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Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Very Merry English Christmas!

We are horrible bloggers. Go ahead and agree. It’s OK. Our lack of blogging is due to the fact that we find ourselves busy most of the day every day and in the evening we just sort of want to sit and veg. Also, do you know how dark it is in England this time of year? Oh, my goodness, by 4 p.m. it’s DARK! We took this picture of the Towne Hall, which sets right next door to the church, and you can see the time on the clock tower . . . 5 p.m. and totally dark. Not to mention that the sunrise doesn’t occur until about 8 a.m. So we really only have about 7 hours of good daylight. By teatime every day (4:00-4:30 p.m.) we both feel that we should be getting ready for supper and then bedtime. It’s really weird. While our weather has become colder and colder, we have had some really beautiful days and have been spared, for the most part, from the incredible winds that have hit Scotland.

The Christmas season is in full swing and we are enjoying the traditions that the British hold dear . . . like “Crackers.” We had recently been noticing some rather interesting and festively wrapped boxes of “crackers” on the end caps at the grocery stores. We even commented about how nice it was that they seemed to enjoy having crackers that were wrapped in Christmas paper, but we wondered, “Why crackers?” Well . . . they aren’t crackers at all, not crackers like we Americans think of crackers . . . you know, those savory little flat toasted things that we eat with cheese or peanut butter. No! These are three little cardboard tubes connected together by an internal band . . . Oh! It’s impossible to explain, so just watch this YouTube video . So, then you sit around with your lovely little crown on and enjoy your Christmas party or even Christmas dinner. Yes, we’ve already been told that we will all have a Christmas Cracker at our place when we go to Liz and Geoff’s for Christmas Dinner.

We don’t have a Christmas tree because we don’t have anything to put on it. However, we have a wonderful new Nativity that was knitted by sweet Vera Brown (with a little help by Lorna Hannan). Vera and Lorna are two of our amazing senior adults. Both are in their 80s, yet serving faithfully in many ways at Westoe Road. We have thoroughly enjoyed having their beautiful handiwork on our mantel for the past few weeks and we will love having it in our Abilene home for years to come. Our new Nativity and many, many Christmas cards have made our beautiful English home quite festive.

Where do we even begin to talk about Westoe Road Baptist Church and the precious folks there? We refuse to talk about the calendar and the fact that our time here is quickly coming to an end. The Modern Girls and the 50-Somethings have now completed their study of the book of Ruth. What a sweet time that was?! Dennis is continuing to plan monthly pub or curry nights for the young guys. Just this past weekend he gave them all a copy of More Than a Carpenter by Josh McDowell. They all received it and agreed to read some chapters that Dennis recommended for them. Consistently there have been 5-7 guys each time they have gotten together and it is great fun to watch them seek one another out at church on Sundays and spend time chatting. Relationships have formed quickly.

The deacons finished their study on leadership and are quickly putting it into practice. Dennis led a mid-day study in the book of Malachi which was very good and Brenda has been taking 5 ladies through the teaching class that she was involved in at our church back home. They will have their opportunity to teach a lesson they have prepared on January 7. They will, no doubt, do a great job.

When we wrote the last blog, the church was in the process of making a decision about their next AIPM pastor. They have chosen Ron and Karalee Johnson who will be coming from Corona, California, on January 12. We have had a chance to visit with Ron and Karalee via Skype and are very excited about the gifts and abilities that they will bring to Westoe Road. Ron has been a pastor for 40 years and Karalee has experience in women’s and children’s ministry, so they will be a great fit for what is already going on here.

The calendar is a constant reminder of how quickly time goes by, but the Lord has continued to work in hearts. We will be having a baptism service on January 8. Dennis will baptize Lianne Douglas who has come to Westoe Road having grown up in the Church of England. Lianne talked to us some time ago about her feeling that she should follow the Lord in believers’ baptism. Several others are thinking and praying about taking this step. We will also have a baby dedication on January 15. So, as you can see that this is a happenin’ place.

We continue to thank the Lord for those of you who have walked with us on this journey through your prayers and e-mails. Don’t stop praying! God is still working!

Many blessings to you and yours during this Season of Celebrating the Birth the Christ!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Things are Good!

This month has gone by in a flash and we continue to love this church. With the start of the new school term, we have all hit the ground running. The 2 womens Bible studies have about 20 women in them and we are enjoying studying the book of Ruth. They are also still really enjoying their social evenings together as well. Tomorrow night will be the first time that both groups have ever met together for their night out so I’m sure we are in for a long evening of great conversation. Dennis and Geoff decided that the guys would meet at one of the many curry places here in South Shields. There were 8 fellows who came. Dennis along with Andi Price ordered the hottest dish on the menu and then took great pride in telling everyone about it. We’ve decided that we really like curry. We’re just not sure where we will find it in West Texas. So, the social side of Westoe Road is alive and well.

We had an amazing opportunity to do a little Baptist history tour with Ray Richardson during the month of September. Ray is one of the regional ministers in the northeast and was a great tour guide. Baptist roots in the northeast of England go all the way back to the 1630s. We spent the day traveling around the Newcastle area and even got to go into one of the oldest Baptist churches in England. Ray told us that the original folks of Rowley Baptist Church were forced to move from farm to farm in order to avoid persecution during the mid-17th century. The farmhouse in the background was where they met last before building the church in 1652. Hamsterley Baptist Church at one time had an AIPM pastor. Ray preaches there from time to time now. When we first signed up with AIPM, Hamsterley was looking for an interim. We can remember looking at the pictures and wondering what it would be like to minister in such a tiny village and small church. It was really fun to finally see it. Hamsterly dates back into the 1650s, also, so this is not the original building. This building is just 236 years old.

Mark and Diana Layton arrived on September 19 and we spent a wonderful week enjoying their company as we saw the sights of Tyneside as well as participated in church activities. Mark participated in the Sunday morning service and Diana spoke to the Sisterhood about her trips to Haiti. It was a great blessing to have them with us; however, we never did talk them into “plodging.” Here are a few pictures from their week with us:

Among the ruins of the Monastery of St. Paul where the Venerable Bede lived and wrote.

Overlooking the River Tyne piers

At Bamburgh Castle

On a double-decker going into Edinburgh

Marsden Bay – a 10 minute walk from our house

We have had some beautiful weather to start October. October 1 was the warmest day since we arrived in June. It hit 80 degrees, so we headed to the beach. Unfortunately, the water hadn’t warmed up any, but we did “plodge” for a few minutes.

We have done a lot of training with the deacons and ministry leaders on how to work as teams. One of the most enjoyable training activities was building something out of spaghetti and marshmallows that could stand on its own for at least 2 minutes. The competition was fierce. Geoff, in an effort to at least make a showing of enthusiasm for his team (which lost), exerted extra energy . . . but they still didn’t win. The leadership has done a good job of stressing the importance for all members to have a part in the ministry of the church. At this point there is probably well over half the membership involved in ministry.

Julie Price impressed us at the last deacons meeting with pie charts and colorful graphs showing some really encouraging statistics. In running the numbers for 2010 and 2011, her findings were an increase in participation and attendance as well as number of visitors and children. While the overall attendance has significantly increased, the average age has dropped due to the increase of people who are between the ages of 20-40. Things are lookin’ good for Westoe Road Baptist Church!

We would appreciate you prayers as the church will be making a decision soon about the AIPM pastor who will come in January. We are confident that the Lord is already preparing his heart to minister to these precious people and while we are sad to think about leaving them, we are excited about all that is going on here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

. . . And Another Cup of Tea!

Thrilled that she had been asked to hand out Bibles before the service this morning, sweet 9 year old Emily said to her Grandma, “The Prime Minister asked me to help him today.” “Really,” her Grandma responded. “Who is that?” “The Prime Minister!” answered Emily. “The one that talks like a cowboy.” And so our 15th Sunday here at Westoe Road was a day of celebrating the 130th anniversary of this church building. As was pointed out at yesterday evening’s Anniversary Tea, this weekend was not a celebration of this church body because that began in 1818. After meeting in a home and then later the first church building, Westoe Road built its beautiful new building in 1881. It is still a gorgeous building and has a prominent position right next to the Town Hall. It has seen two World Wars but was spared in the bombings of 1941 which destroyed most of the town center as well as the shipyards along the River Tyne which was the livelihood of many in South Tyneside. The church anniversary coincided this year with the annual Heritage Trail event that takes place all across Great Britain. Each year during the weekend of the Heritage Trail many historic buildings are open to the public at no cost. Westoe Road is considered to be one of the historic buildings of South Shields and so the doors were open each afternoon for people to come and enjoy a cup of tea and look around. Dennis was trying to count just how many cups of tea we have had this weekend and never did figure it out. It ended this evening with a Songs of Praise service that was enjoyed by all . . . and then another cup of tea.

As we always say, it’s been a busy few weeks. We have continued the study Jesus On Leadership with the deacons. They have found it to be great fun discovering their spiritual gifts as well as their personality types. As is always true, the Lord has blessed this church with a variety of giftedness in which to carry out His work. Needless to say, we have been so blessed to watch them as they busily take care of the needs of this sweet body of believers. There is an obvious spirit of compassion and cooperation as they care for the sick and encourage this flock to be fervent worshippers of the One True God. Because summer is not quite over, we had one last Garden Party in the beautiful garden of Joan Marshall’s home. There were lots of yummy things to eat, especially “cornets” (ice cream cones), as you can see in the picture.

School started back up this past week, so all of the normal activities will start rolling again this week. The guys are once again planning a get together and this time will be a Curry Night at a local Indian restaurant in a couple of weeks. We’ve been told jokingly that there are more Indian restaurants in South Shields than in the whole country of India. Hopefully, they will begin to add to their numbers. The ladies Bible studies will kick off tomorrow evening as Brenda begins the book of Ruth with the Modern Girls (20s, 30s, 40s). The 50 Somethings (some of whom are 60 Something) Bible study will be the 4th Tuesday of the month but they will also be doing the book of Ruth. Dennis is still contemplating the best timing for an evening study that the guys might be able to participate in as well as another noontime study for the older adults. Because the Colossians study was such a hit with the adults, Dennis will begin the book of Ezra as soon as we can establish a date. God continues to draw these folks into the study of His Word and they are loving it. 2 or 3 have started reading the Bible chronologically using a table that Brenda has put together. Julie Price informed Brenda last week that she was “quite cross” with her husband, Andy, because he was running off and leaving her as they are trying to reading through the Bible together and discuss it. Those are the kinds of stories that warm our hearts.

We had our first “Church Meeting” last week where they report on and discuss the things going on in the church. We were so encouraged to observe their love for one another and the unity of heart and mind that has been so evident since the day we arrived. One of their items of business was AIPM and whether or not they would continue to call interim pastors from America. It was a unanimous decision to continue with AIPM and so another pastor and his wife will have the blessing of serving this body come January when we leave to return to Abilene.

In the midst of all of the church activities we did have the opportunity to take the big ferry that we had been watching leave the River Tyne each evening and travel to Amsterdam. We left North Shields (across the River Tyne from South Shields) at 5 p.m. and traveled through the night across the North Sea to Amsterdam arriving about 9 a.m. the next morning. Amsterdam is not somewhere that we were either one very fond of, but we’re glad we went. We had to be back at the ferry by 4:30 to head back across the sea. The ferry was an amazing experience, sort of like a miniature cruise ship. We’ve watched it come and go ever since we got here so it was a lot of fun to finally get to take a little trip on it.

Really fun was the arrival of our dear friends Ted and Laura Dyer. They arrived on September 5 and covered most of northern England and southern Scotland in the 5 days they were here. We saw castles and beaches and churches and lakes. In the Lakes District we saw the home and burial place of William Wordsworth in Grasmere and the home of Beatrix Potter in Hawkshead. They got to experience England’s nice big motorways as well as tiny little roads where we all held our breath as we squeezed between rock walls and big trucks in the Lakes District. We enjoyed sitting in the 1000 year old Durham Cathedral and listening to Evensong and Scripture readings. It was a delight to have these experiences with such great friends. You'll find more pictures from our travels at the end of this blog.

We remain deeply thankful to our Lord God for sending us to this country. He has attached our hearts to its history and its people. Our flock at Westoe Road has become like family to us. They watch over our every need. They fix our garage door and our car. They show us how to operate the heating in our house. They give us directions and tourist information. The ladies are even teaching Brenda how to knit! What more could we ask for?! We join them in praying for God’s next AIPM servants. Whoever they will be, they have no idea what a blessing they are in for! We love the folks at Westoe Road so much and we consider our time here to be a wonderful gift from the Lord.

Pictures from our week with the Dyers . . .

Dennis and Ted find a friend at Alnwick Castle

Autumn colors are beginning in the Lakes District

Beatrix Potter's home in Near Sawry

Little country church just sitting all by itself out in the field

Typical scene in the Lakes District.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More Bible Study and More Burgers

This coming Sunday will be our 11th here in South Shields and we are well aware of God’s hand moving in the lives of many including ourselves. Our weeks are packed with activities and invitations and on the afternoons when we don’t have anything planned we try to squeeze in a pastoral visit or two. Needless to say, we have to intentionally set a day off each week or we could be busy every day.

Since the last blog we have placed two women’s Bible Studies on the monthly calendar – one for the Modern Girls and one for the 50-Somethings. Brenda will be teaching the book of Ruth to these 20+ lovely ladies. It’s such a joy to see their interest and hunger to learn to study God’s Word. As you can see by the pictures, both of these groups enjoy their evenings out together, but it is even more fun to see their desire to study Scripture together. Desire for Bible Study has been a consistent message that we have received over this past month. The church is enjoying Dennis’ expository messages each week in the Sunday service as well as in the Colossians study that began the last week of July. This coming Monday will be our last meeting for the Colossians study and they are already asking about the next study. The Colossians study has come at a good time since the children are out of school and have been able to study along with the adults. We have consistently averaged between 18-22 adults and 6-8 children each week.

We had a house guest the first week of August as our dear friend, Keith Fields, from Surrey came to stay with us. We met Keith last year while we were living in Ducklington. He is a good friend of Ray Cole's, one of the deacons in Ducklington, and we enjoyed going to Keith’s home in Surrey for a weekend with Ray last year. Keith was interested in walking Hadrian’s Wall which starts here in South Shields at the Roman Fort Arbeia. Arbeia was built during the 2nd century and you can see in the picture that the foundations of have been well preserved. In 122 A.D. Emperor Hadrian had a wall built from near here all the way across to the western coast, some 83 miles. You might remember our mention of the wall while Wes and Suz were with us back in June. Keith managed to walk about 35 miles of the wall on Monday through Thursday of the week he was here. Dennis joined him on Thursday and it poured down rain all day. Keith is always such an encouragement to both of us as he has many years experience in lay ministry. We hope to see him again while on this side of the pond.

Last week we managed to end the week by making the hour and a half drive to York. What a great little town! Complete with a Roman wall surrounding it, the tiny, curvy streets give you the feeling that you have stepped back in time. We walked all the streets at least twice and had a great time browsing through the open air market in the center of town. York Minster looms over the town. It was built in stages from the early 1100s to the mid-1400s. It is a massive cathedral! From almost anywhere in town you can look up over the rooftops and see the spires of York Minster. It’s an interesting feeling wandering down those tiny little streets and ending up in front of such a huge structure. We had one of the oddest experience in York that we’ve had since coming to England. As the entered the town centre we noticed a group of guys setting up a musical venue. As it turned out, they were American Indians . . . complete with long hair and lots of feathers. Weird!

The highlight of this week was the "Young" Guys Texas Cookout that we had last Thursday evening here at our house. Dennis grilled burgers covered in Perini steak rub and Brenda made a big pot of chili. Counting Dennis there were five men who enjoyed sitting in the garden eating burgers and chips - Left to right are Geoff Aydon, Dan Gilbert, Andy Price, and Dennis. It was lots of fun for all of them and they have already planned a pub night next month. We are so thankful for this core group of guys. Typically, men do not attend church with their families in England, so these fellows are stepping out of their cultural norm and participating in meaningful spiritual activities with their families.

Last Sunday Dennis started teaching a series in Romans that will cover Chapters 1-8. Just since Sunday we have enjoyed 3 very significant conversations with some folks who want more information about the truth of Scripture and the things Dennis said about it. We are so thrilled to be having these conversations and look forward to seeing believers and non-believers come to know Christ in a deeper and more relevant way through the study of His Word and through seeking what is really true. This series of sermons may last until January when we come back to Texas and hopefully more questions will arise that will draw folks into a life-long pursuit of The Truth.

We continue to treasure your prayers.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Two Weeks have flown by . . .

As we prepared for church this morning, it seemed hard to believe that this is our 8th Sunday here. Time is flying by, but the Lord is on the move and we are thrilled by the things that are taking place. In the past two weeks we have started two Bible studies – one with the deacons and one on Mondays at the church in Paul's letter to the Colossians.

The deacons have started Jesus on Leadership, a study that looks at the many aspects of leadership based on the way Jesus called, equipped and empowered His disciples to serve the body of Christ. We were delighted to listen as they dialogued with one another during the first lesson about their individual callings and how they can easily see God’s hand in all that is taking place at Westoe Road. Tomorrow we will meet for the second time and this segment will cover their spiritual gifting and how that plays into their roles as deacons. The wheels are already turning in their minds as to the best ways to observe how God has gifted others to serve, provide them with places of service that fit them and encourage them to grow as they serve the Lord by serving others.

Brenda ended last week by being taken to the Lake District for a “Spa Day.” Now that’s a different twist on ministry, but don’t let it fool you. They had a whole day to talk about ministry, and life, and Scripture (or at least part of the day). In the final analysis it was decided that “what happens at Spa Day, stays at Spa Day.” Oh, and one more thing about Spa Day, Brenda had to buy a “swim costume” for Spa Day . . . translation – swimsuit. It was a blast! There are no pictures of this trip "to protect the innocent." While Brenda was “spa-ing,” Dennis had the opportunity to spend the day fishing with another local pastor. He reports that he caught tench, golden tench, orfe, rudd, roach (not A roach, but a fish called “roach”) and carp. It was a different experience from his usual fly-fishing, but a fun day none the less. There are no pictures of Dennis' fishing day, so who knows what size the fish were, but he say "They were HUGE!" The next day he and Geoff Aydon spent the day walking the coast. He says, “ . . . at least 20 miles,” but don’t believe him, because it was probably only about 10. They had a great day!

Last Sunday evening we were invaded by The Nathan Elder Band ( )
from Crosspoint Church in Houston. They came to South Shields to do a concert at another local Baptist church and we had the wonderful opportunity to open our home to two of the four band members. They have just produced their first CD and are touring England with it. What a great group of young men! We spent Monday and Tuesday showing them the area and giving them to chance to spend time with Westoe Road folks. On Tuesday after Coffee Pot we drove to Alnwick (pronounced An-ick) and spent the day at Alnwick Castle. Alnwick is an incredible fortress-type castle that was begun in 1093 to protect Northumberland from northern invaders (now know at the Scottish). It is quite an impressive place. Adjacent to the castle are the castle gardens. WOW! Complete with a massive cascading water fall, a huge tree house and a maze to get lost in. Angela, Julie and Kathryn were great tour guides not to mention providing extra cars to get us all there. It was a whole lot of fun for all of us!

Back before we left Abilene we sensed that Colossians would be a great book to study should we get that opportunity and that study kicked off last Monday. We had asked that they sign-up for the study since we were going to be doing it in the time frame of 12:30 to 2 for the next 5 Mondays and would be serving a light lunch to provide a time of fellowship along with the Bible Study. Well, we had 14 names on the list, but when 12:30 came last Monday, there were 25 people. WOW! How exciting! Nathan Elder was willing to provide us with a song before we started and it was a great time of discussion and sharing. Dennis has structured this study the same way that our Sunday School class at South Side is structured and Brenda has the privilege of being “his lovely assistant” when it comes to handing out things. It is very discussion-oriented and provides a forum in which questions can be asked and answered in a very non-threatening way. We were thrilled that a couple came who are not members of WRBC but attend Coffee Pot on Tuesdays. He had done his homework and participated openly in the class with some great comments and questions. We can hardly wait to see who God brings tomorrow! One more little side note about the Colossians study . . . When we were making our preparations about this study, Julie Price (one of the deacons) suggested that we offer a Holiday Bible Club for the children where the children would study the same passages as their parents were studying. Kathryn Pino met with us one evening to discuss the children’s lessons and it quickly became obvious that this young woman not only has a heart for the children but is also quite capable of doing a great job bringing the book of Colossians to life for a child. We are so excited about working with her on this project.

Certainly one of the greatest blessings we have had during this past week was the home visits we made. One precious saint, Emma, shared with us how as a little 8 year old girl, she sat on the step leading up to the pulpit at Westoe Road and while listening to the choir practice she gave her life to Christ. Julie went with us to Emma's and had prepared communion to share with her. She is now in her 80s, almost blind, almost deaf and crippled to the point that she must use a walker. However, she is truly a young women in the eternal sense for the Light of Christ beams from those eyes and the smile never left her sweet face. She ministered to us that day much more than she will ever know. We will never walk past that little pulpit stairway again without thinking of that little 8 year old sitting in the dark in the Presence of her Lord and making her eternal choice. We can’t wait to go back to see her again. Similar experiences have occurred each week as we sit in the homes of these sweet folks who were only teenagers when Hilter's bombs dropped on South Shields. Some tell of the sadness of the war and there is a plaque on the church wall that honors the 80 men who fought in WWII, 12 of whom never came home. These godly older folks are the prayer warriors, the strength of this church, and we are so humbled to serve them.

We finally managed to take Friday off and so we headed to the Lakes District ( What a beautiful place! Unfortunately, we were so busy looking that we didn’t take even one picture. We’ll do better next time. Dennis is doing a fabulous job of driving. We came back into Newcastle from the Lakes right at 5 p.m. and he got us home. It might be good to explain that we were given a Tom-Tom (Sat/Nav). She speaks in a beautiful English accent and we have named her Pippa, . . . very English, don't you think? We stopped off in a little village called Hexham and she was quite helpful in getting us into and out of that little place. So, we have to credit her with getting us around Newcastle and safely home. Pippa has a bit of an attitude problem though because if you don’t go the direction she tells you to, she gives you the silent treatment. It’s sometime very quite in our car for long periods of time.

So, that’s it for another week. Please continue to pray for our Bible Study in Colossians as well as the study that the deacons are doing. We have several upcoming events planned for which we would certainly appreciate your prayers. On August 8 Brenda and Liz will be going to dinner with the young women of the Modern Girls Bible Study. Up until this point there have been a very consistent 5-6 young ladies in attendance; however, in the past month their have been a number of young women visiting church, so they have been invited to join us for a pub meal and an evening of fellowship. Another upcoming event is a Texas Cookout at our house for the young men on the evening of August 18. Dennis and Geoff will be working together on this and it seems that as the guys are hearing about it, they are interested in coming. We’re hoping for about 12, but would be thrilled with whoever God brings.

As most of you know, we love seeing folks come to realize the greatness of our God in their lives and we continue to be amazed that God has allowed us to do this ministry together. Only He knows what is ahead for us here, but for now we remain encouraged and excited about what we see Him doing in the life of Westoe Road Baptist Church and in our lives as well.

Loving you from across the Pond. . .

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dennis and Geoff serve up 128 Burgers . . .

We’ve spent the past two days watching it rain (Sorry about that, West Texas Friends) and this morning at church we were jokingly blamed for the English summer being interrupted because we chose to take a day off yesterday.
We explained that rain didn’t bother us and so we enjoyed our trip into Newcastle in spite of it. Last year in Oxfordshire we never really saw what we call “rain” in West Texas, but we are beginning to think that they know how to rival a good West Texas thunderstorm up here in Geordie land. Yep, it came down in buckets full yesterday! We’ve learned not to go anywhere without a brolly (umbrella). And, yes, we did ride on the top deck of the double-decker sight-seeing bus. Newcastle is a very progressive city with an 11th century castle as well as state of the art industry. The most interesting thing we saw all day was these guys in kilts standing outside the Central Train Station. Not an attire that Dennis will be bringing back home.

It’s been another great week of ministry. Brenda was invited to speak at Sisterhood on Monday afternoon and enjoyed sharing her testimony as well as encouraging these sweet saints using Ephesians 1:18-21 to continue serving in the power which raised Christ from the dead – the Power of the Holy Spirit within them. It is a real blessing to meet with them every Monday afternoon and listen to them sing as Mrs. Nellie Cowie (age 95) accompanies them on the piano. They are a faithful and loving group of ladies.

Wednesday was a full day. We were invited to speak at “The Friendly Circle” which is a group of about 100 ladies who meet at another Baptist church not far from our house. They had asked us to tell them about how we came to minister in England and about our life in West Texas. There a lot of these folks who do not attend church on a regular basis and this group is not necessarily a “religious” group, but if we are going to be asked to talk, we’re going to talk about Jesus and the difference He has made in our lives. They seemed thrilled and many of them came to talk with us afterward. They have invited us back in November to share about American Thanksgiving. It seems that the Brits are a bit confused by all of the American commercialism that surrounds the holiday season in America. We’ve been asked several times if we exchange gifts at Thanksgiving. It sort of caught us by surprise, so we have explained that the retailers have succeeded in jumping the gun on Christmas until it has completely encompassed Thanksgiving as well. Therefore, we look forward to sharing the real meaning of Thanksgiving. It is convenient timing since Brenda is reading The Light and The Glory by Peter Marshall which explains the real roots of our nation and God’s call on godly men to establish a country grounded in the Gospel of Christ. We’ll let you know the exact date when we have it so that you can pray with us that hearts and minds will be open to hear the Gospel.

The biggest event of the week occurred on Wednesday evening as WRBC hosted a Bar-b-que for the parents who bring their children to Whizz Kids as well as other families who participate in the various children’s activities at the church.
At 6:00 p.m. they were “queuing” out the door of the hall and down the sidewalk behind the church. Dennis says that he and Geoff think that they grilled about 128 burgers. As each family got their food, they spread out all over the church, some in the pews in the sanctuary and some in the hall where there were a number of activities for the children to be involved in. At one point a young woman approached Brenda and asked if she was the pastor’s wife. She then proceeded to explain how blessed she was to see a church do something where children could just come and enjoy themselves along with their parents. It was a very sweet moment that made all of us to realize that the Lord was using the open doors of this church to draw people to Himself.

Eleanor, our 90 year old neighbor, invited Brenda over on Friday morning for coffee and biscuits. Their conversation easily turned to Christ and Brenda was able to share in detail the work of Christ in the lives of those who trust Him. Eleanor has not been to church in years but is quick to say that she was baptized at St. Michael’s Anglican Church, the parish church for South Shields. She admitted that she believed that God’s Word is completely true and that our society suffers because people do not believe it any more. She was very easy to talk to and so our next conversation will hopefully go a little deeper. We are hoping to have the opportunity to take her to some of the activities such as Sisterhood and Coffee Pot in the near future.

We were introduced to “Rounders” on Thursday evening as we attended the last week of Boys Brigade and Anchor Boys for this term. Rounders is much like American Baseball . . . but not really. It was fun to watch and to have the opportunity to spend time with the boys. Most of these little guys were in church this morning as today was the monthly Family Service. Family Services focus on the children’s programs of Boys Bridgade, Anchor Boys, and Brownies. These 3 children’s clubs meet at WRBC and involve about 30+ children. On the Family Service Sundays, the children come and hopefully bring their parents, most of whom do not attend church. This morning we were thrilled to have not only parents from the 3 clubs but also a parent or two who attended the Bar-b-que on Wednesday evening. Little by little we are hoping to draw them in as they see our love for one another, for them, and for their children. The service was completely focused on the topic of Salvation with the story of Zaccheus being told through song, video, children’s sermon and in Dennis’ sermon. The church has had business cards printed for us and Dennis invited them to pick one up and call us during the week if they had further questions about Jesus and His ability to bring salvation to us just as He did to Zaccheus. Most of the parents seemed quite comfortable staying around after the service for tea and biscuits and chatting with us. Please pray that events such as this will result in Kingdom growth at Westoe Road.

We are enjoying having a new broadband connection at the house. The mobile broadband was not working particularly well and so the church has graciously had a line put in the house. We purchased a Magic Jack phone before leaving Abilene and will now be able to keep it plugged as much as possible. The number is 325-500-0597 and can be dialed just like you would dial a number in Abilene. We are also on Skype, so please feel free to call us anytime . . . keeping in mind that we are 6 hours ahead of you. When you get up at 6 a.m. (if any of you are up that early), it’s noon for us . . . and when we go to bed at 10 p.m., it’s 4 in the afternoon for you.

We are settling into life here and even worked in the back garden this week planting some flowers. Wish we could sit in our garden and have a cup of tea with you, but for now we’ll have to be content with just a picture.

Love to all!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Went to a Garden Party . . . . .

It’s been a full week of ministry. One of the most needed things for this sweet body of believers has been the care of a pastor. Having been without a pastor for over a year, most of these sweet people have not had a pastoral visit for a long time and it was our delight to begin to visit in their homes this week. We discovered that we have a master woodworker among us and Dennis was privileged to go into his workshop to see his amazing creations. We’re hoping to bring one home with us in January. Dennis used two of his pieces in the service yesterday as a word picture for Ephesians 2:10 and to visually express how we are God’s workmanship created for good works. We sat and listened as we were told stories of how this area was bombed by the German’s in 1938 because of the ship building industry. You can still sense deep emotion as they tell stories of hearing the sirens and running for cover. They have a deep appreciation for life having lived through those times during World War II.

We began the week at Westoe Crown Primary school on Monday and Tuesday. We were warmly welcomed by a very friendly staff of teachers and about 250 kids ages 6-9. There were many, many questions about cowboys and Indians in Texas and they seemed quite disappointed to find out that the Indians no longer went on the warpath and shot bows and arrows. We did, however, tell them about our friends Joe and Louise Leathers and how Joe was a real cowboy on the 6666 Ranch. They were quite impressed with the fact that cowboys in West Texas are the real deal and that we even knew a few. On the Sunday prior to our visit to Westoe Crown we had asked the childrens ministers, Carolyn and Kristi, at South Side Baptist in Abilene to ask our Abilene kids about their favorite things. Then on Monday and Tuesday we asked the Westoe Crown kids that same question. Reading the list from Abilene to them we were able to demonstrate the fact that kids are basically the same regardless of where in the world they are. It was a fun exercise for all of us. This gave Dennis a great springboard into Acts 17:24-27. Since we all came from Adam (Yes, we were actually allowed to say that in a public school!), it is no wonder that people are the same all over the world. God reaches out to all of us and desires for us to seek Him even though He is not far from any of us. It was amazing how they listened! The teachers were quite complimentary of our time with them and we are hoping to be invited back. Many of the kids recognized us from the times we have stopped by the 2nd floor of the church to visit Whizz Kids, as well as our visits to Brownies and Boys Brigade. Little by little we are gaining some face recognition which makes it much easier to interact with kids and parents. This coming Sunday is a Family Service which means that many of the families that do not regularly attend will be there. Please pray that they will hear and understand as the Gospel of Christ will be presented through the story of Zaccheus .

The highlight of the week for Brenda was an invitation to the Modern Girls Bible Study at the home of, Amy Clarke, one of the young mums. She sat in the living room of a beautiful 100 year old home and listened to 4 adorable young women talk about Scripture. What a blessing! These young ladies are passionate about living for Christ and studying His Word. It was a total blessing to be there!

We were invited to travel to Durham on Friday to spend some time with John Claydon, another regional minister for northeastern England. John took us on a personal and informative tour of Durham Cathedral (quite impressive) where N.T. Wright, noted theologian and author, was the longtime bishop. It was great fun to spend that time with John and hear his heart for the churches of northeastern England. Durham Cathedral was built in the mid 1100s and is the burial site of the Venerable Bede who lived from 673-735 and is known as the "Father of English History." He wrote a history of the English people in 731.

On Saturday we attended our first ever Garden Party. It rained in intervals of 15 minutes most of the day Saturday, but that doesn’t stop the English!
They just set up their Gazebos (tents) and go right ahead with their party. It was at the home of Liz and Geoff Aydon and I think the pictures say it all. The sun finally did come out and it turned into a beautiful day. Our observation is that Garden Parties are for the purpose of consuming as much sugar and tea in one sitting as possible. It was a blast and a great time to enjoy the company of our new friends. This party was also for the purpose of raising funds for the Baptist Missionary Society so there was a great selection of goodies available for purchase. Kathryn, Dorothy and Angela all look as though they've found some bargains, don't they? The total raised was around ₤250.

We ended Saturday by attending a concert by Graham Kendrick at Stockton Baptist Tabernacle about 45 minutes south of here. If you don’t recognize the name, you might recognize songs like Shine, Jesus, Shine and Knowing You. He also wrote Meekness and Majesty and many others. Six of us traveled to hear him and it was a wonderful time of worship and fellowship. The Tabernacle seats about 500 and it was sold out.

It’s hard to describe the way we are feeling right now. There is an energy and excitement in this church that is contagious. Several years ago we came to realize that God seems to use us most often to equip others for service in His Church and we are experiencing that calling in full force here in South Shields. The people at Westoe Road are ready and anticipating a work of the Holy Spirit. There have continued to be new people in the Sunday services. This week we will begin the study Jesus On Leadership with the deacons. On July 25 we will begin a study in the book of Colossians. These folks are running as fast as they can to keep up with what they feel the Lord is asking of them. We are overwhelmed and humbled that the Lord would choose us to partner with them in this work. Their hearts are tendered to the lost and the lonely and they have opened wide the doors of this beautiful old church to invite in all who will come. We stand in awe of the Presence of the Lord in this place and we are confident that He is doing a grand, eternal work here.

Thank you for your continued prayers.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Day Off . . . Not Really! And an Official Welcome

It never ceases to amaze us how our “Day Off” is never really a Day Off. Last year our experience was that just when we thought we would take a day to be “tourists,” we would end up having a cup of tea or coffee next to someone who would either share their own experience with Christ with us or someone who was searching for answers that only Christ could provide. We’ve had countless conversations such as that on our “Day Off.” So, here we go again . . .

Saturday was the first day that we determined we would just be tourist in this area we live in. As we left our house we exchanged “Good Mornings” with our neighbor, Tony, 2 doors down. He has the most beautiful front garden filled with flowers. He quickly invited us into his back garden and, Oh!, what a treat that was. It was filled with all sort of blooming plants. We must have spent 45 minutes admiring his gardening skills. As it turns out, Tony cares for a sweet little elderly lady named Nancy whose husband passed away 6 years ago. Tony has cared for them for 25 years. Such a sweet spirit and we look forward to many “gardening” conversations with he and Nancy in the future. You know, we love yard work.

We then headed toward the river and caught the ferry that makes the 5 minute trip across the River Tyne to North Shields and Tynemouth. Our goal was to visit the 12th century Tynemouth Priory ruins which dominate the horizon as we look north across the river from where we live. As has happened many times, our American accents gave us away, and Brenda got into a conversation with a lady named Jen who has only recently decided to follow Christ as her Savior. You can see them standing in the background underneath the canon. Jen is 60 and has a set of twin that are 9 years old. Divorced from their father, she met John who is an evangelical Christian. She said that his faith never really made much difference to her until they were invited to a baby dedication for John’s infant niece at the non-denominational church his brother and sister-in-law attend in Gateshead. She said that as she sat there listening to the words that were spoken that morning she thought, “That what I’ve been looking for! That’s what’s missing in my life!” And then and there she gave her heart to Christ . . . AT A BABY DEDICATION! Her face beamed as John walked up and she informed him that we were Christians, too. John has recently been “made redundant” (lost his job) and Dennis was able to encourage him that sometimes that’s what God uses to move us where He wants us (i.e. AIPM in our life). What a sweet time we had standing among those ancient ruins of a place of worship 900 years old and enjoying the fellowship of a brother and new sister in Christ. So much for our Day Off! As believers, do we really ever have a day off? But we did enjoy some great fish and chips right on the river.

This week began business as usual – Sisterhood on Monday, Coffee Pot on Tuesday, Knit and Natter on Wednesday. There is increased interest in Bible study and we expect to begin a study in Colossians for the pensioners (senior adults) the week of July 18. As always, it is difficult to find a time that agrees with everyone, but it seems that a daytime study may work best for this group. The younger folks are probably going to have to wait until September when school starts again. Schools in the UK go until the end of July and then take a 6 week break for summer. The deacons will begin the study Jesus On Leadership in the next few weeks. Their books arrived safely (Thank you, Granny Liz!) and we are all looking forward to digging into that transforming study for leaders.

On Thursday we had a sweet time at a Care Home (Nursing Home) only a few blocks from the church. Liz and Geoff Aydon prepared music and some Scripture readings and there were about 25 residents who joined in as well as 4 of our own sweet ladies from WRBC. It’s so truly amazing how these older folks who are suffering with dementia or the results of a stroke can lift their voices in praise singing the old hymns as well as quote Scripture as it is read. It was a precious time for us and took us back to some moments we had with Dennis’ Mom. God certainly prepared us for this type of situation in ministry.

We had a special treat as John Singleton, the Regional Minister for this area, joined us for the Sunday morning service to give an official welcome to us from the Northern Baptist Association of Great Britain. He is a delightful man and actually came to our house to greet us the day we arrived in South Shields. John lives down the coast a few miles in a town called Stockton-upon-Tees and we will probably have many opportunities to visit and minister alongside him. John shared the role of pastor for WRBC while they were without a pastor and it is obvious that the people of the church have a deep love for him and him for them.

As you can see, it’s been a full week. Next week promises to be even busier. We start the week by being given the privilege to go into Westoe Crown Primary School and talk with students ages 5-9 about Texas and why we are here. You may remember from an earlier blog that we were invited to go to Westoe Crown for a tour and to meet the Head Teachers the first week we were here. We trust that the Holy Spirit will open hearts and minds to know the Truth. We will be sharing Scripture but cannot share specifically about Christ and salvation. This will be a relationship building experience and we pray that it will lead to further visits with school administrators and teachers. Angela Pino, the church secretary, has been diligent to set up these appointments. She keeps the ball rolling at Westoe Road and we appreciate the fact that she keeps our diary (calendar) filled with ways to touch this community for the Glory of God. It’s a delight to serve with her. If we can get her to stay still long enough, we’ll take a picture of her and post it so that you can all see her sweet face. We’d love to share her sort-of-a-Geordie accent with you. . . a little Scotish, a little English, and a lot of South Shields. We love you, Angela!

Thank you so much for your e-mails, Facebook messages, and prayers. You are a great encouragement to us.