In September 2006 we began an adventure. Our daughter Jessica was seven months old. We were stepping out in faith to begin an adventure, the likes of which we had never experienced before. Less than a year earlier, after several short term mission trips, and after hosting several guests from the country, we suddenly felt called to leave everything behind and move to Slovakia as missionaries. The call had taken us by surprise. In the years that we had been together, Liz and I had always felt a stirring that God was calling us to do something more, but being missionaries had never crossed our minds. We never felt the need to travel much and loved living close to our families.
Now, here we were, about to get on a plane to a country where we could just about say ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, and ask somebody how they were. I had given up my career as a police officer and Liz had given up her business as a singing teacher. It had sounded like an exciting step of faith when it was still a year away, now, with no idea of what the future held, and only the faintest idea of what we would be doing, the day had come to get on the plane.
Our faith had already been tested. We had to sell our house before we came. We were taking a huge drop in income and if our house didn’t sell before we left we would have been in severe financial trouble almost immediately. We had put our house on the market over 8 months earlier but had had very little interest. Nothing was selling in the area. Convinced that we needed to take a step of faith we had given up our jobs and bought our plane tickets believing that God would sort out the house. We had an agonising few months where our trust in his faithfulness would really be tested far more than we expected. After months of waiting with nobody coming to see the house, it actually sold on the day before we got on the plane. God had proved himself faithful. Our faith was increased, but little did we know how much that boost in our levels of trust was preparation for what lay ahead.
The day we left England was an emotional rollercoaster. Naively, we had arranged for all our family and friends to come around to my brother’s house to say goodbye. In truth, it was like being at our own funeral. Knowing that our finances would be difficult, we didn’t know if we would be able to afford to visit home very often. The thought of taking my little Jessica away from her grandparents, not knowing when we would be able to bring her back, was difficult to say the least. My mother clung on to her for most of the morning with tears in her eyes. That morning, people made a few jokes, trying to lift the atmosphere, but the feeling was one of sadness. A few hours later, wearing around 4 or 5 layers of clothes because our luggage was overweight, we landed in Bratislava and the adventure began.
The ten years that we spent in Slovakia were the most significant of our lives up to this point. It wasn’t easy, we had to battle through some of the lowest valleys of our lives. The emotional roller coaster of a journey that we had been on, as well as some of the severe challenges that faced us almost immediately, had taken its toll and I battled with severe depression for many months. The result of that came close to destroying our ministry, our marriage and our family. We had to face severe financial pressure and there were many times in the first few years when we simply couldn’t afford to buy food. We faced many health issues and difficulties in raising children in a foreign culture. There were times when we struggled with ministry and made many mistakes along the way. However, in those ten years, we also had some of the most wonderful times in our marriage, ministry and family. The truth is that the good far outweighed the bad. Our family grew, with the birth of our son Noah, and we made so many close friends that we now consider part of our family. We had the joy of starting a church and seeing it grow and then helping to start a bible college.
God proved himself to be faithful. He proved himself to be a good father. Even the bad times God used for our good. There is one scripture that we found to be true so many times that it became the anthem of our time in Slovakia.
Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
In all of the difficulties, God never left us. There were times when we had doubts and times when we struggled to see what he was doing or to hear his voice. However, He always brought us through, and made us better people in the process. At the end of the ten years we had a stronger marriage, family and ministry than we could ever have hoped for. God is a good Father.
Liz and I were starting to think that we would spend the rest of our lives in Slovakia. That thought was a pleasant one. We were happy with our lives and our ministry. However, our direction would change again. One summer, we both felt God telling us that our time in Slovakia would be coming to an end. We were to prepare to hand over our work there. It wasn’t what we wanted to hear. We spoke to the leadership and took our time confirming that we had heard correctly. God was calling us back to Biddulph, the place that we had grown up and got married, to take on the church. We loved the church in Biddulph, and prayed for it for many years, but never felt we were called to lead it. We were happy where we were. God, however, had different ideas.
In 2016 we began a process that was so familiar to us from our experience 10 years earlier. We were to move countries. This time, there was an extra child to consider. The first time we didn’t know what to expect. This time, we knew the trauma of what an international move entailed. We knew the pain of leaving family and friends behind. This knowledge, brought with it, a higher level of anxiety. The process began. In 2016, we finished our last year at the Bible college, handed the church over to local leadership, lived in four different houses, arranged an international move, started new, exciting but challenging position as pastors, got our children enrolled in schools in what was, for them, a foreign country and dealt with all of the overwhelming amount of administration involved in such a move.
Throughout the whole process, being able to control very little, we simply had to trust God. He, once again, proved himself to be faithful. As I write this blog, our children are settled in their new schools and have almost already caught up, we have a house that is far better than we ever expected, and we have settled in as pastors of a church we love. We know that there are many challenges ahead of us. However, we are more convinced than ever that we have a good, good, Father.
In the last ten years, we have discovered that the safest place to be, is in the will of the Father. It isn’t always easy, in fact sometimes it can be real tough, but he always brings you through and changes you for the better in the process. I have had the opportunity to tell many people, that in being in the purposes of God, I might not have everything that I want, but I am, without question, ‘living the dream.’