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...
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