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

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

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

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

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

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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
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