Szczecinek

7 08 2011

Well here we are in sunny… Err I lie, it is currently raining… Szczecinek, where we are working at a local baptist church with some http://www.pioneers-uk.org/ missionaries. Ahem, I lie again – they’re actually from the U.S., but I thought the U.K. site may be of more interest to most of you reading. Anyway, Szczecinek is in the North-West of Poland – in an area known as a ‘black hole’ – where missionaries and pastors tend to go and die! That said, it is a very beautiful place and people generally seem very friendly.

Why are we here? Well partly because it is a requirement of my degree course (I need to spend a minimum of 4 weeks working in a cross-cultural environment), and largely actually because this is an opportunity we couldn’t turn down – to experience life as a family, living and working as missionaries in the country of Poland. It has been a while since we visited last, and we wanted to have a ‘real’ experience of what life would look like here for us. We have many questions to answer – such as when we would move here, what exactly we would be doing, what our specific location will be etc. Being here will give us the chance to answer some of these questions, whilst supporting those already working here – and building up some helpful relationships.

What will we be doing? Well I (Rob) will be involved in speaking at the Sunday services here at the baptist church (I did my first talk this morning), and assisting in some preaching classes for those exploring this Kind of thing for the first time. Anna will be involved in teaching adult English classes, and collectively we will be doing a bit of music ministry, whilst attempting a list of tasks/projects that we have been set – such as visiting local pre-schools, viewing local apartments, learning Polish worship songs etc. to help us engage fully with Polish life and culture. We are also taking Polish lessons, and trying to retain some semblance of family life – so that the kids feel a part of this experience. There may be a little bit of youth-work thrown in too along the way.

What are the challenges? Protestant Christianity is scarce in Poland, and it is believed that there are probably fewer than 10 congregations numbering more than 100 people throughout the whole country. There are 6 churches within a 70km radius of Szczecinek, catering for approximately 80,000 people. These churches are small in number, and a number of them do not have a full-time pastor or leader. Missionaries are also minimal in number, and churches below a certain number are considered to be cults or sects. Although Catholic belief is widespread, this tends to be fairly nominal in form, and western influences are threatening what level of interest currently exists. Building the church within this climate, with limited infrastructure, resource and personnel will not be easy. Fortunately, God is much more capable than we often allow ourselves to believe, so we will do our bit and leave the rest to Him!

Anyway, we are here to learn (something which is somewhat unavoidable) and hopefully we will manage to be something of a blessing to the lovely folk we are working alongside – whilst helping others see that Jesus really IS worth getting to know. Thanks to those of you who are praying for us, please remember Poland, and specifically Szczecinek in your prayers – and we look forward to seeing many of you at some point soon.

Much love,

The Marfleets

P.S. – for those who generally follow these all-too-infrequent posts, that’s 2 in one day! Hopefully it won’t be too long before the next one, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!… :-)





Stewardship

7 08 2011

Probably should have done this a while ago, but in case you are reading this and think you’d like to support us during our time in preparation for mission (student finance mainly caters for young, single students who generally spend their money on things their parents won’t buy them, and then the rest on cheap food – before heading home at holidays to live at their parent’s expense again – not young families with growing mouths to feed over 12 month periods at a time) and if you can handle this rather long-winded sentence, please check out: http://www.stewardship.org.uk and do a search for Rob Marfleet. The rest should be fairly straightforward and well explained. If not – well that’s just fine and dandy, but we’d appreciate your prayers anyway. Cheers!





It’s been a while…

13 04 2011

It’s been a while (considerable understatement) since the last blog, but life has been somewhat hectic. In the intervening period we have had another arrival in the family – a son (Eden), we have had our house on the market (currently awaiting completion of sale), studies have jumped up a notch and we have been trying to figure out what God has in mind for us as we venture forward.

The latter has been particularly on our minds of late, and it would be a lie to say that it hasn’t been a distraction. We know, of course that each day has enough trouble of its own, and that we really should just trust God that even if we don’t know the way ahead – He does. From time to time however, we come across practical reasons why this proves difficult. How are we going to support our family (especially now with 3 children)? Where are we going to live? What are we going to do with our remaining possessions? What about enrolling the children into school/nursery? What are our roles going to be? How are we to be enabled to maintain progression towards serving God in Poland (if that’s still where He wants us)? What about family life? Where is the best place to ‘pitch our tent’ so as to avoid placing ourselves in an environment which causes us harm (could be the one that appears most safe/comfortable)? How are we to make the most of the learning opportunity that we have had here? The list of questions goes on, and grows increasingly by the day – and yet we still have plenty of time left of our studies here.

This ongoing distraction really goes hand in hand with the arrival of Eden. He is, of course fantastic – and a blessing to us all (so far) but this little bundle of joy really has turned our world upside-down. Managing to parent 2 children (however challenging) is relatively straightforward when there are 2 parents on hand to chip in. When things get heated – 1 parent per child – simple! Not so anymore! Whilst Eden needs attention (perhaps feeding for example), the other two spot their opportunity and wreck havoc upon the household – charging around in opposite directions and creating as much chaos as 2 young children can muster without breaking their sweet little innocence (not normally anyway). Whose fault is it that it becomes so tiring? Is it Eden’s – for being born? Is it the older 2 – for being children? Is it ours – for choosing to be parents? We don’t have a right to parenthood after all, even if we have the desire. Should these children have been born? Is it God’s fault that they exist?

No, this is life. This is life with all its challenges and all its fulness. Not a day goes by without being amazed and overwhelmed and overjoyed by the things that our children bring to our lives. We have each other to enjoy and appreciate too, and family is something to appreciate and be grateful for. I am aware that this is a somewhat idyllic picture – that many do not have loving families or even families at all. That for some, family is something of a curse and a cause for struggle. I know that we are blessed, and that we are to cherish this blessing. I recognise that this responsibility is greater than any other, that we cannot take shortcuts with family – that time and energy and effort and commitment are all part of loving one another to reaching full completeness and wholeness (something for which we fully need Christ’s love). So how do we look after this most precious and delicate thing called family, without running away from the life that Jesus has called us to?

Answer – trust God and obey His commands. So simple in words, and yet so difficult in action.

It’s at times like these that I am grateful for Jesus, even if I sometimes wish I had a better grasp of it all.





Community

4 05 2010

Something else from last term which resonated with me (Rob) was that God loves community. In fact, He models it perfectly – something that I was reminded of particularly as we studied the Trinity. Of course we all love to receive the benefits of community – friendship, fun, interaction, conversation, learning etc. but it seems to me that community means so much more than that. Here on campus we (Anna, I and the kids) are slightly removed from the rest of the college community, as we have the sanctuary of one of the college houses to retreat to. Yes, we have our own Marfleet micro-community to negotiate but I sometimes wonder whether we’ve ended up better or worse off for this. Not that I’m complaining of course – it is what it is, but community for us is slightly different than for others around us. They get to share late-night chats, mealtimes, chores, television programmes, bugs and viruses – whereas we’re lucky if we manage to catch their various illnesses. My point is this – to perfectly understand community you have to take the rough with the smooth. If you want to enjoy happy memories with close friends and family, you have to learn to appreciate others through the hard times also. By removing ourselves to avoid hurt means missing out on the good stuff too – something I’m all too guilty of.

We all have our burdens to bear, and in bearing one another’s burdens we ensure that community is retained or even restored. We know that Jesus prayed for unity amongst believers, and this is an essential aspect of community. How many of us really live our lives trying to maintain this principle? How many of us really bear one another’s burdens? What about those times when we are confronted with those people we would rather weren’t a part of our community, or when a particular issue rears its ugly head again and we cannot muster up the love or the courage to deal with it for the sake of relationship? This morning in class we were reminded of Jesus’ command to identify ourselves with the poor. Ok, so we might chuck a bit of cash in their direction, or watch an evening of Comic Relief and pray for those in need, but do we rejoice with those who understand that every little blessing that comes their way is a gift – however small? Do we share in the excitement when someone comes to understand and discover a truth about God that we’d ourselves known for years? Do we identify with those who are feeling pain over something which, to us, just seems insignificant? Did Jesus ever turn such people away? So much of this stuff begins at home, and I have to confess that when Asher shouts at me with excitement as he tries to show me that he has found a flower in the garden for the forty-fifth time, and in spite of my instructions to the contrary has picked it in order to add it to the pile of the previous 44, I do struggle to share quite the level of fascination that he has – and yet he is just enjoying his new discovery, hoping that I will continue to affirm his intelligence (Yes, it is a flower and yes, it is yellow). Does God not entertain me in the same way, when I continue to check with Him that He loves me and that He is still there even when life is difficult?

How much of an impact can I make as a human being by living out community in the way that God models it for me? The answer has to be limitless – the more I do it the more lives I can speak God’s love into. I’m not able to do this without first knowing His love for me, but it is through others ministering to me that I have known God’s love in some of the most profound ways, and I must be prepared to do the same.

The other benefit of living in community of course is that we all have different things to bring to the table, and if we are prepared to offer what we have, we can all feast on the variety of produce on offer. For someone like me with multiple limitations, this is just as well.





Diet

7 04 2010

The holiday period is here again, and time is nigh to address all of the things which have been left unattended to during the crazy rush of term-time. Letters to post, emails to write, appointments to arrange, visits to make, not to mention cleaning, washing and, most importantly – family time. It would be nice to fit in a bit of reading too – the learning needn’t stop just because term has. (I can’t believe I just wrote that – the act of reading, of itself is one which I dislike considerably! I suppose there are plenty of good books here though!)

One thing that I (Rob) have been considering over a long period of time is my diet. In arriving at college, one thing I’ve been able to do a lot more of than previously is exercise – something which I enjoy. Sadly however, probably due to my eating habits I have been unable to shift any weight – in spite of averaging more exercise per week than in the previous 15 years! I do not intend to start a diet – I already have one, however I do intend to to change it somewhat – in fact I already have!! For over a week now I have continued to eat the things that I enjoy, however I have stringent rules on portion size – and seconds are a big no-no!! I am able to eat fruit and drink as much as I like (especially as I am not particularly good at either), but I have to stick to my guns on everything else.

I think diets are a very personal thing – we have to decide for ourselves to engage in them, we cannot be dictated to by others. In my case, the suggestion by someone else to “go on a diet” provokes the exact opposite response. It is far too personal – no one should try to enforce these things upon another – it’s not fair to. The great thing about my own diet is that I take ownership for it – it’s my diet and therefore it’s my rules! If I choose that I can/cannot eat something, then that’s what I’ll do. It’s great! Of course there are recommended eating habits which enable good balance in the foods we eat, and these should not be ignored – but there’s nothing worse than a ‘well-meaning’ person, who eats like a pig and never gets fat – if you know what I mean!!!

Anyway, so far it’s not been too bad – my body is complaining somewhat as it adjusts to new habits, leaving me a little temperamental from time to time, however ‘no pain, no gain’ as they say – and I look forward to the many benefits of cutting a slightly more healthy figure!





The story so far… (Term 2)

7 04 2010

Having found our feet a little more over the Christmas break, Term 2 began with much expectation and perhaps a few too many grand ideas of what we would involve ourselves in. Am̩lie was to spend a day at nursery (Asher would attend for an extra day each week also) leaving Anna available to do some studies. I found myself committing to a number of extra curricular activities which I felt would advantage both the other students, and myself (in terms of developing skills for future ministry). The course itself would become more demanding too Рa step up from Term 1. Before we knew it, we had lumbered ourselves with a little more than we could bear. Knowing that the term was finite (10 weeks to be precise), we got our heads down and battled through Рknowing that the end was coming. Having come through on the other side, we vowed to learn a lesson from this Рto try to pace ourselves a little more and give ourselves a chance to focus on the things which are really important Рsuch as each other.

Whilst the term felt much like a period of firefighting in many ways, there were further lessons drawn from the point of view of personal development. Having discovered that I have quite a harsh personality, I became aware that my teamwork style is also a harsh one. Whilst this is not wrong (I don’t believe God makes mistakes in giving us the personalities we possess), I can see the need to temper my style from time to time, in order that a) I don’t kill myself by going all out 24/7 (see above paragraph) and b) I don’t frustrate others to the point of snapping (not unusual either). The strange thing is, having carried out various tests which identify all of this, another test showed to me that although my task focus is high, my people focus is even higher. I like to do tasks which benefit others, in fact I am prepared to trample over people in order to do tasks which benefit others. This is a little weird, and a slight contradiction in my personality – however I’m sure there is purpose in it.

One question that arose from this came about because one of the greatest needs in Poland is church-planting. This is something that interests me a great deal, provided that I am part of a team which complements my gifts (I am acutely aware of my limitations). Church leadership often requires people who are sensitive to the needs of others, good at dealing with both difficult people and difficult circumstances with a great deal of grace. “Hmmm, this doesn’t sound too much like me at present” I thought – certainly not if this is what is required of me over the long term. Well, I was reminded of scripture talking about “One body, many parts” and that even within the context of church I have an important role to play. In speaking to a senior member of staff here, I was reassured that church planting requires a slightly more driven style – similar to that of my own. Planting a church is just the beginning, others will be required to sustain and nurture it over the long-term. “Wow”, I thought “Perhaps I am suited to this after all!” Needless to say, there is still much work to be done in my life in order to be truly effective for God, but this is an encouraging start.

What about Anna though? Having a completely contrasting personality to my own, and not having a clear idea of what her role is in all of this is something which needs careful consideration. Of course this venture is one of a shared calling, one which we both have a part to play in – but Anna needs reassurance of her part in all of this, and clear direction in terms of what God is asking of her specifically. He has a ministry in mind for her, and will reveal this in good time. Initial thought however would suggest that being a mum, and supporting those in similar circumstances will play a significant part in this. Plus, she has something of a talent when it comes to singing – something which God is sure to use at some stage.

It is important to ask these kinds of questions during this time of preparation. At the beginning of Term 2 I was interested in what God would have me doing in terms of ministry in the mission field. 2 things are being reinforced, they are not new things, but previous areas which are being revitalised. These areas are 1) Poland – God is reaffirming this destination, and is giving much opportunity to acquire useful knowledge which will assist us in pursuing a life serving Him there, and 2) Music – having spent much time investing in developing this gifting, there is a significant part that music is to play in reaching others. It is easy to look around and see the other amazing things that other musicians do in ministering to others and feel that our own gifts are inadequate. All we can do however, is use what God has given us and serve His people in the best way we are able. ‘Worship’ actually translates ‘People Service’ – and we are all able to do this. Therefore, until such time as someone who is better equipped shows up – music is something that both Anna and I have to offer.





The story so far… (Term 1)

7 04 2010

The first year of studies gives students the opportunity to get a good flavour of all the different learning opportunities that the college has to offer, something which is particularly helpful if you are still contemplating the precise nature/content of years 2 or 3. Term 1 is a good illustration of this – lots of variety, plenty of things to learn, lots of people to meet, and many many elements of college life to be involved in.

For most individuals (ourselves included) a period of adjustment or ‘transition’ is experienced. This is rarely easy, even if the change is welcome, and the effects of this were felt at various stages throughout the term. For us, trying to get our heads around the fact that we were in an entirely new location, leading a completely different lifestyle, and having an extra person in the household was a little strange to say the least. This kind of pressure was felt more keenly by some than others, and it was sad to see some really struggling with this – particularly those from other countries living far away from wives and children. We’d had a busy few months, with little time to think about what we’d just done. In looking back, not knowing quite what to expect we spent at least some of the time wondering what we’d got ourselves in to – but knowing there was no going back.

For me personally (Rob), I was so glad for the opportunity to get stuck into learning. Although not really academic, I value the opportunity to pick up skills and knowledge which will serve me (and others) well in the future. Anna was not able to do this, having her own recovery and a small child to care for. I appreciated my somewhat privileged position on this, and with others supporting our venture decided to make the most of this opportunity.

There was much to learn during this initial period, and whilst I was able to receive much useful teaching there are certain things that remain with you. This stage of the course focused a lot on personal development, and God was to teach me much about myself. One significant aspect of this was that I actually have quite a harsh personality – something which I previously was unaware of. I had grown up thinking that people were being harsh to me, when in fact they were just reacting to how I was behaving. “I’m a nice guy” I thought, “Why are they treating me like this?” Internally I was fairly sensitive, and tried to be nice to everyone hoping for the same in return, but externally others were seeing a different picture. Rather than be discouraged by this, I have found it to be very helpful as it explains why I have found relating to others so difficult at times. I wish they would know me as I see myself, however with this knowledge I can now attempt to address some of the issues that were making things so difficult. I could also make sure that I look after my loved ones with greater purpose and effectiveness.

Term time is very intense and everyone is extremely busy with one thing after another to do, however the holiday periods are the complete opposite. It is very strange going from not having the chance to think, to having way too much time to think, from a period where your feet don’t hit the floor to wondering what you’re going to do with your day. Another adjustment to make. During the (Christmas) holiday period between terms 1 and 2 the country experienced a great deal of snowfall – so much so that some students arrived back late to college – having been stranded in other parts of the country.

During this time I was able to spend some quality time alone with God. The snow had a calming effect, brightening everything up and bringing a gentle hush to the world around us. Walking through a wooded area on campus the words of Psalm 51 came to me “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (I had much to be cleansed of, much to let go of, much to say sorry for) and ultimately “Restore to me the joy of your salvation”. These words meant so much to me, life had become so busy and I had become so distracted by all that I was doing that I had been unable to share in the joy of knowing Jesus – the reason for it all. Goodness knows how far back in my life this had gone, but for me I desperately needed to know Him again. I had read earlier in the term that when we are seeking God, He is there – but we wander off. I had wandered off, and needed to return to Him to be renewed and refreshed for the journey ahead. How gracious that He never let go of me?








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