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

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Further thoughts of a church planter in Russia

These last two weeks have taught me quite a lot about myself, pushing me further on, leaving my comfort zone somewhere back in October.....so I thought it'd be a good time to write something, seeing as I've got a little time right now and it won't stay like that for long!

Last week was a week of firsts - firstly, I played football in Russia for the first time. Now, clearly, playing football doesn't sound that scary, but get this. I was going on my own (out of anyone else who spoke English!), going somewhere I hadn't been before, playing in a hall that I didn't know, and therefore was unclear on what could or couldn't be done. All of this I would just have to pick up on the spot. Then there is the issue of language, though football is a little more universal.

Apart from it being a tiring time, it was good and I went back again this week feeling a lot more confident that now I knew what I was doing.

Also last week I was covering for Hansie who was away, and therefore got to teach my first English class. While I was expecting there to be 4 people, it actually turned out to be a class of 7, with two of the ladies there for their first English lesson...ever!

Ninety minutes later I had made it through. My 'students' seemed to enjoy it. I think it helps that I'm also learning Russian so I know what it feels like to be in class and not understanding much! Someone who seemed to be in charge then took my number, and in rather fast Russian, seemed to say about me teaching a second group of students...but no call to date (or the time to actually fit it in) so I don't think anything will come of that, for now. And besides, I'm back in England 5 weeks today anyway.

And then last Sunday morning, I was preaching for the first time at Hope Church, it also being my first preach in Russia. And because it was a prophetic message that had been growing in me for three weeks, I was also therefore trying to birth this thing into the church, speaking on a culture of honour, which I have previously written about. It was made easier though on two counts - firstly, preaching with a translator has one great advantage. Every 20 seconds you get a break, so that I could scan my notes for the next bit, while all eyes were on the translator, before continuing, without looking at my notes, to make a much more free-flowing preach.
The other thing that made it easier was that because it was something I knew God wanted to bring, my part was just bringing the subject to the table. It was God's job to then do His work in our hearts so that we all receive directly from Him what He wanted to impart in the first place.

And one immediate outworking of the talk was that when it came to serving the lunch after, service being one of the things touched upon in the preach, there was a noticeable crowd in the kitchen last week all helping.

And then, as if not tired enough already, we had our first family meeting in the evening, inviting all those that saw Hope Church as their home church to come along to break bread together, as well as be caught up on news and inspired with our visions for the future. It was a great time, if not a long meeting, and Dave, Hansie & I all took it in turns to speak on different parts, modelling team leadership as is our style.

Life does seem to happen so fast that it takes certain moments when you stop and wonder at the glory God is doing in your life. It's been a week already since this all happened, another Sunday morning tomorrow and some more firsts, no doubt. We will try and work more as a three on Sunday mornings, which having spoken last week, I should find easier to do. I'm talking about the offering tomorrow, trying something new because up to now, it's been something we've put in the corner and asked people to contribute to. I feel already God wanting to speak about generosity so I will prepare my 3 minutes along those lines - how God has first been generous with us (Love, Time, Patience, Money...) so that we can be generous with Him.

But in these times, once on Monday night this week at football, and then again in our new office, I had one of those check points that just says "Wow God - you are awesome!"

Because to be standing in a hall with many Russian men, playing football but not understanding their language. Being in a country so different, in a city so far from my roots. It makes me marvel at what God is capable off. And then again on Tuesday this week, when we were loading the brand new Ikea furniture into the office we have got, to think "Wow, now we have an office in the middle of the city....God is Good!" We had our first team meeting there yesterday afternoon (we usually meet Monday mornings, but getting delayed until last thing on a Friday is just a little example of how life goes here!) It'll serve us all well I think.

Of course, in all this, it is a very busy season. In someways, at such an early stage in the church plant, there is just no way around it. We've had 10 Sundays already since the launch in early September, and its been 10 consistent weeks of just pressing in, pushing on, getting on with the job. Working usually 7 days, my end in sight being the trip back to England 5 weeks today for me, when I'll be taking the Christmas & New Year period as a long needed holiday. Lately I've been hitting the start of every new week just a little more tired than I was the same time the week before. But I know I get to rest soon so I'm not too concerned health wise. But it is a real hazard for people going through this kind of situation, and something you should be aware off. Every situation is of course different as well.

But God is great and doing many amazing things here in St Petersburg. This next season looks to be very exciting, and for my family to be in England during that time will be a little hard as I know some important months are approaching for the church here which will be exciting for all concerned. Of course, there are things I'll be doing in the UK that will benefit all in the longer term, so my eyes will soon adjust to that, but not before I leave, as there is much more to fit into these next five weeks, including the final version of our promotion church DVD and the website, which we also hope will be finished before Christmas (and therefore before I've left).

Every blessing to you where ever you are based, in whatever stage of the journey you are on.

Until next time, be blessed!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Blogging on experiencing the 'Am I Crazies'

As a writer, I am very aware of the phrase "Am I Crazy" which goes hand in hand with all writers as they look to develop their career and get their first book(s) published.

One popular agent actually coined the phrase the "Am I Crazies" which for an author goes into all those things we constantly question - should I be writing, should I be giving all this time to writing...what's the point?!"

Well, as I've been going through my own dose of the Am I Crazies this week with my own novel, I came to realise today that for our life in Russia, the phrase also applies to what we are doing here...so it's on two counts that I'm asking am I actually crazy?!

Now, before I really explore this topic, I must point out that it is quite different in one regard...in mission, it's all about following God and therefore nothing is worthless or without reward. But just as God is in my writing and yet I still have those thoughts, I thought it would be useful to write down what the thoughts are in relation to mission situations when you just get to the point and ask: Am I Crazy?

Picture the situation, if you will. You are not salaried for any particular job, there is no actual job description. You are thrown into a world who's language you don't understand, in a culture so different from your own. Your 'career' path is scrapped, so are your close friendships (yes, email and Skype help keep these ticking over, but it's a different relationship from now on). You work in such a way that sees what you do increase but with no guarantees in regard your own involvement in 6 months time. Truly, are you crazy after all??!

Don't get me wrong, I'm not having a major moan about things, just some general thoughts. It might help others going through similar things, for example, which is largely why I write anything at all. I want others to feel encouraged in their settings, knowing that the things they are feeling are not unusual, that they are no different from the rest of us, and therefore helping them to come through those times. Because believe me, they come to us all.

The reality of not being salaried to do what we do is that you actually do so much more than you would otherwise do. You do everything, because there's no guidelines as to where you stop. If, for example, the money my family got in through support was actually my salary to work for Hope church here in St Petersburg, then it would radically transform my week. As is it I work nearly full time for the church, but do several other part time 'jobs' as well, plus studies in Russian, household jobs, being a father and being a good husband. But if I worked full time for the church as a salaried member of staff (very Western thinking, the reality is at the moment in Russia that as a foreigner I can not earn a salary from a church), then within the working week would be sections of time that are taken off, so as to give you a couple of days off a week.
Now, the reality is that most of the core team is working 6 or more days a week. Usually 7.

And God is doing so much, that as our team has grown, we've seen our responsibilities grow with it and so we've developed systems, moving in our strengths, going along a path that in six months, when our funding runs out, we might not be able to be involved in. Crazy!

Again, hear me right. Living by faith throws you onto God and I'm not therefore suggesting I'd rather be salaried (as I've said, this wouldn't be very possible here in Russia anyway). It would be good to know a little more on the longer term financial support we are getting though, but it's such a hard one to approach. What is the way through?

I guess on one level it always remains that we are here, now, in the timing of God and at any moment He could move us on, move us back, retire us from the game. We have to live with that, it's His call after all and what we do in the here and now is a major honour, and nothing to be taken in any way as our due. It's a great privilege and nothing of our own doing as if we could have a claim on anything.

It's God who brings the finance in after all, and if anyone should have learnt this lesson, it's us, because He did so much in this regard before our coming here, we know that if those near us can't help, even strangers can give massively!

So maybe it's futile to think about the ongoing support but just to thank God that today there is the cash available to live.

What is a struggle though at first, and something that is always there while living through this kind of situation, is the guilt and pressure around use of time etc, which is probably what drives you to work much more than you would, or maybe should! (We all have busy seasons, times when we just have to press through and get through them, but what I'm talking about here is when the constant is 7 days a week without a weekend, without the prospect, or money, for holiday's etc that otherwise would break the routine every so often).

Another question I keep hearing asked in this situation (usually from myself!) is "What is my role?" I guess this is due to the lack of job description, but is probably worked out in the first three years I would imagine (says the guy who's only 15 months through the process with no signs of the end coming up)! In that time, you've learnt enough of the busy, mismatched routine that is non-routined mission life, to start to see what you can do and how it is working out.

So let me speak out the truths once and for all (for me as much as anyone);
You are NOT crazy to invest all your time into something that you may not be able to be apart of in 6 months time, because you are doing it for God and the investment is eternal.
You are NOT crazy to live in a life of no routine, because you've been obedient to God in the first place by moving to where He's asked you to, and God loves obedience.
You are NOT crazy to have wrecked your career by moving abroad, because career is not a biblical word, and besides, God is bigger than any job or any situation that would stop you getting an even better 'career' further down the path, if that is His will.
You are NOT crazy to be in a situation that you feel so alienated in, because you've been obedient - and did I say that God LOVES OBEDIENCE!

It's just a simple truth - you are not CRAZY! Maybe THIS is normal life after all...normal Christian life...and maybe it's crazy to not be doing what your doing. It's certainly crazy to not do something God has told you to do.

Now there's food for thought.

To all my mission brothers and sisters around the world (remember - mission is notgeographical: its a mindset!) - be blessed today!

Life in Russia - the week that was...

Another week has past, and instead of spending time to keep writing my second novel, I'm finding I want to write here a bit first instead. Maybe I won't get to writing anything else today anyway?

It's been another normal, unpredictable and busy week in Russia.

Last Sunday morning, due to a combination of different things, we saw 62 people at our morning meeting. These included 50 adults! Twenty up on the week before. Numbers were up so much (bearing in mind its only our 8th Sunday morning meeting since starting in September) because Nadia, our translator, was announcing her engagement, which brought in 8 visitors. Also, another church were not able to meet on Sunday so a crowd of about 15 turned up to ours...plus we had 7 visitors of our own not related to these two other groups. So we ran out of chairs and space very quickly. Oh Lord, what joy it is to serve you!

Last weekend we also helped host the church in Kolpena through two evenings, once on Saturday for a seminar on the prophetic and then at their church meeting on Sunday evening, where we were able to pray for many sick people and had a few of them give testimony there and then on the spot, saying that power or heat had passed through their bodies! Amen, more Lord.

It was a great time of seeing what God was doing, all the same time as I was realising that it's the work of the Holy Spirit that is so vital, and nothing from ourselves. As I was standing on the main doors on Sunday morning, welcoming people in, in the moments between anyone arriving (there were lots as I'm there for 30 minutes) I was just singing the phrase "It's all about Jesus!"

It's so hard to keep dying to yourself, to keep laying down your dreams, hopes, abilities even. To serve in such a way that just allows Jesus through the Holy Spirit to meet directly with the people you are reaching, because what they most need IS Jesus....not you! So when things were going wrong in the set up on Sunday, when I couldn't load the presentation onto the computer that I'd been working on in the week and it made me frustrated, I had to come back to the thoughts that its just about Jesus.

I soon face a long time out of Russia as we travel back to England to have our second (& last!) child before returning home to Russia in April 2010. The thought of being away for so long is hard. It also reminds me of the fact that its not my work, but God's. We've invested so much here already, that to leave for a season you can tend to feel things are linked to you in someway. And while relationally that is indeed the case, the mantle for His church in St Petersburg has always been God's, and therefore nothing is changing in that regard, as God is going nowhere! And thank God for that!

Next week is set to be a week of a couple of 'firsts'. On Thursday, I am teaching my first English class, having sat in with Hansie last Thursday in preparation for covering his class this coming week while he is away. It'll be a good experience but pushes me out my comfort zone. And then next Sunday, even more out my comfort zone, I'm preaching for the first time at Hope church and in Russia! Agh!

Dave Henson has likened preachers bringing 'beef steaks' when they have preached in the past. I do fear more about being just a side salad! But yet again, thank goodness it's not about me! All I intend to bring next week is the wrapping paper. I can bring words, bring description, explain things, but I'm only ever going to be the wrapping paper, and if God doesn't turn up in power to confirm the word I felt He put on my heart, then it'll be wrapping paper WITHOUT a present in the middle! The Holy Spirit is the one who'll bring the gift, so my prayers and planning this week are going to focus very much on asking God to be there in power next Sunday, so that He does a work in the hearts of those there that I just will not be able to do.

I've had a hard week Russian wise....actually, I've probably had a hard week in general. But I seemed to hit a point on Wednesday when it felt like my brick tower of understanding came crashing down so that I forgot it all rather than just the last brick. It all seemed muddled up. The teacher then suggested a different approach, which does seem to be helping, so that Thursday lesson was a lot better. But I feel under attack. The enemy certainly wants to over load me. If it's not through my Russian (or lack of..), it's about my writing. Or if not through that he's throwing temptation my way, so much that I have to swim through the stuff sometimes.

All these things remind me therefore of the fact that God is doing something right, and very powerful, in St Petersburg. With this, and with his amazing help, I can push through, stand my ground, and see the enemy flee.

I'm not really sure that much what this post has been about? It's a muddled entry on various things, but that reflects life in Russia, where routine, or even normality, is a thing you leave at the airport (eg Heathrow) on your way out because they just don't function in the same way here...so you just kind of need to get used to it....which you never can, because its never the same....lol...it's kind of just acknowledging that an unroutined, changing lifestyle is actually the normal standard routine...if that makes any sense.

Oh well, I've had my time and think I've not said very much. Be blessed anyway, Tim.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Further thoughts of a church planter in Russia

My favourite meeting of the week is definitely the Sunday night prayer meeting which has come under my responsibility to run, which I'm more than happy too anyway! (It also helps me contribute to things as the team do so well on Sunday mornings...at least I'm doing something public!)

Anyway, at last weeks meeting, I went with something I knew God had put on my heart to bring...but I never felt the time was right to share it as God seemed to be doing something altogether more personal. And so it turned out.

But what it did leave me with was the subject of my first preach at Hope church - my first preach in Russia! And it's therefore going to be the theme of this entry, as I still work through my thinking's of what God has laid upon my heart to bring.

I was reminded of the verses about the harvest being plentiful but the workers few - and pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest for workers.

Last Sunday was again one of those pivotal times (we seem to keep getting lots of these, like we're going through years of experience in just weeks!). On Sundays alone, for example, there are just so many jobs to do....and the same few tiring people that have been doing these sames jobs over these initial 7 weeks. The honeymoon period is well and truly over! Last week, for the first time in a way, I saw that these workers the Bible talks about, doesn't just mean amazing reaping evangelists that come into the white harvest fields and see 100 people saved in a weekend. But these workers for the harvest include people to make lunches, to buy the food, to set up the PA, to put out the chairs, to count the offering, to help with the children's work, to make cups of tea, to do the washing up, to pack away the hall, to welcome people, to count the numbers, to take contact details.....for a CHURCH that together will reap a harvest. Why had I always thought it was different?

But then, and the main thing that I was going to pray into at the prayer meeting, was that through a culture of honouring one another we'd see these people coming in. That honour was the carpet, so to speak, for these workers to be added. And it is in relation to seeing a culture of honour breaking out within the church that I will be speaking to the whole church plant.

Bethal Church in Redding, California, are great on this and I've therefore been wise in starting my research there.

Quite what it is that I've felt, it's hard to say, but honour it seems is in two waves. Firstly, as we honour and encourage those working with us already, it help breeds a culture of service as well, where people who are honoured are released into even more, which will help grow the church as visitors are hit with something so different to the culture around them. And then there is also the honouring that Bethal really understand, an honouring of all people, not because of what they are or what they've done, but because of the fact they are made in the image of God and they honour the Christ in them, seeing through even personality difficulties and difference of opinions. That takes quite a lot of grace, but its a culture that brings life, freedom and growth - so its therefore a culture I want with all my heart for us too here in St Petersburg.

Honour releases people, it raises people. It leaves them feeling blessed as it allows all the things that God has put inside of them to come out and grow. I want to make sure that the things God places in people grows! Yes Lord, grow these things the most!

Honour isn't jealous. It wants the best for people, even if it means seeing people go way beyond you even dreamed for yourself. Without honour, you're just holding people back!

To quote Matt Gonzales in his honor (American!) based blog mattgonzales.wordpress.com he says;
"The world's view is to honor those who deserve it, earn it or those we want something from - its therefore a temporal & conditional viewpoint. It's not kingdom honor though - 1 Peter 2:17
Honor ALL people.
How can we honor those that have hurt or abandoned us or give it to people we don't like or with different views?
When we release honor, we are saying I am not letting my disagreements with you or your character defects control me. I have standards that will not be removed regardless of our disagreements and what you may have done to me. It will not control who I am.
We can think to not honor is to protect us but it does the opposite. It allows the person we feel we cannot honor to control who we are.
We don't honor people because they are honorable but because WE are honorable.
Honor does not mean we agree with what they said or did to us. It just means we have a standard in our heart & we value them as a person created in the image & likeness of God. By honoring all people, we are drawing the goodness God hid inside of them."

I think understanding a lot of this is to understand the Bethal culture of honour. And notice I'm spelling honour correctly again now, even if google doesn't agree. The American language takes the 'U' out of the word - but I like the fact we keep it in - so it means that Honor + U (you!) = Honour!

So I hope to share this in November at Hope church, if I get the chance. Maybe my thoughts will continue to form, but like always with me I feel just as strongly that it's going to be more a prophetic act to release a culture, than just about what I say with my mouth. I hope so anyway. I'm sure what I say will not compare to the fruit that will come from the Spirit of God coming in confirmation power, releasing hearts to honour one another as people learn directly from God what it is to genuinely honour each other.

So come Lord - break open the heavens. Help us to genuinely honour one another just the way you have made us to. It'll be great - but I need you Lord so very much to help me bring this message across well.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Thoughts of a church planter in Russia...continued

Before I just thought about blogging again I thought I'd better actually get round to it.

One thing I've been reminded of this week, which was helped by some outside reflection, is that city pace is so much faster than normal life. And throw into that the requirement for planting a new church, caring for a sick family, keeping up with a UK job, writing a book....etc...I realised that maybe going at such speed for too long will not be healthy or possible.

But there is an element of it, in a non-maniac way, that is essential if we are to successfully help to plant this international city church.

So it's on that note that we press through. We aren't (always) doing it in our strength anyway, and the times we are we soon find out, as we can't possibly hope to do it by ourselves. We wouldn't stand a chance.

But what is it about life here that makes it faster or busier? Travel is one big thing. To actually get around to do any one said activity can take much longer because of the time it takes to get there and back. For example, this Monday (Monday's being quite tiring days for me because of the meetings in the morning but also because it follows on from a busy Sunday) having got to the orphanage for our weekly visit, I found out that the children we not there and therefore we couldn't go. I hadn't even left the metro station. So on some level the hour I didn't spend playing with the children (mainly emotional energy used) should have been a welcome break, but its a 45 minute journey each way, on a day with heavy wet snow. So the usual 60 minute weekly visit in the orphanage is actually a 150 minute door to door activity, the travelling probably the most tiring element (certainly physically). In future, I'll try and get a number for the orphanage so that we can call in advance. This was the second time I'd got there to find there were no children!

But hear me right, I'm not moaning, more reflecting. This is normal life now for us and I wouldn't have been thinking about it had it not been for our friend coming over and bringing up the subject for us. You kind of get used to the pace after a while, only noticing it when you're back out of it, which is why us being in England for over 3 months for the birth of the baby is going to be tough as compared to Russia, what will we have to do! (I am working on a schedule that will hopefully give me some base for building on relationships that will help us in Russia, as well as travelling around a bit to learn all we can from churches further down the road than we are).

But the main reason I want to write such things, the main reason for writing this blog (besides for personal reflective reasons and for people to actually understand me for who I am - ie HEARING my heart) was so that I could help, encourage and be there for people going through, and about to go through the sort of things that we have been doing. I felt I learnt a lot doing the journey we did, much of it pushing us closer to God, which was important, but its the other areas of lack that I feel I've learnt to help with so that others don't miss out like we did. So I want to help coach people, encourage people, be there for people. I want to be part of the process because I've been through the process, and while I'm still going through it, anyone further on the same course as yourself is able to bring some input and insight, and its also fresh in the mind, which in today's society, we can't place highly enough.

So if this is you, and you want some input, I'm here for you. Contact me before you even leave you home shores. I can't promise you to sort out all your problems but I might be able to help you see through them. And then once in your new place, when you actually need even more encouragement and contact, I'll be happy to be there for you - lets face it, now days, anywhere with an internet connection opens up all possibilities...emails, skype calls even.

So I hope you found this interesting. I'm off to continue writing my second novel now....time is moving on already. Glad I finally fitted in another blog though. Again, how do people find the time to regularly blog so much AND have something worthwhile to blog about?? lol

Until next time.....

Tim

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Thoughts of a Church Planter in Russia

What have I learnt about church planting in Russia that I can pass onto anyone unfortunate enough to have stumbled across my random thoughts that make up my blog (I once did make sense I think - check my entries before coming here...)

Church planting is fun! Hard work, but very rewarding. Hard work, but worth it (in the end, I hope).

Recently, it does feel like I've touched God's heart for mission. I mean, I've been so excited by what is happening here, but that's not because its just a great city, or that there is such a great group of people here, or that we're really doing something different. But this is God's plan for every Christian - this is what mission looks like! It's exciting, its stirring, its worth living for - its worth dying for! This is church, this is mission, this is life in God, with God, for God.

Truth is, this is life as it is meant to be. This IS normal, Christian life. It's just a shame it often feels so far from the norm.

I praise God daily for the honour of serving him in Russia, because it is a great privilege. Some would view it as a hardship, a sacrifice. If that's true on a very material level, it's not true on any other. It's an honour, I really mean that. A great honour!

But let me get you in on a secret.....In Russia, in this city, it does seem that part of God's strategy for growing the church is through meals. We put meals on, people come. And come...and come.

Crowds, every week we've hosted it, new people have arrived. In these last two meals its been 20 new people. It keeps reminding me of the Luke 5 passage (see earlier blog).

Obviously, planting a church into another culture and language, does have its challenges, but its the challenges coupled with lots of prayer that makes it such a buzz. Our meetings are bilingual, which is fun, but you have to keep an eye on timings. The preach can only be half the normal time because of the need for translation.

Going forward, prayer meetings will also be the same, though we've mainly got by with English at the moment based on who's come.

So I'm glad to be here. I will continue on this thread with more stuff as I get the chance. Until next time....

Life & Times - Part 8

Why is it that when there is the most to blog about, there is just the least amount of time to do it?

Is it possible to be busy and blog, I want to ask? (But I'm not asking, it's kind of a tricky question to ask for all those well organised, hard working bloggers out there!)

But so much has been happening. Where do I start, can I start?

Has it really been a month and a half since I last wrote anything here? Crazy.

And I don't just have one blog, but two. And facebook groups and correspondence to keep up to date. All out the window, I fear.

But here I am. Now. I will write something. Honestly.

OK, starting now.

September saw a real step up in activity here in St Petersburg for the new church plant that we are part of. We are now meeting on Sunday mornings, have done so for the last three weeks. These times have been our way of learning what it takes, trying things out a little before a more public launch at some point soon, but yet to be fully planned.

We've also been meeting on Sunday nights in the same hall for our prayer meetings, which going forward are going to be the engine room of what we do. Want to know what Hope Church is about? Come to the prayer meeting!

Our Wednesday night meals have also been continuing to bring in huge crowds, so much so that as of last week we started meeting in multiple venues as there is only so many that can fit into Dave & Hannah's flat, after all. We therefore hosted our first meal, with about 8 guests coming for what we hoped was a really good night. The last two meals have seen about 20 first time visitors come along, so this continues to be a great encouragement to us all.

On a personal note I finally submitted my novel to 7 agents yesterday, though I've already had a 'thanks but its not for me' back from one of them. This for me fits in with our mission here - I pray that it'll be part of our ongoing financial support here. So I'm praying!

So, having done a very bad over-view to things, what does life continue to be like for a church planter in Russia? Maybe that should be the title for a new thread.....

Monday, August 17, 2009

Reflections on 30 Years - Part 4

As I say farewell to my 20s tonight, not that they stop being a part of me, I've been thinking about the differences and changes that I face compared to 10 years ago when I was going from a teen aged 19 year old into my 20s.

Back then, we were still a few months before the new millennium, and all the potential horrors that could have brought - thanks techno guys for all the work you did, so that no computers were harmed in any way at all...did you get paid for that work....cause you did! lol...

At 20 I was in Kent, living at home. At 30 I'm living in St Petersburg, Russia.
At 20 I was still single. At 30 I'm married for nearly 8 years.
At 20 I didn't know first hand about fatherhood. At 30 I've already had nearly 4 years of wonderful training.
At 20 I was working in Stock broking in the city. At 30 I'm a language student, forming part of a church plant team here in the city.
At 20 I had little leadership opportunities, in a large church, but I had huge ambitions. At 30, within the small church plant, I'm being me, ambition is gone and the future can be as big as God makes it.
At 20 my parents were still married. At 30 they are not.
At 20 my siblings were not married. At 30 they are.
At 20 I lived at home. At 30 I own a home, which is Let out, and rent in the city here.
At 20 I knew no Russian. At 30 I'm getting better.
At 20 I played lots of sports. Sadly, at 30, it's not so much.
At 20, my boyhood team Chelsea were outsiders but every ones second team. At 30, well, you know.
At 20 I think I knew a lot. At 30 I realise I didn't.
At 20 the future was bright. At 30 its just so, if not more so.
At 20 God had just spoken to me about Russia. At 30 I've lived here for a year already.
At 20 I was yet to move to Manchester. At 30 I'd lived there 8 years.
- On that note, its clear I gave my 20s to Manchester, as God had directed, getting there as a 21 year old and leaving as a nearly 29 year old. Are my 30s for Russia?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Reflections on 30 Years - Part 3

Three days of being 29 left...but its only another day older really, so I'm honestly not bothered.

It has given me a great reason to write again though and reflect (in a good, what-has-God-done-in-me type of way).

Something I mentioned in the first part, was something I called, in the spare of the moment, Dating God's Way. I guess it isn't really quite that, in that it's no Bible study but what I was referring to was how God worked in me in this area. If its a model to others, I don't know. I hope it's an ideal for many though, and it would be wonderful if one day my children were to follow the same path. I know I will need a lot of grace if they don't....but God's got plenty to help me with!

You see, largely through how God made me, I grew up quite clear on things. School was for learning, youth was playing (though I now see in adulthood its also vital), church life for growing in God.

I'm a black-and-white thinking person. I really have no grey. Honestly. So within this thinking, there came a natural (maybe God given?) decision to only 'go out' with the girl that I was to marry. Other than that, I couldn't (still can't) see the point. Is there a point? Ask anyone who has ended a long relationship (or short one) and they tell you of hurt, anger, bitterness.

No thanks!

"But", I hear you say. "How will you ever know who's right if you don't 'play the field'?" Or "Isn't that a little narrow minded thinking, avoiding hurt and therefore staying single?"

Well, all I can say is that in my life these questions aren't relevant.

You don't, for example, need to go to a banquet with 1000's of puddings and need to taste everyone in order to know which one you like best - you look around, and there you see it! Why would you want anything less perfect!

So for someone, that when he turned 21 had never had a girl friend, nor even kissed a girl, you'd imagine my chances of 'finding love' were limited. Because, of course, doesn't all this experience of 'playing the field' make you better suited next time around to really find the partner for you? How would a novice ever start at 21!

Well, within my later teenage years, I also knew this feeling inside that God had placed, that confirmed within me that I would get married in my early 20's. I knew it. Fact. Total. It was there and I hadn't put it there.

And because I had no 'experience' in dating that could humanly back up such a conviction, it must only have therefore been God.

The closest I seemed to get as my teens turned into my twenties was that I 'enquired of God' about two women who I wondered if they might in fact be 'wife' potential. They were indeed wife potential, but for different men, praise God. I had not told either of them of my thinking, the conviction just wasn't that strong!

And yet, just after my 21st birthday and only a matter of weeks into the Frontier Year Project, there was this girl that seemed to appear. Her name was Rachel. We started writing to each other (we were based at churches about 200 miles apart from each other) and within about 3 months it was clear that things we changing.

I remember, with Rachel aware of my conviction about only going out with someone I'd marry, writing in a letter that we were now 'going out' and therefore it was effectively a proposal.

Two weeks after my 22nd birthday, we were married. In my early twenties. Just like God had said.

This, the guy that had no 'experience' with girls. But, married nearly 8 years now, what's the issue?

How many teens and twenties say to people "I love you" to people they'll never marry. How many of them actually know what love is?

Praise God that I've only said those words to the woman I've married - all glory to God for that, it wasn't my doing at all.

So, is this God's way? Is it Biblical.

Clearly, this is what God did for me. As a model I highly recommend it. Get on with life, get stuck into the things of God, and leave your marriage partner up to God - He'll tell you who they are, in time.

I used to pray for my 'wife' from as young as 19. I remember it clearly. I recommend that as well. Because, and though it does happen, for anyone that age, it is true that their future husband or wife is 'out' there somewhere, alive, living and as yet unaware of you. But still to pray God's blessing over them, to ask God to protect them and direct them. Very healthy things to pray!

I don't want to speak for God though. This is the story of what God did with me. I can obviously recommend it. As a principle I think it's healthy.

And not only with relationships. God knows the desires of your heart - give these things up to him, and all things are possible. They really are.

I'll close this entry. I thank you God for my darling wife of nearly 8 years. Thank you that I trusted you in this. You know it wasn't easy for me at times - far from it. But you helped me through the tears and have done something great, for your glory. So thank you God! Amen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Reflections on 30 Years - Part 2

As I continue to reflect on these last 30 years that have formed my life up to this point, I write this second section back in the country that God has sent us to, having started this series in England.

My blog, which I first started on Windows Spaces and then had to change to this one on arrival in Russia last summer, was always called 'Hearing My Heart' for a reason, because I wanted it to be a place where my true self is voiced. And therefore, by reflecting on the events that have made my life so far, as I approach my 30th birthday next week, maybe this series more than anything will really voice my heart - the things that have formed me, the moments that have shaped me, the struggles that have stretched me and the times that have surprised me.

I've had many times (and more so recently than in earlier life) where I've spoken at the front in meetings, both within churches and at other places. If I've shown confidence in what I've said, it will have been because I would have believed in what I was sharing.

I'm told, in these moments, I appear to be confident, cool, collected....as always, appearances ARE deceptive. Within these times, outside of bringing something directly that I know God has spoken to me in the form of a prophecy, I feel very vulnerable. Within a leadership role, I hated opening up the Sunday morning meeting, the anchor role. Horrible! Yes, maybe it seemed I could do it - but inside I was dreading it. I honestly don't think it's within my gift mix anyway. I'm far happier bringing a prophetic word or even tying together a number of words that have been brought at that meeting. I feel on safer ground there. But to open things...!

But I bet most people wouldn't even have known that of me. Which is probably why no one said "Well done Tim, you did well with that" to me after such events, clearly assuming I didn't need to know something I knew myself. And yet, I didn't know.

Then again, maybe they didn't think I did a good job and that's why no one said anything.....

And there the thoughts start! Where they come from, I'm not sure. But that has been my thinking for too many years. Having not heard encouragement, my natural (maybe everyone is the same?) mind assumes that its because I've done something not quite so well - so I try harder.

I do realise that it started for me in youth. I don't remember hearing many 'well done's' and so developed a perfectionist streak that I'm now aware of, though still working through! By not being praised for the things I did well, even a gentle encouragement, I assumed I was in fact doing things wrong and therefore must try harder, must work harder, in order to gain some encouragement in the future...which then, didn't come either. And so the cycle starts again.

One thing I've tried hard to learn from this is that I've always said I want to be an encourager. I love encouraging people and see (from first hand) the power that comes from such a simple phrase as "Well done, you did great - I really liked it when you..."

I've said it for some time that encouragement is one of the most under-used gifts around, including within the church. I also see it as an underlying, foundational gift - an essential gift. Yes, there are 'bigger' gifts - evangelist, preacher...but without hearing encouragement in the gift the person is using, how will they ever grow within that gift.

No, encouragement IS the releasing gifts for all these other bigger gifts to flourish. And the Bible tells us to 'encourage one-another daily' so I think it agrees about the vital role that encouragement plays within our growth.

So I encourage you to tell those people around you that they are doing well - maybe they need to hear it as well. Even if they are just doing the same thing they've done a hundred times.

Encourage, encourage, encourage...!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reflections on 30 Years - Part 1

These posts are for me. Firstly, I doubt many others actually read them (I'm just not that famous, nor do I want to be), but also what I go on to write in a series looking at by soon-to-be 30 years of existence on planet Earth, I expect to be very open, very personal, as I touch some of the things that have made me - well, me!

In some ways its quite an unspectacular life, in other ways its far from normal.

To have thought that after 30 years I'd be living in Russia, written a novel, married for 8 years with a 4 year old daughter. All these things seem to relate to things that have happened in the last parts of my life, and I guess being my adult life, that's quite understandable.

But things did start a long time before that. I've had now 25 years as a Christian. I still remember the moment when I stood at the bottom of the stairs and accepted Jesus as my personal God. And I really haven't had any period's where I've gone against that decision, in fact, I know I've grown from that moment on, each year learning more of the personal, radical walk with God. I've seen God do some amazing things over these 25 years. I'm not talking about just things in the Bible, or what others say, but things right in front of my eyes, even within my own body - miracles that time and time again prove the life, and power, that exists only in Jesus Christ!

Within my Christian walk, I know God has been close to me throughout my life, almost protecting me from the world, it seems. How I made it through so many situations without the all to common 'back-sliding' period which seems so much part of the course now days, only God knows! (And He does).

I don't know the answer to that question? I am no more special than the next person. I don't for one minute think that God gave me any special grace. I've just seen enough things to know that God is real - and if He's real, I must take him seriously. And if you take Him seriously, he'll take you seriously. And that's all that's happened. It's been great to know what God has done and will continue to do.

I'm also someone that doesn't do things by half. You can't half walk a life with God, if indeed you think that he is real. If he's real, you either need to oppose him (not advised if you actually know how powerful he is) or give your all for him. So when he's spoken to me, I've obeyed. Again, not because I'm more able or better equipped - far from it! But because if God says so then it'll all be OK. And it has. Every, single time! Without question. Without any grey areas. 100%, God does exactly what he says he'll do.

My roots were in the South East, in Kent. A normal family upbringing, two parents with two siblings, one older (my Sister) and a younger brother. Things did get complicated on that front over the years, but maybe more on that later.

But after working in London, God said the nations and first stop was Manchester. Manchester was to be the first stop on my way to Russia, though there would be an eight year growth first that would see me blessed, matured and more ready than ever for such a big move abroad. But during that time, as with the move itself, it taught me the value on taking God seriously and trusting him. Our home in Manchester saw me meeting Rachel (no small thing), married for seven years and with a wonderful, amazing daughter Mia, soon to be 4. Plus loads of others things! How blessed am I. All possible, or more correctly, ONLY possible because I dared to believe God when he said go to Russia - via Manchester.

And again, having obeyed God to go once again to Russia, like we did last summer, even after a year I know I am more blessed. One example, not even mentioning the life skills we've gained, is that my novel has emerged from this year, something that I'm positive would not have been written by now, if ever, had I not gone. And while I'm sure it wasn't the only reason why I was to go to Russia, it just shows that God is a God of blessing. He loves it. It's his nature. And that's just one of the things I love about God.

But far from thinking my life has been a walk in the rose's, there have been plenty of dark patches in my walk over these last 30 years, times of real soul searching and many tears. Times when I thought the way through was one way, to realise it wasn't. Times of hurt within leadership, in self image. I'm well aware that I carry many thorns in my flesh that I still walk with. I'm far from perfect - more of a work in progress. I'm sure as this series (I'm assuming there will be a Part 2 at this point!) progresses, some of these things will come out. From God in my working life, and the colourful jobs I've done, to God in my love life and how He found my wife. From my inner struggles that I guess no one ever sees (or even thinks) to outer struggles.

I'm sure deep down we are all the same. We all need loving. We all need encouragement. And if in any area you feel a lack, you either copy it or over compensate. But people are different in how they show emotions and express things. I'm an internal guy. Things might seem OK. I might even look confident, but generally I'm not. It doesn't feel my nature. I do not enjoy being in a room with a lot of people I don't know. I need my own time and space, within reason, of course.

This last year I've known earthly 'loneliness' like I haven't seen before. Being in Russia, and not having people around me to talk to, not having friends around and then not hearing from people, it was very hard at times. And in all we were communicating quite well throughout, sending group messages on facebook to 150+ people at a time, to hear nothing, or very little back. I guess in reality, a draw back of good communication, is that people are informed and therefore don't need to email us to ask how its going. But I'm getting better on that front now...I hope. I still will no doubt check email about 20 times a day...Russia's just one of those places that makes you do it. But we are growing a base on the ground in Russia, a friendship circle that helps.

But enough on that. And maybe enough on this entry already.

Things to come up in future entries - Dating God's Way. And much more.

Thanks God for 30 years of blessing. As I finish this first third of my life, please do what ever you want with me this next thirty years and help me when I get it wrong. Send me as you see fit. You know my desires, my hopes, my dreams. They are yours too. Have your way, mighty wonderful God. Thank you so much for all that you have done. You're amazing!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Adventures of Faith - Part 5 - One Year On

And so I come to writing this Part 5 of the AoF series which I started last summer, accounting for our run-up to Russia and then our first impressions, which formed Part 4 and was finished on the 23rd August 2008.

And the closing words of that entry, which I have just re-read in order to remind myself of the events, really did hit the year on the head for us in relation to what we would experience, what we would learn and how as individuals we would change.

It has been a year of great highs and dark lows. A year of loneliness and new friends. A year that threatened to stretch us more than we were capable and yet God was with us in order to make sure it wasn't more than we could actually bear. It was the year we needed in Russia, an opening of our eye's into such new things, such different ways, where even the smallest of things became a challenge because of where we were now living. It was God's grace and blessing upon us, because while we went through the tough times we were learning new uncharted territories of God's love and kindness.

I've likened the year to that of train tracks - running parallel alongside each other, joined by the railway sleepers. The right hand track represents the greater blessing and richness of our experiences. This year we've moved further down that track. Our lives feel richer, more blessed in so many areas. But it is because of the left hand track, which is hardship, suffering and sacrifice that we have seen the movement down the tracks. You can't have the rewards without the costs. And we wouldn't want to lose the blessings by not going through the lessons. But we are through them. So what were these times of good and not so good;

Well picking up from Part 4, it was indeed just over a week later that our furniture finally caught up with us, arriving on our 7th wedding Anniversary, 1st September. It was wonderful to see everything again, all arriving in one piece, as far as we were aware. Mia, who'd been sleeping on a borrowed mattress on the floor up to that point, was so excited to see her bed again and slept the best she'd done in the month that night, completely out of it and waking recharged for her 3rd birthday, which was the 2nd September. All her presents had been shipped out so for our daughter, who was just excited to have her birthday, the timing was perfect.

It took a few days to get things sorted but the time in our flat, all 4 weeks of it, helped us to really appreciate everything.

September therefore saw things starting to fall into place. Mia's kindergarten started, as did our regular language lessons which were to be the main focus for the year. We still had some nice weather and could visit places while we had the chance. We'd gone to a local Russian speaking church as well by now, "Harvest Church". Over the next three months we would go there most times, though it was a struggle with so little Russian to understand anything that was being said from the front during the preach. Mia also was struggling and wouldn't go out to the children's work on her own so one of us took it in turns to go with her.

The end of September saw the first two months passing, and the time drawing near for our visa extensions, the initial visa being for only three months. This process was therefore started in September, in order to have enough time. Dave & Hannah also had to do this, having arrived 5 days before us, and they needed to be able to register the car they had with them from the UK as well. More on that in a moment.

The most frustrating part of the visa extension was the need for an HIV test, something that both families had had done in the UK but which were not acceptable in Russia. With time pressing, Dave & Hannah found a US hospital that would do them and they were waiting in the car for us, seeing if we would come at that moment in order to rush off and get them done. We couldn't so let them go by themselves (with the children). As it then happened, the visa department would only accept HIV tests done by the state Russian hospital - so we'd all have to have tests done there, but only the adults as there was a separate hospital for the children.

So the four of us went while the kids were in kindergarten to have the tests. It was rather basic, just going in one at a time, our arms just strapped down will the test is made, using needles that aren't new but have just been sterilised (we prayed!) from previous times. I went back later that day to pick up the results - all, thank God, clear!...

The children's hospital at first looked like something out of a 60's Western film set. It was all over-grown, the buildings seemed to be falling down. At one point Mia started running up some old looking stairs, and in alarm Rachel had called to her to come away as it might be dangerous, before Hannah Henson pointed out that this was indeed the building we wanted!

Greeted by nurses in big green masks, the kids just were besides themselves, not helped by the fact that you could hear each of them screaming from down the corridor when it was their turn, making it seem worse for the next ones going.

We came away from there with heavy hearts, troubled by the thought that we'd have to do that at each visa renewal (as it turned out, we didn't, praise God).

This was September and the papers could be submitted for the extensions.

Sadly, also during September, Rachel's Gran, who up to that point had always been in good health, had a heart attack and was taken into hospital. It didn't look good from the out-set. As September drew to a close, it became clear that her Gran wasn't going to recover and the need for Rachel's visa extension became pressing, in order that she could fly back to see her.

Like many things in Russia, we were able to pay a premium in order to fast track Rachel's visa extension so that she had it on the morning of the 1st October and was then on a plane that same day, leaving for Heathrow and then onto Oxford. It was now a race against time in order to see her Gran before she passed away, such was her condition.

And so as the 1st October started, a period of darkness seemed to enter over the whole church plant core team - a period that would last for 12 days.

Rachel arrived at the hospital in Oxford at some point around midnight (bearing in mind Russia time is a further 3 hours on from that). Emotionally drained and tired, she came away from seeing her Gran not knowing how she could get through the next day, when she was due to spend the day by herself with her Gran at the hospital. She knew it was time for her Gran to go and prayed that night as she went to the flat to sleep (the taxi driving off with her case in the boot which took some time to sort out first before she could sleep).

At 8am the next morning, Rachel's mum called to say that her Gran had passed away at 5am that morning - God had been gracious, allowing Rachel to say her goodbye just in time. Rachel was to spend 12 days in England, being there for the funeral as well as helping her parents move into their new house, also in Oxford.

Back in Russia, 2 months to the day we'd arrived, the team was to go through its darkest time yet. By now we were 6 adults, with a Russian couple looking in. Johanna had joined us, an American student doing a year's language program at a St Petersburg university.

Dave, having picked up his kids from kindergarten, had taken Rachel to the airport. Even on the way, someone had run into his car, doing a little damage. But Dave let it pass, because worse still it seemed that something was much worse with his youngest son. Indeed that night and over the next few days, tests were carried out at various hospitals, for all sorts of things from brain damaged to meningitis. All throughout the kindergarten had claimed nothing unusual had happened that morning. We will never quite know. But he had had some fall, which because it had taken so long to realise, for fear that it was something much more serious, he'd developed an infection which was to go onto slow him down for the whole year, on and off.

So for Dave & Hannah, these 12 days saw isolation. Hannah at the hospital with their son, Dave home with the other two.

I was also basically home bound with Mia, taking her to kindergarten and doing the lessons I needed, but these were the only people I saw - and loneliness and insecurities were eating away at me as the initial buzz of arriving in Russia was wearing off and reality was setting in! I even had a night of power cuts to deal with!

Nadia, our Russian team member as well as Johanna also reported after this period, when they too didn't see any of us, that it was a real time of struggle. Little did we know until it was over that the enemy had tried even in the earliest of stages to destroy us before we'd started.

With the first half of October gone and Rachel back in Russia, the dark clouds lifted. We also had Trevor & Gary visit us from Hope Church Orpington & Bromley towards the end of the month - this brought much needed encouragement and a very good opportunity to talk some of our struggles through. It brought an outside perspective and connection that had been sadly missing up to then.

By the end of October all our visa extensions were done, but not in time for Dave's car registration, who, the day before going away on holiday, needed to re-register the car or face losing it. And with the city centre office closed, the only way was at the border! So I joined him, for company, as we headed for the Finnish border on a Thursday evening, in what would be a 12 hour round trip which saw us about 4 minutes in Finland before turning around and coming back. Quite a night!

They were away the first week and we left the day they got back for 10 days, as we'd been advised that getting some winter sun shine before winter kicked in was helpful. It was an OK time but not really our cup of tea, and far from the uneventful rest we needed, indeed at times it only felt more like Russia!

But by the end of November we were all into our routines. The first snows had come, and what a lot of snow! It actually turned out to be the heaviest it would snow all winter, though we weren't to know at the time. It was a Sunday morning and we were walking to the nearest church to meet from our flat, just the other side of the river, but even going that far with an almost horizontal snow blowing into our faces over the exposed bridges, made going any further impossible. The church was an international church, aimed at expats and all in English. It would prove to be a 'home' for us for a while, especially with winter approaching, and this became our regular Sunday venue for the next few months.

The snow also meant that for some reason our TV stopped working. Only when we got it fixed in May did it show that the cables in the hallway were out, and not the roof aerial as we had imagined...what happened there we don't know but it was good to have some Russian TV back when we were at a place to be able to understand a lot more.

Running up to Christmas the church plant had been meeting on a Wednesday night for food together, which was followed by some worship and teaching. With numbers low enough, as we were all just still finding our feet, it suited us up until the New Year break.

New Year could have been tough again, as all the team (other than us) were leaving Russia, but actually it pushed us out to meet people, which we started to do very quickly. Over that holiday we meet up with a family who's daughter went to the same kindergarten as Mia, someone Mia had said was her friend. The mum is a Russian while the dad works in the German consulate. Over time, this seemed to open up a whole world of different people for us to meet, and at first we were unsure but soon sensed the leading of God in it. This mum came to some of the meals we had and we had the couple over for a meal at ours as well later on.

Much of the explosion in numbers that we saw from Jan-June I've covered in my entry "Fishing in the Now Will of God". It seemed everyone we started inviting to our new look Wednesday night meals came, with Saturday evening set up to meet for 'church'.

A momentum was certainly starting to grow, helped by the arrival of David & Scilla Devonish in early February, that saw us hosting two conferences. The first, in middle February, was for church pastors and wives, and saw 130 people attending on the main day. The second conference, located in the city centre, was wider and both served the purpose well, to build relationships and bring teaching.

By May & June, we'd seen numbers growing nicely, an expanding core growing with gifted and lovely people getting more involved, sharing out the workload some more. We were by now feeding 30+ people every Wednesday night, which was no small task.

Personally, firstly through a link with Johanna, we as a family had gone to an orphanage that Johanna had just made contact with, visiting in the February to play with the children in the snow. We were thrilled to have been able to then start going weekly from about early April, and did this right up to returning to England in mid June. It is something that we want to continue doing more of once we return. Rachel also was able to visit an abandoned baby unit that acted as a holding house for children while paperwork got sorted. That too, we hope, is something we can have more of an opening into.

On the weather front, the rains of October and heavy snow of November aside, we found winter to be a wonderful time really, far from the horrors that at first we had feared. The cold was never too cold, nor the dark too dark. But Spring time did hit us unprepared and we actually struggled with it in March and April as it seemed that winter was still around. We've learnt now that flowers do come, just a lot later!

I'm guessing this is reading more like a diary than an account of God's adventure in us, and partly this is down to the fact that I'm trying to cover a years worth of activities in as short a time as possible so as to make this readable! Going one month in Russia you'd have enough material to write a small book.

And speaking of writing, one interesting thing that God seemed to do in me through the year was to touch my creative writing gift, so that by October, I was buzzing with new ideas as well as eager to finish the novel I'd started some three years before. Between October and January, taking only about one morning a week to write, I wrote around 80,000 words and got the first draft finished just into January. I have a separate blog all about this so won't go into any details here, but it does form part of the story to our year, a year of working with God to out work all that he has for us to do. My prayer for my books is that they will earn us the money we need to not only live out here, but to finance so many other things as well. I dream to write for a living...books that will publish and then make great films. Is it just a dream or something that God has breathed upon. It does seem that only by going to Russia have I actually finished the book. Was that God's reason for sending me? Now that's an interesting one.... Or was it just another blessing, another fruit of following the call of God to another place, another nation.

God has been about a good work in us and will continue to be so. There are many things I haven't said, though some of these may be picked up in various other entries over the last year.

And the Adventures don't stop here. We hit the summer with what seemed like a pause in the church plant as we worked through the legalities of working and making sure we were doing things right.

But the trumpet call has sounded. A path into Russia and into St Petersburg has been laid. We've flattened a path for others to follow. We'd made that first step which will make it easier for others, we hope. A call to the nations has been sounded that has seen the nations come to St Petersburg. Students from America and Britain joining us, two South Africans visiting and really connecting, so that we hope they join us when and if God moves them to St Petersburg. There is another family moving up to join us from another part of Russia, and experienced guy who's lived in Russia for 11 years and will be an asset to our team.

And wider still, two Russian couples came over to England for the Brighton conference in July...strong church leaders that are part of much bigger things in the city and where relationships have been really healthy all year.

So its been a year of big things and small things. Major steps and yet tiny things that seem to set us back.

But it really has been an adventure - an adventure that doesn't ever stop, that goes beyond death even - an adventure in the service of our God. Going to places He asks us, doing the things He wants. Being the arms and legs, hands and feet, heart and voice of Christ in these situations. It is an adventure that I want to run with. Taking every possible risk for the God that brings so much assurance.

What things we will see this coming year, I do not know. How God will bring in the finance we need I do not know, but if it is his will for us to be in Russia beyond February, he will bring it in. If it isn't his will, we don't want to be there anyway!

What nations will open up, we can only dream. The borders are not so far away, cities and nations with people that do not know the truth - a truth that is adventure, that is life giving - a truth that sets people free.

So have your way this year Lord - let Your will be done. I thank you for this adventure. I thank you for all the blessings you have lined up for us, just help us learn them through the hard times.
What chapters you have yet to write - what adventures you have stored up for us all.....what a God you are!

I really hope that you have enjoyed this series - please let me know if I've not answered something you really want to know. And let me know about your Adventures too - we're in this together! With love in His mission field......Tim

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Reflections - Nearing One Year in Russia

Though I will more fully write about this last year in Part 5 of the Adventures of Faith series to be written next month, I thought that I would start putting some things down, largely because I realise that I haven't been able to spend too much time writing here.

Inevitably, it seems, with our return back to the UK coming up, I have been reflecting on this year, trying to work out what I've learnt, what we have to share with friends and churches whilst back in the UK - all sorts!

In general, the things we prayed about and prepared for were not as bad as we at first feared. It was the things we weren't aware of that we found hard. For example, the winter was one of the things we 'feared', and therefore prayed for and prepared emotionally for. But it wasn't as cold, or as dark, as we first thought. In fact, winter was a great time, very beautiful. But spring (March 1st onwards) hit us unprepared and the lack of flowers and colours came as a shock. Actually, the flowers do come out in Russia, just a lot later, so that even now in mid June, the tulips are just dying and daffodils are still out.

I guess it was just one of those culture, closed minded things. Because we had only lived in England, and Spring came in March, we thought that there wasn't a Spring in Russia because at the usual time it was still winter like. We are learning in these areas though to stop thinking like English people! Its actually not a bad thing! Living in another country, other than your birth country, is a really usual thing to do and opens your eyes to things that you would just never see by staying put. So praise God for his leading!

And for as dark as the winter got, we have all the light we could ever need now in Summer time, with the sun appearing around 4am and still visible in the distant sky at midnight. The city at 4am is a splendid place to be, so bright, so clear, so quiet. Walking by the river, with the bridges just closing and the skies getting colourful, I had a truly wonderful early morning walk with God.

My daughter is calling me, so I will take that as the time to stop. Be blessed today.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Treasure Hunting the Streets of St Petersburg

Today I did my first Treasure Hunt, aided greatly by a Durham student, Philly Udy.

For those that are unaware of what a Treasure Hunt is, its simply seeking God for prophetic words, clues that highlight individuals to which God is wanting to bless. The encounters may lead to prayer, healings, miracles, salvation...all sorts.

There is plenty of info available which further explains the process, so I won't explain any further here, just share what happened!

Having prayed, soaking in the Spirit of God, we took three minutes to write down what we felt God was saying to us, under each of the 5 headings that experience has shown people works better - these are: Location, Name, Appearance, Prayer Need & The Unusual.

Being in Russia we did then have the added complication of making sure our lists were bi-lingual, so then spent some time getting the translation worked out as well as the odd useful Russian phrase!

And then off we went! Maybe the first such hunt in St Petersburg?

The first forty (ish) minutes we spent walking around, based on a few of our clues we felt we had - "Garden", "River", "Grassy Patch", "Flowers".

One of the location pointers took us to a very popular and well known tourist attraction in the city - The Church of Our Saviour of Spilt Blood. Suddenly, having not had anything so far, three pointers came along in the space of 20 seconds. Having walked around the building, potentially heading up past the area, we saw our first clues - "North Face" and "Blue". There was a couple that passed us, the wife in a blue top and the husband in a North Face sweater. It was the first one we'd seen so we turned around and started walking back. Just then, a man in "Camouflage" trousers passed us the other way, not long followed by a man on a bike with a "Blue" "North Face" coat on. What should we do? We felt the man on the bike was a hotter clue so watched to see if he would stop. He did, so we turned back round and went to him. It was quickly clear that he was dropping off some more stock to a number of sellers - and especially "Umbrellas" - he had about 15 of them! The Umbrella clue had been with me all day but I felt it was stupid because it was a rainy day and EVERYONE had an umbrella, but when the three minutes started, I knew I had to write it down.

Now it was clear why. This guy therefore had three pointers, so we knew it was time to speak to him. He told us everything was good....he checked the rest of our lists and said he didn't need anything. So we said God bless, and went on our way encouraged that we had started our hunt, pleased to have heard from God.

Thinking that encounter through, had we not stopped to follow the original couple, we would not have seen the man on the bike....we were learning to go with what God was doing.

We had one further chat with a lady begging, her "Walking Stick" pointing her out though we didn't feel strongly that we were to pray with her there, as she had said she didn't have any problems with her "Legs" so we prayed as we walked away.

But God had already by then shown that He can speak to us in such ways. It was both of our first Treasure Hunts...but it certainly will not be the last.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Victory Day - Just a Russian holiday?

The 9th of May is a big deal in Russia. It marks the celebration of Russia's victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.

Having just witnessed our first Victory Day celebration here in St Petersburg, I've really started to understand a lot more about what it means to be Russian. No other non Religious holiday is celebrated in quite the same way in Russia, and in terms of a sheer show of strength, no other day compares.

It seems that for all Russians they share in the lose and hardship of all that went on, especially between 1941 and 1945. And understandably so. In St Petersburg, as we came to understand back at the beginning of this year with the 65th Anniversary of the ending of the blockade around the city that saw over one million people starve to death, there can't be any natives here who haven't at first hand come in contact with this suffering, as their parents and grand-parents would have been around then. It's a hard scar to bare and something that needs great celebration at the thought of victory.

Here, and more so in Moscow, military muscles were flexed once more in a show to the world that Russia is still, of course, a major military force.

It's been quite wonderful to have witnessed these things first hand and to generally be amongst the Russians at this time.

It has made me think about the whole 'Victory Day' thing though. Yesterday marked the 64th Anniversary of that great victory in 1945, and yet, since then, there have been many wars, much further suffering, both within Russian and all over the world.

Walking around the streets here in this affluent city, it isn't long before you come face to face with the poor and homeless - the hopeless even.

So what of this victory then? Yes, it was one war and one fierce enemy, that has shaped Russian life, culture and literature ever since. But today, no nation in this world we all share, lives in victory. Generally they live in conflict, with rumours of war, famine or disease never far away.

So has there ever been a true 'Victory'?

Yes - wonderfully, what Jesus acheived on that cross some 2009 years, or so, ago was indeed a victory once and for all. He needs to do nothing more to continue to acheive what was won on that day. There is no less freedom today, so many years later, than on that first day after his resurection. So it really was a true victory, once and for all.

I really enjoyed the fact that I could share in the Russian celebrations, and felt honoured to be here and a part of them. But everything in me also is longing that many here could share in Jesus' Victory, a victory over all sin, death and suffering.

If you want to know more about this victory, please feel free to drop me a line. Be blessed!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fishing inside the 'Now Will of God'

Luke 5:4-7

When he (Jesus) had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch."
Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

These are very familiar verses to well read Christians, and yet something of their meaning has not left me since I once again came across them.

Picture the scene - Simon Peter and his friends were experienced, professional fisher men. This is what they did! It was hard, wet and dangerous work. It was long hours. It was their living. Their best efforts that night had seen them working all night and yet they hadn't caught anything. Did they lack ability? Clearly not, but that night they caught nothing.

When Jesus turned up in the proceeding verses (1-3), Simon and his team were already on the shore, cleaning their nets. No doubt tired and down hearted, they still offered help to Jesus when he asked by letting him use the boat to speak to a crowd of people standing on the shore. There was nothing in it for Simon, it seemed. No promise of payment or reward, just a service that he could offer, as the owner of the boat, in allowing Jesus to use it to speak from.

Simon must have liked what he heard, because when Jesus had finished and had turned to Simon suggesting they put out to deep water and lower the nets again (as they had just been doing all night long), the experienced but tired fisherman replied that because it was Jesus that asked, he would listen to him.

Right here I am going to jump into our own situation. My family came to Russia because I heard God tell me too. In England, we had fished for a long time, with very little success, just a few things here and there, it seemed (everything done for God though is rewarded). We didn't feel very able though. We didn't see any abundance so as to break our nets. But having obeyed God and followed him to St Petersburg, without doing anything else, or anything special, now when we've lowered the nets, there is a big catch! Nearly everyone we invite, it seems, is able to come. In England, we invited just as many people, but they wouldn't come. Here they do? And it seems the same for several others within the church plant team.

Having only met for meals on Wednesday nights for two months, we are getting 30 people most weeks...each week anything between 3-10 new people that haven't been before come along. So in two months maybe 60, or more, different people have come through the doors.

What has changed?

Well, at this point I'll tie the two stories together, I hope. In both settings it was clear that human ability alone hadn't done the trick. Both had tried their best but hadn't caught the kind of catch they wanted. And then Jesus spoke. The Authority of God was on the situation. Through obedience, in both settings movement was done to go to where God told them. And once there, doing nothing different to what we had done before (so as to be clear that it was God going the gathering and not 'man') suddenly, there is an abundant catch.

The lesson?

When you are obedient and in the place Jesus had asked you to be, and therefore within the Now Will of God under his authority, you will find that Jesus himself breathes life into your best efforts and it is He that makes them successful - for his glory!

So where is the Now Will of God?

For you, I don't know. But God does! Have you asked him about it lately? And remember, its the Now will of God so that even if you are in a place that God spoke to you about ten years ago, has he said other stuff since to which you have not obeyed? Maybe he hasn't, but what if he has? Would you therefore still be in the most fruitful and blessed place?

I hope you have found this helpful. To God be the glory! (Great things he has done..)

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Growing Church - Update 2

Our budding church plant has this week been involved in a conference that was attended by 50 church pastors looking at what New Frontiers stands for and what we are here doing in the city of St Petersburg!

And to our regular meetings, people continue to come on in. At our last Wednesday night meal we have 33 people in total, which was the most so far by some way. Of this number, something like 10 of them were first time visitors, and there were about the same number who'd been before but were not there then! So the prospect of getting 40 next time is very possible...!

At our last Saturday night, with the same traits as the Wednesday, we had 22 people.

With a meeting again tonight and then a meal again on Wednesday, having missed last week because of the conference, it'll be exciting to see who else comes along.

And this is all still without any advertising - we all just seem to invite people, and they come along!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Mission Realities - A Great Honour

Today in Russia is Men's Day - 23rd February. It's a national holiday and another reason for a good party. I have not learnt fully what it means but it did mean that I got a card and two chocolate bars from my wife and rather excited little three year old this morning.

We also listened yesterday to a Mark Driscoll talk that looked at the importance and great honour of a father to his daughter, about how amazing it is to bring up a Christian women.

So with all this in mind, and my heart already stirred afresh with wanting to do the right thing for my daughter so that I have the best relationship possible with her as she grows up, as well as all the Men's Day stuff in Russia, it just so happened that today was also to be the first visit as a family to an orphanage!

Oh, how privileged I felt by the end of the time. How honoured that God had allowed me the opportunity to serve these little boys and girls, who have no parents, which gives them very little prospects at all.

Was it just chance that these events all coincided? I doubt that very much!

The orphanage that we went to (myself, wife and three year old, joining our friend Johanna) was south of the city, about 8 stops down from our nearest metro station. A toddler group from a UK church had sent two bag fulls of toys and stuff for them so we'd taken them with us, giving them to the director of the home to be distributed as she saw fit. We just pray they get to the children who need them most.

We only had about an hour with the children, mainly because we were playing outside with them in the snow. We'd been told to wait an hour already so this was now two hours in the cold of a Russian February afternoon, and too much for a three year old, though I also was starting to feel cold as well.

The children all seemed genuinely happy to have us - noticeable was the fact that all the female workers (only females...no men around) just stood around outside, 'watching' the children play but not actually playing with them. We can't pass judgement on this as this is the way it is here, even in the private kindergartens. But while there were only about 8 children outside to start, they kept coming and soon there must have been up to 30 of them running around, all various ages and sizes (meant to be from 5 years and up) but some were very small, surely a result of a poor diet. Many of the children's teeth had rotten away, though this didn't detract from the warm smiles that they greeted us with. The boys were all very polite, constantly coming over to me when they first arrived and saying the very official & polite Russian 'hello' to which I was only too happy to return (the less formal, and more friendly version), getting down to their level so as not to scare them!

So I titled this entry as a Great Honour because that is what it was! It wasn't us doing our good bit for the week, or anything equally worthless. It was an honour to be there, to be a daddy to these children, albeit for only an hour, but it was wonderful.

We really pray now that when Johanna checks next week whether we can come back weekly with her, they say yes! Because this isn't a job or just a good work. To give these little ones, even an hour of attention a week, there's no knowing what impact it would have on their lives.

Jesus - I thank you for each of those little children. I thank you that you have a plan and a purpose for them. I thank you that you haven't forgotten about any one of them, and though life circumstances have thrown them into that home, you haven't stopped loving them. Please help them Lord. Please give them all a future that is centred around you.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Growing Church - Update 1

Having only just written the last entry, its great to be able to say that after the meal we had last night, there were three new faces. A french man that I'd met on Sunday and invited to the meal, as well as two Russian ladies. One is Nadia's housemate, and the other a lady that works for Oleg.

So we hit twelve adults last night, and that with one girl not available. With David & Scilla arriving on Monday and Johanna sure to be around next week, numbers are set to increase even further.

And then we'll have the problem of space....though surely that's a good problem for a church plant, isn't it...!

Blessings, Tim.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Growing Church

I want to take this mini series to walk people through the growing work that is happening here in the centre of St Petersburg.

When my family arrived (3 people) on the 1st August we joined Dave & Hannah (plus three kids) who'd got here five days before. By about mid August Nadia, a Russian girl originally from Moscow, had moved up to join us from Tver, where Dave & Hannah had spent the previous year.
By the time we were meeting for food on Wednesday nights at about the start of September, Johanna, an America student who'd just arrived, had also joined. She had gone to a New Frontiers church in the US and the church had hosted David Devenish, who does a lot of work into Russia. When it was made known to him that she would be coming, the relevant details were given to her for when she arrived. She is on a language program here with many other America students.

The six adults and four children then continued to meet together of Wednesday nights, eating a meal before trying to do a normal home group, with Russian songs and a word section.
Towards the end of the year, where there had been the odd visitor to the group which pushed numbers up a little, a Russian guy named Oleg had also been coming. He is soon to be married and when he is they intend to move into the centre and join us, which will be a huge help.

Just before Christmas, we met an American student named Chelsea, who we invited back to lunch. We were having Johanna back that day as well and it so happened that they were on the same course, though at different stages. So when we started in the new year, Chelsea came along and was joined by another student that Johanna brought, a girl named Jenny. Now also Oleg has been bringing another Russian guy along.

With the numbers a little pushed, it was clear that two nights were needed. So now on a Wednesday we meet to eat together, and on a Saturday night we look to do church. We are up to 10 adults, with others looking in, and this all without any advertising as we feel we are still finding our feet.

A week today David & Scilla Devenish arrive in St Petersburg where they'll live for three months, joining in with us here and helping us along. Their input is surely set to grow things even faster so it might be that the next time I update this thread there are many, many more names to write about.

But God is on the move here! Amen!!

Life & Times - Part 7

I'm so well aware that I've not written much on this blog at all for so long. Of course that doesn't mean not much has been happening - quite the opposite in reality, which is probably why I haven't written on this blog for so long...

Many people I guess have access to our Facebook group and so therefore you have no doubt been receiving our regular updates. If you aren't on the group but want to stay in touch, do seek us out. The group is call Tim & Rachel to Russia.

Pressing into the end of January now in many ways I am amazed at how dark is HASN'T been and how cold it HASN'T been. Our anticipation and even apprehension before coming here was certainly much darker and colder than the actual reality of being here.

Yes, clearly it was much darker and colder that the UK, but not as much as we had feared. And once we're wrapped up, the cold was OK. The coldest we think it dropped to in the day so far is about -12, with night times down to -16. And even the dark was kind of nice to be inside, though it does make the mornings harder a little, as it looks like its only 4am and in fact its 10am or something!

But the truth is is that I found this season wonderfully beautiful. When it snows heavy, I praise God. It's so amazing to walk in such snow, each flake a unique example of God's creativity. And for New Year to be down by the river at midnight and to see such an amazing firework display above the frozen river Neva was something I'll always remember.

I've been writing a lot though as well, just not on my blog. With the language lessons stopped for the holiday, I managed to finished the first draft of my novel, detailed on by sister (brother?) blog linked to this one. Why am I writing? Well, its a passion of mine and something that has opened up since being here. Using my free time, of which at the moment I have more of than I ever did when in the UK, I aim to finish the book to get it ready for publishing, testing that whole career route as a means to be financially viable in the years to come when our support ends.

So I am excited and prayerful about what that might lead too?!

Every blessing,
Tim