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