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.

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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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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

News from Tallinn (finally)...When No is just Not an Acceptable Answer

It's been an epic five or six weeks.  From this blog point of view, the entries have dried up.  Partly down to wanting to report the good news and so waiting, and partly down to the fact things have been so absorbing and emotionally draining, that there hasn't been the 'space' to report - and besides, no one wants to hear negative news! 
Well, finally that has all changed and we have the chance to share with you all that has happened to bring us to this point - sorry for keeping so many people waiting, having been praying with us for weeks and yet not hearing, but it hasn't been the easiest of times.

It has felt that we have locked horns with the Devil and God has brought us through to victory.  And here is why;

My last entry here was on May 7th, when I just got back from Riga and we were waiting for the banks to give us an answer.  Having started speaking to the banks here in mid April (the same week we then heard that the flat would be finished in May, and not July as expected) we were concerned that they started changing their stories, as if looking for ways not to give us a loan.
The first of the three banks we were speaking with came back with a negative, quickly followed by the second.  A big set back - we were hoping for three offers, of which we could pick the best - now it seemed just the hope of one offer was going to test our faith to the limit.
With hopes now resting on this final bank, called SEB, we were praying - they had suggested that they could lend us the 85% we were asking for.  We waited day after day, which turned into a week.  

The back drop to this was that I was preaching through the book of Ruth to a local church named Elava Vee (River of Life).  I'd spoken in April on Ruth 1 & 2 and then on May 2nd from Ruth 3.  I was speaking on Ruth chapter 4 on 16th May, and it was at this moment, the day's leading up to that third preach (on 2nd May) that all this was happening with the banks.  Not the easiest 'background' noise to help me focus!  And the way I prepared these talks was to start the next one on the Monday before I was speaking on the Wednesday, so that on Monday 30th April I was already working on Ruth chapter 4, which is all about how Boaz conducts himself in a business transaction, where he works in such a (legal and ethical) way, in order to get what he most wants (in his case, Ruth, his soon-to-be wife).
And I was working through this preparation, as best as I could, with all these issues with the banks cramming for space in my head - knocking at our faith, at our stance in God.  Trying to make us doubt.  Trying to make us give up.
And so we went into Wednesday 2nd May still not knowing what SEB would say - but expecting to hear any minute.  It got through to 5pm, and still nothing!  I had to email my notes through to the church for printing and leave, I was due to speak there shortly!  How I wanted a positive answer, and yet it was just more (now agonising) waiting!
I got to the church office where this meeting was, and my notes were not there!  Thankfully, I'd be able to sign into my gmail account and print off the attachment from my sent message - I did that at 6pm - and then spotted - there was a reply from the bank!  My heart raced, finally, the good news we were waiting for - and just before I'm about to preach.
I read the opening line - 'The response is negative'.  Punching me in the stomach at that point would have had less of an impact - and I was about twenty minutes away from preaching a message about God working through the difficulties and bringing about His plans for us and how He is Good and Sovereign.  The email finished with saying that 'maybe' if we'd put up 40% equity, they could do something!  Some chance!
I had two worship songs to prepare, but my mind was thinking through the implications too much, my Estonian not yet good enough to understand what I was singing.  And then I was up to preach.  Actually, I think two minutes in, I was away and flowing - preached well and really enjoyed it - before realising, and remembering, once again after the meeting, what the decision had been.
I came away already wondering though - was God about to walk me through Ruth chapter 4 over the next two weeks in order to make that final talk, and the end of the series, all the more powerful?  Because now, it was important how I conducted myself with the banks, giving them all the assurances and documents I could, working in such a way that is legal, honest and accurate, but working so as to get the thing we believe is ours to take hold of - this flat, that God wants for us.  Wow, I could see it already.  The story would have a happy ending.

Back to the banks.  When the first two banks first said no, I went around four other local banks asking at the counters if they did home loans for non Estonian's - and the ones that did loans, wouldn't do them for our situation.  We asked around and the only banks people could recommend were the very banks we were speaking to already.  So waking up on the 3rd May with this news still fresh, I went back to all three original banks and pushed things again - presenting reasons why they should do stuff, asking what documents they needed.  We obtained letters from New Frontiers and Stockport Family Church stating we are representing them here, confirming previous payments (all our UK money is sent through SFC, so as to be a 'salary' as it's from one source and at the same amount each month).  We asked what they wanted us to do.  We would not take 'no' for an answer.
Still these banks came back negative - twice, three times.  And each time, it was technicalities.  They liked the cash flow, like the fact we had our ID cards - they just wanted it through their bank, or wanted it to be an Estonian salary.  They were now just not wanting to do stuff - and with the flat now finished and deposit paid already, it didn't seem to make any difference pointing this out to them.

During this time, I'm sure many people thought, and someone asked us "Is this just God protecting you".  Are the banks saying No because God is causing them to.  
We fully understand this, but coming through it all, and actually at the time, the real question I think we all could be asking is "What is God saying to you about this?"  What do you feel God is telling you?  
I wonder, as Christians, whether at times we too easily give up on something because it's not worked out how we thought, or because there was an issue or reason stopping what you thought was God's opening for you.  And we tell ourselves, or others tell us, "it's God - so why don't you stop".  Job had it in the Bible - the voices around him were telling him things based on the situation, concluding that what they saw in the natural must mean God was behind it in the spiritual.
Which is why the question "What is God saying to you about this ?" is so important - because what we said at the time, and before that, all along was we were in this position because God had made it clear to us.  In a blog posted on 20th December 2011 (which I'll refer to in a moment) we stated that God had done everything he needed to do in time for us to get as far as we had with the flat.  He had plenty of opportunity to close the door - but in fact did the opposite - He opened doors when we had no other options.  And that same conviction is what drove us through April and May, when the banks were saying no, no, no.  At no point to us, did it feel like God was saying no. It was more like hell shouting "If we let you get this flat that God has shown you, it'll be such a great base for your family and for your church.  We can see the space being used to host meals and prayer meetings.  We can see the church growing and we do not want that to happen in Tallinn - this has been our ground for so long we don't want more churches being planted, so we are going to do all we can to stop you - we are going to lock horns and fight to the death".
Praise God He has won the victory.

And little did we understand, as we entered this two week period between the  final two Ruth preaches, that God had spoken about this very exact situation and time many months before.  As I mentioned above, in a December blog post titled Toward Tallinn - A Storm Is Coming, I had a dream back then that seemed to bring an end to the four months of issues we were facing.  At the time, and looking back, I could understand that the dream referred to what had already passed.  But on Friday 11th May, midway through this latest struggle, God reminded me of that same dream and actually gave me further understanding of what the dream meant.  Strange, I know, but I'll explain.

The dream was this (taken from the above linked blog) "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."

At the time, as the blog goes on to say (you are welcome to read that entry again as well because this one makes a lot more sense in the light of our journey thus far) I just thought it meant an end to the UK banking hassles we were having - and it did in fact come at the exact time those issues ended.  But what God explained to me on 11th May, was going to take faith to trust in.  The tornado's represented banking issues - the first in the distance (ie the UK) referring to the issues we had back then last Autumn, and the second tornado represented those same issues with banks, but this time in our 'home' place, ie Tallinn.  It would engulf us and pin me down - it would be hard to get the help we need.  But the two minutes represented two weeks, of which we were in.  Then things would settle and then (and only then) would we get the help we needed.

In December, it was one thing having a dream and understanding what the previous months had been about, but now it was a different issue to actually be IN the time you think God has said and know when it would end!  I had my clear two weeks - it was from the 6pm on 2nd May when I'd got that email from the bank just before preaching Ruth 3, until the same time on 16th May when I was preaching on Ruth 4.  Two weeks represented by these two minutes.  But we were in it, this wasn't us applying things to historic events - this was living through what God had talked to us about 6 months ago!  This is exciting, yet challenging stuff!

By this point we'd started pushing every door possible (as you should do when you know God has said something and the enemy is doing his best to stop you).  Could it be that we could raise some extra money to get to this 40% so that SEB bank would speak to us again.  It seemed a long shot.  We put out an email idea which many of you would have seen.  Someone also thought up an idea on Facebook to raise funds for us.  And while we took up three people with offers to loan us money (all of which we'll be in a position to pay back by about August) it was actually from another source that God would choose to open up.  Because while this was going on it just so happened (which is the language used in Ruth to point out that what looks like luck, fate or chance is actually the providence of God), well, it just so happened that Rachel's parents were out with us during this time - and they've been able to loan us the bulk we need to get to this 40%.  During their visit came the time when the flat was finished and we were due to inspect it and sign off on it - which we arranged to do, still with no idea what options we had with the banks.  So they were able to come and see it as well.  We did this on Monday 14th May, feeling that God could again close the door to this for us if after visiting we felt anything but faith - but it only made it clearer that this was to be the home for us - it even seemed bigger and better than we previously remembered or thought!  We felt God more so than ever wanted this for us.  And having got the 40% together (in theory) we were waiting for the SEB bank to come back with their answer - due to be Wednesday 16th, in time for my last preach, but then it didn't come.  It would have to be the following day.  "Great", I thought "Better the news come AFTER this two week period than during it".  It all seemed to be coming together.  God had set the field, the play was underway, the pieces all there - this was going to be spectacular!  
Not quite - yet.  On Thursday SEB came back - it had gone to the highest committee and they were still saying no.  I managed to speak to someone on that committee.  The issue was local income (apparently a policy for a long time, and yet after weeks of talking with this bank and our situation the same from day one, now suddenly the issue is the source of our income...!)
But what God had in store was something different - the contact with this bank had been during the 'storm' - what God said was when the tornado passed, things would settle down and THEN I could get the help I needed.  And it was on this same Thursday, 17th May, that the agent representing the developer, told us about another bank they deal with (and yet had not mentioned before this point), and giving them our details, the guy called me that same day, I went through our situation plainly and stated the issues with the others banks, and he still said they could do something.  An email was sent, further documents sent and over the days our case was ready to go to committee, and missing it last week, we were reviewed yesterday and accepted!  We finally got the yes we were after.  Just one yes was all we needed. We'd had about 12 no's in total!  
Satan's time was up - the tornado had to pass and help had to come - two weeks was all he had to frustrate us, but God won the victory (and proved that He is God by telling me about it 6 months ago in a dream I had in St Petersburg).  And who said God doesn't speak today!

So I'm due to go to the bank tomorrow afternoon to sign all the paperwork.  After that it's just a matter of arranging the transfers, going to the notary and then getting the keys!  More on that soon!

But the good news doesn't stop there - when Satan frustrates, he goes at you in every way he can.  So another area had been Mia's schooling, which had seemed tied to Rachel being able to work, or even volunteer at the International School.  Things still were not clear, Rachel actually got the chance to help out for three afternoons last week at the school and from that understood that it might not be the best option for Anya while still so young. And with Arnoud & Elisabeth moving to Tallinn and looking for schools for their two daughters, we learned that the cut off date for applying for state schools was about to pass (it was last Friday, 25th May).  And though in faith we felt we'd get the flat, until we knew anything, we had to face the prospect that we'd be renting for longer, and so centrally located, rather than in the area we wanted to be with the new flat.  And as school places are done on catchment areas (ie the schools nearest to where you live) clearly we were in an interesting position - until we knew where we would be living, we couldn't know which schools to apply for.  They also needed their ID cards, which we've now started the process for applying (having got the wrong UK document Apostiled in the process!)  It was then that we found out about the Tallinn English College (TEC) - an Estonian school with an emphasis on the English language learning as well as Estonian.  And living where we are now, this came up as in our current catchment area. This will allow Mia to continue to develop in her English but also learn Estonian so she can be fluent in both.  
I went to the offices to register the girls, only to be unable to do so without their ID cards, but was told anyway that the TEC didn't take by catchment, but selected their students directly (it's a very popular school so for Estonian's tests are required for entry, as demand is 18 children per place available!)  So we called up and arranged a visit for yesterday morning.
We had joked by now that maybe the flat delay had been so that we would look at this school, which we otherwise would not have done.  And that now we'd found it, maybe things would all work out very quickly.

We arrived at the school at 10am, and was shown around, and first impressions were very impressive!  The lady then showed us to a classroom, which she described as 'the place where Mia will be studying in September' and even introduced her to the students there saying 'Mia is starting here next year'.  The facilities were amazing - we now looked at each other and thought 'fees!'  Up to now we'd thought it was just a state school - now we feared it was private.  It had to be, it just looked so good!  There was even a modern and very new fitness 'wing', complete with swimming pool, gymnasium, and even sauna's for the students to relax in!  We were doubly amazed to hear that there were no major fees - and as international's there was no testing process.  The place was Mia's and could we come back on the 11th June to meet her teacher!
We walked away from there stunned - and as the above shows, it was just about 2 hours after that that I heard the positive news from the bank!  What was extra special, was that Mia, seeing friends in England with school uniforms, has said for a while that she wants a uniform for school, which isn't actually normal here, nor was it in Russia.  And she's been telling us that she's been praying for a black and red uniform.  Well, not only does this school have a uniform, when we walked in it was indeed red and black!

It does feel that having stood our ground with God and not giving an inch, the enemy has been beaten and breakthrough is flowing.

And like in any Rambo movie, or where the tough hero guy has come through a battle, he's got some cuts, is bleeding but he's all the stronger for it.  These kind of figures never look like your angelic choir boys, but seasoned fighters who have faced down their enemies and lived to tell the tail.  And so it is with people of faith.  You take the hits.  You bear some scars.  But you come through stronger, and more dangerous because of it.
This hasn't been an easy chapter for us - but we've stood in blind faith, certain of what we've heard, never taking no for an answer, and God has brought about the victory, strengthening us through it in the process, making us (I hope) even more dangerous to the enemy should he come back again next time!

This has been long already - I hope you realise that I needed to tell the full story to really share the lesson's we've learned and give God the glory he truely deserves.  I will not mention our other news now, but will write soon about all the other amazing things that have been happening - from salvation at Alpha, to finally becoming a published author.  All this, and more, next time!  Thanks for reading - and most importantly, thanks for praying!  We've stood together.  We've conquered together.  God has won the day!

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Nations

I write this entry, not in Tallinn (our new home city having moved from St Petersburg in March) but Riga, the capital of Latvia.
Many years ago, God first spoke to me about Russia (well the former USSR actually) and then a year after that spoke about the nations.  Plural.
Now, we live in a second new nation - and you sense that being based in Tallinn, God is now starting to outwork what He said to us years and years ago.  God is faithful and true, but you knew that already, didn't you!
I've been in Riga for an event hosted by the Riga church plant.  Matt and his small group have been in Riga for about a year.  We've been in contact, mainly through Skype, for about that time too, just encouraging one another, knowing we can do more together than we can apart.  So my main reason to get down here for this weekend was to spend more time with him, see the city (I'm going to visit a Russian international church on Sunday), and just be an encouragement.  And if I can encourage any of those coming from the UK for this event to join him in Riga, all the better!
It's now the afternoon in Riga, I've just finished lunch before getting my coach home in about 3 hours.  This morning, I went to Good News Church, here in Riga.  It's a Russian church - and it was so cool!  It was a BIG church - they had their own venue, cafe, kids play area, huge outside area.  There was much of the building I didn't even see.  The meeting hall was as big as I've been in for many years.  The worship, which started in Russian, was modern, God seeking, Jesus focussed.  The large congregation (it was hard to tell how big, but I'd guess there were at least 400 in during worship) were there to worship - not just watch.  Though there was a lot to watch - a big stage (which helps visibilty, these guys were not 'performing' but leading worship).  It was all being filmed with guys in GN TV shirts - I guess that's their (probably online) own TV station....
Had these guys been in St Petersburg when we arrived there in 2008, I'd either have packed up and gone home, or joined them! (I'm joking of course, but they are an impressive lot!).  Like St Petersburg, and Tallinn, Riga needs more churches, so I know Matt and his team have a great role here in the city.  I'm excited for them.
At the end of the meeting, really interestingly (I don't recall seeing a response like this for some time), there was a call for salvation.  I counted 7 going forward (not massive considering the crowd there).  But what I did find interesting, was the age range.  One lad, I guess 10 or 11, came forward.  There were three much older people also responding - two were AT LEAST in their 70s!  There was also a guy in his 20s, and two middle aged people, one man and one woman.  So it was a huge age range and great to see three people, at a late age, coming to Jesus for the first time.  Salvation, where ever it is and what ever it looks like, no matter what church its in, ALWAYS excites me.  God is the God who saves!
Thinking back to yesterday, one of the other highlights of this trip (besides Chelsea winning the FA Cup!!) was meeting a guy named Maurice for the first time.  He'd come to help speak and share at this event, being part of the team that helps Matt in Riga.  I really liked this guy (even though he's a West Ham fan...ha ha....I say that cause he told me he reads my blog!).  He had great character, was humble, faithful, honest and helpful.  I look forward to seeing him in Tallinn soon (hopefully in the Autumn).  It's great when you just meet someone, and talking with them, you feel encouraged in what you are doing, built up, led in wisdom....great.  And that's the 'added value' of being part of something like New Frontiers.  The outside help and just encouragement.  We aren't alone! (It can feel that way sometimes!).
This coming week back now in Tallinn could finally bring news about our flat - there has been LOTS happening with the banks, not all good, but we stand in faith.  When we hear for sure, we'll put that blog out, updating you all and giving you (we hope!) the good news.  But for now, we are still waiting, and the clock is certainly ticking!

From Riga I sign off (actually if you are reading this, I would have already got back home.  Rachel reads every entry for me, so that I make sense, but mainly because we do this together).

(Left - the most ultra modern trams I've ever seen ran one particular route in Riga.  They looked like they were about to take off - really 'Back-to-the-Futureish'!)