“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.
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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