfield had commented that I'd 'lost' them midway through and so by them asking a question here to which I'd answer, in as shorter way as possible, they'd hear what he wanted them to know about! I didn't feel it was that helpful or well timed at that precise moment but it helped continue to teach me to trust in God alone.

I shared and gave out about two dozen contact cards for the Russia prayer group (of which there has been some take up). I drove home tired from the long day but happy how things had gone.
On that Thursday of the same week I was off work and we both shared at the Manchester leaders meeting in Burnage. Each time we'd shared it'd always been slightly different in what we'd said, almost slightly geared to the listener, though this wasn't intentional. After hearing lots of really encouraging stuff and following a good worship time, I shared our journey a little, and talked about a couple of prophetic words that had been brought some years ago and how they fitted into what we were doing. Colin Baron said after it was the best he'd ever heard me – that's some compliment from a man I greatly admire, so if you're reading Colin, thanks for the encouragement.

By the end of June we'd heard back from some friends and family that they'd be supporting us monthly. Some had even been set up already. There was still a long long way to go but it was nice that there were at least some people backing us. We also knew that our church would be doing something. We'd had the Russia Evening, which was good but totally draining and there was also to be a special offering taken on the last Sunday in June and first in July. Part of this would be for us.

We had a four day break away in Anglesey at the end of June before coming back to work our last week in our job's. Rachel finishing on the Wednesday 2nd July and me on the 4th. July was upon us – due to be the final month but still so much to do and lots of finance still to come in.
One thing that I haven't mentioned at all yet is in regards to our house. We are home owners in Stockport and a few months back, in a way only God could do, we'd come across a family that were planting a church into the area that we lived and really wanted to move into the area. We'd offered them our house to buy, to which they'd visited and said yes straight away, agreeing to our asking price. We 'sold' the house without putting it on the market!

As the months passed by and they were still not in a position to sell their house, mainly due to the falling housing market and house prices, we got to about July still with no movement, and now time was short. We'd prayed about things and suggested to them that they rent our house from us and in turn rent their house out, to which they'd had two individuals interested in doing just that. If they got to a place in the future where they were able to sell their house then we'd look again at this option. As the 4th July came, and we'd both finished at work, still they had no one to rent their house out, with the two individuals who'd previously been interested now not able to afford the rent. Our house was a regular request in the Tuesday updates from this moment on.

The Brighton leaders conference was due to start on the 8th July, to which we were booked in, and we were meant to travel down to my mum's in Sidcup on the Sunday after we'd shared at South Manchester church in the morning. Unfortunately our car had broken down on the Thursday, this time the clutch, to add to the exhaust and four new tyres we'd put on it in June. Our garage could only do it on the Monday morning, and with no better options around having called loads of others, we knew it'd have to be then and ended up hiring a car for the weekend to enable us to do the things we'd planned to do already.

Around this time also the church that Dave Harper leads, The Church in the Peak Matlock, together with Chesterfield, confirmed to us that they were supporting us with £5,000 a year for two years. This was a huge encouragement to us and showed their faith to reach the nations.
Just before we went down to Brighton, having paid the £300+ bill for the car (which we'd sell in 4 weeks time anyway!) we'd heard the news that our own church was giving us £2,500 as a one-off, which was money from one individual as well as the special offering, and then £5,000 a year which included all the individual amounts from people within the church as well as the church's input. Both amounts already included the gift aid. Knowing much of the individuals that had given, it was clear that the church, as an entity, was supporting us about £200 a month, which included gift aid, though they said they'd review it in September.

At the time this was quite a blow to us – because, having been totally aware of the huge amount that we needed to have in place before we went, in our minds we'd built up a hope that our own church would play a big role with us financially and that once we'd hear the amount they were supporting us by, we'd be a lot nearer our total. It might have surprised others a little too but it didn't surprise God. Not one bit – as Brother Andrew would say, God had a royal way of doing things as we'd soon find out.

So having heard this news and having got our car back, we travelled down south on the Monday evening ready to go to the conference the following morning, while leaving our daughter at my mum's for the week. With other amounts known as well at this stage the total was up to about £13,000, but this was still £12,000 short of the £25,000 budget shortfall and we had just eight days until the 15th July – our cut off point!

We should of by now had paid our relocation company the £3,800 they wanted to move our stuff to Russia, but had managed to 'hold' the booking and collection date with just £100 deposit, which bought us some valuable time. We'd also lost our flights through an administration error with our travel agent so didn't have that to pay, though re-doing the booking cost £300 extra but the flights did work slightly better for us. We could also wait a while before confirming these tickets.

Our Visa invitation's had also come through by now. We'd planned to send them off just before heading down south but a key piece of information, that we literally found out on that weekend, meant we couldn't do them without a letter from New Frontiers. Somehow with all the planning, no one had ever told us about this. This meant we couldn't post them off but would have to pick the letters up by hand while at Brighton and probably apply in person at the Embassy.
The conference was fantastic, which all the talks so spot on to what we were, in theory, about to do – to go to the nations and church plant. The issue of finance though hung like a sword over our heads the whole time we were there. Therefore, hearing all this stuff that rang true to what we wanted to achieve by going only made it harder to be in a situation, with a week to go, where we didn't know if we'd be going or not! Having heard from our own church and most of those we'd written to, we still found ourselves so short of the total needed. And now there was less than a week to go.

Mark Driscoll was a particular highlight and I'd recommend to anyone to download his talks from the New Frontiers website. Well worth the time spent listening to them.
We met with a leader from our church, the only one who was able to make it, and shared our feelings following the news of what the church we're able to do. As Tuesday and Wednesday went by, it felt more and more pressure was growing. We'd spent some time with Dave & Hannah Henson on the Tuesday night as they'd returned back from Russia for the summer before going to St Petersburg. We were to have another meeting with them on the Thursday, together with Al Gregory and his wife. Al was part of the oversight team and is based in Dartford. The meeting would be to look at how we'd form team in Russia as well as a chance for all three couples to get to know each other.

But before that we'd had lunch with Andy Davies, from Cardiff, on the Wednesday. So much was flying around our heads at this point. We'd bumped into Andy briefly on the Tuesday night had he'd asked how short we were, to which we'd said about £13,000 I think. He said he'd see what he could do! At lunch on Wednesday he'd said how he'd spoken to a chap from his church who'd just sold a business – having explained our situation to him, he agreed to give us £6,000 plus the gift aid! It was hard to take in at the time. But still that thought was there of the other £7,000 that we still needed. Getting to £18,000 was good but it wouldn't be enough to have the green light from New Frontiers. Oh the inner turmoil that was going on.

On the one hand we were hearing everything preached about doing the things we were about to do and yet, though we were prepared to do them, we were not in a position yet to know for sure whether we could go or not due to finance!

On the Thursday of Brighton things hit an all time low – but God would save the day.
For me, I'd come to realise during the week that 'Plan A' was us going on the 1st August and doing everything we'd just done (eg leaving work etc). And there was no 'Plan B'!! And I didn't want one either. But having chatted with Andy on the Wednesday, he said how there had to be one, so that if we got to the end of the 15th and we didn't have the finances in, then it wouldn't seem the end of the world but instead 'Plan B' would come into effect and we'd carry on, basically getting out to Russia several months later. I hated the thought of 'Plan B' and openly admitted that it terrified me.

So sitting there on the Thursday lunchtime with the six of us, with all these things going through my mind, and talking about how things are going to be in Russia, it was so hard when we came back to the position of where we were finance wise. We both got emotional and tried hard to keep things together. For me, wrongly but just a real, I battled with the thoughts that this shortfall was because people didn't believe in us and therefore hadn't backed us.

We arrived late to the afternoon session, Mark Driscoll's closing one of the three, and had some time together over dinner to process things before the evening meeting at 7pm. We were near Andy Davies so sat with him but just needed some time together to talk so Rachel & I left part way through – Andy later admitted to us that he was really concerned for us at this point. We walked along the Brighton seafront and around the pier. The sea air was good but our emotions reflected the pounding waves that crashed continually onto the beach.

We went back to get some rest, aiming for an early night. The conference would finish tomorrow afternoon when we'd go back to Sidcup to see our daughter again. This hadn't been the restful week by the sea that we'd thought it would be months before.

But laying in bed, I could not sleep. The full emotion of Plan B started to birth itself. Having not ever processed anything else happening, now my mind was going through how I would feel waking up on Wednesday 16th if we were not going. It was an emotional dam breaking as I processed through all the thoughts and feelings that went with this and I could not sleep for a long time while I lay there silently going through all this.

Just before I feel asleep though, our Plan A seemingly dead, I felt God suddenly and gently remind me again that it was only Thursday night and that he'd given me faith back again for things working out by Tuesday after all. It was a very strange experience, sort of missed at the time as I soon feel fast asleep within minutes of this happening, suddenly filled with peace and hope again. It was only a few days after it did I realise what really happened. The death and then resurrection of Plan A – I guess God does know what he's doing when it comes to raise things from the dead!

The Friday part of the conference went up until lunchtime. Nothing really much more happened though while we were waiting by the exit for the people who were taking us back to Sidcup, Howard Kellett from central Manchester's Hope Church gave us both a hug and said how they wanted to support us but hadn't done anything about it yet, though if we ever got to a real crunch point we could contact them about it – it must have been the expression on our faces that told Howard that point was now. We said the shortfall was £7,000 and though he said they couldn't do that having just given to another church setting, he asked us to email them about it once we got back – we did end up emailing him but on a totally different basis in the end.

We got home and later that night I went around to my brothers with the laptop to check email and update where we were up to. Having knocked together a simple spreadsheet that basically listed all the people we knew to be supporting us, and then the amounts if we knew, soon I was able to total the columns up. There hadn't been any startling emails that dramatically changed anything, but once I'd totalled the columns, including an amount my brother was going to support us, it suddenly looked as if we were there?! I called Rachel to nervously state this position but it was late, we'd had an extremely tough week so it was best to get a good rest and leave things until tomorrow and check that I hadn't made any silly mistakes with the figures.

On the way home from my brothers house to my mums house, all of about 5 miles maybe, I had a text from a couple in Manchester saying they wanted to give us £2,000 plus gift aid! On the Saturday, before we'd got back to my brothers, we'd had a text from Rachel's God-father. He'd felt stirred to call Rachel's parents that morning, and they'd told him about the situation in relation to the deadline approaching. The text to us said they would support us £100 a month plus gift aid! There were one or two other bits and pieces confirmed as well so by the time I got to updating the figures later that morning the totals, including gift aid, were coming to something like £32,000 (about £5,500 in gift aid so still well over the £25,000) and this didn't include the money in our account of the small amounts we'd get from selling a few things, including our car (which went for £900 in the end)! It seems God answered the prayer and in abundance. Maybe he knows something we don't? Or maybe he's put something into the pot for year 2 already as much of this amount was one off gifts which will leave a small whole in next years support. Either way we were going!

We also had on the list 5 people who we knew wanted to support us but that we did not have the amounts down, plus the Hope Church as that safety net, for want of a better word. It was great to be able to email Howard to confirm our situation and say that if we needed them we'd drop them a line. Maybe year two, who knows.

Our only safety net is God. He has been an amazing God. It's as if, having gone through this all, he's looking at us saying “What was all the fuss about?” You see, ultimately he said Russia, he said to go and he said 1st August 2008. And now, for certain, everyone else, included us, could be sure about that!

Needless to say, having confirmed to all those involved on about the Sunday that we'd got there, Tuesday 15th July came and went without the fireworks or tears that there might have been, though something tells me God always had it sorted anyway.

We decided to post our visa application up to the embassy in London after all and with much prayer again going into its collection on Tuesday 22nd, we were thrilled to hear that it was done and the collection by my sister-in-law had gone without any problems.

We received them by special delivery two days later. Having been able to pay our relocation company, they came as planned on the 23rd and everything was packed away. Also at this time the family looking to rent our house confirmed that that same week they'd finally received an inheritance cheque through and therefore would be renting our house out from the 1st August.

With all our beds gone and house empty, we moved out on the 23rd to stay with Rachel's brother in Romiley. It took about another week to finally leave the house for the last time. Flights have been booked, medical insurance paid for and now, I sit here typing this at 9:36pm on Wednesday 30th July. We fly in less than 36 hours at 7:15am on Friday 1st August, just as God said we would!

So before I go, what do I make of this all? Well I write this not just as a reminder to myself but to give all glory and honour to God for what he has done. I also want to encourage those moving to other nations though what we have experienced. I would also love to hear from you as I'd like to help you through the process if I possibly can.

But ultimately God is true. He does what he says he does, he does what the Bible says he does and he is who is is.

Though throughout, at the time, there are loads of things I would have changed, sitting here today looking back I wouldn't change a thing because God has answered all our prayers and we are going to Russia.

Quite what the following few days has in store, let alone the next year, I do not know. I guess the next time I write, the part 4 update, things might be clearer.

I'm excited and amazed to be at this point – I wait with eager expectation to see what God is going to do next.

Still to come in this Adventures of Faith series;
Part 4 – The First Impressions
Part 5 (next summer) – One Year One.

Adventures of Faith – Part 2 – The Six Month Countdown

“Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6)

None more so were we to learn the truth of this verse than in our final six months before we were due to go – on 1st August 2008.

This is the date God had given me at the end of a week of prayer at the end of January. Having faced frustrations through misunderstandings and delays in meeting up with people, as well as some (Christians) telling us we were mad to go to Russia at all, we had no ideas of the storm clouds that were approaching. But just like real clouds in the sky, the sun is always above them and it will always shine again. The clouds just threaten to get in the way and make you think you'll never see the sun again!

Things kept moving along slowly in February & March. We were due to share our plans at a Manchester regional New Frontiers leaders meeting in the middle of April which would be an important time of helping churches to get on board as well as open opportunities to share in some of them on a Sunday morning. At this point though we still were far from ready, in some peoples eyes. No finances in place, nothing much sorted in terms of house & moving, people seeing our timing as a little ambitious, some telling us we were crazy and we didn't even have the VISA sorted, though we thought that we would just do what the Henson's had done (with them having gone before us they very much were an example for which we could just copy, and this pattern would continue to be a blessing going forward as well). During this period though things took a serious down turn. By now we'd been sending out regular Tuesday updates on our Facebook prayer group which was growing each week. This prayer group would be called into serious action and would see a dramatic answer to prayers, but not before a frantic few days.

It was a Wednesday night just before our home group when I took a call from Dave Henson on Skype. There were problems with their VISA renewal which would mean the same would be true for us. Their type of student visa for the university now was not suitable for families. Access was also being restricted to three months in Russia, then returning to your home country for three months before another three months in Russia were allowed. Thereby only six months a year – and still not for families either as the university had to provide accommodation of which none was suitable for a family with children. The Henson's could not renew their visa and we were now back to square one, but now with far less time.

Dave had mentioned that he'd had some contact with a language school in St Petersburg, the Swiss Centre. He suggested we get in touch and if we found anything out to let them know because they were in a difficult situation as well now in regards to their visa situation. So I sent off an email to them – suddenly the visa situation was top priority. Without it we were going nowhere, no matter what else we had in place. We hadn't needed to do anything on the visa front up to this point because we thought we knew the route that we needed to follow when it came to applying for the correct visa type, where-ever we were to end up. Now we had nothing to work from. Because it was Wednesday night and I'd just sent out an update on the prayer group the day before, I had to wait a week before another update as I had made a conscious decision not to overload people with too many updates. I was able to share with the home group that night and we prayed there first. There'd been some contact back from the Swiss Centre I think but nothing was clear by the following Tuesday morning with regards to a way through and it was time for another update – a major one this week all about the visa situation.

And God answered the prayers of the saints!

By 4pm that same day I had the final email (having checked back and forth during the day) that confirmed they would be able to issue us all a visa, as a family! Mainly because they were independent and not state run, they did not have to offer us accommodation and therefore we were fine. And we wouldn't have to leave after three months either. This was a thrilling break-through and a very quick answer to prayer. There would be quicker ones to come but we were relieved. God had to make us aware of the problem early so that he could reveal the way through just as quickly.

And now an extra bonus emerged. Because the Henson's had been in the same situation as us visa wise, our answer became their answer – they would move up from Tver a year earlier than planned and would therefore join us in St Petersburg straight away! Wow – when God answers prayer he really answers prayer!

Now our heading straight to St Petersburg suddenly seemed to make more sense – and we wouldn't be on our own either.

We'd come through one major storm that threatened the whole trip – it seems OK now but it really was a dark week as the visa situation, fuelled by growing political hostilities between Russia and the UK, really looked a mine field and even though we were going to help and work with the Russian people, without a visa there was no going at all.

April came along and another slight set back was looming. Just a week before we were due to meet with the Manchester leaders at their Thursday morning monthly meeting, we had a call that said there wasn't going to be many people around as it was still in the holidays and best if we postponed it. They weren't meeting in May and work wise I had no idea if June could be done either. These were not discussed but it looked like we would not get to share with the leaders in a face-to-face setting.

Things at our home church were still moving along in much the same way, which was basically dealing with the lack of a full time leader and all the extra stuff this creates. There just wasn't the capacity to get to involved with us and maybe they were going along with the 2009/10 timing as well so knew, as they saw it, there was no rush. This, as well as the understandable fact that no one in leadership had gone through what we were going through and therefore could not offer any advice, meant for much of the time for us it was a very lonely journey. We were close to God in this, so don't get us wrong, but relationally with those around us, at times it just felt like this was something we were doing by ourselves and we missed having that someone we could really turn to who would understand what we were going through. However, this process threw us time and again onto God and having gone through much of it, and in time far more, we are in a far better position to be able to walk someone through a similar experience in the future. And this is something I really look forward to doing time and time again.

By about April our church had agreed that they would administer all financial gifts received for us and collect any gift aid applicable. This would prove a great help and would mean they were playing a hands-on role going forward with us in Russia. Because this was all in place now, we were able to put together a support letter that we were going to send to certain people as we felt led. It was on the basis of asking them to pray about any financial support they might feel God leading them to give to us. We were asking for this over the two years as once we've learnt language we intend to get jobs in year three (this remains the plan but we are totally open to the leading of God in this area and await to see what opens up for us). Just after the middle of April, we were in a position when we would send out a batch of about 25 letters. But more on this in a moment.

Another thing that emerged at this point was something that had started as a bit of a joke in the office I worked and suddenly we took things seriously – could I carry on working remotely for them? With the technology available for this it was arranged that I would test things out by working from home on Tuesday 22nd April.

Coming back to those support letters, I had a growing feeling that when they were sent and in the post, I was to fast and pray about the finances. It had started to become a bit of a real test area in my spirit, something I wanted peace about but wasn't feeling at the moment. With Tuesday being our update day and fasting time at lunch, as well as the 22nd being the day I was working from home, it meant at lunch time, with all the letters ready, I was able to walk around to the post office, buy the second class stamps and send them all out. I'd had breakfast that day but fasted for lunch as usual, aiming to continue a little longer this time as the letters made their two or three day journeys across the country.

Wednesday and Thursday came and went. Some people had told me on the Thursday that they'd received our letters, but I didn't feel it was time to stop. On the Friday night at our church there was a meeting on the Holy Spirit. Could I make it that long, nearly 4 days, and go to the meeting still fasting? With Rachel away I could then eat a nice treat on the way home! I went but knew there was more to come in the way of this fast. Saturday & Sunday came and went. Now this was the longest time I'd ever done and yet I felt great. What was going on? I'd gone six days without any food and felt well. My mind started to dream and race ahead to doing a really long fast like 20, 30 or 40 days! What crazy thinking! I'd only ever done 4 days before and at any moment I was sure that my flesh would give way and hunger would attack – and yet I continued not to feel hungry. A week came and went. Then 14 days passed. What was God doing? By now I knew a miracle was at work in me as something supernatural, that being God, was sustaining me so that I was not weak, or hungry. I still kept dreaming ahead but knew I had to take a day at a time. Didn't people take medical advice and stuff for these types of things, yet I'd never set out to do this in the first place as it had just happened. I was reading loads of the Bible though and praying at meal times. I loved these times with God. I ended up reading through the whole New Testament and then Romans again during the fast.

As things continued I started to think that maybe by the end of the fast, whenever that would be, the money might be in? Or we might know that we would have enough?

It was now into May, which in the UK has two bank-holiday weekends. May 1st had marked the three month mark to when we were due to leave. My mum had also been up for a long weekend (we always seem to have a meal or two out when she is up but because I was fasting we didn't). The weekends proved the biggest test during this time. The loss of family meal times with my wife and daughter was far harder than any physical hunger, which I didn't feel for the entire time. We also had a weekend down in Cardiff with our old leader and great friends Andy & Liz Davies. While I might not have been able to eat anything (I was not really missing out at all because my Bible times were real highlights) the time with the church in general really encouraged us as they instantly caught the vision, via Andy, about Russia, as we didn't actually share anything ourselves! God had been moving in a fresh wave of power in their church and it was a joy to arrive when we did. It certainly won't be the last that Cardiff see of us as a real spiritual connection was established that went far beyond the strong connection that already existed between us and the Davies household.

Sunday June 1st was the end of the 40 days. I've detailed this more in my blog from that day so don't need to comment more here, but things certainly went far beyond what I ever dared to dream was possible. And though there was no physical financial provision in place I had come to learn one thing – God had answered my prayer in a totally different way than expected. By providing for all my physical needs by how he sustained me so that I was not hungry for the entire time, he proved to me that he was able to provide for all our other needs as well.

So June 1st 2008 was here. Two months now before we were due to go. But we still had no finance in place – we knew the route for the visa's but wouldn't get the invitation letters until about the 24th June. We hadn't seen anyone from our oversight team though did have a date for Friday June 6th when Rachel & myself would meet with the three guys in Sheffield. We hadn't shared to any churches, having not shared at a regional meeting, didn't have that much time to do so either. We had a Russia Evening planned for our church coming up but that was about it.
Things would have to dramatically speed up – and they did.

June 6th in Sheffield went really well. We talked about all sorts. We got to know each other a little better. We looked at our budget. Having planned to work 20 hours a week remotely with my current job, it was advised that this should be much less as we needed to spend about 40 hours a week within the Russian language if possible, and clearly jumping back into English would have a negative impact as well as make getting those 40 hours much harder. They proposed just 8 hours a week in two sessions. How would this news go down? This also effected budgets as well as I'd be earning a lot less. It was now looking like starting at a £25,000 shortfall for year one with about the same amount for year two as well! It did become clear now that it was more like a two year project in which we needed financial support but from year three, if we are both working, we should earn enough ourselves.

Dave Harper, the Manchester regional leader, certainly felt more faith for this stance – once we can see the need, you can help meet the need. Looking at the facts of the situation isn't limiting faith – as with Abraham as quoted in Romans, he looked at the fact that his body was as good as dead, but... The facts with us was this huge financial need but it would be faith that would see the money come in.

Our diary was quite full by now but suddenly some more dates were thrown our way – could we make an evening with Dave's church in the Peaks on Tuesday week and then share with the regional leaders on the Thursday during the day? Amazingly we could!

A date was also set – the Tuesday after the Brighton conference – where we would all check with them how much money we had in – the date was 15th July. If everything wasn't in place by then then basically we wouldn't be going!

We came away from this meeting with much more on our plate – but things were still to get a lot more pressured as the 15th July approached. From Sheffield we were due to go onto Chesterfield and share at their church on the 8th June. That Sunday would count down the 7 weeks left before we were due to go – the build up was to become the going!

Still to come in this Adventures of Faith series;
Part 3 – The Going
Part 4 – First Impressions
Part 5 (next summer) – One Year One.

Adventures of Faith - Part 1 - The Build Up

I wanted to take time out from my existing study to type up this first part of a mini story about our going to Russia. Being a story of the faithfulness and miracle working power of God, I want it to serve as testiment to a God who changes lives.

I also felt it important to write things up while they were still fresh. Even now, though we are still 3 days away from leaving, due to the ways things dramatically worked out, I'm sure that I still will not be able to relay quite how vulnerable and emotionally raw we felt at times, and certainly very intensely over the last three weeks, much of which will be commented in part 2 of this story. But if I leave it any longer it'll just feel, in time I'm sure, an easy process, which certainly it was not! My thinking is this - ask a gran-mother what it felt like to give birth and I'm sure it'll be much more tame than if you asked a women in the latter stages of labour. While I haven't chosen to do the 'delivery room' account of things, I didn't want to get to the day when I said "I wish I'd written some of those experiences down" either.

Much of the vision and God stuff surrounding the question of why we are going I have already covered previously so will not repeat myself here. But once we'd committed to going to a Russia Day in April 2007, things very must moved from the future into the present.

You see up to that point things had been preparing us in a slower, natural way. Things like our language lessons. They fitted around our ever increasingly busy life, playing just a small part to our week. How we heard about the Russia Day and our making contact and signing up to things was just normal, almost coincidental. Little did we know that even then, the clock began to tick.

The Russia Day itself was a Sunday in April 2007 that was hosted in St Albans by a local church, put on to gather anyone interested in Russia, highlighted by the fact that a family where just about to move out to Tver in the next month. The family, the Hensons, were in St Albans as well for this day. The day unfolded with a 'normal' church meeting, though this was very Russia themed, followed by a lunch (all Russian food) and some further information about what was currently happening in Russia.

Having left our daughter in Sheffield with family the night before, we travelled down not knowing that things were about to seriously change. What was it about the day? What was it that happened? God was clearly there, and that made a lasting impression.

Through a ministry time and then a brief 5 minute chat with the Henson's after, it was clear to us at the time that something was happening. We were both impacted quite powerfully at the time, far more so than anyone else there who responded, and before we left we'd arranged to spend a day with the Henson's before they flew out with their 3 children.

And so, about 4 weeks later, we found ourselves in Loughborough for the day with their family, and by the end of the day realised that we were talking in terms of when we go and not if. Clearly, without knowing it and without a problem, we'd already settled one of the very difficult questions any Christian must face - to go?

As May went into June and then June into July, we prayed loads, already knowing that we were to go in the following year, and at that initial time we were thinking about the same time of year as the Henson's had gone out, early Spring, therefore May 2008, so as to get the longest time of nice weather before winter set in. It was only our thinking but it started to give us a time frame to work towards. But what was clear was that from that moment, we knew the clock was ticking and that soon we'd be going to Russia.

During this time in the April & May, our home church setting started to go through some problems and the only full time leader decided to step down. He had been fully supportive when I'd shared our plans with him but a meeting the following day meant he felt he couldn't go on leading and took the drastic action to step down. So by about the June and July, as things were forming clearly in our own lives, an opportunity opened up at church within a new wider leadership team for me to be part of it and help bring things through what would be, and indeed was, a difficult time. I remained within that team until about February 2008 when Russia was taking more time so I knew it was time for me to focus on that and allow the existing team to carry on and focus on the church.

During the following months there wasn't a great deal of physical stuff to do - though we prayed loads, and made Tuesday lunch times our specific prayer times for all things to do with Russia. I carry with me fond memories of walking around the park in Heaton Moor, Stockport, praying into everything. It's funny how park's have played such a key role for me in regards to prayer and Russia!

We did start to share more with people, including my employers, who are Christians, so they were more understanding than your usual employer might be when they hear that potentially they are about to lose a key member of staff. I would say that had they been a secular employer, it could have waited until much later into this year before needing to tell them, though that too is hard, if you're like me, because it's such a big thing for you, you want people to know. I had to do that route originally in London when I moved to Manchester. I knew a year in advance but only told them once everything was sorted two months before I left (it was just easier that way and you don't lose out of vital training and opportunities that might otherwise have been given to someone else).

Most within the church did know that we had thoughts leading to Russia, but only in these months did they quite realise the relevence it made with us coming up to Manchester in the first place. And every time you spend an evening with a new person, you need to retell the whole story because for them, they've never heard it. This would be good practise for the final two months.

I can't honestly remember our specific thoughts as 2007 drew to a close. I know all our families knew by that point so it made Christmas and New Year a little more emotive, maybe, as thoughts tend to lead to the same time the following year when we wouldn't be there. Though we've seen most of these people again since, and more so than usual because of our going, it was the last time for my wife's great aunt, who died last week at the grand age of 96 and who's funeral, the day before we leave, we are just not able to make. I'm sure these thoughts and similar ones were in peoples minds for some of the time - each time we say goodbye it tug's just a little more at the emotions. One of the small costs that we pay when you go to follow God.

January 2008 I remember started in a much more positive way - for us we knew it was no longer 'next year' that we go - now it was this year!

With our home church being a New Frontiers church, we were also linking into what New Frontiers, as a wider family of churches, were doing, and clearly the experience for working into Russia needed to come from outside of Stockport. It is clearly the local church who send but within the wider NF framework, we were coming into contact now with the leaders who were more involved in Russia. We say contact, but it was all email mainly, and not in person, due to the geography of us being in Stockport and our main contacts being in the Peak District, Bedford and Dartford. This is something that we were desperate to sort out but getting us (with child care considerations to think about) and three outside leaders, plus three from our home church, together on a set date, meant throwing loads of dates around and trying to find one that worked! We got one for January, a little later that we'd originally hoped having started the process in about the November, but better than nothing. The Stockport people would travel across to Sheffield, which worked as a convenient meeting place for those coming from further south. With Rachel's parents living in Sheffield it made it a convenient location for us to meet in their house and spend some more time with them as well.

With the date set about 6 weeks in advance, we went into the middle of January looking forward to this important step. You see, it's important in a process like this to submit yourselves to the authority and wisdom of leadership, both within the local church (of which I was in the leadership team) and also to outside oversight. As hard as it is, or seems to be, I don't think there should be any other way to do it. I think its hardest when relationship and communitation are weak, so work hard at this if this is something you are going through.

Having chatted back in mid 2007 with the outside leaders, we'd been told that people in our position, from experience, take between two and three years to actually get out there. With our timing of summer 2008, as it had become, this experience would have to be changed or we'd be going a lot later than we'd hoped. Regular discussion was going on as well throughout with the Henson's in Tver via Skype. A lot was very practical help and advice about what we need to do, but we also heard vision and started to hear what their future was going to look like. One of the things that had come out from our day spent with the family in Loughboroguh before they went was their heart for St Petersburg. Something, even then, echoed in our hearts - we'd looked into St P's over the last five years. Personally, having visited Moscow in May 2005, we didn't feel that Moscow would be the right place for us, for whatever reason, even though we'd had a great time of fellowship within the church there. Something just didn't click. We'd also never heard of Tver before we heard about the Henson's moving there for two years of language at the university. If we were to join them there in 2008 we'd have a year before they moved off up to St P, leaving us alone in Tver. This didn't fit either. But having first looked into St P when we'd made contact with OM in about 2003/04, with the OM office being in St P, something had stayed. For us the thought began to grow that we should go to St P directly and that, if after a year, the Henson's joined us then great. In Tver there is a New Frontiers linked church but nothing in St Petersburg. Being a year on our own, though hard, would surely be like jumping in the deep end, but it would help our Russian and at least we could start to make friends and then not have to move (as we might have done in Tver). But it was the thought of church planting that excited us - we were however told at the time that nothing would happen on this front until 2009, maybe 2010, and we couldn't therefore say we were going to go and church plant. It was advised that we might be better off waiting until '09 or '10 when St Petersburg would have a bigger profile with NF as a church plant and therefore easier to raise any support that we might need. We took this on board, but didn't let it take root. Surely we had known God speak to us and we felt sure that we were to go in 2008, and before Autumn as well. But at the same time, taking the advice on board, we knew there needed to be a lot in place before it was clear we could go. Some of the practical stuff need only be sorted in the last few months, but there was the finance to think about - St P is a very expensive city to live in and as we couldn't work, due to our lack of language as well as the student visa we'd have, it meant we'd need to raise the support from within the church.

A lot was going on inside at this point. We knew what we felt but we were being told, as we heard it, it couldn't happen in our time frame and that lots would need to be in place first before it was clear that we were to go. At no point did the oversight team not think that we'd heard from God - they knew and told us so, it's just our weak human minds can easily change these things we hear into - "No-one believes in us". A wrong, but very emotional thing to think. God was working through us and preparing us for much more to come!

Again, it was easy for us to interpret what we were hearing, via email, from our oversight team, and mis-understand their line of questioning and put it down to the fact that they didn't know us, hadn't met us and didn't know our calling or vision (one guy actually knew far more than we realised, it was later discovered, as I must have discussed with him in length before our trip to Moscow, which his office helped arrange for us). Oh the games that the enemy loves to play!

With the January (about 16th I think) meeting looming, we were glad to get to the place where we could share vision with everyone and all get to the same page. It would also provide a great chance for the Stockport guys to meet the wider New Frontiers guys, or oversight team as I've been calling them. But things didn't go to plan - far from it. Back to the problems of not having a full time local leader. Though we'd met with the team to discuss and share, one of the chaps maybe had not heard what he wanted to hear. Though we'd arranged the meeting, he'd contacted the oversight team to check the purpose of the meeting, which was unclear in his mind, and as they'd said they wanted to discuss once the local church was on board, these unanswered questions in his mind meant he decided it wasn't worth everyone travelling to Sheffield so cancelled the meeting. It felt like a bit of a kick in the teeth at the time, but God continued to teach us to take these 'punches' - he had greater things in store. So we meet that night anyway, at our house with just the Stockport team and we had a great night and shared all, we thought, what we would have shared had we been in Sheffield. We did feel that missing the chance to meet face to face with the three oversight guys was a hard blow. But it would (eventually) happen.

Understably so, our home church and oversite team knew that the practical side of things took a strong position, if not dictated, our timing of when we go. It was hard to not go down the line of thinking that placed the practical above faith. This was not their thinking - we were to understand ultimately that, say for finance, with St P being very expensive, they wanted to know that we had all the support in place before we went as from their experience, nothing much came in after you've gone. So they were making sure that they could send us with a clear conscience knowing we'd be ok.

This was one area where I really had to battle in faith with. I guess I was very much down the line of saying that if God say's something, he'll make it happen. To the practical person, this does drive them crazy, but I do think that faith is important, very important, when you do anything for God. I've come to realise that faith is a 5 letter word - spelt TRUST. It was the coming months building up to our final weeks of going that really taught me this, but more on that later.

At the end of January there was a week of prayer at our church. This was a significant time for me as it brought clarity and assurance - but was I sure I had heard from God? The details of how God spoke to me through the story of Abraham when called to make a sacrifice, I have already written about. The need for a stake in the ground, a point where if God didn't work we would know if wasn't right. This was a faith jump to end all jumps. I came out convinced that night that our date was 1st August 2008. This was the day to aim towards. It was just over six months away at the time. We had no VISA, no finance in place, no churches on board. We had nothing sorted. But now faith played centre stage. Clearly the practical would have to follow up very closely behind, but if God had said Russia to us and if he had said 1st August, then he would be able to sort out the practical things.

So it was with real excitment that I came away from that Friday night prayer meeting.

For everyone else, the practical would still need to be sorted. After all they hadn't heard God on it and their concerns still needed to be worked through by physical action. How we dealt with this would again test us and teach us much going forward.

Clearly there was an exciting six months ahead of us.

To come;

Part 2 - The Six Month Countdown
Part 3 - The Going
Part 4 - The First Impressions
Part 5 (In 2009) - One Year On