It has been a while since a new blog post, but with good reason, as it has continued to be a busy season here. As November rolled into December, the weather turned bitterly cold, and as the weather changed, it felt as well as if everyone took a heavy sigh. Moods seemed to sink low as schedules became busier and people generally became more distant. It was a rough moment in time for us as the busyness from the autumn increased in December to almost a breaking point, but as the new year rolled around, it has brought sometime for rest and reflection. We had hoped to create a blog prior to this one, but I think after reading, you may understand why! If you are not a part of it, we have our Facebook page that you may also keep updated with. It has pictures and videos, plus daily and weekly updates. We also include fun tidbits, things to pray about and much more. The Facebook page contains more detailed and sensitive information about happenings and our family that we wouldn’t normally share on the open web. To join, find us and request to join!
Progressing from Autumn to Winter
Last Autumn, we were in the height of the hardest of the culture shock periods. Stress levels felt higher, but life was busy too. We had a vehicle recently break down and leave me stranded, we had illnesses that came in waves as everyone was adjusting to the new area, we had a lot going on with changes with the church, and more! As November swept in, it didn’t slow down, but seemed to increase five fold as we prepared for December. It was my first time seeing how these events ran so was a bit blind, but the team here worked hard and we had some great victories which I will share shortly.
In early November, I traveled down to Chester, England of training. It was a very hard weekend for myself (Chris) as I was under a lot of pressure during that time and felt as if the spiritual attack was at a supremely high level. I struggled very hard that weekend, and into December it was decided that I needed to postpone the training, because it was too much right now.
We continued our main goals for this season here which were to build relationships, to integrate and to learn. We made many more connections during this time, and little by little the relationships grew.
At the end of November, we opened our home to anyone at Village Church to come and enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner. It’s not a holiday celebrated here of course, and as we’ve found out, it’s not real common to invite someone over to your home for dinner. People hold gatherings like parties, but usually with a close group of friends. We had a home full of people that evening, and one woman was crying when she left feeling so touched that we had welcomed her over into our home.
From Thanksgiving to Christmas
As Thanksgiving passed, I (Chris) became sick and was down and out for quite a while. Those illnesses were fairly bad in the area, and it passed around our home too. Into December the colder weather blew in, and we were frozen in for about ten days. The vehicle was frozen into the driveway one day, and some of the days the roads were just too icy to go anywhere.
We held several events in December which included a Christmas Carols event, a Christmas hamper event (for our Americans, we would call those baskets) for those in need, and a Christmas dinner for those in need . A lot of logistics were happening in November and December, as plans kept changing. For the carols event, the freezing weather froze the heating pipes at the building we were using for the event. The band leader came down with Covid, and we had very few volunteers available that weekend. Unfortunately attendance wasn’t as expected, but there was a lot of contributing factors from the weather, to a football match and more.
Right before Christmas, we provided Christmas hampers for families in need. They were able to come and get a turkey, and a wide assortment of items for their family Christmas dinner, two very large grocery bags full of items at least! We also had a room filled with clothing, toys, household items and more for them to choose from for Christmas gifts. The next day we held a Christmas dinner for for those who will be alone of Christmas to enjoy a dinner with others.
Here’s where things changed: We had a lot of items leftover so the following day during the dinner we opened it up to the community, not just those who had signed up for the hampers. We served between 40-60 families those days and had many interactions! We spoke to one woman who was crying, and couldn’t believe that this had been provided as she was really struggling as Christmas approached with food and gifts for her kids, but also winter gear and more.
A father came in, and he shared how his hours had been cut and was grateful for this event. We were able to speak to him a while about his life and struggles.
This is a small glimmer of the many similar interactions we had during this event!
On Christmas Eve, we held a Christmas cookie decorating event for families, and had 5-6 families come by with their kids.
Christmas was a bit rough here for us personally though. Christmas Day may have been the hardest day up to this point. The kids were all fairly out of sorts that day. We did our best to make it feel normal, but I think it just generally felt a bit off. The next couple day after we all felt fairly exhausted. Around here, the time between Christmas and New Years really goes quiet, and even some businesses shut down completely through the 4th of January!
The New Year
Then came January, which was like a much needed fresh breeze. I met with the scaffolding team for Village in December, and we decided to take it slow and easy in January after all of the busyness of the last autumn. In January after prayer and consideration, I presented more details of a plan to take us through the next six months, which involved stripping away some of the excess, getting back to the basics and looking first at the Cross. Some of the extras were really tiring everyone out, and keeping us from the most important things.
We had discussed some ideas and worked out some logistics. I was asked to take charge of the teaching aspect here, and I set out themes for each month, teachings, scriptures and more.
In January our theme was: Jesus wants to be with you
In February: Jesus wants you to know His love.
Now in March: Jesus created you for a purpose (and you are meant to be here)
We had scriptures for memorization and reading challenges too.
For me, it felt like I was back in my spot where I thrive best. I taught once in January and twice in February, and gave everyone a chance for a breather. We heard great feedback during this time so far and fruitfulness is taking place.
We also have three home groups/home churches going right now. One is focusing on prayer, another on the Holy Spirit and we are hosting one which is called, “Soups and Stories”. We are discussing the importance of sharing our God/Faith stories and why that’s helpful. Each week we sit down over dinner, and we share a story from our life and then others share and discuss.
We have seen God doing some great things amongst the small group here. It’s not about big crowds, it’s about the big things He does in each life. One changed life effects many others. There’s a renewed passion for His Word and for Prayer right now.
As we moved into January, I felt it was like things had been reborn a bit, and God was doing something new. As this is God’s thing, I’m not sure what He is doing, but I am trying to be faithful and do what He has gifted me to do best.
After all the outreach last year, there’s a lot of great things happening. I feel as if we have gone from 1 in 10 people knowing about Village to now 6/10. I have spoken to the leadership team about how sometimes it takes several touches before a person may drop in, and it usually involves at least one personal connection or invite.
In January, Shannon was also flown to Texas to deliver a baby for a past patient. Shannon and Gwendolyn were able to visit and share an update at Cypress Crossings Christian Church while briefly stateside.
A video about updates and also struggles.
Understanding the Culture
A brief example to help make sense of what we are working within: We’ve mentioned that Sunday mornings are not connected with going to church here and even for those who know Christ, it can very much be the same. It is said that for someone to be considered a “regular church attender” here in Scotland is to attend one church gathering of some capacity every 4-6 weeks. Gathering with the church is not always seen as an important priority, but simply another calendar event to plug in when it fits into our life. Unfortunately it often falls below birthday events, sports, family events and even sleeping in late on the priority list. We don’t want it to feel like an obligation though, but we want it to be felt as a need and a desire. I believe once a person finds they are first getting a need met, they will want to come, but as the heart changes it becomes less about our needs being met, and how I may meet the needs of others.
Meldrum Men, Toddlers, and More
Through the months we have continued to run Meldrum Men (except for December). In November we held a movie night, in January we focused in upon Burn’s Night and had a karate demonstration, then in February we took a slight turn and decided to begin to go a little deeper. We had slow smoked chicken wings, which were a huge hit! My electric smoker may be the most important ministry tool I own right now. I’m using it to make smoked meats, and then I’ll share them with folks to try. I shared some with one of the men in town who has been telling others, so by the time I shared some with our mechanic he had already heard of the wings. Once received his face brightened up, and he spoke more freely to me for the first time.
Another resource I have been using more frequently is my Chiji cards to open discussion up. (Chiji cards are deck of picture cards that folks can choose from and share why they chose that card). It allowed space for guys to open up about some of the deeper issues on their heart. Meldrum Men is an outreach event to help men find support and encouragement, and allows them to build relationships. They are invited and welcomed to go further if they want to, but for many people their experience with people who call themselves the church or Christians hasn’t been a pleasant one.
One of the gatherings that has started is also a men’s breakfast held every couple months at the Church of Scotland in the village, so we attend and support it as the fellow who started it is a part of Meldrum Men. This past month, a new deal began to form in my head about a church support network for guys doing home church type planting here. There’s two guys I’ve met between 30-60 minute drive away doing stuff alone, and I (Chris) want to support them.
Our toddler group had to take a pause in late December, and is just now getting started back up as of March as we had to sort logistics with it.
Struggles, Milestones & Victories
One of the hurdles that is necessary to cross here is getting our UK driving license, and it’s not the easiest of tasks as the test is a bit harder than you might expect. In fact, most locals who find out we have to take the test tell us it is so hard they do not know if they could pass it again on the first try! I (Chris) passed my written test (computer test), but I did not pass my first driving test. It had been a snowy morning and I was fairly nervous, but felt I did really well, so when I heard that I did not pass, I was quite disappointed. I was fairly low feeling for a couple of days.
It took a bit, but did get back in for a test, and passed this time with an instructor that was much friendlier, and I passed with only one minor fault.
Our vehicles have been a source of headache right now. In fact they have cost us roughly 1200GBP in extra costs recently just to keep on the road from repairs, breakdowns and costs associated for testing. Our ministry vehicle itself will have to be traded in for something more reliable as its costs us a lot of time, energy and resources to keep it running.
As of March 1st, we passed our 10th month here, and have endured our first Scottish winter. (It’s actually snowing here again today, as I write this)
We have endured all five kids having the chickenpox over the last few weeks too, which are making their rounds here, as well as several other bugs in the Village. Gwendolyn has been hit the hardest wit the chickenpox, and is still feeling poorly with them a week later.
I (Shannon) have been busy building relationships with mums through nursery friends of Aibhlinn’s, inviting others to our home regularly for a “cuppa” (term used here for a visit with a cup of coffee or tea), and attending toddler groups in the village. I have been building a friendship with one mum in particular, who accepted an invite to attend Village Church’s Family Together Sunday in February. When I invited her, she immediately responded with a response that is very typical from people here when they either find out we are from Texas (Texans equates church attending in many people’s minds we have discovered) or that we are associated with Village Church, which is to immediately say they are not religious and don’t believe in “any higher being.” This same mum told me in tears that her four year old came home asking about death, and she said to him when you die you “float to the stars”, and he proceeded to ask about if he could float to the stars, and she cried because death is finality and everything being over to her. It can be devastating and heart wrenching at times to work with so many people who are alone and without hope.
I (Shannon) have also gotten more involved in the birth community here in NE Scotland. I am doing private lactation consultations and birth doula work. I had my first doula client just last month! After a lot of prayer, I have decided that I will not pursue midwifery here in the UK for a number of reasons, but will keep my American and Texas licenses up to date and serve women here in the role as doula and birth keeper. I am looking forward to connecting more with doulas in this area, and expanding those services here. I hope to be able to start a postnatal support group and a potential monthly session for birth trauma processing when the next school year commences.
- For continued spiritual growth from the members at Village Church.
- For relationships that we are both building with those in the community.
- For the three new families we have had visit Village in 2023.
- For the health of our family.
- For wisdom on the best ministry vehicle to purchase that will be more reliable.
- For Shannon as she pursues taking her driving theory test in the next couple months and continues driving lessons.
- For the continued growth for Village Church and the outreach in our community.
“Strength when I am weak, and light when I can’t see, life when I can’t breathe, oh my soul, this is Jesus.”
– Tyler Murphy
We are so grateful for all those who support our ministry and what God is doing here in our little corner of the world in NE Scotland. We are praying for those who may want to join our clan as monthly or one time supporters. If this is something you would love to learn more about, please reach out to us and set up a zoom. We would love to share more about or ministry and what God is doing. To learn more or set up support, here is our link.