Saturday 31 December 2016


These nine photos are my most liked photos from 2016 on instagram. And they do capture a decent portion of my life - photos of interns, camp in Croatia, dear friends, travels for work or rest, and craftiness.

There are four countries represented in these photos (Czech, Poland, Slovakia and Croatia) - but 2016 actually saw me visit fifteen countries. Those fifteen are, in order, Czech, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Israel, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Croatian, Germany, Italy, France, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. I live in one of those countries, am from a second, and of the thirteen remaining all but two were on ministry trips!

There's also a lot about this year that the "best nine" don't capture. One of the highlights of my year was definitely the study tour of Israel I did. And, although it can sometimes be hard to be away from home so much, I adore the variety of the travel I do in my ministry - from conferences in Latvia and Estonia, to camps in Germany and Croatia, it has been an incredible year of seeing up close what God is doing in these nations.

I continue to be in awe of the wonderful people in my life, and I am so grateful for the hours spent with dear friends and family. Whether those hours are spent over meals or late night cups of tea, or through emails and FaceTime. 

I also spent a lot of the year reading - I finished 29 books, and started or am a little way through a few more. The books I finished, averaged over the year, add up to 25 pages a day which feels pretty good! I did finish fewer books than last year but that is largely because I decided to read through the Bible this year and it has been a lot of my reading. I'm not quite finished it - I hope to be done by the end of February, but it has been incredible!

I'm looking at my list of resolutions for 2016 as I write this and I definitely didn't accomplish all that I listed on the paper. But there has been a lot of growth. A year ago, when I sat down to think about the resolutions I thought about who I wanted to be when I'm 90 and wrote out goals that would allow me to grow closer to that. And as I wrote each goal I attached the "why" of it, because I needed to be reminded of the purpose.

I want to be an old woman who sparkles with joy because of her Saviour - and so I set out to read through the entire Bible, I listed things I'm thankful for each night (and wrote out well over one thousand in a year), and I used some great tools to help my prayer life. I am more in love with Jesus now than I was at the beginning of this year, and that is such grace from God.

There were some things that happened this year that I really didn't expect - good and bad, and some things that I had hoped would happen that didn't. But through it all God was ever faithful, and oh so good. And, whatever 2017 holds, I am grateful that that will continue to be true! 

Tuesday 20 December 2016

the stories things tell

There are only a couple of things in life I collect. I have enough books to have started my third bookshelf. I have one Starbucks' mug for each place I've lived. I'm trying to get magnets of the JV countries I visit - but that one proves quite hard when I'm not necessarily in touristy, sells magnets, kind of places when I travel for work.

But as I pulled out my Christmas decorations I realised I may be collecting nativities. And the five I own tell some interesting stories. 

This is the first one I bought. It was a hot, sunny day and a strange one to be buying a magnetic nativity scene. But it was summer 2007, I was in Prague having done my very first English camp, and I was wandering around the market looking for gifts and something for myself. It was my first time in the Czech Republic and, had you asked me, I wouldn't have been able to say with certainty that I'd come back again, let alone live here.

And know that it vaguely bothers me that the wise men face east so they cannot be making some grand entrance from the geographically correct direction.

The next set I bought came a couple of years later - maybe in 2008 or 2009 when I lived in Cardiff. I bought this little set (that also has wise men, a shepherd, a donkey and camel) in Paperchase in the Welsh capital when I was at university there. And now the cast of the Christmas story find themselves dotted around my Christmas tree.

This set is Northern Irish and started off with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. The shepherds were added the next year. The characters are made out of clay and made by my very talented best friend, given as Christmas presents a few years ago.

I found this Russian doll nativity set in the John Lewis in Heathrow airport last year when I was on home assignment. It's fun and bright and buying it at the airport meant I didn't pay tax on it. The wise men doll actually has three faces as you rotate it round. I should probably have the wise men standing on the other side of the dresser as that would actually have them coming in from the east (as Poland is just a few hundred metres to the left of this photo).

This one is the most recent addition to the collection. It's made from olive wood and was bought in Nazareth when I was in Israel earlier this year. 

Five different nativity sets, from five different countries, over the last nine years. It's fun to pull them out of the box and decide where and how to display them each year. And they tell beautiful tales of God's faithfulness - in the places I've lived, the relationships I have, and the stories I've gathered.

And they allow me to enter the greatest story. The story that I've heard since before I can remember. The story in which five-year-old me played Mary. The story that each year finds me older and different, and ever in need of it. The story that ever works its way deeper into my bones. 

Sunday 18 December 2016

Snapshots of a Week

It has been a good, and a full, week and I thought it would be fun to post some photos so you can see some snapshots of what I've been up to.

Last Saturday a friend asked me to pick them up from the airport and I decided to make a day of it. I didn't need to be at the airport until 5.30pm so I enjoyed a whole day in Krakow - I explored the Christmas markets, and wandered around the city and castle, doing some Christmas shopping and reading. I loved hearing different English-speaking accents throughout the city - including at least one that was distinctly Northern Irish. I'm thankful that I can have a sabbath day enjoying a city that is just a couple of hours driving away.

On Sunday I had church in the morning and then a concert in the afternoon - the above picture shows us ready for the concert to start. Some of my co-workers launched an outreach event where people come together and form a choir for a couple of months and finish with a Christmas concert! I think this was the fourth year of it and it has become a big deal - there were three concerts this year, and tickets sold out quickly. Two of my co-workers were interviewed on a Czech morning TV show, and the livestream of the concert has been watched by over 6000 people. 

The choir was made up of a lot of non-Christians and the gospel was clearly communicated throughout their practices and at each concert so many people heard the gospel and were invited to respond. There is even an article about the event each year in a local newspaper and in reporting the event it says that there was a message during the concert and clearly outlines what that message was! 

It was a really fun performance and the audience are asked to singalong with different songs. My favourite performance was, of course, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, by U2. 

Most of my working week was spent on our new camps website! This is an internal website that will serve our staff, interns, short term teams, and local church teams. On Monday I recorded the tutorials to help our staff learn how to use it and made it live! It's been a lot of work but it's so fun to see it out there. I really believe this will lead to increased fruit as everything gets funnelled through one place - increasing our team's capacity and, prayerfully, as teams come better prepared for camp it will help them communicate the gospel even more clearly to even more students. 

After so much sitting and a big project released I needed to celebrate - and I did so by making mince pies. It's funny what you realise are things specific to only your country when you move abroad and mince pies are one those things. Thankfully I was able to get a jar of the filling at Marks and Spencers and the mince pies were enjoyed at our team meeting on Tuesday morning.

Tuesdays are always full days of meetings - we had our international team meeting, in which we studied Acts. Next up was our S-Team meeting, with those of us serving the special ministries of JV. In the afternoon I had a meeting with our communication's team to talk about the resources and materials they are creating for camps this year. 

After all that I sat down to read through the camp talks for next year. This was my first time reading them and the people who wrote them did an incredible job introducing young people to Jesus and His gospel. In a week that was full of meetings, releasing the website, discovering bugs and getting them fixed, it was so good to sit and be reminded. And not just reminded of the gospel that changed my life - but reminded why I care about websites and resources, because it's all about Him and young people hearing this good, good news.

On Tuesday nights we have our missionary women's bible study and I am so grateful for this community! We just finished Beth Moore's Believing God study - I think it took us over seven months to do the ten week study but it was so good, and so worth the work. 

While I was there I realised what I'd scrawled on my hand earlier that day. I was on the phone with my mechanic asking when I could bring my car in (just for a service, thankfully). We agreed on Monday (or pondělí in Czech) and I'd written that on my hand. It's such a small thing but I was so thankful that I realised hours later that my brain had stayed in Czech. It didn't translate every single word and thought, and I made a note to myself in Czech. 

An Englishman, Scotsman, Welshman and NorthernIrishwoman were in a meeting, not a joke, on Thursday. We were later joined by a couple of others. This was an exciting meeting, discussing JVUK getting charity status and all that that means.

On Fridays this month my little town has little Christmas markets and it was fun to explore them as I crossed the square running errands.

On Friday evening the Yormans and I celebrated Christmas! I introduced the Yorman clan to crackers (who knew this was a UK/Ireland thing?!) - which was quite the challenge as they're technically classed as fireworks so there are all kinds of rules about flying with them. When I was back in NI in November for just a couple of days I had room to bring back a full, unopened, box of crackers (obeying the law of how to fly with them). 

And we blended cultures as we made gingerbread houses and decorated them with a lot of icing.

And I gave the boys their Christmas gift - the Dobble or Spot It game with Star Wars. I definitively lost because my spaceship/character knowledge leaves a lot to be desired but it was a lot of fun!

Saturday was a day of errands and trying to restore some order/cleanliness to my little flat. It was also our youth group Christmas party! It was 80s themed but I'll spare you any selfies (you can see my turned up jeans and fluorescent shoes if you look closely). 

At the end of the programme we were each given this wafer and went around to different people, giving them Christmas/new year wishes/blessings. When each person had spoken you offered your wafer to the other person who broke a piece off, and you found someone new. It was a beautiful thing to do, and so good to speak words of God's blessing over one another and the next year. And it was a fun blend of cultures - I communicated in Czech and English, depending on who I was speaking to, and the wafers have Polish on them.

And today was church - we had a testimony from the man in the photo. And our sermon was on how Jesus didn't just come to be a cute little baby who brings us gifts at Christmas (baby Jesus is the deliverer of Christmas presents in Czech). Our sermon was on Revelation 12 and how Jesus ultimately came to defeat evil. In a week that has felt so dominated by pictures of war, this was a good and timely reminder.

On Sunday afternoon this was my view as we had small group. Cups of tea and plates Christmas cukrovi (amazing Christmas biscuits/cookies), and time spent talking with dear girls about God's Word and how we can grow closer to Him. 

So there are the snapshots of my week. I am so thankful for the life I've been called to live and the good works God has prepared for me. I'm thankful for the full weeks and the crazy blends of cultures and languages - and that it's all about Him and the beautiful gospel.