Grateful Reflections on a Week Long Visit to our Missionaries in Europe
From the Jacoby’s & Sunday’s....
Grateful Reflections on a Week Long Visit to our Missionaries in Europe
Thursday, September 6, 2012
Mike & Heidi Jacoby and David & Kate Sunday flew from O'Hare to Europe, arriving Friday morning in Paris, France. Our goals for this trip were:
• To bring encouragement from New Covenant to our missionaries, John & Meg Glass and Greg & Debbie Nichols.
• To become more familiar with the scope and focus of these missionaries' endeavors to advance the gospel of Christ's Kingdom.
• To get our vision refreshed and renewed for missions in general, and for the work of these missionaries in particular, so that we might continue to convey a compelling vision to the people of New Covenant as to how we as a church can be vitally involved in the fulfillment of the Great Commission in these fields.
We want to thank the GO Team and the people of New Covenant for making it possible for us to take this trip. Though a week in Europe is costly in terms of time and finances, we believe that the investments made will reap rich dividends as the goals mentioned above were abundantly fulfilled. In particular, we want to express how grateful we were to have our wives travel with us. They not only were a joy to have at our sides, but they also brought insightful reflections, words of encouragement, and meaningful ministry to our missionaries each step along the way.
Saturday, September 8
After doing a whirlwind tour of Paris and recovering from jet lag (at least partially!), we boarded a train from Paris to Geneva, Switzerland, where John & Meg Glass met us with open arms mid-afternoon.
We had a wonderful, relaxed evening of conversation with John & Meg over a traditional Swiss meal of Raclette in their lovely home in the French suburb of Archamps. John & Meg express profound gratitude for the faithful support, first from Fox Valley Bible Church, and now from New Covenant, spanning the course of two decades. They are in a season of renewed joy and peace in the congregation they planted some four years ago. Prior to this congregation, John & Meg had been involved in several other church plants, and sadly, the inevitable conflicts of the world, the flesh, and the devil encroached upon the last church with dismaying effects. Through it all, John & Meg have remained hopeful, "steadfast, [and] immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord," for they know that "their labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Cor. 15:58).
Sunday, September 9
Today we had the joyous privilege of worshiping with the new church which meets in the Ramada Hotel in the heart of the world-class city of Geneva. It is a diverse congregation, comprised of people from many nationalities and all ages. What a joy it was for us to meet some young people, like Fabien, a man who was powerfully converted to Christ back in 2007 and is now pursuing correspondence studies through Moody Bible Institute while he works as a police officer in Geneva. Fabien led his best friend, a Muslim named Nabil, to Christ a couple years ago. Now Nabil is worshiping at the church too, as he eagerly shares Christ with others. We also met older people, some of whom are exploring Christianity, and others who have been faithfully partnering with John & Meg in the ministry of the gospel to their city. I (David) had the joy of preaching a message of encouragement from Jeremiah 32 (a great passage about the New Covenant that expresses so beautifully the heartbeat of our church's ministry). How enjoyable it was to preach with John's eloquent French translation echoing in my ears—it actually gave me a bit of time to think on my feet. Maybe we should try a bilingual service at New Covenant! Mike & Heidi did a beautiful job ministering in music before and after the preaching. It was particularly moving to hear them sing "Still, My Soul, Be Still," with the words in French on the screen, as we meditated on the reality that God delights in doing us good with all his heart and all his soul. In the afternoon, John took us on a Reformation tour, in which Mike and I were allowed to ascend the hallowed steps into John Calvin's pulpit. Empowered by the Word of God that was proclaimed from Calvin's magisterial pulpit, men and women left the church in Geneva to lay down their lives for the gospel in neighboring France. Yet the Word of God prevails, and we today are the beneficiaries of the revival of the gospel that took place during the Protestant Reformation. One thing that stands out about John Glass is his readiness to share Christ wherever he goes. Much like his Master, people are drawn to John's bold but winsome personality. Even in the middle of John Calvin's church, four women from a college in New York City were drawn in by John's presentation, and they listened attentively as he seamlessly wove in a proclamation of the gospel message. Later on, as we walked beside the Reformation Wall, a man from San Diego casually started walking closer to us, intrigued by John's presentation. We were inspired by how John practices what he preached to us back in May: just three minutes, one verse, and a little bit of courage. Here is a man who has not stopped being amazed at how God saved him by his grace, and that amazement spills over into evangelistic conversations wherever he goes. The Reformation Tours which John leads are an excellent vehicle for meeting people and introducing them to the One who died and rose so that we might be saved, by grace through faith alone. In the evening we enjoyed a rich meal of nothing but cheese fondue and bread, complete with yodeling (not from Mike & Heidi!) and the full gamut of Alpine ethnic lore. We felt like we had been transported back in time to the set of The Sound of Music!
Monday, September 10
Today we took a field trip to the highest point in the European continent, the legendary Mont Blanc. From its snow-capped summit we could take in the panorama of Switzerland, France, and Italy in one breathtaking view. "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8:1). This turned out to be a rich day of deep conversations about theology, ministry methodology, and gospel advancement with John.
Tuesday, September 11
We departed early from Geneva and took a short flight to Prague, Czech Republic, where we were met in the airport by Greg Nichols. Unfortunately, Debbie was not able to be with us because she has traveled to the USA to visit her ailing father. The timing of our arrival allowed us to attend a BBQ for the new and returning students of the International Baptist Theological Seminary where Greg serves as chaplain and professor of church history. It was good to meet this diverse body of students from places like Hungary, Ukraine (one from very near Poltava), Denmark, the UK, and Myanmar. The IBTS focuses on applied theology as it seeks to raise up leaders for the under-evangelized regions of Europe.
Wednesday, September 12
We attended the 9:00am chapel service at the seminary, during which we experienced a simple yet profound celebration of the Lord's Supper in communion with brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world. As we sang "Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here," we were reminded how our Savior is the greatest missionary, crossing the impassable barrier from Heaven to Earth—all for the sake of God's love and God's glory—to bring salvation to a world that had turned its back on its Creator.
The next several hours were spent in some very significant conversations with Greg. Since I had never met him, I found it so helpful to hear him describe the scope of his ministries. Greg's role in the seminary is just a slice of his full plate of missionary endeavors. Greg also serves as a pastor/elder in the international church meeting on the seminary's campus, where he preaches approximately once a month, and where he & his wife frequently lead in worship. Additionally, Greg is responsible for serving Greater Europe Mission as one of two regional directors for their Western European missionary personnel.
As Greg described the multiple fields under his care, it became clear to us that this man is a premier leader and servant of the gospel. He speaks with great clarity about the needs, challenges, and opportunities evangelical missionaries are facing in post-Christian Europe, with all the immigrants who are coming in from Africa and Islamic nations. Yet even as his depth of knowledge is so evident, what struck us most about Greg was his gentle and humble spirit. He was very interested to hear how things were going at New Covenant and in the States, and he was also eager to invite us to share in his struggles as a parent to two teenaged children and a servant of the gospel.
Greg & Debbie were sent out by the College Church in Wheaton, but New Covenant is their third-highest church in terms of missionary support. It was clear that Greg values the ongoing cultivation of this relationship, and we found ourselves excited about the opportunities we have as a church to support the work of the gospel in Europe through Greg & Debbie's ministry. We don't presently have a lot of missionaries who are serving in Europe, but in partnership with the Nichols, we have a vital link to the Kingdom as it advances like leaven in a lump of dough. Right now, the influence of the gospel in Europe seems small and insignificant—but we know that in the end, the glory of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14).
In the evening we enjoyed a great Italian meal at Greg's children's favorite restaurant. It was a joy to meet Nick, age 17, and Salina, soon to be 15. They show every evidence of being children of God who are growing in the grace & knowledge of Christ. Nick will be graduating from high school this year, and then the Nichols plan to return to the USA for their first furlough in five-year's time. During that time they will be seeking the Lord for renewed definition and clarity about the direction of their ministry in the years to come. We should have ample opportunities to connect with them while they are home during the 2013-14 school year.
Thursday, September 13
On our last day in Europe, Greg guided us through a walking tour of the grand city of Prague. We were glad to be doing this tour on our feet because we had a few "balancing issues" on the public tram as it lurched forward the day before... Let's just say, no one in the public transportation remained in doubt as to our American identity! I think we could hear a collective sigh of relief when we stepped off the tram!
The claims of Prague on being Europe's most beautiful city are hardly exaggerated. We stood in awe of the splendor of castles and architecture that reaches back a full millennium, all the while reminding ourselves that we weren't in Disney World—this was the real deal!
After a good Czech lunch in the main Clock Tower square of the Old City, we bid farewell to Greg, grateful for his gracious hospitality, and even more grateful for the new relationship (with the Sundays and New Covenant) and the renewal of friendship (with the Jacobys). I was deeply impressed with the Christlike character, missiological and theological thoughtfulness, and industrious work ethic of this choice servant of the gospel.
In the evening, we took one more walk across the Charles Bridge. There we were approached by a young man who asked Mike if he would take his picture. When Mike agreed to do so, he said "Thanks, Mate," revealing his Australian roots. He then went on to explain that he is an Israeli Jew who also lives in Australia. From there, he launched into a warmhearted and enthusiastic discussion of his appreciation for America, the challenges of the Jewish people in Israel, and his hopes for the future prosperity of both of our nations. It was a truly remarkable moment in which we could all feel the divine appointment of the Holy Spirit. God enabled us to turn the conversation toward Christ, and we urged this young Jewish man to explore the claims of Christ in the Gospels, and to receive Him as the promised Son of Abraham who fulfills all of the promises made to the Jewish people. I was thrilled to see God use Mike & Heidi and Kate to point this man, who clearly was being pursued by the Good Shepherd, to his true Messiah. We were not the first Christ-followers this man has met; pray that we won't be the last! His name is Zachary. He listened warmly to us and had his picture taken with us. He even left his email address with Mike. What a fitting conclusion it was for our week in Europe, for the continent is filled with young people like Zachary, multitudes of whom are adrift in a sea of meaninglessness and turmoil. We thank God for the faithful work of those who spread the Good News in this hardened soil, and those who are persevering in making disciples, planting churches, and equipping the churches to multiply and spread the gospel of the Kingdom in a land where "everyone does what is right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25).
Grateful and hopeful,
Mike & Heidi Jacoby and David & Kate Sunday