A little while ago I noticed an image on Instagram, the words caught my attention—this is what they said:
‘So the LORD blessed Job in the second half of his life even more than in the beginning.’ Job 42:12.
Memories from years ago came to mind, memories of God speaking through various means, but all to the same end—for us to be encouraged that we weren’t finished with—that he had adventures for us to take part in which we had no clue about as yet, but in time we would, he would make sure of that.
One such memory was of him telling me our autumn harvest would be greater than all our previous fruitfulness. Then there was a prophetic word from a person who knew neither us nor our situation, he called us out from a crowd and in essence told us we had a greater measure of kingdom work in front of us than behind. At that time it seemed more than unlikely, we were feeling redundant as we had recently handed over the leadership of the much loved group we had been serving for many years, and we felt little hope of ever finding anything we would enjoy as much as the young people we had been working with.
The kindness of God in giving these reassurances stands out clear and vivid to me now, yet it was difficult to see back then how all he was depicting might become a reality. It’s also easier to see from this point of view that if we had continued to be so happily occupied then we wouldn’t necessarily have noticed when Father wanted us to move into another area.
After a considerable length of time searching for our next niche, we took on leading the students and twenties team, we loved looking after them and seeing those in that age group make the move from leaving home into growing independence, and witnessing in many of them a discovery that their trust in God was just as good for life ‘out there’ as it had been while they remained at home with parents. We had a long and fulfilling time with these amazing people.
After eight years of feeling entirely at home with the students and twenties we recognised the nudges of God that this, too, was coming to an end. It was not an easy transition, any more than the earlier change had been, this period had been an adventure, and we love people fiercely, so having to move on to something new isn’t a simple gear shift for us, I don’t suppose it is for anyone. But I’m getting ahead of myself, I need to fill in some details.
Quite a few years ago I started dreaming about different countries, this was new for me, I was accustomed to hearing God clearly through my dreams, but usually for others. In one particular dream I saw us travelling to various countries to encourage churches, this couldn’t have been any further from the truth as far as I could see, but I took note because it had a familiar ring to it that indicated it wasn’t just any old dream but a message from God’s heart. I told people who I thought might have a clue what it could mean in practice, but at that time no one seemed to have any more of an idea than we did.
Then, some years later I was invited to speak at a church ladies breakfast, and although I thought the person who gave the invitation may have mistaken my abilities for rather more than I was aware of, I accepted his offer. The event turned out to be months later so I had plenty of time to ask God what he wanted me to do.
Where does this fit into the story? Well, while I was preparing for the weekend away we developed some of the material that we use now, also, during this time I found a growing conviction that something was going to fall into place about ‘our countries’ while we were there. As it happens I was right, just days before we were due to travel I received a message from a church planter in one of the countries in my dream, he told me he would be preaching on the Sunday at the church we were visiting. I was a little excited, I might have squealed, I might even have told him that I’d been following him on Twitter for ages and would love to hear about his church plant. I think he may have thought he’d gained a stalker.
(Note to self…try not to react like a delighted puppy when around people who don’t know you yet.)
Over those few days away God took hold of events and moved everything into the fast lane, things fell into place just as I had sensed they would. The first thing was that the event with the ladies went well, oh my, they were just lovely, and, even as I spoke, I remembered that I loved preaching. Who would have guessed that little rediscovery was about to be made?
On the Sunday we went out for lunch with the friend who had invited me to speak and our new friend the church planter. There came a moment during our meal where no one was speaking, and I felt I had to tell my story then or I might never get another chance. So I did, I spilled the beans about my dream, then held my breath as the following silence gave me every opportunity to imagine what was going on in their minds, especially in the thoughts of the church planter—he took a moment to consider, then told us he knew people who were planting churches in all of the countries I’d mentioned, that they’d all be at a conference he would be hosting in a few months, and would we like to go along to meet them? You know it—I said yes before my heart had even taken another beat!
Some months later back in the normal routine of things at home, we had to say sad goodbyes to our students and twenties group, we spent a long time afterwards grieving the loss. Life felt incredibly flat without them.
We didn’t notice the timing then, but only the next month, we went on our first visit to Helsinki, to do something other than simply meet people who were planting churches in these cold countries.
Kevin and Lydia Jones had us stay with them for nine days, which is remarkable considering we’d only ever met briefly at a couple of conferences, and then once over coffee where we told them the sort of sessions we hold and what tends to happen as a result. We were being drawn into a precious gift of friendship even in those short conversations. Don’t you love the way Jesus puts people alongside each other to explore his kingdom dreams together? That is how we found ourselves in their home, listening to why they moved to Finland, and telling them of the dreams which had resulted in our being there too.
That all seems a long time ago now, and quite a lot has happened since.