finland:tampereThe weather continues rainy and cold. (“November is not the best time to visit our country,” they tell me.) I continue to meet interesting people and eat interesting food and have interesting experiences. In a word, I’m having fun and feeling useful.

Last night was a watershed moment for my experience with believers here in Finland.

So far, I’ve met some great people who have indicated interest in meeting with Steve and me. But whether from politeness and warm memories of Steve’s parents (Arny and Wanda—who spent significant time in Finland and with these people) or a real hunger for God—it hasn’t been easy to tell. People have been very gracious. But there hasn’t been much evidence of a commitment to grow and deepen and have more impact for the sake of the kingdom. The sense has been that believers were marking time, holding on, finding strength just to survive.

The one exception to that has been Sami. Sami is a very interesting person. He serves in Finland as the Honorary Consul to the Romanian government, creating bonds between the two countries and easing the way for business, cultural, and political ties. In addition, he serves as a Captain in the Finnish Air Force Reserve. A very competent, bright person who also, obviously, has a deep faith. Sami is the one who picked up Steve and me in Helsinki and drove us to Tampere. He’s read my book (A Spirit for the Rest of Us) and has been eager to interact about faith and the role of the Spirit in our lives.

Last night, we were invited to a doctor’s home. Yari and his wife Minna are lovely people, hospitable, and committed believers. They welcomed a group of friends into their home to meet with us: Micha and Terghe … Perttu and Ninna (and their daughter Eda) … Hanna and Reija … Sami and Tarja (and their sweet daughters Eda and Sarah) … and Michell. The group was very warm. They don’t get together often, but when they do, they love to study the Bible, encourage one another, pray, and testify to the way they see God working in their lives.

As soon as we shed our coats, exchanged greetings, and sat down, Yari turned the floor over to me. I introduced myself, said a few words of welcome, and then spoke a blessing over Yari’s home and our gathering. (I did this standing with hands raised—as is my habit with more formal ‘blessings’–and the group was deeply moved. ‘Blessing’ is obviously something they do not experience often and are eager for.) I then launched into a discussion of John 14, 15, and 16—what Jesus said to his disciples about the Spirit on his last night with them (the subject of my book). We read the relevant passages in Finnish. And then I spoke (slowly and, of course, in simple English) about the meaning of these sayings and what Jesus was trying to tell the Apostles (and us) about the work of the Holy Spirit. We went for an hour. They were absolutely smitten. Completely quiet and focused. Drinking in Jesus’ words like sponges. The very picture of ‘hungry and thirsty.’ There were a few questions. I would pause long enough for them to talk over some of the deeper matters in Finnish. (Their English was very good for the most part, but religious vocabulary can be difficult.

When I finished, they sat staring off into the distance, heads cocked, processing … thinking. When Yari broke the silence, he requested more blessing … a prayer for the Holy Spirit to fall on the group and be a transforming presence among them. So I went from person to person, laying hands on heads and shoulders, and praying for their lives and families and witness and mission. People were crying. It felt like bringing bread to the starving, like pouring water on parched plants. They seemed to grow and strengthen under my touch. It was a fabulous experience for me—an affirmation of ministry and calling. And, I think, it was a significant moment for them—a taste of what they could experience regularly and powerfully.

We stayed for another hour and a half, sharing cake and coffee and conversation. I got to hear stories of how people came to faith, of prayers answered, of searching and questioning and experiences with God. Two of our group–Perttu and Ninna—had never gathered in a home with other believers before. They were nervous, not sure what to expect. But by the end of the evening, they were beaming, so encouraged, and agreed to join us tonight (Sunday) to share the Supper and more time in the Word.

All in all, it was a great evening (“very successful” as Tarja characterized it) and left me with hope that God was doing something significant among believers here in Finland. They need encouragement. They could use ministers with training and experience and a kind of ministerial boldness they themselves lack. I think, perhaps, I have an open door here because (to some small degree) they see me as someone who has credibility (because of the book) but not tainted by connection with the Lutheran/state church.

I’ve asked Steve to keep his finger on the pulse of reaction to this visit. If there seems to be an eagerness, a hunger, for me to return and spend more time … if they want to use our availability to develop and train and think more strategically about the kingdom in this culture … I would be open to making a return visit. Steve has already agreed to come again in the Spring. If so, I may come with him—depending on schedule and funding.

It is Sunday morning here. We are eating lunch with Sami and his family (in Finland, it is also Father’s Day today) and then going to the home where we will have our Lord’s Day worship this evening. Our Finland visit has been worth every effort. The weather (in November!) may be gray and chilly. But the people have been warm and welcoming. What does climate matter when you have Christ in common!

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