Church life in Russia, especially here in one of the biggest cities, certainly seems to have it's extra busy months. Reflected by the seasons (New Year and the long summer) when things seemingly go quiet. That makes the key months all the more important. So these are really in two sections - mid/end of September until around the middle/maybe end of December, and then the end of January until the end of May. So we are in the middle of that second period, highlighted even more by spending most of the summer in the UK this year. We want to make these months count!
With city life always demanding (everything just takes so much time!!), it is hard not to go too crazy and burn out, but you also want to make these times count, when you have people with you, wanting to be fed.
We took the church away the other week for our first 'weekend' away - in reality it was Friday night and all day Saturday. There were 57 people who came away with a few last minute withdrawals. So that was very encouraging. We largely just had fun together. We plan to do another one in the middle of September to help us get back into things after the summer.
Sunday's are also seeing numbers swelling. Our hall, small but such a provision, is starting to feel very cramped! We were 66 last week - if everyone came the same week, I don't think we'd fit. But that is part of life here - no one ever can come every week. Work patterns, trips away, sickness and visiting friends and family usually keep a small handful away on any one Sunday. We are looking for a bigger venue, but feel we can make it through until October before switching as we have just 8 more Sunday's until the end of May....when things start to wind down.
That said - God did a lot with us last summer, adding in new people and bringing in a very surprising August offering for the month, when we thought no one was around!
Stuff within the region is also starting to get even more encouraging. Dave Henson has been key in bringing these people together, and it's exciting to be meeting together monthly now with leaders from about 10 churches who are looking to work with us, and wanting a deeper relationship with New Frontiers.
We've also been reminded, and are lifting our heads, to the future church plants that will come out of Hope Church - especially in the cities of Helsinki, Tallinn and Riga. At our last regional meeting there was a leader from a church just outside Helsinki, there for the first time. That alone was encouraging. What was also encouraging was the fact that he was a Russian from Tallinn.
I'm looking at ways of getting over to see him and meet his team - Dave & I both felt there was more to things and want to open up a relationship. Whether I get over before this summer now depends on our visa renewal issues.
Living in Russia as a foreigner does continue to have it's challenges. Just before the last time I wrote an entry here, a new law was passed that makes it harder to live here. The registration for all internationals now can only be done by the landlords of the flats they each live in. Many, if not most, landlords currently rent their flats out without declaring that they do so - this saves them the 13% tax. Registering people therefore puts them on the 'map' that they are renting out their properties. That is not the main issue with our flat however - our issue was the fact that our landlord does not live in Russia. She does seem to want to make it possible, as she doesn't want to lose us - so that is hopeful, even if we still don't know what she will do.
So both within the church, within the wider region (and nations around us) as well as personally in my own life (I've not even mentioned our ceiling, which again threatens to fall in!), there is a lot going on.
I must remember to enjoy these times. I recently read on Colin Baron's blog that he said you should enjoy these moments and not complain about them, because you are only at this stage once (in each church!), and soon reflect back on the 'early' day's once you have got a little bigger. And I do enjoy them! I do.
It's only when I let my head drop, and I think about how I am doing, how I am 'feeling' that those lies start to come in, and the thoughts about how tired I am and can't possibly keep up with this pace, start to come in.
I will not let them!
It's been a little over 30 months since we moved here. Today there is Hope Church, a church of around 60 people every Sunday. There is strong relationships with about a dozen 'local' churches. There are links and plans with Helsinki, Tallinn and Riga. There are people within Hope Church looking to plant out - one with a people group within St Petersburg. This will be starting soon. Another couple have a longer term desire to plant into Alaska.
It's been an amazing period of time. We are very excited by the next year....for us this starts with our trip to the UK (mainly looking to see new 'Investors' getting involved), and then there will be a big nations focus once we get back here in August. (I was planning my preach today for the churches I am speaking to this summer!)
And this is just the beginning, we keep reminding ourselves....