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