Through God's good providence, we received word today that our visas to the UK have been approved! We are grateful to have the decision settled, visas in our passports and passports in our hands. The time it took for a decision was shorter than we expected, and we count that as another of God's graces as we trust Him in our way to England.
Our next step is it purchase airline tickets, and we hope to be arriving in the UK late July. While this has been our hope for some weeks, now that July is here and the official stamp has been received, a few weeks now seems very soon!
Although our time in the US was at least a couple months longer than we anticipated when we left Sweden in January, we are glad we've had more time with family and friends. The boys especially have had a chance to be reacquainted with our people here. They love play times with their cousins and regular meetings with friends. Ben and I are grateful for the opportunities we've had to be with with family and folks from our home church. All three kids have grown much in the past five months, and we're happy to have been able to share this time with loved ones here.
It will be difficult to say our good byes in the coming weeks, but we are looking forward to planting our feet down in England, first in Sheffield, and soon after settling into Lincoln. There is work waiting to be done, and we are humbled that the Lord has called Ben, and us a family, to fill that role.
Thank you for your continued prayers! Knowing the visa approval is a sigh of relief and thanks, and we are not unaware that it is the Lord's hand continuing to guide us along. We are grateful for your prayers in these matters!
We are excited to share that the initial stage of the visa application to work and live in the U.K. has been started. It has taken some time to get to this point ensuring that all components are in the right position for this application. The session of Sheffield Presbyterian Church has been working extremely hard, and we are grateful for them. Their work is also a tremendous encouragement, as we have seen how dedicated and detailed they are for the purpose of the Church’s success. In everything, the Sheffield session has acted prayerfully, seeking the honor and glory of God.
The first part of the visa application has been submitted. The process may last a couple months, but truthfully, we are not exactly sure how long it will take. Further, we know that the application is out of our hands, and we are driven to the Lord in prayer seeking a quick and successful outcome.
Please pray with us as we seek an approval to the visa application that we may move to England and work. Our hope and expectation is that we will be able to arrive sometime in the summer, but we must wait patiently. Thank you for joining with us in our prayers and our hopes. Please continue. All of this is for God’s glory and to see a church established in Lincoln, U.K. We look to the Lord to sustain us daily.
By God's grace,
Ben & Heidi
“Thomas Family Adventure”... When we set out for Sweden in 2017, we knew we would be facing an unknown adventure, new challenges, new pleasures and new opportunities to trust the Lord. We had ample chances for all of those things, plus many more.
A quick look will show you that we didn’t post anything on our blog in 2018. Part of that was trying to figure out what to say that was different from what our newsletters related (let us know if you’d like to be on our newsletter list!), part of it was because there’s only so much you can say about cold, long, dark winters (which, much to my own dismay, I’m kind of missing right now), and part of it was that our lives didn’t vary too much week to week while Ben went to language school and the boys and I hunkered down and tried to not go stir crazy while they fought off one bout of sickness after another (throw my own morning sickness in that mix, too).
But part of our silence was also that things regarding Ben’s job were starting to take a different shape than what we had expected. We didn’t know what was going on and so it was easier to just not mention it too much, since sometimes every week had another piece of the final puzzle put in place… or maybe more like removed.
Spring came! When there were still feet and feet of snow in April, I was beginning to think that winter would last forever. It wasn’t a super cold winter, but it was one of the longest winters that part of Sweden had seen in many years.
During the spring, we took some good scouting trips to visit with contacts in some of the bigger cities. We met some lovely people with a passion to see God’s kingdom grow in Sweden and we were eager to be able to get started toward that goal in the context of a Reformed and Presbyterian church plant, which we hoped to do Spring 2019 after a two month visit in the States.
Spring quickly gave way to summer, which happened to be one of the hottest summers in over 200 years! More puzzle pieces of the role of what Ben was called to in relation to the church and church planting continued to be removed through the summer.
Then our dear Kate was born in August! Her arrival brought a sweetness that we needed, and the church warmly welcomed the first baby girl in the congregation in 8 years!
The fall came, and fairly significant changes in our launching church began taking place. Ben began preaching weekly at the end of August, and in September he began writing his sermons in Swedish! Over the next few months, the elders of Immanuel Church recognized and acknowledged to Ben that the job for which he was brought to Sweden is no longer a possibility, that the church needs to focus on its own health. We were sad to know we would have to leave Sweden so much sooner than we expected, but we also know that the congregation is in a place now to be able to focus on how the Lord will strengthen and encourage them. The Lord will grow His church in Sweden, but not in the way we thought we would be involved.
This declaration did not come as a surprise to us, and though there were lots of questions and tears, the Lord had already been going before us and preparing the next place for us- and us for the next place.
On January 15, with lots of heavy suitcases and even heavier hearts, we moved away from Sweden. We are currently in the US for four months to debrief from the past year and a half, visit and report to supporters, spend time with family and friends, and prepare for our next Thomas Family Adventure:
And those details, my friends, will come in another blog post soon. You will see some changes and updates taking place on the website, but we hope to be more faithful with posts here to share with you what’s taking place with Ben’s new position, our family and our lives in the UK!
We hope everyone is having a wonderful Christmas Day and enjoying the break from work and school! We are enjoying the holiday after two good worship services yesterday. Immanuel Church will also have a seasonal concert the day after Christmas, which should be enjoyable for everyone.
It has warmed up in the past couple of days and all of the snow that gathered in the last two weeks is nearly gone, but we wanted to share some pictures of what the beginning of winter has looked like here. Merry Christmas!
Last week, on Sunday, November 12th, Ben was commissioned as a "Missionary of EPCEW to Sweden." The members of the commission included the full Immanuel Church Session and the Convener of EPCEW's Church Planting Committee. Three members of the commission arrived from England on Friday, and we enjoyed a full weekend of fellowship and mutual encouragement. Immanuel Church also had guests the same weekend from Holland who had been supporting the work in Sweden with financial and fraternal encouragement for about ten years.
It was a joy to be a part of such an important week for our family and a good time of celebration for the church here. Stephen Dancer, current moderator of EPCEW and member of Immanuel Church Session, gave the charge to Ben, reminding us all that the Christian life is one of endurance, to focus on Christ and press forward. A charge was also given to the local church body to continue in her prayers and efforts for seeing more churches throughout Sweden. Please pray with us that we would endure well to God's glory, and that He would be pleased to build His Church in Sweden.
Our first month in Sweden is behind us! We've gone from being house guests for a couple weeks to having our own home in which we have been able to host Bible studies and dinner guests, from not knowing north from south in our new town to having a slightly better concept of how to get from place to place, and from knowing a handful of words in Swedish to knowing both words and some phrases. We are slowly becoming more accustomed to life here, knowing there are many things we still have to learn.
Our days now are setting up a new sense of normal and routine, staying busy with the day to day life of a family with two little boys. We have had multiple appointments in Tranås and in larger cities about an hour away to piece together all the paperwork needed to become an official resident in Sweden. Because of the step by step process of doing this, our language classes had to be put off to begin until November. Ben has done an excellent job of self-study with various resources to get a jump start on the language.
Enjoy some pictures of our life here the past few weeks!
"Fika" is an important part of Swedish culture. It's a time to pause and enjoy coffee, perhaps a sweet, and a conversational time with coworkers, friends or family. Most people simply enjoy fika at work or in their homes, but there are a few shops around town that are cozy places to partake as well. Towerland is one place we have enjoyed, and Jack especially likes looking out the top windows and playing with the train set inside.
Jönköping is a city about an hour away from Tranås. We had a meeting there with the migration office early one rainy morning. It is a beautiful city set on the southern end of one of Sweden's largest lakes, though that day it was too cloudy and chilly to enjoy much of it. "No bad weather, only bad clothes" is a saying here and we are learning what it means to have the right clothes in all sorts of weather!
Jack and Elliot are adjusting well to their new home. There are several families in the church with boys Jack's age, and families with older girls who are sweet to play with both boys at fellowship events. Jack is quickly picking up Swedish words and it won't be too long before Elliot joins in as well.
This is Immanuelkyrkan (Immanuel Church), an old building given to the EPCEW church, home to the only known Reformed Presbyterian congregation in Sweden. Our prayer is that from this body of believers we will be able to be sent out to add to the Reformed number in this country. We could not do it without your prayers and support!
We are grateful to God that we have arrived safely in Sweden and will be staying with the Bergmark family for the next couple of weeks before moving into an apartment. Anyone who has traveled long distances before knows how exhausting it can be. Added to the mere travel, we had 24 total pieces of luggage, two baby seats to carry on and off of our planes, and two children to put in those seats.
Our flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam went smoothly and we landed ahead of schedule. There was significant wind in Amsterdam, however, which forced a delay in our flight - landing in Linkoping, Sweden an hour and 45 minutes late. Nevertheless, we eventually made it! Jack and Elliot both did quite well on the plane, and everyone was in good spirits when we landed. Heidi and I are also thankful to Heidi's sisters, Phoebe and Calli, for their tremendous help in managing luggage and children accross the Atlantic.
We are tired, but happy for the safe travel. Thankful to the Bergmarks and Lundblads for picking us up and housing us and our luggage, we look forward to meeting with the members of Immanuel Church. Please pray for us as we adjust to the new time zone and begin sorting out daily life in Sweden.
We have a few updates since our last post. By God’s provision, we have been able to obtain our plane tickets, which means we have a hard date for our move to Sweden! On September 12, we will leave Atlanta at 5:50pm. We will have a brief layover in Amsterdam, and then take a shorter flight into Linköping, Sweden. Members of Immanuel Church in Tranås will meet us and give us a ride to our new hometown.
The Lord has also blessed us with a new apartment to live in Tranås. Our lease will begin on October 1st. We are thankful for the diligent work of the members of Immanuel who have been able to arrange this housing for us.
Currently, we are sorting through our home in Marietta: deciding what to store, sell, give away and take with us to Sweden. It is quite a process to do these things, and we would be grateful for your prayers as we work hard to get everything taken care of before September 12th.
Items for prayer:
As we’ve shared with friends and family about our plans to move abroad, some have asked the question, “Why Sweden?” This is a great question that, for us, was answered over a period of years. It was not as if Heidi and I were sitting at the breakfast table, and over coffee I turned to my wife and said, “Let’s move to Sweden!” In actuality, it was God’s call to leave our home and move to Northern Europe.
We didn’t search for Sweden; we’ve been called there.
It has always been a desire of ours to serve God on the mission field. Having met David Bergmark, the pastor of Immanuel Church in Tranås, Sweden around three years ago, we were hooked by his dream. The dream? Establish a presbytery in a nation without one.
Planting churches in areas of the United States with a high density of churches already existing was never of interest to me. I recall thinking in another situation about a small church in a large Southern city: “If this church eventually shuts it doors, there are at least five good churches within 10 miles that I can immediately think of for the remaining people to attend.” But what about locations where there aren’t gospel-preaching churches around every corner?
Sweden is such a nation. Largely, Christian faith in Sweden is nominal. The Swedish Lutheran church has been influence by outside politics and theological liberalism, which has led to a general distrust of the Church as a whole.
There are some good works going on, though. A renewed interest in Calvinistic thought – influenced by American organizations like the Gospel Coalition – is gaining some traction. Still, there is currently only one Presbyterian and Reformed congregation in the country: Immanuel Church. And from out of this one congregation, we pray that Sweden would become populated with Godly, faithful churches.
Heidi and I have been privileged to visit Tranås twice. I’ve been examined by EPCEW and have been welcomed to begin church planting work in Sweden. I have received a call from the session of Immanuel Church to come as a missionary and move toward developing a sister church. And we are responding to that call.
Ultimately, when considering the question, “Why Sweden?” The answer is fairly simple: we didn’t go looking for Sweden, but God has called us to it. Please pray for us as move toward that call in faithfulness to the God of the entire world – even places where the dim shines lightly.
It is a special privilege to serve Jesus through the ministry of Word and Sacrament. God has called me to serve Him in gospel ministry in Sweden. In humble response to this call, my family and I intend to move to Sweden in the Fall of 2017 to begin this work.
The goal is to form a Swedish presbytery. Aside from Immanuel Church in a town called Tranås, there is no Presbyterian and Reformed church in Sweden. Partnering with Immanuel Church, which belongs to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales (EPCEW), I aim to spend the first year or two learning the Swedish language and culture and then commence church planting in another city. Swedes are largely fluent in English, and this will allow me to begin exploring the development of bible studies and potential areas for church planting while based out of Tranås in our initial phase.
I have been examined by EPCEW and was unanimously passed on the presbytery floor. EPCEW is a small denomination that, despite its name, has branched out onto the European continent. One major focus of the denomination is planting means of grace churches, and I will be working with EPCEW’s assistance and oversight.
I have great confidence in the session of Immanuel Church in Tranås as well as the goals and fellowship of EPCEW. I look forward to seeing the Lord work in building churches in a nation that has but a dim witness.
Would you pray for this goal as well? This is a big dream: to form a presbytery in a nation that currently has only one Presbyterian church. But God’s call to the gospel ministry there is undeniable. Please contact me if you would like to know more about Immanuel Church, EPCEW, the state of the Church in Sweden, or my call there.
Please also pray for my family as it will be a significant adjustment moving across the Atlantic Ocean. There is much that needs to be done, and we would love your prayers that we would be strong in our faith in Christ, our love for one another and the saints in the Church, all the while being further strengthened by our eternal hope.