This week, our house church gathered in our apartment to fika (enjoy coffee and sweets), get to know each other better, pray for each other and discuss God’s grace found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We were blessed that 6 people came to learn about God and share life. This is the reason we are here and the heart of our ministry – to make followers of Jesus!
We’re in the midst of our concentrated week of Martin birthdays in November – Tony (17th), Gwen (19th) and Jiana (23rd). And oh yea…we woke up to a lovely snowfall that’s just incredibly beautiful.
What a blessing to be able to attend United World Mission’s Euro Conference!!! It was a week of wonderful renewal!! For Tony and I, it was a great time of meeting our colleagues in other mission fields and hearing their stories; some old friends, others meeting for the first time face to face (vs Skype), and meeting many new ones!! My best highlight was the worship time each morning! We were blessed with a great worship team from Texas. It’s amazing how much deeper your worship is when you can worship in your mother tongue!! Tony loved being in the majestic Julian Alps in Slovenia. He’s seen them in almost every country they are in and they always take his breath away!! Jensina and Jiana totally enjoyed meeting the other Third Culture Teens, all the different activities they did each day, and the times to process about being a Third Culture Teen. We’re so thankful for those who traveled over from Texas to bless our girls! They are in school right now, but if I could ask them what their favorite thing was, I’m totally sure I would get different answers!! I think Jiana would say all of the activities they did and Jensina would say hanging out with the other teens and making new friends!! (But don’t hold me to that!!! LOL)
It would take a really loooong blog to share everything, so instead I’ll share through these pictures! I hope you enjoy them and don’t get too bored!!!
Nice view out our living room to the balcony and then the grill place (brown structure)
Transition is the name of the game right now. After 8 months of being transients, we moved into our apartment on Feb. 28!! Woohoo!!!! It’s great to have so much help from friends!!! We’re not quite settled yet. The apartment needed a lot of fixing and we’re now in the final phase of wallpapering. Fortunately, the landlords arrange all of this. So hopefully, we’ll be all settled in by the end of April. It’s about 1/2 hour drive to take the kids to school, so we’re getting used to that also.
Our church is also going through a significant change of location right now. Please keep Kroskyrkan in prayer – change is never easy for a church! And for us as it impacts our ministry as well.
The Swedes have a 5th season they call spring-winter!! It’s now, while we still have quite a bit of snow and ice, but the days are getting quite long, sunny, and warm!! And so, we are all about transition, leaving the cold, dark, insecurities behind and looking forward to a season of warmth, sunshine, and growth!! It reminds me (Gwen) of my life verse, Philippians 3:13 & 14 – “Brothers and sisters, I don’t consider that I have taken hold of it yet. But here is the one thing I do. I forget what is behind me. I push hard toward what is ahead of me. I push myself forward toward the goal to win the prize. God has appointed me to win it. The heavenly prize is Christ Jesus himself.”
We have been back in Sweden for about 1½ months now and are delighted to be here, renewing friendships and sensing for what God has for us here! We haven’t yet found an apartment in Luleå and so have been staying with very good friends. We are so thankful for our friends and their welcoming us back with open arms and open homes!!
We’ve been able to apply for our visas although we’ve been told it may take up to 16 months. But it is no problem for us to stay here and minister during this time! So we’ve been meeting with different friends, getting caught up and gaining a sense of how to continue on. We’re also preparing to assist Korskyrkan (our local church) as they go through some transitions and we plan to start meeting with others from our church so they can start planting house churches. In September, Tony will participate in a conference in Stockholm focusing on the Simple House Church Movement. The following week, Tony will again fly to southern Sweden to start training as a church planter coach.
From our limited experience, it’s been a very warm summer!! Arriving in Luleå, it was in the mid-50’s, after leaving a warm Pennsylvania in the high 80’s! Then, it turned very warm and has been in the mid-80’s and very delightful for biking and swimming!!! So we’ve been doing some relaxing before school starts on August 21. Now, “fallish” weather is starting to set in turning us to more serious endeavors.
This week, Jensina courageously went to a camp with some of the local teens! We’ve been praying that she has a great time, is able to connect with some Christian kids her age, and understands Swedish enough to hear God speaking to her.
CALLING ALL PRAYER WARRIORS: Apartment hunting is proving to be especially difficult. We’re sure we will get one sooner or later, but we’d rather get it sooner! We are currently living about 25 minutes away from our target ministry area and the girls’ school. So we are asking all those who feel called to prayer to pound on God’s door for an apartment (2-3 bedroom on the ground or 1st floor for about $1,000 and 300 sq. ft.), sooner rather than later, like the widow and the judge (Luke 18:1-8). If you would like to do some persistent “door pounding” with us, please let us know!
Well, this has been a very different spring from what we expected. For those not on Facebook, I, Gwen, have been sick quite often and in the hospital a couple of times. We hope we are soon at the point where the doctors will be able to pinpoint the problem and begin treatment. We do believe we are almost there. Please keep us in prayer for wisdom and God’s healing!!!
Tony and I have graduated from Svenska för invandrare (Swedish for Immigrants)!! YEAH!!!! Now comes the harder part of continuing to practice what we’ve learned and become fluent! Jensina & Jiana have also finished their school year here and are glad for summer vacation!!
We’ve turned our house church over to new leadership now!! Anders and Sarah have been such a great help to us, especially this spring while Gwen was sick, helping us lead the group and ministering to us personally. We’re so thankful for them and others here who have helped us out during this difficult time. We know our house church is in good hands as they start up again in the fall and continue to grow in God!!!
We are now beginning to prepare to come home on August 17 for 6 months to raise more support. We are glad to have housing set up for us at Cedar Lane Mission Homes in New Jersey. Now, we need to pack up our apartment and store our things, a humongous job, plus find a car to use in the States (if you have one we could borrow, please let us know), and begin planning to meet with family, friends, and churches. Please feel free to email us (email@example.com) to set up a time we can meet with you! We’d love to spend time with you!! We hope to be able to return to Sweden by March 2013, but we can only return when we have raised the needed support. Please keep us in prayer for this need so we can continue our ministry here in Luleå, Sweden!!
The summer has sped by with lots of swimming, biking, playing with friends, and relaxing times. The big event to end our summer was a team coming from our home church, First Baptist of Morrisville, to minister with us. It was wonderful, like a home-coming to us!!! Our niece, Charissa, was able to come so that made it all that much more special!! They arrived on August 22 and our job that first day was to keep them up all day!!! We did it!! They learned the word fika (anything from a sweet treat to a sandwich with a drink, usually coffee) very quickly at our home and then we went into Centrum (city center) for a prayer walk! At the top of Stadshuset (City Hall) we could look all over Luleå! There we prayed for the people of the city with an empty chair to represent at least 1 person coming into a friendship with Jesus! It was great to have the team here sharing in our small groups, praying with us, helping the church clean a room to start a cafe, visiting the university campus, doing a marriage seminar, getting to know our friends here, and leading worship and preaching at church, etc. And we had a great time showing them our city!! We have been blessed to hear of a person coming to know Jesus, partly as a result of the marriage seminar!! God filled that empty chair!!! Here are some pictures of their time here to give more of a feeling of how it all went!! Team, we miss you all!!
The snow and ice are gone, green leaves and flowers are appearing!! Lately, it’s been really rainy, but we can’t complain because it is making everywhere really green! And we love the color green, along with the yellow, white, pink purple and red flowers!! Temperature-wise, it’s usually in the mid-40’s to low 50’s. That’s a little strange for us as we’re used to at least the 80’s by now! It feels quite Aprilish here. Often now, we smell the grills going and have even been down to the river to make a fire and cook our evening meal. We’re looking forward to more of that and are getting better and better at starting our fires!! The first time Frigg saw the river free from ice, he ran right in 5-6 times!!! So it looks like we’ll have a fun and exciting summer with him!! LOL
Life feels like it’s going really fast here!!! The girls started in the Montessori school right after Easter. It’s been a real challenge for them with the increase in the amount as well as the level of Swedish! Keep them in prayer as they struggle to advance with their class. I’m sure you can imagine how learning in a foreign language makes it really difficult to keep up with their classmates academically. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough staff to give them the special help they need. This is now their last week so there’s lots going on!
I (Gwen) started Swedish for Immigrants last week! I’ve enjoyed the class and will be able to keep my lesson book over the summer to work on. The pace of my life has really increased as I now add my Swedish homework to the schedule. Tony continues in his Swedish course until the end of June. Today, our friends who help us with the language, Clas & Christina, told me that they can really see all of us improving. That is such an encouragement as we don’t always feel that way.
Our home group has been really great!! We have anywhere between 6 and 13 on any given night. The last few weeks, we are interceding for the city of Luleå. Last week, we interceded for the children, schools, and the women’s shelter and their need for someone to work with the children. Next week, we’ll take it outside and do some prayer walking in the centrum. It is really a privilege to work with this group of sisters and brothers in the Lord!!
Northern Sweden has a unique season that they call spring-winter! It’s when there is still LOTS and LOTS of snow, but yet the sun shines bright and warm! During this season, it’s very popular to walk out on the ice road and have a nice bar-b-que. We didn’t want to miss this experience so we arranged for our small group to do this. It was soooooo fun!! Our group gathered our supplies – wood, lighting fluid, hot dogs, rolls, vegetables, chips, soda, etc. and started our walk of about a half hour. It was a very slushy walk as the snow and ice is beginning to melt from the warm sun. Once we arrived, we could see that it is definitely spring as the grill was standing in about 10 cm (4 inches) of water. We had such a great time of relaxing fun. I hope you enjoy the slideshow!
Everyone did such a great job on the Christmas Play, Åsneexpressen (The Donkey Express)! They were all awesome!! It was a wonderful blend of fun, great music, and the wonderful account of Jesus, the Christ! They preformed it 5 times total, 3 of those times for all the schools in Luleå!! We don’t have a video, but here is a slide show for you. We hope you enjoy it!!! Merry Christmas! God Jul! Gwen 🙂
Pastor Richard and leaders of the church in Kiruna
Last Friday and Saturday, Tony traveled with our pastor (Richard) to Kiruna – 90 miles above the Arctic Circle. Three local pastors have been going there to help a church in this mining town of 18,000 get back on its feet. It was great to listen to these people who love God so much as they prayed for wisdom and discernment regarding the future of the church. The temperature is already dropping in Kiruna, but the hearts of the people in this church continue to be on fire for the Lord. This land is being reclaimed by God as His own and we are privileged to be part of His work!
The four-hour drive each way allowed Tony and Richard to really get to know each other and to share some of our visions and dreams for this region. We saw several reindeer lazily walking onto and across the highway we were on with obviously no fear of cars. Richard stated that most of these animals belonged to herders and were allowed to freely roam. And of course, there was also the obligatory stop at the sign marking the exact line of the Arctic Circle.
The Martins can’t wait to come back to see the spectacular beauty of this region in the winter! In the meantime, we’ll pray for the church there. Will you join us?