landscapes unfamiliar

22 11 2014

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As we travel further and further into our first winter, we are continually surprised by the constantly varying world around us.  Each day offers new wonders of crystals, whites, sculptures and patterns. 

By far, my favourite is the occurrence which makes us feel like Zillionaires.  We live surrounded by diamonds.

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This is really difficult to capture with a lens, but often as we drive along, or walk, the amazing snow crystals capture the light and it seems like we are surrounded by glistening diamonds.  It is not a new message: God has surrounded me with diamonds on glimmering water, skies resplendent in stars and raindrops gleaming on grass.  I love that He continues to make us feel so rich in His beauty and presence, even here in the freezing north. 

The darkness overtakes daylight very easily these days, as we head into the darkest time of the year.  The sun rises around 8 15 this week (it changes that quickly) and by 3 30pm the sun no longer gives its light..  It has also been a particularly gloomy month, with the least sunshine recorded in about 30 years.  We were warned of November’s gloom and living through it is not fun. 

Some advice I saw online has helped a lot this week: to wear something colourful everyday. So my bright rainbow earrings and other colourful items have been used to make me smile and to cause the kids at school to wonder a little more about this strange being from the far reaches of Africa.   

How do we manage with unknown landscapes, and strange surroundings? Apply strange and unknown habits, it seems.

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Like walking on water.  Well, on ice, if you have to be pedantic…

The kids have been out on the lake for a while, and I managed to coax Deon onto the water. That is a grimace, not a grin, on his lips.

Like enjoying all the small details of change.

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Like really enjoying looking, taking in and reslishing sunshine when we get it.

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Like having a fellow African (from our much loved Uganda! Yay!) visit and experience new things for a weekend

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Like constantly traveling with camera in hand to capture new experiences

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Like enjoying wide open spaces in new ways

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Like learning to pray in new ways, for new things in unfamiliar contexts. 

Like feeling totally overwhelmed by the challenges of learning a new language.

Like facing the several new things we face every day with courage from God, when we do not feel any bravery within ourselves.

Like the sheer joy of having precious lives blossom before your eyes, responding to genuine encouragement and love. Like the hugs they give at lesson’s end, or the heart-treasured facebook messages that embed themselves between memories of daily frosted diamonds.

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May you be enriched with the millions of diamonds around you, everyday, that God throws about between all the ordeals and ordinary circumstances of your landscapes.

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leaders, pastors, preachers, teachers?

13 11 2014

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Amidst all the excitement and challenge of settling into a new place is getting into a church body.  This has been totally great for us here, as we never felt that we fitted in anywhere after trying several churches in our last living place.  We loved the community of believers in Mwanza, had a great little church when we lived on the West Rand, but have not had a good place to fit into, and share faith much, over the last few years.

 

Our new house of faith, the Vilhelmina Fria Församlingen  (Free Congregation) is a great little place.  It is not too big and impersonal, we were made to feel welcome from the first time we walked in, and they try to help us understand what is going on in English! 

One of the special things is that the church leaders want to get people acting on faith and using gifts God has given.  They got excited to know that I love the idea of teaching Biblical truth, and so have given me a spot to preach one Sunday.

This is so exciting and thrilling, and fulfils one of my heart dreams.  Until the reality of preparing (as seen above)  and preaching comes…

 

I have never been a church leader and have not had to give sermons every week.  But I have had opportunities to speak: at school assemblies, often in my grandfather’s mission churches, and once or twice at small conference groups.  I LOVED teaching Biblical Studies when it was offered at school and the constant teaching of word thrilled my soul.  But this opportunity feels so different.  This is real church.  The audience is more educated, mature and ‘strong’ in their faith than most of the other audiences I have faced (sorry to all my past students reading this…) .   

Every time I have spoken in the past, I would always be challenged on what I was going to be  sharing.  I remember the talk I gave on perseverance once: the week or two before the talk was full of tests to persevere.  I expected a bit of challenge and testing in preparation of this sermon.

But not the level of testing I have felt in my heart and mind.  This extreme was beyond what I thought reasonable.

There have been my usual challenges:  ‘Who are you to think you can talk?’  ‘Nobody can understand you anyway’. And the usual lie that I constantly face ‘Just kill yourself and get it over with’ (Yes, really.  That is a default setting in my brain.  And it requires constant fighting with God’s truth.)  

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Then there have been physical challenges: Sky high fevers, pains, unexpected body reactions.

Then the left field (and right field and centre field??) challenges all at once. A Swedish level-check test that left me feeling completely uneducated and low. very odd temptations that are not the usual darts that I experience. 

It takes ongoing prayer and alertness to make it through all these challenges.

 

BUT.  Here is the real point. 

If this is what I go through for one sermon, what do our church leaders face every week? Every day?

This is about those who really care about the sheep who have been entrusted to them.  Those who seek first God’s kingdom. 

More and more I am seeing how the enemy of our souls seeks to do all that he can to keep people from the kingdom.  He will never tell a person how fantastic and wonderful and great he is, and especially not when that person is serious about the business of the Kingdom. 

The challenges and tests I am experiencing would be a constant battle to those who regularly stand before others to share the Word, and to be a light for God. 

Billy Graham admits to facing all the temptations the world could throw at him.  There would not be a godly kingdom-worker alive who has not faced temptations, challenges and tests, regularly.

So.  Here is my proposal.  Instead of looking for things to judge and criticise in those whom God has anointed to lead us in His Kingdom, let us lift them up in constant, sincere, directed prayers so that they can be more effective in what God has called them to do.

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I LOVE these two people.  God has allowed Hennie and Anschke to be our friends, pastors and journey-sharers for about 3 or 4 years now.  I am amazed at their hearts: for the community they are called to be in, for the farm where God has called them to plant, and for the people God has driven them to serve.

Just the name of the church, Gemeente Sonder Grense  (Congregation without borders), speaks to a commitment to go beyond.  And they are looking to do that, more than ever.

But because we are friends, we have come to see some of the great challenges faced in their ministry.  Hennie faces some really tough health challenges.  They have both faced several crises: having a home set alight by those they wished to serve. Crazy challenges in the family they are loving. Threats to safety and wellbeing.  These are some of the more noticeable challenges.  I am sure there are several that are not given public space.

How do they keep on going where there is not the same kind of mega-growth of mega-churches? How do such leaders persevere when the eyes do not see physically what the heart of faith is telling them to believe?

And now we have new spiritual leaders. On Saturday our precious new little church formally welcomes Peter and Camilla to leadership.  Already we have been blessed by the heart of love and passion for the kingdom we have seen.  We know of a few challenges they have faced: crazy electrical faults that burned out a lot of goods in their home, animal challenges, family issues…  

SO WHAT? 

So.  Please take time to pray, earnestly, for those God has anointed into leadership over you.  When last did you show appreciation for the  position your leaders face?  Give a little thank you.

Do not stand in judgment and criticism.  It is so easy to point fingers, especially if you have never been in their position.  Realise that this is a very very spiritual battle and that God has called certain people to help lead us in this crazy, dangerous, wild journey called Kingdom life.  These people take the brunt of spiritual attack so often.  They may lie awake nights praying for and mulling over concerns of their ‘sheep’.  They may visit with people who need presence until long past what others would accept as reasonable office hours.  They are a part of the varied and rather wild spiritual journeys of many that God has entrusted to them.

The enemy will definitely not leave them alone, if they are really concerned about the Kingdom of God. 

Ask for God to protect their marriages and their children (don’t just simply mock a ‘PK’).  Pray for protection of health, home, wellbeing. Most pastors are not doing it for the money!  Pray that God will build their trust in Him even more. That they will hear His words for their sheep, and that God will provide all that is needed to carry out the work.  That God will lead them in integrity and increase the work of their hands. 

It is the call of God on every believer to SEEK FIRST HIS KINGDOM.  We are doing this together.  Our leaders need us to support them through Kingdom building, and to be a part of the journey.

Let us lift up those God has entrusted with leading us, and pray for them like we have not thought to do before. 

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snowing–and growing–in october

9 11 2014

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Instagram had the hashtag #snöioktober.  So I use that as inspiration for an October catchup, as it was remarkable in our lives.  We have never before had snow, and a good amount of it in October.  (or most other months, especially not in the middle of Africa!)  We had about 2 weeks altogether of snow, but it is all pretty much gone as I type.  So, yes.  We now have full conversations based on the weather.  We have experienced a week of –15 Celcius at night, with days up to about –6.  That is also new for us.  Most of the waterways have iced up in the last week from 20141107_103649 (Small)these temperatures.  They all melted two or so weeks ago, so it is not really worth trying to do too much on the ice yet, but that does not stop high school kids, who went out on the spark (kick)  on Friday at breaktime.  And got me out there too… but I am still very uncertain of this white stuff that was plain old cold water a week or so ago! 

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It was great fun to play a bit in the snow, when we had it.  Just enough to make snow lanterns and slide around a bit.    Which led to physical impairment, as a result off this spatially and co-ordinationally challenged girl…

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The moment husband captures, just before you could have hit a tree. That he saved you from. With his own arms.  And pulled his muscles and tendons for you…   such is Deon’s love.  But I had fun going down the slope…

But we now have stories of other things to tell. We so loved having our special Lundmark friends with us to enjoy the snow.  Our water went off just before they arrived, but, hey.  This is Sweden.  Everything works soon enough, right?   

Wrong. 

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There was a very dry summer here in the north of Sweden and the water levels are all low.  In our flat, we get water from the Volgsjon River, which is also very low.  And for about ten days we had water issues. A week of no water, through to very muddy water, through to off-again-on-again.   We are glad that our water is now flowing well again.  But we have stories to tell of walking (un-barefoot) in the snow to get water by the bucketload.  (Deon had very sore arms, remember!) and getting up extra early to go shower at school. And not being able to quickly run out to pee outside, as one would do in Africa.  One does not quickly run outside to do anything at this time of the year.  Ever.  It is always layering on the clothing, carefully tying shoes and putting on gloves, hats and scarves.  It was a week of learning, saying thanks for blessings of hot water at school and being so grateful to flush a toilet, when the water was eventually functional again!  (I think our African years prepared us well.  We knew how to make several coping plans!)

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We enjoy beautiful sunsets regularly.  Also notice the warning sign of a snow scooter route.  The school kids are antsy for real snow to come so that they can get the engines revving.  This is the big reason that several northern Swedes like living in northern Sweden, I have discovered.  Snow scooters rule, apparently.  We will let you know if we experience this ourselves.  Right now I am terrified of all snow activities.  If I cannot even go down a small slope on my butt on a mattress, I cannot be trusted on anything higher, methinks…

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But Deon, a real master, got to share his abilities last weekend. 

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My dear man got behind a sound desk again!  He joined Peter, the pastor of our church, at Gud Hjärta Norrland, a youth conference in Östersund.  It was wonderful to see my man shine in the skills God has given him and to make a real difference where it was needed.  I loved seeing God work in people’s lives, and having a good look around Andrew’s (my brother) town in Sweden, where he first lived and went to university. 

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We continue to feel the sense of purpose and pleasure at being where we are.  We love the people of northern Sweden and are glad to be here. We love the small town we are in. We feel privileged and blessed to be part of the church community where we fellowship.  We stand in admiration of the gifts and talents given to Peter and Camilla, the church leaders, as well as the others in the church. 

Oh yes.  The statistic is that at anytime, there are 600 000 Swedes singing in choirs across the country.

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Now there are 600 000 Swedes and 2 South Africans.  We are loving being part of the small choir preparing for Christmas songs. Friday evenings, when we both feel tired, we go and sing and after a short while feel re-energised and excited to be alive again.  It is great to be PART of something… community, sharing talents, being alive. 

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We are preparing for the big freeze, soon. It has warmed up to around zero today, and the roads will be icy this week.  But soon it will be all white under snow, I hope.  The darkness is beginning to make life challenging: the sun begins setting at 3 or so (this week.  It gets earlier each week) and by 4 it is very dark. 

We do value prayers… that we endure the darkness, that we continue to use what God has given us and be His blessings here.  Pray for health and strength for us too, please.  Also, to stay strong in battles… they come at us from all sides, in various forms.

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But we have His endless grace and help in every challenge.  Even surrounded by ice and snow.





a story about a trampoline

6 11 2014

God reminded me of this during the night.

And here we are, flinging arms wildly into the air of this new Swedish experience. And we are loving it.

I will try to do a fresh blog again on the weekend… it is a bit busy with our middle-of-the-trampoline life. But God is SOOOOOOO good.

Let me know if you are in a challenging ‘trampoline’ place right now.

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When I was small one of the things I longed for was a trampoline. There was one family that I remember having one. It was always such a treat to be able to jump, and I so wished that we could get a trampoline too.

Sport, movement and co-ordination were never my strong points. It was a moment of tremendous pride when I got that move right… jumping on feet– knees- bum – back to feet. What a star! That was about the best I could ever get right. I might have learned some other tricks had we had a trampoline of our own (they were so expensive in SA when I was small, so it never happened) but the wish was there.

I was struck by God’s sense of humour when we first came to look at this house in Bwiru. There stood a trampoline in our garden! I…

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