Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
It gives me great joy to be able to share the ongoing work of God’s Spirit in and through His people in this little corner of Finland. Thank you so much for all your prayers, support, and continued concern. “Come and see the works of God; He is awesome in His doing toward the sons of men.” Psalm 66:5.
I confess, I truly love being a father to six sons. Our boys range from 5 to 17 years old. Each son is unique, as different as different can be from his brothers. I usually joke saying that it is not the years that make a man old, rather, it’s his children! I am so grateful to the Lord for the though. Being a Christian dad is really hard work, and honestly, I find that more often than not it reveals more about my own need for more growth in my character. Sometimes I wonder who is learning more about life, them or me. My wife Sara is doing well. She is busy with family life, church, and the clubs/organizations she is involved with. She also coaches little league soccer and helps a group who works with people with disabilities. She is always surprised and delighted as to how much the Lord regularly uses her among the folks in the villages. It’s wonderful!
In the Church, we are so grateful for the Lord’s continued blessing on the lives of our little congregation. The Lord has seen fit to bless me with a young congregation, as most people are between 25-30 years of age. They are all burning with a desire and love for the building of His Kingdom.
Every one of them are growing in the faith, and growing in the love of Christ. Being able to know your people, and get “into their lives” is one of the joys of pastoring a little country church. You get to know their struggles as well as victories in the faith. You see them committed to serving the Body of Christ, while also sharing the Gospel to the communities around us. It is thrilling to be a part of the very beginning of such a healthy work.
Just the other day, I had taken my car to a local tire dealership. I live in the country, not way out, but almost. The dealership’s owner is all country, as backwoods as you can get. He is an older man, somewhat set in his ways, and he communicates through a series of nods, grunts, and undecipherable mutterings to really no one in general. I’ve never seen him clean, it’s as if his complexion has been permanently stained an inky, oily, dirt color. He’s a big black boots and baseball cap kind of man, with skinny legs and a little pudding tummy that sits just over his belt.
Well, I was there, and this fella was changing the tires on my car. It was in the early evening, so it was just the two of us. He was working away and I was just watching and waiting. My earlier attempts at small talk went nowhere, so we just remained in a comfortable Finnish silence.
When all of a sudden, he looked up and around and asked, “Are you still working in the same place?” I shook my head and answered, “No, have been working full-time as a Pastor for the last year.”
“Oh-ho! You don’t look like a Priest!” he said. I laughed and asked him what did a Priest/Pastor look like?
He cocked his head to the side and lifted an eyebrow and answered, “Well the Lutheran ones are all effeminate and girly, always afraid I’ll break them when I have to shake their hand! And the other ones, the free church people,” he said while he turned his head to the side and spat, “Well, those fellas are all plastic smiles and too much energy, like they want to sell you something, trying to get you to buy life insurance, shares in a time-share, or the like!”
I laughed again and asked, “So what do I look like then?” He reached up and adjusted the fit of his dirty old baseball cap, turned his head again and spat, then looked at me and nodded and said, “Not like that!” And with that, he turned his back to me and bend down to start to work again. And for a time, we went back to our comfortable Finnish silence.
After a few minutes in our comfortable silence, he stood up and turned to me again, pressing his hands deep into his trouser pockets he asked, “Here! Do you know the difference between the Roman Catholic and Protestant view on how a man gets right with God? And can you explain it to me? I want to know how a man gets right with God”
I was so surprised and taken aback, that I guffawed in shock. To which he responded with a furrowing of his brows and a deep glower.
I lifted my hand in an offered apology, smiled a big smile and said. “Why yes, yes I do and yes I can!”
And for the next 40 minutes, I was given the extraordinary honor of being able to explain to him the fundamental differences between the two. I had the privilege of sharing the gospel to a hungry soul, all the while he just stood there with hands shoved down deep into his jeans pockets, occasionally rocking back and forth on his heels, nodding his head attentively.
Gradually, he began to open up (somewhat), speaking of his long pondering over life and death, and of what was to happen after death. He shared the details of his past and of his family. He confessed that he had never spoken these things out loud before, he had just held them in. “I just think a lot, ya’ know!?”
I just smiled, “Oh-ho! You don’t look like a thinker!” said I.
To which he just laughed, he laughed until the tears washed little white tracks down his cheeks, which he then smeared dark again with his big grubby hands.
Isn’t it convicting, that a man of almost 65 years old, could go his whole life, in a so-called “Christian land” and had never heard the Gospel? He had grown up with the church and heard about Jesus in his youth, but it had never been real. A fairy tale, he had thought it.
He told me as I left him, “In all my years no priest or pastor ever said the things you’ve said to me. Given me much to think about!”
I left him with the words of John 5:24 “He who hears My Word and believes on Him who sent Me has everlasting life and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death to life.
As I drove away, I saw him in my back mirror, standing in the snow watching me leave. Dressed in his jeans and T-shirt with his big black boots. He reached up and adjusted his dirty old baseball cap, turn his head to the side and spat, nodded and went back in to the workshop.
Please pray for Leif and for the great many like him, that they might truly hear the words of Christ and believe, and by doing so pass from death into life.
Please pray for Finland, that even within the midst of the comfortable Finnish silence the voice of God might speak in the hearts of men, that they might believe and be saved, that hearts and lives might be transformed and changed, that Christ might receive much honor and glory even here in the cold dark north.