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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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Faith -- feɪθ --


"Faith – it does not make things easy, it makes them possible"

"Don't compare your beginnings to someone else's middle"

"Worry ends when faith in God begins"

These are just some of the many thousands of similar quotes you might find on the subject of faith. In the light of yesterday's attacks in Brussels, we are once more reminded of the darkness so prevalent in front of our eyes.  It fills our television screens, our newspapers and our social media news feeds.

So I want to dwell on faith, a little, if I might, and end with a picture I've taken this week which I believe captures the essence of faith in action.  You'll see what I mean later.

Faith, like I guess with words such as love, hope, affection, has no actual power in itself.  If you were able to bottle up any of these, to capture the actual essence of what it was, if it were even possible to have a jar full of the substance of faith, to look at it, to feel its weight, it would still be powerless, still be totally flat.  You see faith, like love and all the others I mentioned, has to exist within relationship.  Without that connection, it doesn't hold any power.  And whilst as a Christian my key relationship (and one I'd expect you to assume I would include) is with God, even if you don't believe in God, this principle is still at work in the world, in your life, regardless.  You can see that in love, for example.  Take out the object of that love, that affection, and there is no actual substance.  We walk outside, in faith knowing we won't just float around, nor sink to the depths, because of the relationship between gravity and the forces of physics that keep our feet on the ground, and no lower.

We are all people of faith – regardless of what people might think about that statement, what images that conjures up. People have faith in their favourite sports team, spending time and money to attend games, investing energy and emotion into the teams successes (and failings!).  You have the belief (another word for faith!) in the fact that at the end of the month your days spent working will be rewarded with your salary.

All these are examples of faith in action – faith working in relationship with something, someone, else.

But it also matters in whom you hold that faith, and the level of faith you have is proportionate to the object of that faith.  Let me give you this example.  If a five-year-old in my daughter's nursery class told me they'd give me €10 million, I wouldn't have a lot of expectation that this would come about – my faith would be very low in that regard, based on the individual. If, on the other hand, Bill Gates was visiting the school, and once I got chatting with him he then said the same thing to me, my faith that I might actually receive this amount of money suddenly changes. Here stands a man that can actually make that happen!

How much more so with God? I mean, not the god the world doesn't believe in, the one that gets laughed at right across Estonia, the notion being that any religion is just fairytales for kids (another reference I saw mentioned today on Facebook within a group here in Estonia) and that adults know better. I mean a God that is so much bigger than we can explain, so much beyond our rejection of him. A God more loving that we could ever give him credit for, and a better Father to us than we could every experience. A God who suffers with us, who suffered before us and who brings an answer to all the suffering, a solution and end to all the death that surrounds us, through the person of Jesus.

What if this were the one you put faith in – what then might be possible?

Estonia stands on the brink of becoming a totally godless nation. What will be difficult is that in other areas, the nation is advancing rapidly, without the need for God. They will soon, unless we change the atmosphere here, be able to stand, and like those early humans in Babel, call out to the world and say 'look at what we've done, aren't we great, and all this without the need for belief in your God.'

Estonia is the frontline in the spiritual battle for the increasingly secular societies the world is seeing. The battle is here, and the battle is now.

I've been reading about Joshua lately – there was the first generation group of leaders around Joshua and then there was the second generation. Both were faced with the same challenge, to take hold of a new land that was filled with very real giants. The first group failed the test, God taking them all out until only Joshua and Caleb remained, the entire rest dropping in the desert. God was raising up new people to put around this adventure ready, faith filled warrior.

I relate to Joshua (in that I'm seeing those around us falling back, leaving me wondering if God is stripping away in order to rebuild).  It's not easy, and church planting in the most spiritually hostile land in Europe takes its emotional toil. But I keep in mind what my heart sees, the light God has placed there for better days to come for Estonia, despite the increasing darkness I'm seeing with my eyes.

God, move mightily on this fragile land. God of Joshua, break down the giants that live in Estonia. Breakdown the fortified cities of Secularism and Atheism that have set themselves up like Jericho in this nation, the residents boasting in their apparently superior position. Send an army that would see these walls come falling down. Bring outworking to our faith and obedience for standing here, spying out a land flowing with milk and honey, and believing that you can take this land. Put the right kind of warriors around us, friends that we can go into battle with to see this nation reaching heights that they never even thought were possible. In a time of increasing darkness – let your light break out!

We are praying about how to partner more with others to see Kingdom life break out, so please pray with us for a conversation we're having with some people on Monday.  We are also praying for this army to join us.

In all this, we still love the fact that God has called us to Tallinn. Because of our relationship in the one who called us, because of that faith that he knows what he is doing even if we don't, we know the future here will be exciting. Whilst emotionally it threatens time and again to get too much, we must keep our eyes on him. There's a land to possess here, and we aren't going to give up that easily. Are you?

Now, about that photo of faith in action I mentioned at the beginning. On the weekend I planted these little cuttings. They are sitting on our balcony. I don't know if they'll actually take, it was partly an experiment to see how these type of trees take. I hope they do. But that's not the main point. The main point is this; why do we have little trees growing in small pots that can't possibly sustain them, on a balcony without the space for them to grow? It's the same with the apple tree my daughter is also growing for a year already. Why? Well, though the trees will grow well for the moment, and I can transfer them to bigger pots that can keep them growing, I know that this won't be enough. But one day (hopefully in the not to distant future, for the saplings sake at least!) we'd love to own some land, something outside the city with a garden – space to grow some trees, space for an apple tree. So we are growing them now, ahead of the time, knowing that when that time might come, the trees will be ready to be planted into the ground.

Will that happen before the trees get too big? Will we see a church planted that thrives? Will a nation be saved?

We believe so...

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Vision -- vɪʒ(ə)n --


The world likes to say a lot about vision, and for good reason.  Here are a few examples;

"Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world." – Joel A Barker

"Where there is no vision, there is no hope." – George Washington Carver

"Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality." – Warren G. Bennis

Let me tell you a story of this past week in Tallinn:

Sunday was a fantastic time of gathering together, seeing Estonians, Russians as well as us Brits, the Dutch and half a dozen other nationalities that it's now common to see amongst us.  This is Tallinn, and the nations are increasingly coming here.  We had a guest speaking, a Russian background believer from another church in the city.  It was great seeing our Estonians get behind this brother's word to us.  
Sunday saw eight folks there for the first time.  These people have come through personal invitations, the church as a whole so outward in their connection to this city we get to live and work in.  Relational connections are strong in a culture like Tallinn, where strangers are left to themselves.  
Still, our welcome team smashed through that cultural hurdle and embraced these visitors as they arrived.  It's wonderful having a welcome team made up of warm hearted folks from different backgrounds, both those raised and living all their lives in Tallinn, and foreigners who've adopted Tallinn as their new home.  Seeing black and white serving side by side, it makes me praise God.
Three people responded to the gospel, one during worship, as a Russian anthem of praise rang out.  We have three native singers that serve us on any one week, Estonian, Russian and English sung from the front.  We've always encouraged everyone to join in, and its great to see the older Estonians and Russians learning the other's language so they can better understand one another.
There is nothing like a love for God to melt away decades of hostility.
It was during a prophetic word that the Russian guy gave his heart to Jesus during the time of worship.  I didn't see what happened at the time, but was told about it after.  The other two responded to the message that was brought.  
That's a dozen responses so far this year.  We're praying for more.
What I love about being part of Hope:Tallinn is stories from the week.  It's never been just about Sundays and that excites me, too.  In the weekly visit to the sheltered housing on Monday night, one of the ladies (who'd given her heart to Jesus the month before) shared her story of transformation with the other people there.  Two more said they wanted to know more, and have signed up for the next Alpha course.  We'll probably host one just for the group coming from this one shelter, as there are a number of people we think would be interested.

In work places too stories keep coming in of people gossiping the gospel. Two church members got to share with colleagues yesterday, they emailed me today to say.  
On Saturday's street team, they got to pray with several sick people.  They even went with one man on his way to the hospital for a check up.  A few people got prayed for at the hospital, too.

It's crazy!

I love being part of such a city reaching church.

Signed – my future self – maybe five, eight or ten years from now.  But this will happen here one day.

I'm a story writer so, sorry, I couldn't resist.  But wouldn't that be a great, normal weekly account of what real church life should be all about?  I thought it would be easier to 'show' instead of 'tell', a regular writing method I try and use in my other life.

We need people who are brave enough (we know the idea of moving abroad might sound scary to some) to read this and in their heart say, "yes, I agree, Tallinn needs that too.  I get to experience this in my normal life here in (insert your own country) at (insert the name of your church), so why should Estonia miss out."

I know there are people reading this, wondering about contacting me, feeling God prodding you again about this (and I'm not talking about the man, you know who you are, who's already contacted me about this very thing!)

You can help make this vision a reality.  Vision without action is a mere dream but I don't want this to remain a dream – help us take action to see this beautiful picture become a reality.

Help change the world.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Momentum -- məˈmɛntəm --

"A river is easier to channel than to stop." 
― Brandon Sanderson

"One way to keep momentum going is to have constantly greater goals"
Michael Korda 

The world has a lot to say about momentum, these being just a small handful of the results that come up when you search this word on Google.  I've been thinking about this word a little as I've thought about what to write on this week, the days getting away from me so that it is already approaching Friday evening before I've got around to writing down my thoughts.

I'm not always a good front seat passenger in a car, which my wife would probably agree with.  Put me in the back seat and I'll happily sleep, but in the front I can't help but notice things, spot when the gear is too low, the engine working harder than it need do.  

Driving in a low gear, whether as a passenger or the driver, is never that much fun.  Heavy traffic (which, really, we don't have a lot of in Tallinn, though its all relative  here a traffic jam is five cars waiting at a junction!) means you rarely get out of third gear.  Our car has six gears, and its only once we clear the city (which doesn't take long to do in beautiful Tallinn) that we get to move through the gears, and pick up some speed.

As leaders, we have gears.  Actually, whatever walk of life you are in there is an element of different times calling for different gears.  My writing life, at the moment, is seeing me move up through the gears  its been an exciting year so far because of that.

We've now been four years in Tallinn, as I wrote about last week.  And if I use the picture of a six speed gearbox, (not counting reverse, because let's face it, who wants to go backwards!), I'm not sure, as a church plant leader, I've ever really gotten out of about third gear.  We've had a few false starts ― people moving away suddenly, or deciding church planting wasn't for them after all.  We've had seasons of growing numbers ― first gear, into second then third...before the crunch of tires, momentum halted and we are back to (seemingly) a snails pace.  Of course, picturing the car (as my image says above) whether its first gear or sixth, you are still moving forward.  Progress is progress ― albeit slow.

It's hard to think that as a church plant leader, I've not been able to move through the gears as maybe was the case in St Petersburg.  There, with a great team around us, we could all operate where our gifting felt most natural, flowing into fourth, fifth and then sixth gears as space allowed.  There were great 'times' of being a leader back then, blessing people, prophesying, growing together as a group.  It caused others to move through the gears too (which is what real leadership is all about, seeing others growing in who they are, released to be all they can be).  We had genuine, spirit filled, forward momentum.

In contrast, I've not been able to see that happen (yet) in Tallinn 
― a result being, those that have been with us (sometimes very briefly) haven't caught the very thing we want them to see.  Momentum then grinds to a halt.

Maybe that's the thing.  In a land such as Tallinn, where the ground is so untouched, the seeds of the Kingdom yet to be planted, we've had to swap the car for a plough, doing away with gears altogether.  With a plough, there is no gearbox, no moving from fourth to fifth, just simply forward movement.  Forward progress, one row at a time.  Progress.

And that's an interesting thought.

Do you know someone who can push a plough with us?  We'd love to have you come visit and see this amazing city, this interesting people, yourself.  It doesn't matter whether progress is fast or slow, we aren't going to quit  because, as the saying goes, progress is progress.

Tallinn needs a whole bunch of spirit filled, fun loving, people seeking, God worshipping people, and so do we.  Mission is fun and best done in team.  And best of all, with the image of a plough instead of a car, there is no chance of back seat driving! 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Reflections on Four Years...

Yesterday we marked four years living in Tallinn.  This photo was taken as I walked back home in the morning, the sun shining, the snow so vibrant and fresh.  So Estonian.  It feels good having been here four years, so I felt I'd break from my current blogging style (for one week at least!) and throw out some thoughts and reflections on our time here.  Let's see what comes up.

Moving to Estonia (for us) wasn't a difficult move.  Quite the opposite.  Though we will always miss the dear friends we left behind in our previous home city of St Petersburg, moving the relatively short distance west has always been something special in what it offered in closeness to nature, as well as ease of getting around a much smaller and less populated city.
We were therefore used to winters, and in fact, winters have seemed cleaner here (when it has snowed, anyway!) than maybe we ever got to experience in St Petes, living so close to the centre as we did then, there was no nature in easy reach of us so we never got to really see that side of winter life, besides the occasional church weekend away that we had during our time there.

We'd also got used to living in a flat/apartment, compared to a house as we had been living in the UK.  Due to cost of living in Russia, we'd spent all our time (aside from the first ten days spent in a hostel) in the same nicely finished, but very cosy, two roomed flat.  Being able to get a four room flat for less money in Tallinn was always going to feel much more spacious.  For all these things we are very grateful.

We've grown too as a family over this time, plus I hope grown in understanding of the task ahead of us, as we roll into year five and all that this, and the many others ahead of us we trust, might have in store for us.

I guess the biggest contrast in our two lives abroad (the nearly four years in Russia and these last four years in Estonia) must be what has happened church wise.  I've probably touched on this in previous posts, so don't really want to repeat myself, but as I reflect back, if you'd asked the 'Newly arrived to Tallinn Tim' back then what he thought might have happened after four years regarding seeing a new church gathered, I would have probably envisioned more than might otherwise be on the ground.  Of course, there is a lot of invisible stuff that no one really knows about, which I'll come back to in a minute.  Back then, my only other experience of cross cultural church planting was from what we'd just gone through in St Petersburg.  Moving in the August, the church plant's first public Sunday meeting just over 13 months later in that September, 2013.  Two and a half years after that first Sunday, we were being sent out as a family to plant a new church into Tallinn. Bam bam bam!

Now, I knew it wasn't going to be the same in Tallinn.  I think if you read through the early posts around the time we moved here, you'd pick that up. Recently I've posted how Estonia is in practice the most atheistic nation on the planet.  In a recent conversation with a local pastor here in Tallinn, a man with over fifteen years experience living and serving other churches right across the nation, he estimated there to be something like only 10,000 committed church goers in this great city.  He also had a really interesting comment to make, which I think I'll save for my final thought in this post.

Coming back to something I touched on earlier, and lets think about roots.  Outside in Estonia, there is snow everywhere.  We have a number of plant pots on the balcony (our only chance of some sort of garden open to us at the moment). Inside these pots, as well as some shrubs that I trust will come to life again once the heat of spring really comes, there are a number of bulbs. I'd forgotten about them really, and looking out the other day at what was clumps of rather sad looking old growth from the plants from last year that now needed removing, it would be easy to think there was no life there. It is freezing, there is snow everywhere, and the sun doesn't appear for very long, even on sunny days. But removing most of this old growth, there they were. A few bulbs are starting to break through the soil, green life visible in an otherwise soil filled existence.  Life finds a way.  In a month or two, there will no doubt be dozens of flowers pressing through. Right now, the roots are going down, drawing what they need from the soil to push up through the surface.

These last four years have certainly seen us put roots down here in Estonia.  We aren't going anywhere fast, that's for sure.  God has called us to this people and therefore we are here until (or if he ever does) God calls us anywhere else. Jesus often talked about seed falling to the ground, or a mustard seed which whilst small, grows to become the biggest of all garden plants. So you see, when roots are getting established, it might not look like a lot else is actually happening. But don't underestimate the power of good roots. Just look at the trees destroyed when even moderately gale force winds press in. Relationships with those in this city also have deep roots, which in their proper time will result in fruit of some kind. We know more people outside of the church here in Tallinn than we ever have at any other stage of our life. That's exciting, and whilst it doesn't mean people are ready to get saved soon (if ever) it does suggest God has been doing something behind the scenes (or below ground) that we might not yet fully realise.

We've said already how that as a church plant we need more people to come and join us. We are prepared to wait for this to happen. How long will we wait - that's a good question, which I've no better answer than really say as long as it takes, or until God says otherwise. You see, as a family (and I'd certainly include our two girls in this conviction because of what they've said to us this year) we believe it was God who called us to Tallinn, and that His purpose for us here was to be involved in a church plant. And whilst things might not have gone as they had for us in Russia, these two things still remain true.

So we need to navigate a new way through, and find out what God has for us in the mean time if, for example, ten people move to join us but only arrive in two years time. What happens before then?

This is something that we are now working through - and have a solution for, actually, though can't say that here, just yet, as we need to continue to pray through it and talk it through with some folks here. But it certainly involves waiting and praying for the future workers (you?!) to come and join us. Tallinn is an amazing place to live, we've managed it for four years already, and believe me, when I look at me from this angle, there is nothing at all about me that makes me in anyway more able to do this than the next person. Honestly. So if I can, anyone can and that's the bitter truth.

So many incredible things have happened to us over these short four years. I'll list the random events below, as I can remember them:
  • Mia shaking the hand of the President of Afghanistan
  • All three girls meeting and shaking hands with Prince Harry
  • Appearing as a family on an American TV show that's been shown even here in Estonia, which people we know have then seen many times!
  • Being interviewed by the main national newspaper and having a double page article on me.
  • Me and Mia visiting the President's home and office.
  • Getting spotted on TV (at a volleyball game) and having my recent tweet broadcast live during the Estonian song contest selection.
  • Having my novels stocked by the national book store chain.
  • Being Top 20 in both the USA and UK on Amazon for my debut novel (this is real time, happening now!)
And so much more, besides...!

I'll finish with a very interesting thought I was told by a fellow pastor here this week. It fits with something I felt once being here, which was the fact that if we are going to live and serve in Tallinn for many years, it didn't necessarily mean we couldn't be leading the whole thing.
My friend said, whilst often the model as a foreigner is to see a 'native' person leading the works as the ultimate goal, in relation to Estonia (maybe applicable wider as well, as situations warrant) this is a total misnomer. He pointed out that Estonians haven't been very good at reaching Estonians, hence the fact that the nation is the least spiritual nation on the planet (numerically). He has a good point. I guess I might at times thought that the ONLY option was to see Estonians reaching Estonians.
But that would be like saying that slaves needed to end slavery, or that obese people were the only ones to deal with obesity issues, or the poor were the ones to end poverty. Of course not! The poor can't end the cycle unless the rich change things and then share what they have with those that don't.
I see what he meant about Estonia. If Estonians were reaching fellow Estonians then we wouldn't need to be here in the first place - would God have even needed to have called us. Did he make a mistake, therefore? 
One situation (true and which happened to me, though I'll keep names out of it for obvious reasons!) was at a prayer meeting. I asked an Estonian to speak with another Estonian visitor (they were of the same gender) who was there for the first time, me obviously seeing the fact that they'd be best to communicate and welcome that person than I would (I'd seen this visitor briefly on the door as they'd arrived, and they didn't speak either of the two languages I was most proficient in.) When I arrived back in to the main room, I pointed out this visitor (clearly another Christian, as it was a churches together joint prayer meeting I'd been hosting for a short time) and this person said to me "Yeah, who are they?" to which I'd replied, with eagerness, "Go and ask them."  The instant reply was "I can't do that, it's not Estonian" and they refused to speak with them.  A fellow Christian not able to speak with another Christian because they didn't know one another.

I kid you not!

Needless to say, I went over and spoke a little to this person in my basic Estonian, but midway through the evening, this visitor just left, clearly assuming there was no one there who spoke her language fluently enough to feel a part of it all.

But it makes the point from above. If this really is the view point (and believe me, this person who'd said this to me really isn't just your average Estonian believer, they've been around the world and seen lots of church in the West as well) what hope is there of reaching Estonia, if we leave the job only to Estonians? 

They have a part to play - absolutely!  And there ARE great Estonian churches and leaders in this country. But non Estonians have a vital role to play, too.  That's my point. Don't count yourself out from moving here because you aren't Estonian.

You might just be the very thing this nation needs!