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