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.