Wonderful Ukrainians

It is amazing how in the short space of a week it is possible to feel so much love, hope and
affection for people that you have never met before.  I met many great people during this past week at the YMCA Youth Unify camp in Poland and was most deeply moved through the immense privilege of getting to know an amazing group of people from YMCA Ukraine – specifically Kiev, Lutsk, Odessa and Kharkiv.  They really ambushed me with their friendship and encouragement.  I wish to use this blog post for two simple reasons:

  1. To honour their faithfulness to their nation, the YMCA and, most importantly, to God.  They work tirelessly in their home towns sacrificing time, money and man
    y other things to serve young people.  Their hunger to understand and know Christ is inspiring.  Love and humility just pours out of them.
  2. To call you to pray for the nation of Ukraine which remains in the midst of such violence and a heartbreaking war.  This video shows four of the volunteers from YMCA Ukraine sing a haunting prayer for the peace of their nation. You may wish to use the song as a tool to lead you into praying for the peace of Ukraine.

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When God isn’t there…

In 1873 a prominent American lawyer called Horatio Spafford sent is wife and four daughters on a steamship to England for a holiday with the plan to follow them shortly after.  Tragically the steamship sank and his four daughters, along with 222 others, died.  His wife survived. Spafford was a Christian, this event must have shook his faith in God to the core.

Spafford's four daughters

Do you ever doubt God?  Do you ever feel like God just isn’t there?  Maybe your prayers are not answered, or you feel such apathy, hurt or doubt that you cannot even bring yourself to pray.

Please be encouraged and keep going.  There are all sorts of reasons why bad things happen but it is important to remember that God is in control of all situations, no matter how grim, hopeless, or even tragic they may be.

In the Bible a prophet called Ezekiel had a vision where he saw many people who had completely turned away from God and had begun to chase after other reasons to live.  Some had begun worshiping the sun, others had started behaving in ways that hurt themselves and those around them.  Their reasoning was, “The Lord does not see us, the Lord has forsaken the land.”  But in the vision there was a real sense of the holy jealousy of God.  Even when God seems absent we should still give him the worship that is due to him.

Many wise and insightful people have written books exploring about how pain and suffering can be reconciled with the existence of a loving and powerful God.  It is important to engage our intellect on this issue but a great way to engage our whole being with the issue of suffering and an absent God is to actually worship God!

After receiving the news of the death of his four children Spafford came immediately to England.  It is said that it was shortly after passing the spot of the tragic accident in the Atlantic that Spafford wrote the hymn ‘Peace like a River.’  An amazing response of worship in the midst of the worst nightmare that could happen to anyone.

Everybody’s suffering is unique.  Our experience of God is unique.  What will mark us out as those who loved God is how we respond to him in those difficult times.

Narnia obsession and entertainment culture

Anya is obsessed with Narnia.  Whilst there are definitely much worse things to be obsessed with I think it might be going a bit too far – every spare moment goes into listening, watching, reading, theologically reflecting or drawing Narnia or asking questions about it.

I was a bit worried because every time she goes to her bedroom she switches on the audio book.  Even if it’s just to get dressed, brush her hair and put some shoes on – she’ll be listening to Narnia at the same time.  When I challenged her she said it was because she was bored and I realised, just like me, she has become a victim of our entertainment culture.  That is, we cannot bare to have even a few moments with something to entertain us or something to do.

Anya is uncomfortable in her room with silence so it is filled with Narnia.  I am uncomfortable with nothing going on so will turn on the TV, check my emails/facebook, listen to the radio, read a book.  I know that none of these things are bad but much more often I’d like to take advantage of a bit of peace and stillness.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Mark 1:35

Real Life

Today I found myself tired and stressed.  I guess on one hand it is no big deal but on the other its not pleasant and does somewhat disable your productivity.  There are reasons for being tired – staying up to0 late talking with Goca & Rada, getting up t0o early to drive to back to Niksic for language lessons, finally going running yesterday.  There are reasons for being stressed – I couldn’t find my way round the kitchen, dinner got ruined, I’m living in a new country, I didn’t have time to go running today, I’m a human being.  But I’d rather I wasn’t tired or stressed.

Ah well.  Here’s to another day.  A prayer and a decision to rely on God’s love for me in all situations (even kitchen mishaps) and I should be ok.

Let loose

Last night was Stan’s last preach and now he and the family have flown off to America leaving me with the pastoral and teaching responsibility in the church.  Stan preached from Acts and loosely compared Paul’s emotional departure from the church in Ephesus with how our departure might look in three months time!  I feel very at home already and have enjoyed spending time with some of the church members already.  Our first task will be to get around visiting and encouraging everyone.  We want to have fun and get to know people, pray with people and learn from the Bible with people – all things that Paul did with the Ephesians.  I am sure that would be a recipe for a good foundation in church leadership.

Yesterday morning I took advantage of the extra hours sleep to get up at 6am and take a walk from Rada’s folks’ to look over the town.  A couple of the pictures are below but I’m not sure how well they’ll come out of the blog.  Despite Niksic being an industrial town it is still beautiful with incredible character and the people are warm and welcoming.  It has a lot of problems though and needs a lot of investment and empowering.

Settling In

Just a quick update and some fantastic news at the end.

We’re settling in well.  Last night I went to the first church meeting since we arrived where there was discussion on Sunday’s preaches and a great time of prayer.  I am so happy to be here it feels so right!

After the meeting I went with the two Norwegian students who have started at the church – Sondre & Jonas – back to their place where they made a worthy attempt at Montenegrin stuffed peppers!  Not quite up to local standards but not bad for a first go!  They have only been here a few weeks but are throwing themselves into things with energy and enthusiasm.  They are working hard at learning Montenegrian and I am really chuffed that we’ll be sharing our time with them here.

We were joined for dinner by a young man who had fled with his mother to Germany during the conflict of the early 1990s.  He is back reunited with his father now but has built a life for himself in Germany and was really missing that.  There are no jobs for him here and very little prospects so he is looking to return to Germany,  It is tragic to see what long lasting impact the consequences of war has on families.  Nevertheless, it was great to meet him and spend time with him.

You must be wondering what the fantastic news is – well it is certainly an answer to prayer.  Jonas, the Norwegian student, is a massive Aston Villa fan!  I feel so fortunate to have found a kindred spirit 🙂

Chattering fool

Sometimes me and Anya read a Proverb at breakfast time.  This is great because Anya gets to practice reading, she comes out with some hilarious and profound points and, it is certainly of use to get an early morning dose of the Word of God.

Yesterday we read:

 “The wise in heart accept commands,
       but a chattering fool comes to ruin.”  Proverbs 10:8

I asked Anya, Who gives commands?” and the genius came up with God through Moses, parents, teachers and governments.  We had a chat about when you talk in class you sometimes miss what the teacher asks you to do and it led me to the very simple, obvious but life changing conclusion that if we spend too much time distracted by other things, the ‘chatter’ of life, then we will miss out on the words of God for today.

Our God is a living God who interacts and relates with the beings he has created.  Spend time each day listening, pause to think, look around you.  I sometimes feel like I constantly need background noise – tv, work, conversation, MP3, newspapers, internet….none bad in themselves, yet all these things sometimes lead this fool to ruin.