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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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Towards Tallinn - Part 3 - A Storm Is Coming...

In my previous entry in this series, I shared how God had spoken to us and how He'd opened up doors for us to push towards Tallinn.

In August, on our 10 day trip there, it was like the skies were blue (they actually were, Tallinn is a beautiful city all year round, and especially in the summer!). Little did we know what would be facing us in the following months (four months on, as I write this, we are still in the storm, but maybe the end is just starting to be in sight).

In August we visited the school, and the development (as described in the last post) and we opened a bank account with Swed Bank, the thinking being it would be best to do ahead of time in order to make a future home loan, for the balance on the flat, that much smoother. For the account, and for the deposit on the flat, I'd have to come back in 30 days to sign some paperwork.

We'd prayed a 'fleece' prayer in August - clearly the 15% deposit, with our current financial situation meaning we didn't have enough for this year, let alone the future, we knew that God would have to do something with us in order for the deposit to even be possible. Our thinking would be that we'd remortgage our UK house, thereby providing the extra amount, without it costing us any more (we were overpaying our mortgage repayment amount twice because what we received on rent goes straight onto the mortgage. If we could therefore get a remortgage with the repayment amount as the rent we received, we wouldn't see it effect our monthly balance - we just wouldn't be paying it off early!)

It seemed a very sensible approach. And having 'booked' the flat in Tallinn, we had two weeks (and a little extra grace!) to pay this deposit.

I called our bank the day we arrived back in St Petersburg - they said we couldn't just increase the amount, we'd need a totally new mortgage, and this would be limited (we were on a very good deal!) So we looked for a mortgage broker who could put it to the whole market - we thought this would be the best thing to do. He advised us that 6 weeks would be possible for the whole process, so we felt confident and entered the process stating that time was an issue - the development people were OK with us for 6 weeks, beyond that we'd lose the booking and it could be on general sale again. This would mean we'd lose the flat as they were all selling well, this was the last 3 bed-roomed flat available (and the cheapest!).

By the end of September, with the Swed Bank account ready to be signed for (our 30 days were nearly up!) we also needed to pay the deposit, which meant I would then have to go to the Notary in Tallinn to sign the document.

But our remortgage was going too slowly - we were assured by the broker that everything would be done, but it would take longer than we needed - we'd therefore most likely lose the flat, and then get a remortgage for something we couldn't buy!

It was just a cash-flow issue - we had the money in our house, but needed to use it before it could come through. On that day, we'd emailed family just in case between them they could help (it was blind faith, we were not talking about a small amount and we do not have rich families!) I walked to pick up Mia, which takes 15 minutes. Five minutes in I was talking to God, and saying how we'd shaken every tree and looked under every stone, and there just seemed no way that we'd be able to pay this deposit. Then I said that all I had left was prayer. Hold on, all I had left WAS prayer! What a thing to be left with! So I prayed.
I was now at Mia's kindergarten - five minutes into this Rachel called me - her sister-in-law had replied to the email and said they could loan us the WHOLE amount, no problem! Amazing! Twenty four hours later when I took the same walk, now praising God, the whole amount had already hit our account. How God answers prayer! Of course, we'd get to pay them back in a few weeks just as soon as the remortgage came through, or so we thought!
That meant I was able to book a trip to Tallinn with a few days to spare - I was getting the night bus late on Sunday 25th September and after arriving early on Monday morning, would leave 36 hours later on Tuesday 27th, the return ticket element costing just £3.
I should say, and a pattern of things to come, receiving this amount in 24 hours didn't mean it was that easy for us to send the amount out in the same period! Oh the hassle I had! Five days later, and five long phone calls later, the CHAPS payment finally left our UK account, via a Post Office account we'd set up for this transaction (free international bank transfers!) and was then sent onto the Estonian account awaiting payment. Hassle, frustration, delay. Again, the pattern of things to come.
And so I found myself arriving early in Tallinn on the morning of Monday 26th September. In the next 36 hours I was to meet with the people designing our kitchen (we have to put the kitchen in on the flat), sign off on the plans, sign for our account, have a mortgage discussion with the bank, go to the notary to sign the contract, as well as meet with Barry, the American pastor we met in August.
Having arrived at 5am, I hit the hotel I was staying in at 7pm having been on the move all day - I was asleep by 8:30pm (partly due to not having slept on the night bus!). The Tuesday morning I was at the notary to sign the purchasing contract (this is the system in Estonia, but it actually protects both parties and now means that only we can purchase this flat - we would have to sign another contract to allow them to sell it to someone else!) We hope that isn't the case, of course! After that, I went for an appointment with a mortgage consultant at Swed Bank. That meeting had seemed very positive - yes, we could get a home loan, and it would be cheaper than what we were currently paying for rent in St Petersburg (our reason for wanting to buy in the first place!). I went away very encouraged!
Getting home, the information from the bank now seemed to totally change - having looked into things, as a foreigner they could only lend us 75% of the value (we'd paid 15% but were looking for the 85% so as not to find extra money up front). But worse was that while they'd accept our cash flow through a bank statement, it needed to be through THEIR bank, and not our UK one. That would prove a problem! We did look at other options - though none have currently been any more help, nor offered a clearer solution. I later gave them a scenario that we thought might work - to which they replied, yes, that would be OK - but to get a home loan in Estonia, you first need residency! This was the first time we'd heard that - and just before writing this update, they confirmed, and said sorry for not mentioning it before, but that it is absolutely essential to have Estonian residency before a home loan can be obtained. We are still processing the full implications, but it is clear even now, that we are going to have to move there earlier and get this residency, which also solves the cash flow issue as the money can now come through our local account. I guess more on this in the future.
The remortgage started to then hit issues - the first process (yes, there were two!) hit an issue because the provider was owned by our bank, so they couldn't accept our bank statement as proof of ID because of a conflict of interest! Seeing we were getting nowhere, we started the whole process again, delaying things but there seemed little we could do - we were going round in circles with this broker. A full 16 weeks into the process (remember he assured us 6 weeks at the beginning) we hit a fatal issue in the second process - no UK bank would accept our financial situation as we were neither salaried nor self employed. We were therefore deemed unacceptable as we fell outside the normal scope of things (and we assume post-crisis, banks are being a little over cautious!) We were stunned! We'd already been lent the money and had already paid the deposit (and signed the contract) on the flat. Wanting to check this information (which has actually been the case for many months, so our broker should have been clear from the first call and before we'd committed to anything!) I called Barclay's, our current provider, and in 20 minutes received the same answer, having asked the right questions. I then called two further providers, who both work especially for Christians, and they confirmed the same. There was nothing they could do - apart from suggest we find someone who'd lend us the money.
We have no option but to sell our house in the UK - it won't get us much, but will pay back the money loaned to us, as well as give us the 10% shortfall on the flat in Tallinn - we are in the process of getting the house on the market, though have been told little is selling at the moment in England. Our tenants, who did originally want to buy the house, now are not wanting to. So please pray for favour in this latest process - we clearly want a quick sale.

In all this, we've come to the following understanding. All that has totally needed to happen, has indeed happened in time, so as to assure us that God is with us in the process, and the problems we are facing are more in the region of frustration and resistance, than God Himself closing the door. We are only doing this because God opened this for us. It was His initiative, not ours, that got us to thinking about Tallinn. So at no point do we feel that this is God delaying things or even closing the door. Had the things not happened that ultimately had needed to have happened, we of course would have a different take on things.

So it has seemed like a storm has blown in - in fact a tornado. I'll finish on this - This last Saturday night I had a dream. What is interesting about this is I sleep really well usually (and though we all dream, you only remember your dreams if you wake up a little, which is why I don't remember any dreams!) I have been asking people to pray for me as this is one area I want to grow in. And last Saturday I had a dream! I was at a window and saw a tornado in the distance going to the right and into a harbour. Then I went back to the window and saw a tornado heading my way, as if to just pass in front, before suddenly I was engulfed in it and the room I was in was just being messed up - I was screaming out but no one could hear me. I was hurting too. After 2 minutes (why this amount I don't know, but it represents a small amount of time with a clear end) it passed and things became calm. I could then get the help I needed.
What this dream totally means I do not know - but these last four months have easily been the hardest in our time here in Russia. On the ground, so much has happened here - it's been probably the biggest 4 months in the life of Hope Church, which of course we have been very involved in. But with all these outside issues happening, it was been one giant challenge after another. Today we still have these two challenges - to sell our house in the UK in order to pay back a large loan and give us the shortfall on the new loan, and to find a way to get this loan in Estonia, which now might mean moving there early.

We were also waiting to hear back from the school - since the last update we did hear back - and the job that was available now isn't going to be until the following year (August 2013). A set back and disappointment at the time, I then had a proposal to put to the school where our girls could still get to go there next year, and the reply last night was very encouraging - they liked our 'out the box' thinking and will come back to us in January. Of course with today's news, we might be moving there sooner than we thought. But more on this as we hear as well!

What ever happens, we know God isn't caught by surprise - His plan for us is great. And if it is that the storm is now about to pass, we say praise God, let it be. The enemy has thrown EVERYTHING he has at us these last 4 months in order to wreck this church plant before we've even got there, and even that isn't enough as our foundation, God, is strong enough to help us remain firmly rooted in His plan for our lives.

What the future holds, we do not know. But together, as a family, we'll go there, together with God.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Transition (as I see it anyway...)

At the Brighton Leadership Conference in 2008 (TOAM08) Mark Driscoll spoke to us, taking three main sessions and challenging us along the way - until he got to his final point, where he encouraged Terry Virgo that he needed to walk his bride (New Frontiers!) down the isle and give her away to another man. The point was that Terry is getting to the age when it's time to hand things over, and this is the way Mark was talking and encouraging things to happen.
Of course, Mark may have had a different understanding of team than the rest of us.
Now that we've finished with the TOAM conferences, this last summer's being the last one in it's current format, we can see more clearly how things have worked out.
Explaining why we ended the conference to an American friend recently, I was also trying to explain how things were now to work out. Refering back to what Mark Driscoll said a few years before, I said the model was something quite different!
He'd suggested an Elijah/Elisha kind of hand-over that we find in the Old Testament under the old covenant. But what has actually happened, and carrying with it far more life and potential than Mark had suggested, is more a Jesus & his 12 disciples kind of hand over. Jesus was working for multiplication, taking what he had and knew and equiping his followers to go and do the same - but now there were more of them, much more!
New Frontiers now works in terms of spheres, which are spread out all across the world with men heading up their own areas, areas in which they have been working into already for many, many years, but men joined in relationship, trust and friendship, which is what has held us all together this far.
Had we gone with the hand over from one anointed man to another, I think we would have seen the end to things in the near future. These kind of handovers never really work that well. What we have instead is a multiplication and widening of the work. We've not just gone from one to twelve - but many more than that.
And this is just the beginning....

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Towards Tallinn - Part 2 - He's Got Us This Far...

As I sat at my desk in our St Petersburg flat way back in January of this year and first heard God say Tallinn, little could have I imagined how things were to run these last 11 months - far from the door being closed, it's just that there is much that still needs to see victory in!
Up to that moment at the start of the year, we thought/assumed that we were to be in Russia for a number more years (though it is true to say, and how we knew Tallinn was right, that God had spoken to both of us many years before and called us to the nations - plural). Within that thinking, we thought that we would be sending our daughter, who turns 7 in September 2012 and therefore is ready for school, to an International School here in St Petersburg. Anya would also be ready to start at a kindergarten by then as well. The school here is in another part of the city, and with the girls getting bigger (Anya still sleeps in our room in her cot because we only have a one roomed flat!) we knew next summer that we'd need to move to where the school is, and find Anya a local kindergarten there.

So to some degree, in our heads at least, we felt we had the future 'sorted'.

As God spoke about Tallinn, that was all about to change - it was as if He was saying "Yes, you are moving next summer, but just not to where you thought you were moving - I have something better in store for you!"
On that Friday when He first specifically spoke to me about our next step, it was out of the blue, but then it also made sense - all at the same time. Two days previous to this we had just got back from 7 wonderful days on holiday in Tallinn - at no point during that time did we think or feel that we were to move there. But by the time we made our second visit, in August, we knew very well that we were to move there!
I remember telling Rachel about it that same Friday night. I think I'd warned her someway by saying something like - "We need to talk - God has spoken to me about our future". It no doubt scarred the life out of her and I know at first it took her sometime to get her head around, until we started pushing doors, talked some more (talking is so helpful!) and then she reminded herself that God had spoken to her about the nations before we were married. She is now as on board as I am, I'm thrilled to say!
But our initial thoughts were - "If we are moving, what do we do about schooling for the girls, about work, and about somewhere to live?" In other words, in our human thinking we were actually saying "Hold on a minute God, we had it all figured out here, we've moved and got into life here. Do you really mean this?" Of course we had very little figured out. No actual flat to live in next summer in this other part of town, no actual place in that school or kindergarten for the girls - only in our heads had we worked this all out.
But the practical questions for Tallinn still stood. So, on the Monday, just 3 days after God first said Tallinn, I did that very spiritual thing - I Googled some stuff! First up was a flat to live in. In our heads we had already some idea of the kind of things we'd need in any future flat - if in Russia, very few of these would have been actually available. But we really like the northern European style of apartments, having been several times to Finland. Having done a search on google, in the very first result and the very first apartment that was showing in that first result, we saw a home that met every requirement. Could it really be that good? As the home would no doubt host a church plant, we wanted, can we say needed, more space than we currently had in St Petersburg, so as to be able to host large meals/groups, as well as an extra/spare bedroom to put up visitors, as required. The girls could share, but that still meant a 3 bedroomed flat with large lounge/dinning area. And this first result had it all and looked everything we could have dreamed of. More on that later.
The schooling option was a very big concern for Rachel. So we started looking for international schools in Tallinn. (We were looking at this option in Russia because after 4 years Mia is fluent in Russian and we wanted to give her an international higher education so as to give her all the options in later life should she wish to go to a University in the UK).
Very few results came up on this search - apart from one, which was The International School of Estonia. This is part of the global group of schools all around the world running two international programs and are extremely good schools. We loved it - that is until we saw the prices - full price for older children was a massive 30,000 euros a year - every year! Plus 2,000 euro's start up and payment to a building fund for the school. Oh what a shame! To have found the one result, loved it and then realised it is way (way!) out of our price range, was hard. Rachel came away from the computer....but I kept looking at this school. And then I spotted something. As an education establishment, they want to help all people working in this sector. If you work at the school, or even within an Estonian school, you then get two places at 1% of the cost - from the ages of 3 up to 18. Wow! For those that don't know, Rachel is a fully qualified teacher so this is her area! This got us excited. In theory, Mia could go there, getting a super education that could take her through to 18, for a fraction of the cost. Anya, who would be only two and a half, could go after six months - but there would be a child care need in that first year.
We made a 10 day trip to Tallinn in August - this was partly a holiday, but we were also visiting the apartment developement, as well as meeting with the Director of the school to have a look around, and basically get him to like us and want to give Rachel a job there, if one was available.
We really liked the school - and he even seemed to imply that there might be a job - though as of this morning we do not yet know for sure. We have emailed today as he said they should now know - please pray, as it would be amazing! The other thing we found out was that starting from this year, they were now taking children from the age of 2, so should we get a place there, both girls could start together next August and there would be no child care issues, freeing me up to seek work and meet people in relation to the church plant - which is of course the real reason why we are going there!
After leaving the school, we made our way to see the apartment we'd found on the internet on that first search. Could it actually be all that it said it was on the internet. Well after visiting the site twice, we can answer that - Yes, it could be, and even more! The area surrounding the flat is simply beautiful, there are great cycle tracks taking you miles along stunning coast line, forests and all sorts. The quality of the apartments already finished was great - we were now very keen!
We said we wanted to 'book' the flat - thereby taking it off the open market. I would then go back to Tallinn in a month and sign for the flat - but more on that I think in my next post!

One final thing that this trip showed. We flew to Tallinn on a Friday, and the night before, knowing that we'd be there for two Sunday's, I did another search for international churches to see if there was someone we could get to know. Surprisingly, very few results came up, and the one result that did (their website had gone live that very week!) looked really interesting. There seemed to be great stuff for children, they seemed to have similar values and they met in English and Estonian - clearly we had no Estonian (though Russian is very widely spoken and was more use to us in Tallinn than English!).
On this trip, unlike our holiday in January, we were staying a little out of the centre, up the coast in an area called Pirata - about 20 minutes from town. Not knowing the transport system that well yet (it's actually a very good system!) we wondered, having found this great looking church to visit, where it would be - we were amazed, to say the least, when we found that it was also located in Pirata - just 1000 meters from our hotel! So we walked there both Sunday's. Had God showed us yet again the thing he wanted us to find?
The Pastor is an American named Barry - they have lived in Tallinn for 19 years already. We got on really well. I met up with him for the afternoon in September on my 36 hour visit and there is certainly a good friendship developing. He has been so helpful - without his help, we couldn't have got as far as we have.
Just like when we came to St Petersburg, it does seem that God is giving us open friendly relationships with other Pastors, who instead of feeling threatened that someone else is coming to plant another church, instead with a warm embrace and open arms say's "Come, let me help you". Yet again, God (working through the google search engine!) has shown us to something we think will have importance going into our future. We are excited to get to know this couple more, to learn from them and to see what God will do through this emerging friendship.
Entering September, October & November, we were about to see our biggest challenge yet...(Read more in Part 3, coming soon)

Read Part One here

Monday, November 28, 2011

Can Tim Do It?

A senior visiting pastor who works into many church situations recently asked a friend of mine, on hearing that we would be planting into Tallinn next summer, and looking to my friend he asked "So, can Tim do it?"
Now I know what he meant, to a degree, but there is much to that whole thought pattern that really bothers me. Really bothers me! What is being asked in partly "Does Tim possess the level of leadership skill to lead a church plant - is he enough of a visionary, and leader, a team leader, to be able to do it. Does he have what it takes? Can he cut it in the big league?"
For a while I battled with this in my mind - it didn't sit well with me from the moment I heard it. And then, after a few days, I heard the answer. To the question of whether Tim can plant the church in Tallinn, and for any future churches after that, I hope that now and every answer in the future will always be a resounding NO - only God can do it!
You see, even if I become better at this all, even if I speak in such a way that draws people, if I move in gifts of the spirit that sees people turning to God, even if I see large churches emerge, I never want it to be me that does it, so as to rely upon my own abilities, gifting's and qualities. Then there is no room for God. And to think that ANYBODY can actually do it themselves is a scary thought!
It made me think as well - is anyone actually just called to church planting, or rather are they not called to a specific town or city, to plant a church there. Therefore based on calling for a specific location.
A calling that comes from God, and if God has called somebody into something, then surely that is what qualifies them to be involved in that church plant. Our questioning should be on the calling, their character (up until that moment), their track record (but that should only be a guide - it would be wrong to assume one way or the other based on someones past, as each calling comes fresh and needs to be heard for what it is).
I don't want to get 'good' at church planting - yes, I want to do things well and see churches grow, but each church has its own challenges and things that make it different to the others - and therefore without God working in each setting, without totally being reliant on the God that saves, the God that breaks in, the God that transforms, we end up relying on christian superstars that end up relying on self, rather than the one that made them who they are.
Yes, I might do it differently to others. That's because I am different. Yes, I might make mistakes. That's because I'm not perfect. Yes I might frustrate some. That's because you don't understand me. But it will be God that plants His church, and not me, and I don't want that ever to change. Because if God did call me to Tallinn (as opposed to someone else), then in His great scheme and purpose, there must be some reason for that. God doesn't make mistakes. Yes, maybe He is choosing to display his glory by using the weak things of this world, but that doesn't bother me. Compared to God, I am very weak - and here's a news flash - so are you! So let's run away from this narrow thinking that rely's on man - and look to the God who made man and chose for his glory to be displayed through man to reach all men for His kingdom, His glory and HIS fame!

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

USA Trip - Montana, Idaho & Washington

I've just got back from a 15 day trip to the NorthWest. I travelled with Dave Henson from St Petersburg. Something we were asked all the time is what were we doing there?
That was a good question!
Just when we launched Hope Church back in September 2009, a young American guy turned up having made friends with a Russian girl on the internet. Travis was therefore around for the second Sunday of the church plant. He then came back the following year for another month. When Travis then invited us to come to the US it was kind of out of the blue - actually I think the first two times we said no. Then in the same week a few things happened to point me to the hunger in America, and interest in, Mission into Russia (including how many American's were reading this blog!).
And it was that same week that Travis asked us a third time and from then that we started to consider it as a viable option.
And so the trip came about - Travis told us how he had a number of relationships opening up across these states and that he was even starting to build relationships with some of the New Frontiers churches too.
The two things that were pressing was the need for more partners, to support us in prayer, and the need to see new financial sources emerge due to our own family shortfuls and the challenges we could see facing us for these next few years.
The big step of faith was the cost to get out there - and in my case the loss of earnings by not being able to do the work I've been doing, the finance of which we rely on as a family to keep us in Russia. But we still felt strongly enough that this idea, which I believe started with God, was a goer. And so, just about four weeks before we were due to leave, we booked the tickets and that was that.
I now started to worry about the flights - the only tickets available for me meant that I flew to Seattle, via Amsterdam (which was ok and this was a thru flight) but then once landing in the US, there was just one hour to get my ongoing flight, a one way ticket to Billings, Montana, but that flew via Salt Lake City. In that hour at Seattle I would have to collect luggage, clear customs AND then check into the flight (which having contacted the airline, they said you needed to be checked in no later than 30 minutes before take off!). That gave me 30 minutes to get through, assuming the flight from Russia was not delayed in any way!
We took the decision to travel with hand luggage only to speed up the process (it made little difference in fact as you needed to clear customs before picking up luggage). My first praise point was landing 30 minutes early into Seattle. That gave me 90 minutes. I couldn't get off the plane too fast and got to customs with a big queue ahead of me - still I was 30 minutes early so that must be good. But there was a long line of Asian visitors in front of me, and now they were seeming to each take a long time. I counted 19 people in front of me, and they were taking 4 or 5 minutes per person to get through! Suddenly the first 17 people were pulled through and put into another line - I was now 3rd in line and got through in the next 10 minutes!
That said, I therefore made my connection without problems, and was booked in and waiting for my flight in good time. God is good. So by the time I arrived at Billings International Airport, I'd been travelling for about a whole day, having flown 4 flights.
There was a slight mix-up with our pick up, but before too late, Dave and I were booked into a local hotel and resting well for the night - now 11 time-zones away from our families in St Petersburg.
The first week was spent only in Montana - and we travelled all around that state. God connected us so beautifully with a couple there - Jorge & Michelle. He is Mexican and they have just planted a Hispanic church that is billingual - English & Spanish.
We were to meet with them three times over the next five days, and we shared at their church on the Sunday evening. This is definitely a relationship worth travelling so far for - and we know this is just the beginning. We also shared at a church in Lewistown, and then on the Sunday morning in a cowboy town called Roy - it was great! They are a tiny community in the mountains.
But another huge blessing was to meet Travis' wider family, who were based in either Lewistown, or Savage, a small (300 people!) town in Eastern Montana. We made such a connection with these people, and really felt blessed and encouraged to meet these wonderful people.
Tom & Mary-Ester lead the church in Roy that we shared at - by then we'd already had a blessed time at their house and became part of their family - it's great to travel thousands of miles and arrive into another family - our US family! In Savage, Travis' hometown, we also shared with people there and made such blessed friendships - I also got to drive a quad-bike (four wheeler as they called it) around the farm. It was great!
In that first week we saw such great and blessed friendships open up - we know in all of these that God has started something that will go on for a long time. Praise God for his faithfulness. They also showed much generosity, which was amazing. It was here that an idea about business in Montana opened up - this is an ongoing thought & discussion, so more on that as it develops in time!
Leaving Billings for the third time, we travelled west to Missoula, where we connected with the NF church there and met with Josh Yakos & John Meek. I spoke at their youth event that evening, which was fun. It was great to be able to encourage a connection between them and a Russian couple now in Washington DC.
That church is planting a church into Spokane, Washington, next summer - the same time we move to Tallinn to plant the church. Spokane has the second highest Russian population in the US - so there seems to be some overlap with each other there. We will also see what happens with this relationship (we later found out that there are 30,000 Russian church attenders in Spokane!)
We spent two nights at a new prayer centre in Idaho, that Travis is now working at. Dave & I spoke there on the Friday & Saturday night. Knowing these guys there are praying for us into the future is a great thing. Here too God has started to work.
On our second Sunday we went to a church in Hayden, Idaho - PACC, led by Dave Hoit. We met with Dave and his family after for lunch which was great and there certainly is the start of a good relationship building there - he said on our next visit he would have us speak....it seem's, and not for the first time on this trip, that future visits are needed. God has certainly started something! On our last morning in Idaho we had a coffee with Dave Hoit in Starbucks - with another local pastor named Chris. It seemed, as is common in a small town where you have lived all your life, everybody knew each other. There must have been something like 15 people that walked into Starbucks in the 90 minutes that Dave knew. Our time with Dave was great and we left encouraged. There is a great spiritual connection here already.
We finished by spending two nights on Whidbey Island, in Washington. To say the ladies house was big would be an understatement. It was huge and beautiful. We had our own wing which itself could have slept a football team. There was also a beach house there - we've been invited to bring our families back, so we'll see what happens with this.
The local church here is a New Frontiers church as well. We spent our last evening with Glen, the Pastor, having met with Sam Poe and Bo Noonan in Tacoma for lunch, discussions included a Russian couple from St Petersburg who want to plant into Alaska but could first base themselves in Tacoma.
Sitting here now only 48 hours after arriving home, and still not over the jet-lag, I've had some time to think through the trip. Relationaly it was very good - Jorge & Michelle, Tom & Mary-Ester, Tyler, the Tombre family, the church in Roy & Lewistown, Josh & John in Missoula and Dave in Idaho. Some of these relationships and partnerships will go well into the future - it's exciting to dream of what will come of them.
Financially it has left a bigger challenge - the trip didn't cover costs, which had been my starting level of faith for the trip. This will put strain on the rest of this year. The business idea might be the saving grace.
There are things we would have done different, people we'd liked to spend longer with, but we can't deny that God used us in this time and overall it was well worth it - after all, it's all Kingdom, it's all for His glory, whether it is in Russia, America, Tallinn or anywhere...

This Elk hangs on the wall of Tom & Meri-Ester's house (a house Tom built himself!) and was just one of many this hunter/Pastor had on display.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Towards Tallinn - Part 1 - Where is Tallinn?

It's been 10 months now since God first impressed upon me His desire for my family to move to Tallinn next summer. And during these months, the phrase 'Towards Tallinn' has come through, almost as a prophetic banner. Because in the here and now, we have 'great works' to do in St Petersburg, with our wonderful friends in Hope Church where we have been living and serving for these last three years, and where we have many more months of doing just that. But there is also this thread running through what we are doing, at every level, that is also preparing for us, usually in very small ways, for our move to Tallinn - what we are doing now, is very much getting us 'Towards Tallinn".

So that is the direction we are facing - and it will be God who ultimately gets us there.

As we've started to talk about Tallinn, we've had many people who have asked us where it is. Maybe thinking it another part of Russia, or in the St Petersburg region somehow. It does seem that Estonia is a little outside the usual geography of most, and understandably so. Maybe had it not been for the vision here to plant into Tallinn, which we've had with us these last three years as a church, we too may not have been so aware.

So let me give you the basics, and we'll see where this leads.

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia, which is North-Eastern Europe. Estonia is therefore a member

of the EU (useful for us as British citizens, thereby we can live there without a visa). Estonia is also now in the Euro Zone, having switched completely to the Euro as it's sole currency on the 1st of January this year. Tallinn is the 2011 joint European Capital of Culture.

Estonia has a total population of about 1,400,000, with Tallinn taking around 400,000 of that total. So it's a lot smaller than the 5-6,000,000 people that live in and around St Petersburg. In fact, you could take the whole of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (three former Soviet States) and still not have the population of St Petersburg!

Therefore the city of Tallinn is a lot easier to get around - the pace of life seems much better too!

Tallinn is on the northern coast of Estonia, directly south of Helsinki, the capital of Finland and north of Riga, the Latvian capital.

The fastest ferry you can get across the Gulf of Finland would have you in Helsinki from Tallinn in just 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, lies due west of Tallinn and is about a one hour flight. And St Petersburg is of course east of Tallinn, making it a very well located city for these other 4 cities.

Getting around Tallinn is very easy. You can easily walk around the city on foot, getting from one side to the other in something like 30 minutes. The bus network is also good, though it seems most buses just take you into the centre. From there you need to get another bus out if you happen to be crossing the city. But the best way to get around is by bike. Tallinn (and I think Estonia in general) has a great (really great!) network of dedicated cycle paths, that are safe and free of cars.

There are a number of cheap airlines that fly into and out of Tallinn. Ryan Air for example will soon be flying to Manchester, Luton, Gatwick, Liverpool and Edinburgh in the UK - as well as other direct flights to Dublin, Barcelona and many more.

The official language of Estonia is Estonian - though many, especially in Tallinn, also/only speak Russian because up until 1994 (when Estonia regained it's independence), Estonia was a part of the Soviet Union.

What the church will look like in the years to come - we can only dream and imagine. But I hope this helps you understand where Tallinn is a little and helps direct your prayers! One final thing - for Europeans travelling there, you do not need a visa, nor do American's (there may well be others as well) - just an encouragement if you feel God leading you to be a part of the future church plant that is Tallinn.

Be praying! Be blessed.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Kingdom Gifts Unwrapped: Hospitality

During the summer I really felt like I wanted to do a series (I have no idea which topic I'll do next) where I look at some of the words that get thrown around, like hospitality, and really explain what it is - that though it might also mean cooking a great big meal, it's much more than that and actually therefore, open to everyone, and being named as a Bible Gift, something we should therefore all try and grow in.

So what is hospitality? To me it's not so much about what you do or make, but more how you are open to receiving people. Is your home/flat/business etc open to a visitor or do you have to give them a special invitation first? If someone knocked on your door now (breaking your reading of this blog maybe!), would they be welcome? Can people just drop in on you (OK, people you know...but many do also entertain strangers, and in doing so maybe have hosted an angel...well that's what the Bible hints at anyway!)

You see, while hospitality does include inviting someone over to your home (usually) for some type of meal, it is much more than that - it's more to do with your attitudes and character than your ability to cook a great roast dinner.

Here are a few things we can all do, whoever you have over, to help make yourselves more hospitable;

1 - Greet your guests at the door. Both adults if possible, even if one is busy with the cooking/children etc, it's at least great to acknowledge your guests (ie, they are there anyway because you asked them to come!) arrival.

2 - Take coats/bags and tell them what to do with shoes etc. Every house has it's own 'rules' so make them feel at home straight away....maybe you'll let them do what they do at home, but don't leave them standing, wondering if they should put there coat down somewhere. If you'd like them to take shoes off, just easily say "You may leave your shoes here!" (Simple!?)

3 - Let them know where the toilet is (they might want to wash their hands) - but it makes people feel greeted and warm to your home. NB - Always make sure before your visitors arrive that you have enough toilet roll available, and a spare roll showing, if it's not obvious. Every house has their own places for these and you want your guests visit to be a happy, calm and relaxing time - not one when there is no paper in the toilet and they can't find the spare rolls you happen to keep in the shed at the bottom of the garden!

4 - Offer them a drink. This will come straight away after they've come in, or returned from washing their hands. Cold, hot, make some suggestions, don't just say "do you want a drink", say "We have hot, cold, juice. What can I get you?"

5 - Show them where they can sit down (this means, clear away at least enough seats for those that are coming in....no one likes to sit down on a messy sofa). Even if it's an unexpected drop in, clear while talking and make them feel they are not intruding (you need to mean it...lol...!)

6 - Listen to them, ask them questions. Don't just carry on with what you were doing (especially if they have dropped in - it would just say to them "Yes you are here, but I wish you weren't). If you do have stuff to do, at least given them a minute or 5 and make sure they have a drink etc.

Doing these things you are well on the way to being a very hospitable person! Of course, for friends and especially family, numbers 2 and 3 will be known, but really the rest should be followed, and besides, it's always good practice.

So, I hope these simple things have shown how you, whether you live in a castle or one room, can be hospitable to all that come your way. And a hospitable home is a happy ( and blessed!) home.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Adventures of Faith - Part 6 - Three Years In...

Today is Thursday. On Monday this week was three years since we first moved to Russia, on this ongoing adventure that we are on here in St Petersburg.

I guess really this series, titled Adventures of Faith for a very specific reason, is really the ongoing story of our lives over the last 4 or so years, starting as it did with the build up to our leaving the UK in the summer of 2008 and moving to Russia.

We were just three then - Mia turning 3 after a month of living in Russia. Anya was born in March 2010 in the UK and we came back to Russia when she was just three months old.

Clearly looking back over the last two years since my last update in this series is going to be hard - I can maybe remember the very biggest facts, and therefore the things we learnt, but there will be things, if not picked up in the entries that I've written over these two years, that will be lost, though I hope those are only a few.

Adventures of faith was a phrase God gave me maybe 7 years ago - we were in the US, if I remember right, and I felt God speak that phrase over us, and it's lived with me ever since. I love being on God's adventure, especially when faith is involved!

Our reason for coming to Russia was because God had planned it - the thing we were coming for was to be involved in the core team that would plant a church.

In the May of that first year, Hansie & Lena De Bruin, who I made reference to in that last posting, came to visit with a view to moving to St Petersburg to join the team - to our surprise at the time (I think that was mainly down to us not being able to read Hansie at the time, taking his answers as confirmation that they wouldn't come) they did come, moving to the city in the August 2009, and we launched Hope Church on Sunday 6th September, 2009.

By then we had a group of about 20 that was more or less a core.

Hansie & Lena have since grown to be very good friends. They are a real amazing gift to the core team and really added something we were lacking - gifting, yes, but also the biggest thing of all - Russian language!

Hope Church was to be a Russian International Church, as apposed to an International Church that Russians go to. So to be able to have Hansie leading our Sunday's in Russian, with translation into English, was great. And just after launching we were joined by a group of students from the UK mainly, contact having been made already by students from the previous year. That made those early three months in the life of the new plant very existing - the Sunday evening prayer meetings were particularly memorable. The three key students, Hannah Robinson, Liz Diskin & Sam O'nion have all been back to visit once or twice since. I'm sure we'll see them again! They remain very much part of our DNA.

The midweek meals also continued - a great venue for the masses of students the girls mentioned above were inviting each week! We multiplied the venues for these meals by now as one home was just too little. Having got to know the owner of a cafe just 200 meters from our front door (which opened while we were in the UK that first summer) we soon were having the main midweek meal there, which I ended up hosting each week. That ran up until the end of the year, getting up to 40 people. Just as I was about to head back to the UK (Rachel and Mia had already gone at the end of the November, as Rachel flew as late a possible in her pregnancy) we started the process of turning the meals into home groups.

But this is the details - what of the faith lessons learnt.

A huge ongoing one, and very fresh again as we enter year four, is faith for finance. We have been supported largely from individuals and churches in the UK, though about a third has been money we've put in ourselves, via my work or money we've come into. But the flow of cash has been astonishing - the three year figures showing that we have spent £115,543.68 since leaving England, a truly crazy amount when very little of that is known or salary. More amazing is the income figure - £115,658.88. Three years and God has matched the costs, with an extra £115.20 to spare!! If nothing else, this shows God's awareness of what we need!

Some of this is just in & out money in the UK - for example what we get on renting out our UK property (income) goes exactly to pay our mortgage on that property (expenditure), but the large part is just life here in Russia - I guess averaging just over £30,000 a year, with my work up to now averaging something about £2,400 annual salary, so there has always been a lot we've needed to trust God for.

What's different this year is we don't have the certainty we've had in the previous three that we have all we need for the coming year. In the past, though sometimes it's been last minute, we've headed back to Russia knowing more or less that we can get through to the following summer, and with a return ticket - this year, we neither have that ticket, nor the cash to get us further than a few months, knowing that if anything the budget jumps a little this year with all that is ahead....but maybe more on that later. So for us, in this area, it's once again back to faith in God that He has us here for a reason and that the money, when needed, will be there. He provided enough to get us back, and put some money in the account. When that runs outs, He'll no doubt have shown us what next has been provided.

So that's an on-going journey of faith - an adventure if you would, where we can't rest on lessons learnt and victories won, but continually coming back to Him who holds all things in His hands. It's not such a bad place to be really, anyway.

The three shaping words I see that have come over Hope Church are these - 1. That the English language and the church plant would go together, that something to do with language (a school?) and the plant would happen at the same time. 2. - That the church would become a base church, especially in the area of demonstrating team ministry, and 3 - That the church would plant out into other nearby cities - those named were Murmansk, Helsinki & Tallinn, with other Baltic Capitals mentioned in general as well.

In relation to number 1, we've kept the English language as a part of what we have done. We took our office on because of the chances of running a language school there, and though this wasn't possible because of some legal issues, English conversational groups have been running for some time. So we are seeing this happening.
Number 2 has also been coming to pass as well - leaders from other churches catching something, as we have a bigger influence, it would seem, than our natural state would demand. There is also something about team ministry, which I've blogged on here, that is really refreshing.
And Number 3 is also starting to take some shape. While there is nothing yet in the Murmansk direction, there is a great relationship in relation to Helsinki, and as for Tallinn, well you'll have to watch this space, though Part 7 of this series is almost certainly going to be written from there as we take the next big step in this journey. But more on that maybe in a later post.

But all in all, what have I learnt? Well, honestly, loads! I remember saying after two years here, that I had learnt more in that time than the previous 20, but yet knowing the following year (last year) would probably teach me as much again. It certainly has been something like that. Sitting here, typing this and looking forward this next year and then the few years beyond that, I can not start to imagine what I am about to learn.

One new thing for me these last two years was taking the church out onto the streets - these have been very amazing times, and you can read about one of them here. This I want to continue to play a role in my personal walk with God in the future - as I'm so outside my comfort zone I need Him more than ever!

I've learnt that God is by far a much better father than anyone can ever imagine. There is no comparison to anything, anyone on earth, so how could we fully know. But the more I see, the more I realise we don't fully know God as our wonderful father. He is also much bigger than we think. Most hold back, not stepping out until they are totally sure that God has given them the green light (so ultimately many don't step out), worried that without total confirmation, they might step out of line with God's plan, and unable to change things, God would kind of loss sight of us. But that's making God very small. He's huge! He's easily able, loving and big enough to stop anything from happening that he doesn't want, that's not part of his plan, knowing all the time He is the best father we could ever ask for.

So don't wait so long for God's green light - maybe the green light was the Great Commission. Instead, start moving and stop if you see a red light!

Three years on, three years into the journey, it still amazes me that we are here. The orphans, the babies, the abandoned boys and girls, the homeless and the hopeless, the living and the dead that I have seen these last three years has changed me to my core.

We travel further down those tracks that I talked about in Part 5. The blessing's are all the more while the sacrifices and costs - well, I try not to think about them much. But we are further down that track, not alone but not where we were, God with us, but moving. When we will get off this track, I don't know. We seem to be heading deeper into things and that's fine by me. As long is God is with us, then that's fine by me...

Previous Series Entries

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Ten Biggest Influences in my life: Number 1....

I've been running through the top ten people to have influenced my life most (up to now!) this last week and wanted to recap here who has made the list so far;

You can click on the links above, if you haven't read them already, to see why they made an impact. The order of these nine does not really make much difference. In their own place, for the things they did in my life, they have all helped shape me into who I am today, and where I am today!

That cannot be said for the last person on this list, who is miles ahead, out of sight, on their own as the truly super number 1!

That person is Jesus Christ.

Three of the people on the list I have never met - Brother Andrew, Hudson Taylor and Jim Elliot. And the 10th placed man I was only a baby and do not even know his name.

But their impact on my life, through their prayers or stories written about them have all made an impact.

And how much more so with Jesus. An undisputed historical figure (no legitimate historian denies this), with so much written about him and quoted from him in the Bible, but being who he say's he is, that is God, He has so much impact in my life now and has always had so much impact.

Do you think it's strange that I can say Jesus still talks to us? Can God be that close? Maybe you think I'm crazy.

Well, if in other areas you think I make sense, if in other areas I'm in my right mind, you have to accept that I could be right about this one too - Jesus is who He say's he is - the one, the only God and not only did he die in my (and your!) place, he's now risen, victorious and awaiting to come back, just as the Bible say's, one day (and this day ONLY known by the Father, not by any American preachers!!!!) - and when he does come back, that will be it. No second chances, no Christians disappearing. We'll all see him - and for many, this will be the worst day of their lives. They will have realised they got it wrong. They gambled that the millions and millions of Christians around the world, the millions of Bibles, the stories of miracles - they gambled this was all somehow wrong, or not for them. Maybe they put their trust in others things or other religions. None of these things will help them on the day Jesus does return in glory. So you have been warned.

I am a rational, intelligent person - and I know the Bible is 100% true, that it's events actually all happened, and there will be a day when all that we see around us is no more. You have been warned, and if you are reading this it means you still have time - you still have a chance to ask Jesus into your heart. You still have time!

You see, Jesus has made the biggest influence in my life, not because it's what I've been taught to say, or because it seems cool, but because he ACTUALLY has made the biggest impact. I've seen God heal me - miracles happening in my body after friends have prayed in the name of Jesus and laid their hands on me. It instantly got better. Just as the Bible says. I've also prayed for others in Jesus' name and they have got better. I want to prayer for more and more, and see more get better, more healings, more miracles. But it's real.

What isn't real is thinking Jesus is anything less than the one true God, the only God - and still the only God today. Not replaced by anyone, or anything, not any less than he ever has been or ever will be. Not irrelevant and not untrue.

If that were so, you'd have made God in your own image. The Bible is clear on this one. There is nothing that's complicated about it. You just need to read it to know what it says.

Jesus impacted the lives of all the nine people I've already written about - and they impacted mine. Jesus has a plan for my life (and yours) - and it's the best adventure I've ever been on and ever will be on.

Some think that following Jesus is boring and for people that have no other option. I have options. If you know me, you'll know that to be true. I now live in Russia, in St Petersburg. I'm involved in the nations. The last few years have seen us in Spain, Egypt, Finland, Estonia, Russia, France, Ireland. This next year its looking like Estonia, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, USA, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Sweden, Russia and England. Boring? All this is because of Jesus - and ONLY because of Jesus.

Life with Jesus is the only life I could ever have wished for. I turned my back on a multi million pound career in the London Equity market to move to Manchester and follow God's adventure in my life - I did a voluntary year that year. Yet God blessed me. God gave me all the things I was praying for, but didn't have in London. A wife, a family, a home and so much more.

You see it's those that ignore Jesus that live the lie - and also miss living life to the fall!

God has now put around me, both locally and in many nations, people I am blessed to know - Hansie, Dave, Slava & Oleg - the great team mates I have here in St Petersburg. I'm getting to know people all around the world - America, Canada, Brazil, Ireland, Northern Europe, France, Russia etc etc. Wonderful people, blessed people.

Jesus really is who he says he is and who the Bible says he is. I didn't have to have blind faith when I first accepted him - no, it's more because of the reality of it all that allows my faith in things to grow.

Jesus - you have had your hand on my life from a young age - and I love the plan you designed for me. Help me to continue to bring glory to your name. Thank you for this life - this adventure. Thank you for sending us to the nations!

If you've been reading this and you don't have this kind of relationship with Jesus, something that is living and real - something that's two way, then I urge you to pray, to talk to someone you know who loves Jesus, to find a great local church or to drop me a line and I'll get you in contact with a great local church. It'll be the best thing you ever did, and it'll take away that guilt you carry around.

Thanks for reading. Thanks for commenting. I love the fact that the nations are reading this. And I'm here for the nations, because that's what Jesus said to me. God bless you all.

The Ten Biggest Influences in my life: 2 - Jim Elliot

Like Hudson Taylor (Number 3 on the list), reading about the life, and death of Jim Elliot, 40 years before my time on earth began, had a big impact on me.

There was a time when I too thought I would die on the mission field at a young age - that changed when I met Rachel, and now I'm not as young as I was then and also know God has got other things for me. But my heart is still the same - God is God. To live is Christ, to die is gain!

Many will remember the words - "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose". Life. Jim knew this and lived it.

He would have prayed for the Auca Indians salvation - at what ever cost - and he would have meant it. His death, tragic as it was, opened up the road to salvation for many in that savage tribe, so that years later, the children of those five men murdered on the beach in the jungle could actually baptize the same people responsible for the massacre.

He was only a young man when he was killed. He left a wife and daughter. But God works all things for good for those that love him. Might there have been another way? Maybe, we don't really know. And what would Jim had said. Asked if by not dying they could still have seen a little impact made for the gospel I think he would have come back and said - "Let it be as it was. I want them all reached for the Kingdom!"

What also happened all around the world is more prayer was given for mission, more finance given and more people went. Because five men were killed.

I look forward to seeing Jim Elliot in heaven. I look forward to thanking him for the example he set. I look forward to seeing the reward he is given, the crowns and treasures for living a life that didn't shy away from anything, even death.

He is an example to us all. Our cosy, comfortable lives, our creature comforts. Our material possessions and holidays and wanting more and more, bigger and better.

In the depths of an Ecuadorian jungle, on a sandy river bank, this man bleed to death. He'd left everything to reach these lost people. He only had love and friendship to share with them. And yet they killed him. But his death made the Indians ask questions, to seek a better way of living. Ultimately it led them to the good news of the free gospel of the salvation and forgiveness of sins that Jesus made available for us. And this brings me nicely to my number 1......

Entries so far;

The Ten Biggest Influences in my life: 3 - Hudson Taylor

The next two people on my list are two great hero's of the faith for me. Number three has to be Hudson Taylor.

There were a few missionary books I read growing up that really captivated me, and certainly a few about Hudson were amongst them.

He was a man in a very different time to me - an English man who went to China. China then was this long lost place - his first trip took 6 months to get there by boat, and they nearly sunk before they'd even passed Ireland from their Liverpool exit.

Today, we are a 3 hour 30 minute flight from the UK - and have Skype, emails and the like to stay in touch - even when letters and packages are sent, it's something like up to a month.

Not so in Hudson's day - letters would take months to go one way - twice that if you were waiting for a reply! When he wanted to propose to his first wife who was with him in China, he had to write to her parents in England and then wait months and months for their reply. I couldn't imagine that wait!

Hudson Taylor was one of those men that got on and did it. I remember a statistic he'd use from his time that said out of every 100 people that said they'd 'go to the mission field', only 1 person ever actually made it. That challenged me. I think the stats are at least the same today.

Hudson Taylor was part of the few that first started going to China and then to the interior, and even dressing like the locals. He knew suffering and hardship, death and sorrow. He was such a man of faith.

It is because of people like Hudson Taylor that I shudder when I hear myself being referred to as a missionary. He was a missionary - I'm just a normal Christian! It is also because of people like Hudson Taylor that China today is sending thousands of missionary's out - his heart helped change a nation.

Hudson was misunderstood by those around him, even maybe looked down upon because he dared to dress un-English and make himself look like a Chinese man. I relate very much to the being misunderstood! Maybe it comes with 'our' sort of lifestyles. Maybe we do have something in common.

Quite simply Hudson Taylor is a superb role model and wonderful example of a Man of God. And for that, and his impact on my own life, I honour him.

Entries so far;

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Ten Biggest Influences in my life: 4 - Andy Davies

I first came across Andy at Stoneleigh 1999 - and if you've read any of the other entries today, you'll have understood that that particular week had quite an impact on my life.

Two years before Gerald Coates (No 9 on the list) had brought a prophetic word about my distant future. It had left me amazed but kind of waiting it out, looking forward to the many years time when things would 'happen'.

Andy was involved in Revive that year - working with Matthew Hosier (No 8 on the list). The encounter two years previously had clearly left a huge impact on me, so that during this week I went to the seminar that Andy was doing on the prophetic. Little was I to understand that our lives were about to be a lot more intertwined.

Not long into the ministry/open floor time at the end of Andy's seminar, he came darting over to me and said "You had a prophecy over you a couple of years ago, didn't you" - erm "Yes". It was about your future, wasn't it" - erm, "YES!" He then went onto state that while that was great and exciting, God didn't want me to wait for things to happen but get on with them now, stepping out in gifts now. Wow! The second major word of knowledge over my life. A few minutes after this I remember bringing my first prophetic word, over a girl about to move to Holland. As I started to bring it, she started crying, saying it was bringing comfort to her as she was nervous about the move.

That was the starting point of me stepping out in spiritual gifts. It was exciting and continues to surprise me every single time. I love the way God shares things! I want to keep moving in these more and more, for God's glory.

By the following Stoneleigh, I had already made one visit up to Manchester, staying with Andy for one night in Oldham as they were yet to move down to Stockport. This was in preparation to me doing the year team in Stockport from September 2000. At the Stoneleigh just before that team, Andy (OK, knowing me a little but still not fully) brought another word over me, one that now is really starting to become a reality.

You see, following the events of the year before, I went away and tried to teach myself Russian at home - and didn't do very well with it. The thought of living out my days in one nation, in Russia, didn't seem to get on with me. What Andy therefore brought in 2000 had another big impact - he simply said he saw many flags under my feet - it was nations, not only one nation! NATIONS!

At the start of this year I was reflecting on the things I know God has called me to - they come down to three things - Salvation, Russia and the nations.

The nations are really opening up (you'll have to watch this space on this one...) Andy's word, and confidence to bring that over me, was the catalyst for this knowledge I have as to what God has confirmed to me.

Moving to Stockport in Sept 2000 was a big move but was amazing to get to work with such a guy as Andy Davies. And to be around people like Colin Baron (No 5 on the list) was also a great learning experience. I am a better man for having made that move - it was also God's plan for me, so that helped!

My earliest memory of that year, and summed up the year for me really, was when Andy said we were going to be launching a daytime home group 'together' for a number of elderly people in the church. Great I thought. I planned it and the Wednesday came. Andy couldn't make the first one, so I went and did it on my own. The next week he was also unavailable....I don't think I bothered to check with him by the third week, I'd got it....I was to lead it on my own.....Doing the year team with Andy, in Stockport, meant I got to do loads of stuff. It was a great learning experience.

When Andy married me & Rachel in the September 2001 I had not quite known him a year, but already there was this amazing connection. I still remember fondly Andy telling me he used to pray for me as his son. That meant the world. And for that, I honour you.

When he moved to Cardiff it was personally a very hard move. We wondered if we were to be in Cardiff too, but the connection was more relational than geographical.

Andy is one of those people that if you spend 5 minutes with, suddenly everything is possible! I love talking with Andy!!

What makes me laugh was his 3 year plans.....I must have been on one of his various three year plans for about the 6 years we were together in Stockport for....but that too is great!

Andy is full of energy. There is never a situation he doesn't give himself too, and yet has a wonderful family with five children. His energy is amazing!

I was deeply moved when Andy said that during his recovery from a serious illness he'd had a few years back as a result of a car crash he'd had some years before, he'd written a list of people he'd like to work with - and had written my name. I don't know how that list looks today, but he's on my list as well. And with what is about to happen over the next few years, with the nations opening up, I couldn't think of anyone better than Andy to get involved in things. So I guess I'll just have to see what happens from our conversations in the future.

But Andy, I write this to honour you and not to embarrass you. You are a great role model and the guys in Cardiff, in Wales, in the UK are blessed to have you with them, as well as those nations you already work into.

You are a great guy (maybe not the best written communicator in the world but you make up for that a thousand times when we meet face to face, which ultimately, is the best form of communication anyway!!) May God bless you richly and your wonderful family my friend.

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The Ten Biggest Influences in my life: 5 - Colin Baron

I first properly came across Colin Baron once I'd moved to Manchester - which was through God saying Russia, via Manchester to me in a vision at Stoneleigh 1999.

Colin was 'Mr Manchester' back then - he lived and oozed the vision of 20 churches in England's 3rd city.

Back then, all the churches shared a common office, and being on the year team, I too had a desk there. So it was here that I got to see the man behind the curtain, so to speak. And what I saw was very impressive.

This was a man who had international responsibilities. This was a platform speaker, and yet this was a man that got on with things, getting his hands dirty.

Two particular things stand out for me. Once, there was something that needed to be done under the floor at the office building. The floor was a raised floor so it was possible to get down and go under the floor. I think that a cable needed to be put under the floor for some reason. Somehow it was me and Colin that were there to do this. Here was Colin - International Speaker and Apostle - here was me, young year-teamer. But it was Colin who went ahead and got down there, doing what needed to be done. I remember him saying next time it could be me, but (thankfully) there wasn't a next time! But I remember that. I respect that! And I think that has rubbed off on me as well a little.

A second story I remember was a car journey from Manchester to Swindon, where I was driving Colin down for a meeting with some leaders there. It gave me time with Colin, and he also needed to get down there. It was on this journey, in the February of that year team (it ran from Sept-July) that Colin started asking if there was a lady in my life - and I shared about Rachel, another girl on the year team (and now my wife of nearly ten years!) but stated that we couldn't get together on the year because of the rule - to which he replied "What rule?".

Long story short, and having understood that in our situation it was a godly relationship, we were able to get engaged a month later, while still on the year project, and then were married just 6 months after this conversation in the car.

So that too was quite a conversation!

We have got to know Colin a lot more since, able to call him one of our good friends in Manchester. I chatted with Colin a bit ahead of coming to Russia - he has also visited probably at least three times since we were here within his role with New Frontiers. Back then, Colin said he'd be the hardest person to talk to me - as it proved....one particular lunchtime when we seemed to hit loggerheads and he said he wasn't able to help me because of the way I was talking. He helped me change - though I can say everything I said actually happened as well, so we were both right! I needed to allow people to speak into my vision (which is what Colin was training me - and I've certainly had conversations with others since, like Colin did with me then!), but also remember that the vision God has given me I am not to compromise, because what God promises, He will do.

So Colin - you have been influential and will continue to be. You are one of those guys that it's good to be around. You ask the things others don't, and see things the way others don't. And for that, I honour you!

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