Now we have landed at the final part in this mini-series, a catch up on what is happening with my family in Tallinn–what has happened in the case of the first two posts–and where we are now. If you haven’t read Parts One and Two, please do so before you read this one.
Part Three: The Good
We’ve had a bruising time of it lately–I think anyone that has heard from us, visited or Skyped, or even has just read the first two parts, will know that to be the case. I’ve closed down a church plant because the team walked away, and watched my wife battle cancer.
Yet our faith in God is as strong as ever. He has been good.
|Just one of the offerings from a family at the school.|
One example of this has been the immense support and care shown by the parents in Rachel’s class. It was the first week back after the summer break. The school has a family picnic at the end of August. She got to see her class again, and any new students. She’d moved up with them from the year before. She then had the open lessons with them all the day after. She worked the morning of 31st August–the first day of proper school–but left early so that we could attend her doctor's appointment and get the final (we thought) result. It wasn’t the news we hoped.
Coming in that first week, the news hit others equally shockingly. Every Wednesday, for example, since then, the parents have put together a care package for Rachel, which is left at the front desk for me to pick up. Months later, they still appear. Sometimes it’s meals. A few of the parents have in fact brought around meals–teachers too.
It’s not been limited to just the parents or school, either. During the chemo days, folks from four different churches were volunteering to make meals for us so that we had them over the nights each round of chemo started.
When it came time to buy a wig, money was raised.
We’ve seen such an extreme outworking of care and love–Rachel is clearly a very loved teacher/colleague/friend and person! But I knew that.
Christians all around the world have been praying for us–people we’ll never know about, churches we’ve never been to, standing with us and praying.
It’s hard knowing exactly what impact this is having on our girls. We talk, obviously, and there have been tears at times for sure. But they’ve also been brilliant at getting on with things. People have helped so much with them–one family from school even decided to take them across on the ferry to Helsinki for the day, eating out and going to a theme park there! Others have picked them up, taken them to the cinema, taken them to exciting places in Tallinn.
Last year, with Rachel working at the school, I’d wave them off in the mornings (early) and welcome them home again in the evenings (sometimes gone five pm). Yet since the news at the beginning of the term, I’ve done most of this. And that’s been a fabulous time for me to connect a lot more with the school, and see some other dads etc. Anya started school this year, and I was, therefore, able to walk her in that first term, see her desk etc. Stuff I’d never have otherwise done.
Of course, I’d have chosen Rachel’s health over getting that opportunity, but it’s another example of God working good for those who love him. It has been special.
At times, I’ve had to play the role of single parent–attending various birthday functions, or simply doing stuff with the girls when Rachel was not well enough to be involved. It’s not a role I ever wanted (I love being a dad, I mean the single parent bit) but it’s also brought something special because of it. It’s also made me appreciate doing stuff as a four.
Better days are ahead of us, I know that, even while we still work through the aftermath.
With doing the school runs (back and forth to school twice a day) it has, of course, had an impact on my working day. Yet, amazingly, so much has been possible.
I remember on the day Rachel was first in the hospital having chemo–it was the worst feeling leaving her there, as I walked away, not really knowing what to do. I always found those times the hardest, those Thursdays every three weeks when Rachel was at the hospital. Well, on that first one, I tried to fit too much in, as always. I’d designed an amendment to my desk–I was converting it from a standard desk to a standing one. During that first chemo session, I raced around the city getting the wood I needed and getting it cut into the sections I required. That night, as Rachel rested and as the food was delivered, I was busy starting the project. I think by the Saturday I’d finished. By her next chemo session, I’d been working at the new desk for about a fortnight.
I remember that second session I started to write my latest novel. I hadn’t done loads on that first day–those Thursdays I always felt lost waiting for her to be finished–but in that three-week block, despite the school runs and shorter work days, I wrote the complete draft of the novel.
Somehow, despite it all, the goals I set myself (which were based on healthier times) I’ve managed to reach.
|My 4th novel|
A massive outworking of being in Tallinn (which started just a few months after our move to Russia) is becoming a published author. In December just gone, my fourth novel was released and three more are coming this year. There is a real momentum now, and a growing, supportive and vocal readership.
It’s made me wonder–and bear with me here–could the following be possible? Is God big enough–we know He is, of course–to have moved me from the UK with the specific goal to help me become the author I am today? It’s a surprising thought, of course.
But what if the only way for me to become globally successful–dream with me here, would you, for a moment–was taking me from my job in Stockport, and sending me abroad on the adventures we had. Yes, we’d bless and be around church plants, and yes, we’d continue to do what we’ve always done and give our all into those settings. But what if the goal was to make a major breakthrough as a writer? What if the only way God saw that gift He’d placed in me coming to life was to call me to the nations? What then?
You see, things have been going exceptionally well. I’ve seen tens of thousands of new readers discovering my books for the first time this last year. I’ve seen a mailing list grow into the thousands, all waiting the announcement of my next novel in April. What if?
Is it beyond God to do such a thing? Could that really have been his only agenda?
I, of course, don’t know that. I probably won’t this side of heaven. But what’s been clear (and this especially so with my last two novels) is that readers who discover me, are telling me this is something I can do–this is a gift I have. And I’m aware of that, as well. I’ve always felt God with me as I write, that if this is a talent He has given me, it’s something I need to take seriously. And it seems to be something I’m learning the art of–learning the craft of–the more I do it.
Could it really provide the finance we need going forward? Are the floodgates about to burst open, to not only supply our own needs but beyond that, the needs of many other mission settings? What really is possible?
One thing I like about writing–the process itself is life-giving to me, so for that alone, is worth it–is that when people, including supporters of us, buy my books, they are not only supporting us, they are getting something in return.
Of course, that’s technically true in the traditional sense as well––treasure in heaven is not to be taken lightly. But I love the idea of producing something, and exchange happening over just charity.
People have supported us financially for some time–in the early days, the regular giving was as much as 60% of our income–and we’ve seen our expenses, and this type of support, drop over time. Now it’s something like 20% if that. If that stopped, in this season, it would be hard. But as I said in the earlier entries, if that is the outworking of this news–and after already having supported us for so long already–then so be it. It might be that others want to start this way.
But better still is help me to reach new levels as an author. Help me to sell more books. If you are a reader–or know of others–get involved in this aspect of my life. Who knows what God will do?
I’d consider any options––speaking at church events, book club link ups, talking with bookstore chains. If you have an idea, let me know!
And what about church life? As I said previously, as the summer rolled by, we were committing ourselves to serving the folks at the local Vineyard Church* here in Tallinn. They were going through a change of their senior leader–something they’d been very clear about with me in the spring, though this was only announced to the church in September. Miguel–who is American and married to his Estonian wife Mai–was handing over the church after nearly 14 years to British man Anthony. At the start of this year, Anthony took the reins and it’ll be officially done with a celebration in April.
(*To clarify, despite being around for 14 years, they are not a large church. Some weeks there are about 15 adults there, other times there are 40. When we first started going it wasn’t uncommon to see Anthony opening up the meeting, then doing worship and then speaking. So it’s a small church that we are serving–though, in recent weeks, numbers have been rising. Is God already doing something?)
Anthony has said many times that our family and Arnoud & Elisabeth’s family arriving when we did was a real answer to prayer. Who’d have thought it? It’s been about six months now. Anthony has invited me and Arnoud, as well as another two guys, onto his new look wider leadership team. There are no labels yet–none are needed, nor would be helpful at this early stage–but it’s humbling for me to find ourselves in a place where we have a voice to speak into something, despite their long history, and our recent one. I preached for the first time in November and will speak for the third time this coming Sunday.
As I’ve chatted and processed with people, we’ve talked about how long this ‘season’ is to be. I keep coming back to this, though–it’s not as if we had the choice between church plant or the Vineyard, and opted for the Vineyard. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. All I’m saying is that having tried everything, we were left with nothing. And we needed to serve somewhere because God had called us to Tallinn. It’s His will that we are in Estonia–still in Estonia, in fact–and we need a place to build community.
And that’s happening slowly.
There is, of course, an excellent opportunity for us now. Taking all the relationships we’ve built here (in Tallinn we’ve had the most unchurched friends by far compared to anywhere else we’ve ever lived) we now have an established context to connect them to, as and when the time comes. We have a place where we can bring the gifting God has placed in us, a place to outwork that, to encourage others, and grow together. We have a leader who we can serve, someone who needs our encouragement, and someone open to us as individuals.
Mia, our oldest, for the first time the other week, sang one song at church as part of the worship band. Elisabeth–who used to run the toddler groups in our home with Rachel–has recently launched a similar group at the Vineyards building each Thursday.
So as I look forward (we aren’t really looking too far ahead, as so much is uncertain at the moment with Rachel’s future treatment) we do have hope. Healing is possible.
Maybe by the end of the year, we’ll be fully engaged in a vibrant church community, playing our part as leaders there. Maybe I’ll be a best-selling author with my three books that are coming taking me to new heights? Maybe it’ll be something else?
How Can You Respond?
So what is your take away? What are we asking of you? Well, nothing in fact. This has been written for information–many of you will know of all or some of this–some might not have. It’s hard to keep everyone fully up to date, and especially for those that mainly read via this blog, for which this is the first such update that concretely states where things are at, currently.
Please do pray. That’s the best thing. Pray that God would work all things out for His good in our lives, that the enemy wouldn’t be allowed any more ground in the life of my family. Pray for us as we process and work through the church situations–healing from past hurts and guidance for future works–as well as blessing, opportunity and prosperity for me as a writer.
|One of our favourite spots in Estonia––last summer, before all the madness really got started.|
If you do have any questions–maybe something that I’ve not covered, or something I’ve not explained clearly enough–or any other comments, suggestions or thoughts, please do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!