Wednesday, 20 March 2013

"now it springs up..."

Confession: every time I see photos of this snow-deluged Wisconsin spring, I cringe and feel a selfish sense of relief that spring in Wellington is a different scenario.  My sincere apologies, Wisconsin friends.

The skies are still as grey as ever, and you can see your breath most mornings, but daffodils are poking up everywhere and snowdrops are dotted all along the streams outside of town.  I find myself surprised when I head outside bundled in the usual five layers, scarf, and hat only to find the need to peel off a layer or two.  This afternoon, the sun peered out from behind the heavy cloud coverage for a full two hours.  I’m still always startled by how much that transforms the landscape.

Spring is on its way.

Sunny days tend to be cold...I think everything except
my eyes were wrapped up in 3-5 layers.
As cliché as it may be, I recognize how analogous the physical spring is to what God is doing in Wellington.  The days are more full now. (This is a good time to make an excuse for my pathetic lapse in updating; so sorry!) We’re with people often; with each other as we (“we” = the team) worship and pray in the mornings, with the church as we serve in various capacities and projects, and with people in Wellington most of all.  We’ve connected with many people in the “commercial” areas of town and have built quite closely with a good number- they truly are our friends, not an evangelistic “project”. 

Signs of “spring” come along the way as we build these relationships.  Here are some recent happenings:

-We helped one of our friends, a shopkeeper, pack up her store when she recently had to close.  As we prayed and asked God for wisdom in how to best reach her, we recognized God giving us authentic love and compassion for her.  We brought her boxes, gave hugs, cooked dinner…and shared prophetic words and took opportunities to pray with her.  We trust that God is using these initiatives; she’s been surprisingly receptive, given her background, and we’re continuing to build with her, asking the Holy Spirit for wisdom and opportunities to share along the way.

skittles = bowling the English way
-The manager of one Coffee #1 initiated a skittles night for our team and all of the employees.  Before going, we prayed together, asking God for opportunities to share.  After a fun two hours of learning skittles (and as Americans, losing miserably to the British team), we were ready to call it a night.  As we were saying goodbyes, however, one of the employees made a reference to strange, seemingly “ghost-like” activity that kept happening in her house.  Tahmi spoke up: “Well, I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe that demons are real!” An explosion of questions and conversations immediately erupted.  The next thing we knew, we found ourselves in small groups with the employees, dialoguing about everything from the supernatural to whether Christians drink alcohol to what Christianity is all about.  Another hour later, we had all had opportunities to share the gospel as well as our testimonies to very captive and interested audiences!  It was a clear example of how the Holy Spirit does the work: when we pray and look for opportunities, he is so faithful to give them, anointing those interactions. 

Since then, we have had a number of subsequent conversations with these employees over meals and as we go in to “hang out” in Coffee #1.  They continue to ask questions, and one asked if a course is available for those interested in learning more about Christianity.  We’re looking at the possibility of inviting many of them on an Alpha course starting next month, believing for the entire staff to be born again!

-During one of our afternoons in town about a month ago, Jim and I befriended a guy in his early 20’s.  We invited him to come along to an open mic night that coming Sunday.  He came, and Jim spent a portion of the evening explaining why we are in Wellington and  invited him to church.  Subsequently, he began coming to V&C and Sunday morning meetings, though he described himself as an atheist wanting to see “what’s out there”.  We continued to build friendship over the next several weeks, inviting him to meals and game nights- but we frequently asked him pointed questions after meetings, wanting to know what he thought and challenging him to ask God to show that he is real!  He began to recognize that he was changing, considering that perhaps all of this Christianity stuff might be true, after all.

During a recent Sunday meeting, I happened to glance at him during the worship time.  As I did, I heard the words, “gift of faith” and felt that God began to speak to me for him.  Ultimately, I felt impressed that God was extending a gift of faith, giving him the opportunity to come into relationship with Jesus today.  Jim and I stepped into the hall with him after the worship time, and I shared the word I had.  We spent most of the teaching time dialoguing through the final “hang-ups” he had regarding Christianity.  Though he realized that he had miraculously come to a place of believing the whole of the gospel, he wasn’t sure if he was ready to respond.  We returned to the meeting at the end of the teaching time.  John was teaching, and just as we walked through the door, he shared that he believed that there were those present who were being given a “gift of faith” to respond to Jesus today to be born again.  Jim and I turned to our friend, explaining again that God was speaking to him and that he had a choice to make.  He paused for a minute and then said, “Well…I guess I better respond, dammit!” He then prayed and asked Jesus to be the Lord of his life, and we all broke bread together with the rest of the church!

It’s encouraging for us to step back, consider examples like these, and recognize that God is, in fact, on the move.  Still, we know that these things are just the first “daffodils”.  We’re so aware of how much we have to grow in effectively winning souls and bringing others through in the gospel, and we’re constantly asking God for wisdom and anointing.  We’re learning to embrace our weaknesses more and more.  And above all, we’re so thankful that God is not most interested in any inherent skills or gifting; he simply looks for willing hearts, listening ears, and faith to believe that he is able to do whatever he likes!

I find myself praying for a few things more consistently than for any other things.  First, I keep asking God for the “spring”; we so want to see these people that we love take further and final steps to coming into relationship with Jesus, and we know there are so many others who have yet to hear the gospel and be born again.  Second, I pray that he will help us learn well so that we are not simply evangelistic for this season but so that we learn to live differently as the Church.  Finally, I pray that what God is doing in our Wellington team will be a part of the expanding and shaping of the culture of the churches- that we will become a people who are constantly “living outward”, looking for opportunities to pull our friends, neighbors, and coworkers into the family of God.

Climbing up "waterfalls" on an early spring day!

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

new year; new team; new adventures.

Merry Christmas (or Happy Christmas, if you’re British) and Happy New Year – it’s been a while.

We had a snow day last week:
4 inches means that the town shuts down!
The last time I sat here in Coffee #1 tapping an update into my laptop, the Christmas lights hadn’t yet gone up in Wellington and there was still the seemingly unending question of how long I’d actually be in the country.  Since then, immigration moved itself forward, resulting in a sudden flight back to the States where I spent the month of December walking through the visa application process with the team, meeting with people in the churches, and teaching and leading for this and that.  The suitcase stayed perpetually packed; I wasn’t sure of the return date until about the 20th, meaning that I needed to be ready to go at any point.  In the end, I rang in the New Year somewhere over the Atlantic, as the flight touched down at Heathrow on New Year’s morning.

The absence of updates hasn’t been due to negligence or busyness.  It’s that it’s been a pretty inarticulate (nearly) two months.  I’m thankful that God speaks about the coming “seasons” before they arrive; his intimations and prophetic direction become “light to my path” when walking through those “seasons” when they come.  In this case, God had spoken about challenge and testing coming as well as a rearranging of fundamental aspects of ‘who I am’, if you’ll allow me to say it in such a psychologically self-aware way. 

Sure enough, that “season” arrived in full force during the past two months.  I spent a lot of time dialoguing with God but knew trying to write much would have been like taking you off the footpaths here into some bramble-infested, muddy thicket- maybe an interesting exploration, but an unhelpful way to experience the countryside.  There’s no point in trying to summarize now except to say that I’m know there’s plenty in me that’s shifting and changing – I’m sure it will be voiced in due time.

I’m back now, observing Wellington from a drafty corner of the coffee shop, grasping my teacup with both hands in an attempt to soak up as much warmth as physically possible.  It’s been a “warm” few days, but these followed a week of the most snow that the Southwest has seen for a couple of years, and my toes, fingers, and nose still feel perpetually numb.  Still, winter seems to be starting to lift: sunrise is a little earlier than 7:30 now, and it’s not pitch black at 4:15 in the afternoon anymore.

John preparing to enjoy his first cream tea... 
Our final team member will join us this Saturday: Marie has finished her work contract and moves to Taunton this weekend.  The rest of the team- Tahmi, Jim, and John – have all been here for nearly a month now.  Doing essentially all of life with people is certainly a shift for me, but it’s a good one.  The past few weeks have allowed everyone to begin to find their feet, and there’s now a sense of momentum in forming connections and reaching out into the town- more on that later.  In the middle of that, though, there’s plenty of time for all sorts of things…for example,

- Eating at Gregg’s.  John generally orders at least one pasty per day.  Jim isn’t far behind on total number of orders.
- Learning the ‘Thriller’ dance.  Everyone learned it, actually, including the kids and Kim.  And yes, it was performed in public.
- Playing games.  Many varieties.  Every day, if Viv and Jev have anything to do with it.  Bananagrams is my new favorite. (I’ve won every time except once.) I do not like Kemps. (I’d rather not talk about how many times I’ve won that one.)
- Quoting ‘Nacho Libre’ and/or holding general conversations in an accent akin to that of Jack Black.  This only involves the other three, as I don’t even remember the film.
- Exploring...footpaths; Taunton town centre; pubs; landmarks, if we can get there.  We’ve gotten used to John vaulting over fences and doing backflips off walls along the way.  Simultaneously, Tahmi’s attention is usually on one of the thousands of “cute”, well-groomed dogs out for a walk with their owners while I focus my energies on getting to the current destination as fast as my legs will carry me- anything to avoid the cold rain.  And Jim unyieldingly keeps his own unhurried pace- although that could be due to the fact that he’s usually carrying a backpack full of items I’ve handed him.

Team 'bonding': guess how Claudia feels about wool socks
 that have been stuffed into wellies for a few days...
Really, it’s not all fun and games, and I’ll share about that in due course.  But in the middle of all that God is doing in me, I’m(almost always) glad to be surrounded by people to who love to enjoy life.  Laughter is medicine, as the proverb says, and resting in enjoying God, others, and this season seems to be as significant a part of what God is doing here as each focused, “purposeful” block of time.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

more facts

The truth is, I gravitate towards extremities.  Apparently writing is not immune to this tendency; in order to avoid extremely verbose and borderline sentimental writing, I find myself needing to head to the opposite pole and report in a factual, clinical way.  It’s either philosophy or science, I think, and to make sure I actually give you facts and not just vague allusions about life here, I’m going to stick to the science pole today:

LLCC Wellington:

Ready, set, go: The first Sunday meeting went well!  Children and adults, there are 70 people in the church- mostly families that have been a part of the Taunton church, and most were there for this first week.  We’re meeting at Courtfields School, the only secondary school in town, which means we get to enjoy the full set-up/tear-down process each week.
Life in the church: The whole church will begin Vision and Commitment, LLCC’s spiritual foundations course, at the beginning of January.  There will be no official home groups until V&C is finished, but there will be less formal care groups that will facilitate building relationships and encouraging evangelistic initiatives.

Getting into Wellington:

Building relationships:  Many people in the church are well connected to the community already, some having lived here for a lifetime.  The outstanding question is how to best pull people into the life and family of the church- not necessarily in overtly evangelistic efforts.

Connecting in:  I’m finding, along with others in the church, that it’s quite possible to have divine appointments- having words for people, being able to pray for others, and having an opening to clearly articulate the gospel.  But although people can be very open and receptive in these moments, it’s really common for them to become evasive after that.  It’s an interesting pattern; one that I’m praying into a lot at the moment.

Getting involved:  Needs are not as overt as they would be in a third-world country, and the culture is a far more self-sufficient one, so this has been a topic of a lot of thought and research for me.  At this stage, there are a variety of initiatives that have surfaced that are interestingly very in line with issues that I’ve felt God’s spoken to me about, including serving basic needs of those under economic pressure, providing environments to pull people into the family of the church, working with the town’s youth, and human trafficking.  We need wisdom to know where and how to move forward.

…and then there’s me:

Visas and such:  The first stage of the visa process finally(!) cleared this week, praise God!  This means that I can now apply for my own visa.  Immigration rules dictate that I have to fly back to the US in order to apply.  This is not ideal for two reasons: first, the obvious expense.  Second, due to the time frames we’re working with, it’s somewhat risky that I could end up outside the UK and not be able to come back for any portion of the actual program.  We’re looking into asking whether an exception could be made so that I could apply directly at the US embassy in London.  I may end up spending a day at the embassy next month, pleading my case.  If you’re praying, please pray for favor.

Being in school:  That’s how I feel at the moment.  There are things that I believe God’s just beginning to teach me and ways that he’s adjusting and broadening my perspectives on plenty of things, including how we build our lives in God and the church, expecting the supernatural in the everyday, and how I perceive fruitfulness.  I’m challenged on the subject of faith constantly.

Enjoying the “now”:  In the spirit of Thanksgiving Day (which, incidentally, doesn’t exist over here), here are a few things I’m thankful for right now:

-Welsh cakes
-small cars
-stone buildings
-living with four ‘siblings’
-my new mountain bike (a gift!)
-talking strategy with Kim
-my gym membership, soon to commence (another gift!)
-bugging John with my color-coded spreadsheets ;)
-my knee-high riding boots (charity shop find)
-time to read volumes of C.S. Lewis
-the kindness of God to encourage in the most timely ways
-eggs with really orange, not yellow, yolks
-windows with no screens
-temperatures no lower than 40 degrees
-morning running
-new friends

Happy Thanksgiving. :)

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

through heaven's eyes

A single thread in a tapestry
Though its color brightly shine
Can never see its purpose
In the pattern of the grand design

And the stone that sits on the very top
Of the mountain's mighty face
Does it think it's more important
Than the stones that form the base?

So how can you see what your life is worth
Or where your value lies?
You can never see through the eyes of man
You must look at your life through heaven's eyes

A lake of gold in the desert sand
Is less than a cool fresh spring
And to one lost sheep, a shepherd boy
Is greater than the richest king
If a man lose ev'rything he owns
Has he truly lost his worth?
Or is it the beginning
Of a new and brighter birth?

So how do you measure the worth of a man
In wealth or strength or size?
In how much he gained or how much he gave?
The answer will come to him who tries
To look at his life through heaven's eyes

The Prince of Egypt was released when I was 11 years old, and at pivotal “seasons” since then, I’ve caught this song from the movie circling around in my head.  I’m sure I sang this song to myself when I would go “exploring” during those years: happily alone, stomping through unfamiliar and unlimited miles of wild woods, coming back just in time for dinner with tangled hair, muddy shoes, and torn jeans. (No wonder I had culture shock when I transitioned from home schooling to private school the following year…I might as well have been Mowgli from The Jungle Book.)

Last week, I chose the bleakest, mistiest day of autumn to relive these childhood explorations: I “explored” my way into the Blackdown Hills to find the Wellington monument.  I often hear God best when I’m on walks like this.  Sure enough, this song found its way into my head as I talked with him during this Expedition.

"Average" landmarks are worth a
second glance here.
Path into the elephant grass

Life right now, here in this pioneering environment, isn’t that unlike one leg of my little Expedition.  I stumbled upon the path a couple weeks ago- I’ve learned already that a break in the fence is worth examining closely: a good view and an adventure are often on the other side.  I had been fairly certain that this path would reach all the way to the monument.  

Pretty, hidden paths

The initial stages of the trek are just plain lovely: flat terrain past charming little cottages.  But that changes a bit here: the only way past one of the country’s major motorways is to go through this tunnel:  

Change of landscape

After that, it’s an increasingly uphill climb.  The monument is probably visible on a clear day, but anything further than 20 feet was lost on Expedition Day.  No visibility, no fellow travelers, and no maps.  So it was just a matter of staying the course and putting one foot in front of the other as the walk became more of a climb up into the misty woods.

Misty climb
Typical terrain- watch your footing!

The Trust owns the monument:
still headed the right way!

This sign was a welcome encouragement after a couple of hours: 

The path branched out after that, and I wandered for a while, wondering if I was going to have to forage for mushrooms or something, until these stairs appeared:  

Up the stairs
Hidden, branching paths

Climbing up, I was so focused on maintaining my breathing and ignoring the fatigue in my legs that seeing this when I looked up came as something of a shock:

175 feet of 200 year old stone

All in all, it was a brilliant Expedition.

There’s a conception, I think, that church planting must be exciting, adventurous work.  It is.  Really.  It’s such a privilege to share in what God’s doing in such an involved way.  But it’s sometimes necessary- for me, anyway- to remember that this is the case because the adventure is not always visible from this vantage point.

I’ve been thinking about the American pioneers a lot.  Reading the sixth grade history books or playing The Oregon Trail (Come on, you know it was the best game of the late 90’s!), you’d think it was a nonstop adrenaline rush: there was always a river to ford, oxen to butcher for food, or herbs to find to cure the latest outbreak of dysentery. (That or the smallpox.  How many times did I lose the game to smallpox?)  But really, those were just the highlights…most days probably looked like one foot in front of the other.  Simple.  Mundane.  Requiring confidence that you were still headed in the right direction.  It must have been easy to lose perspective then, like it’s easy to lose perspective in a heavy mist.  The significance of the mundane and the value of tenacity are easy to overlook.  But every step taken matters, like the “single thread in a tapestry”.

Tenacious and yet sometimes mundane “steps” mark this season. (I’ll give you another ‘facts post’ soon explaining exactly what they look like.) I love structure.  I love long-term planning.  I love living at the speed of light.  None of the above marks this Expedition at the moment.  Instead, I’m (still!) learning tenacity in the mundane, and I am trusting that my definition of “fruitfulness” from the journey is sorely limited.  There is a heavenly estimation of what we do and how we build that is rightly humbling to me.  As I keep putting one foot in front of the other, I’m so aware that I’m in “school” with the Lord: he’s adjusting and broadening my conceptions of building, kingdom living, the supernatural, and fruitfulness.  And as I keep exploring and walking on in this process, I’m asking to see “through heaven’s eyes”.

PS: On the way down, I stopped to capture this
 tree when I noticed something in the shot...
A whole flock appeared from the mist!