Remember us? I've had it in mind to update everyone for sometime. I didn't realise the last time we'd put an update out here was back in July! That is a long time ago! In fact, looking at my frequency of blogging, this post will be number seven of the year, that's all. That's the lowest annual total in the seven years I've been blogging!
It's not for lack of things to write about.
I guess it's not totally true to say I haven't been blogging entirely. In November I was given a weekly spot on the Families First blog, my short posts on 'Mission as a family' go out every Friday and you can find the last one here.
And if I'm brutally honest with you, as I've always intended on being on a blog titled 'hearing my heart' these last few months have been quite a struggle. We'll come to that later.
Here are the headlines for this update:
- POG Camp in Latvia in August
- NEW Weekend in Helsinki in September
- New School Term, New Job for Rachel.
- Regular Prayer Events Started
- Team Growth - Present and Future
- Parenting Course
In August (which does feel like a lifetime ago and it actually was, especially when I look outside!) we traveled down to the small town of Ergli in Latvia to join many others from around the Baltic region, as well as the UK, for the 'Presence of God' conference, hosted by Mike Betts and his team from Relational Mission.
Matt Medd, together with the other guys in the Riga church plant, had done an amazing job of organising the event for us all.
There were meetings for the adults and a whole program for the children who loved their time together. Many new friends were made and existing friendships strengthened. As well as the UK, there were people from Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Sweden.
As you can see from these pictures, the weather was great and the campsite perfect for hanging around and spending time with friends. For the more adventurous, there was the zip line, which both Rachel and Mia tried out!
The lake was great for swimming in, though Mia did develop some form of skin infection that resulted in a trip to a local doctors there.
The teaching was fantastic. Mike Betts and Angela Kemm, as well as Phil Whittall (Grace Church, Stockholm) really encouraged us.
The sense of being together, coming from similar situations and yet caught up in something bigger, was really fantastic.
Many people had been able to meet up at an event in Stockholm earlier in the year in May, when Terry Virgo had traveled to Sweden to speak on Grace. This POG event in August, longer and with more people present based around a camp site, allowed greater relationships to be built and formed a second meeting point in the region for the year.
A third one was about to happen too, this time in Finland, the following month.
NEW Event - Helsinki
Kevin and Lydia Jones, together with their team in Helsinki, did a wonderful job of hosting a Friday-Sunday conference. The NEW event has been around for some years in the RM family and I'd been to the last two, speaking at the last one, both hosted in Riga. This was the first time it had come to Finland, the church plant there barely one year old.
Again this time I had the great honour of being asked to share at one of the sessions, speaking about the realities of church planting, but with faith. I think I managed to stick to my mandate and in truth received the best feedback and encouragement I think I've ever had. The other speakers, all from the UK, did a wonderful job in serving us over the weekend, as did the team that were looking after the children.
Rebekah had been able to join us from Tallinn, though sadly Arnoud and Elisabeth had had to pull out at the last minute, though their oldest daughter did also travel with us for the trip.
Again there was a great sense of togetherness. Latvia, Sweden, Finland, The Netherlands, The UK and of course Estonia was represented.
Looking back, I realise how much I cherish these times together. The travel and time, and of course expense, is all worth it because of the chance to meet together, with people going through the same things you are, in contexts and nations very similar to our own.
And so we hit the Autumn...
The summer had been a busy time as I mentioned in the last update, with these camps and conferences following on as mentioned above. Midway through August, the transition into a different time was already happening. Rachel started a new job as a class teacher in the Tallinn European School. The school itself is only in its second year, and Rachel is a class teacher to grade one children. The job was only meant to be part time (Mon-Thurs) and while it has settled down a little, in time but not energy levels, in the early months it was fair to say it was all consuming, and in many regards still very much is. There have been a few Friday's already when she's needed to be in, and one whole weekend when she had to be at school for some special training taking place! Several months in, it's said she's got the most difficult class in the school. Much grace is needed and your prayers for her would certainly be good. It has opened up new doors and many avenues of relationship. It's another step at integration for us as a family. And it's certainly one of the things that has added to a very real, very intense few months.
On the back of the summer, with the sense of momentum and fresh vision seemingly building towards a key phase approaching, we entered September with a week of prayer, finishing on the Saturday night with a prayer and worship night, which we did in partnership with another local church. It was thought this was just a one off event.
For that night itself, events transpired that three churches were actually together. By the end of the night, which was enjoyed by all, we were left with the feeling that God was in this, and maybe something more regular should happen, where churches come together, laying down agendas, gathering to worship and pray for Tallinn, Estonia and the nations. I spoke with the other churches and settled on the feeling that a regular bimonthly prayer event should take place. We held the next one therefore in November and saw four churches represented. We're hoping there will be at least five present when we meet next in the New Year, on January 10th. The photo shows the worship band for the last event, made up from people from three different churches.
Going forward, I do feel for next year these prayer events, happening across churches in Tallinn, are really important times for us and appropriate focus and time should be given to them. The last move of God that happened in Estonia, whilst it was still part of the Soviet Union in fact, happened in the late 1970s. In a Union that denied God, common practice was to force all denominations to use a single facility. It was a clever ploy - rather than going as far as to outlaw the church entirely, they knew throwing them all together, each with their different traditions and beliefs, and the church would end up destroying itself. Well, it didn't work, of course. And what happened in Tallinn, in St Olav's Church in the Old Town, was they started to pray. Churches forced together and now praying together. And dramatic things started to happen. Miracles and healings. News spread right across the Soviet Union and people came to Tallinn, until the KGB forced the revival to shut down, giving the leaders at the time an ultimatum that sadly they agreed to.
Whilst we live in relatively free times, the spiritual climate in Estonia couldn't be darker. It's sometimes tangible. We've had several people comment on passing through Tallinn how they had this spiritual sense of something, an oppression, not felt in other local capital cities, a region that is all very secular with very few churches. What is it about Tallinn and Estonia that makes people say this? I don't know, but we feel it too. Prayer is the key because prayer is talking to God and He is the only one on which this matter ultimately depends.
Lights in the Darkness
We are of course called to be lights in the dark world. The excitement and activity of the summer, with the events in Tallinn and relational events elsewhere, gave us sight of something beyond us. It's as if the realities of being once more 'on the ground', with natural daylight drawing shorter each day, has taken its toll. The momentum and energy there was in September has come and gone. Whilst the midweek home group has always been weekly and still is, the autumn saw us launching a fortnightly Sunday gathering more like a church meeting than anything else. Gathering events would still happen around them. But we haven't seen the crowds coming and these meetings have slowed us down, if I'm honest. With a new year approaching, I need to look again with eyes of vision and understand what God has for us next.
It's God Who Has Gathered the Team
One thing I keep coming back to, when I often ask the question "how are we possibly going to see a church planted here" is to remind myself that it's His church, and His job! Also, I take great encouragement from the fact that the team that has already gathered, and which is still growing, is God's doing! Right from Arnoud & Elisabeth, the first family to move to join us, through to Enrico, Stephen, Ketlin and Rebekah, all have come because God did something in their hearts, which caused them to get in contact. In August, Maki joined us too. Japanese by birth, she'd just moved from Panama in central America to take a job at the International School. She brings a lot of passion and is very much on board with us, which I'm so thankful for, even if I don't yet know what it is we are needing to do as a church plant!
God has also spoken to another English lady, Sherron Fensome, who is looking to move to Tallinn in April next year. Please pray for her as she makes final preparations, especially in relation to a job.
What's become clear to me, and something so different to our experience in St Petersburg, is that to plant a church in Estonia will take a long time. It's like a warfare situation. Some wars are won quickly, airstrikes, shock and awe. Others are long and drawn out, person to person, decade to decade. In relation to church planting, Estonia is certainly the latter.
And we are prepared for the long haul. We have settled here, we largely love life here and never felt this was going to be a quick effort. But it also drains vision. To see people not attending something, to hear other churches longing for the same thing we are - to see just one person saved!
So it's a time of assessment. Of reflecting on where we've been and where we need to be going. Most of all, it's a time where we need to hear God on what to do next.
One thing that we have wanted to do for a long time and were able to put on recently was a course to help parents. Gary and Fiona Blackwell, from Stockport Family Church, UK, helped us greatly by coming over to Tallinn for a long weekend and as part of that putting on this one off seminar, that saw a largely new crowd of people gathered, if not a huge crowd. It was perfect for what followed. We were able to put on a Kids Club at the same time so that the parents, in theory anyway, could have time to talk during the seminar without the distraction of their children. Future courses for parents, as well as courses looking at marriage, are still in my thinking, as we look at practical ways of really helping people in Tallinn.
Tallinn remains a popular destination and the last few months have seen people passing through. Some just as tourists, others exploring opportunities here. I mentioned Sherron above, who was here when John and Liz Barrett, from Alton, Hampshire, happened to be arriving for the day on a Baltic Sea cruise. We all met up for some time. Rachel was taking this photo, and Mia was at ballet at the time.
Josie Rogers, a student currently in St Petersburg, is also a more regular visitor to Tallinn, having been over in the summer to help us with the team. She is planning on coming to do a voluntary year (or more!) in Tallinn from September 2016.
John Putman, a church leader from the UK, was also passing through again. He'd traveled up from Riga and had two nights in Tallinn, sharing during our midweek meeting.
Tim the Writer
A growing part of my professional life over the last few years has been in relation to writing, as I hope many of you already know by now (or I've been doing something rather wrong in my communication of this exciting fact!) How I balance the increasing demands of a writers life with that of church life (not to mention, of course, my higher priorities as husband and father!) remains a challenge I need to still understand. Clearly, with church at the stage we are still at, there is less of a clash - I dare not ask myself the question that am I part of the reason we are still at this stage?
With my second novel due out next month (January 2015 - and yes, you will hear a lot more about that in the coming weeks!), I'm working hard to develop this important next step in my writing career. Over the last month or so I've seen an explosion of followers on social media, my author account on Twitter has gone through the 5000 followers mark and grows daily. It remains to be seen, following on from the relative success of my debut novel, what this translates into take up for the new novel, titled The Last Prophet.
A third novel is already written in first draft form and I will start a fourth novel in January. One thing that is coming to light over recent weeks in Estonia is that in certain circles, I am becoming known because I am an author. And this is leading to questions of why I chose to live in Estonia if I can write anywhere - which leads onto church. Just last night, having introduced myself as Tim, two internationals were talking with me, and when I said I was an author, they both said "Oh, you are Tim Heath. Yes, we've heard of you. We should have guessed!" That doesn't happen too often, I should say. Not yet, anyway. But it does show me that maybe God would open a door into Estonia, through my writing life, that raises the profile of Christianity? Last week I was also in a conversation with an Egyptian businessman, a fan of my book, asking me about making the film version of it here in Estonia.
And I like to write. I'm sure if you are still reading this, you know that by now.
But let me ask you a few questions. If I was to publish a Christian book called "Adventures of Faith" which detailed our journey and what God has done, what else would you like such a book to cover? What elements would you like to know about? The Adventures of Faith series has been a long running part of this blog - there are six parts already written and my thinking is that part seven, the seven years on reflection, could be exclusive for the eBook?
What else would be good to be included? Let me know.
Also, seeing as this is the first update since July, would you like to hear news more frequently, or is it okay as and when? Let me know too!
Finally, even as I've been writing today's update, I'm more aware that 2015 needs to have a strong prayer focus, central to everything we are and everything we do. Would a Tallinn prayer weekend in 2015 be something you'd get excited about? A time to come visit, walk and talk lots, see the sights and have a night of praying together. A come see, come live weekend that is lite on structure and meetings, strong on relationship, fun and prayer! Would this be something you and/or your church might be excited about?
As you can see, I'm looking for feedback this time. Feel free to comment wherever you saw this post - either here on the blog, on Facebook, Twitter or as a reply email.
In case we don't get a chance to say so otherwise, have a wonderful Christmas and New Year - and maybe we'll see you in Tallinn too in 2015?