So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.
1 Thes 5:11
We have known, since we looked at a map for the first time to see where we were going, that we were coming to Vilhelmina in Sweden because God wants us in this place.
There are so many opportunities for me to use the various gifts God has given me, and I often soar with joy at the usefulness I feel.
Deon, well, not so much.
There is the very strange language. This white stuff that hangs around for at least 7 months of the year. Lack of sunshine and heat. Strange ways of thinking and doing things that an African does not grasp too easily. Not having a job, so not having a set framework for each day, and lacking a whole lot of purpose in that. And then there is the culture.
All these things make it a big challenge for Deon to adapt to this new calling. But he is as convinced as I am that God has called us to be here.
We had this headline in the English online newspaper recently:
Sweden ‘least religious’ nation in Western world
Published: 13 Apr 2015 16:34 GMT+02:00
Almost eight out of ten Swedes are either "not religious" or "convinced atheists", according to a new global study that concludes the Nordic nation is the least religious in the West.
This did give us a bit of a jolt. You mean the Swedes are less religious than the Dutch? or the Germans?
For having a history steeped in religion, and for my heritage being such a firm part of that sharing of faith, some of the statistics do seem frightening.
This is a paragraph from the article:
There are more than 3500 churches in Sweden and the Swedish Church (Svenska Kyrkan) says it has 6.3 million members in a country just shy of 10 million people. Before 1996, children whose parents were members of the Swedish Church were automatically enrolled at birth. But according to Statistics Sweden, just five percent of Swedes are regular church goers.
On the one hand, I really like this. One knows where one stands with most people. Although the state values human rights, it is severely frowned upon to talk of faith openly. I have had kids laugh about Jesus at school, and say that He is dead. The boundaries are very clearly set.
But the believers cannot be held down and be made to sit still in a corner.
Our own little congregation of about 40 show commitment to pray, seek God and to shine for Him.
There are dedicated prayer times where several from different churches across the town gather to lift up this part of the country and the nation as a whole.
And we know that God has brought us here. We look for every gap to be useful, to put our abilities into practise and to experience what God is doing in Sweden.
This was one such opportunity.
Deon had helped with sound at a conference here last Autumn, and they asked for him and Peter (our pastor) to help again.
Deon realised: he does still enjoy doing sound, but is not as young as he was 15 years ago! And several late nights in a row, after serving for most of the day… it begins to show in the eye bags.
But WE realised that there is great hope for Norrlands Inlandet (The inland part of Sweden’s northern areas).
We experienced heart-to-heart skilled worship (which went on for hours at a time!) We saw how the older generation served the youth and how the younger people showed appreciation for the work of the older generation. I LOVED meeting people from several countries who have had challenging faith walks, but are serving God in Sweden.
The word God brought was soul food.
We were reminded of the tremendous passion Jesus showed in His love for us, and how we can live out that passion for Him because He paid the price for our passion.
Words inspiring faith and trust were shared.
We were charged to take courage. God has not made His followers to be little mice: we are like lions, and lions ROAR. (Thanks to Mixter99 on Instagram who shared this image. We reflect the one who gives us courage!)
Deon and I got a little bit of time out from a packed long weekend to be with my brother and his wife who live in Östersund. We have not spent time looking around much, even since our arrival in Sweden. I think our brains have been stunned. Or iced. Now we got a short opportunity to look around. This weekend we got to experience our first signs that Spring might be on the way.
There were not heaps of snow on the sides of every road, and we saw FLOWERS! Growing in the ground outside! (This, as youo may tell, is not common further north where our home is!)
And Andrew took us on a bit of a trip.
The sounds of rushing waters, seeing sprays rise into the air, being surrounded by awesome nature, being with family: these joys filled our ears for a few hours and our souls for a while to come.
Ristafallet, on the road to Åre, are well known waterfalls and have been the setting of several Swedish films. For us, I was reminded that God speaks in the majesty of the waterfall. And He speaks in the quiet of the soul.
He also shows how wonderfully generous He is, by having created caocoa beans. Which give us chocolate. And there is a marvellous chocolate factory just outside of Åre.
So we had to stop there too. Just for a good, balanced experience.
Åre is one of Sweden’s top skiing destinations and it is gorgeous. It was lovely to see the spaces, spend time with family and enjoy some new dimensions of Sweden.
Then we were back to vibey music, buzzing conversations and a hum of humanity.
From several sources we seem to be hearing the same kind of message: There is a feeling of anticipation. There is an awareness of excitement, and feeling that SOMETHING is about to happen.
We await this too and feel privileged to be in this place, at this time, for this place, for these people.