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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

International Pastors and Spouses Conference

I haven't been on the blog lately because we have been hosting the Association of International Churches in Europe and the Middle East (AICEME) pastor and spouse conference here in Stockholm. This is a great group and Doug and I have looked forward to and enjoyed every single conference we've been to. The list is long and amazing:
1999: Cairo, Egypt; 2000: Paris, France; 2001: We hosted in Stockholm; 2002: Antalya, Turkey; 2003: Nairobi, Kenya; 2004: Frankfurt and Wittenburg, Germany; 2005: London, England; 2006: Zurich, Switzerland; 2007: Budapest, Hungary; 2008: Istanbul, Turkey; 2010: Back in Stockholm.
Not only have we enjoyed traveling to amazing places and seeing other international ministries in action, we've had the rich privilege of building deep and abiding friendships with ministry colleagues that have sustained us through the years. This year proved to be the same once again. We did a lot of fun stuff but also had time for reflection, learning, and sharing. Some of our friends are coming off difficult and conflicted years, bringing with them the burden that change is imminent in their lives. Others are settling into a spot that once felt foreign but now feels like home. We are the old-timers of the group. Us and one other couple are the only ones who are in the same ministry spots that we were 12 years ago when we first met. Some of our most beloved colleagues are moving on and that means limited chances to see one another. Even so, these conferences and our shared place in International ministry provides a bond that is not easily broken.We began the week with a reception in our home that featured Swedish ciders and a few nibbles. The week unfolded with a beautiful day at Stensnäs, our retreat center, where we listened to Dr. Runar Eldebo share his sage wisdom and perspective on Christianity in the European context. We were reminded once again that Europe is not America and things are quite different here. It was inspiring and insightful.
We taught the group how to play Kubb, an old Viking game that was invented on Gotland and we enjoyed laughing and playing together. Sharing in small groups allowed us time to gain insight into what was happening in each of our ministry contexts and the closing worship was one of the most powerful times of worship I've ever experienced.
Wednesday gave us an opportunity to hear from former member Sam Nweze. Sam is now an ordained Covenant pastor, working hard in an immigrant church plant south of Stockholm. What a thrill to listen to him talk of his journey to the pastorate through the ministry of Immanuel International. He is doing a great work and needs our prayers and support.
Of course, we had fika (coffee and a little something) often.We were also lucky enough to catch the changing of the guard on a day when they brought in the horses.We took the group to Helsinki, Finland on the Silja Line Ferry and this provided hours of relaxed conversation and fun meals. Experiencing the Swedish smörgåsbord with all manner of fish is something that needs to done at least once...maybe only once...but we all had a great time lingering over dinner together.
We visited 3 different churches in Helsinki: The Orthodox Church, The Lutheran Church and The Rock church where The International Church in Helsinki meets. All 3 are so distinct and tell an important story of the religious history of Finland.

The exterior and interior of the Orthodox Church.

The Lutheran Cathedral and the pulpit.

The interior of the Rock Church

The International church of Helsinki were our hosts for the day Thursday and in spite of temperatures that hovered around zero C and icy rain, the warmth and joy of the church and all that is happening there warmed us from the inside out. What a great ministry Helsinki has going with amazing outreach to immigrants and pathways from society into the church. We were inspired by our colleague Timo and will continue to pray that he can execute his vision for that ministry fruitfully.
The weekend brought us back to Stockholm to take care of the business of the association, eat Korean food and learn how to play innebandy, Swedish indoor floor hockey. Playing together solidifies relationships and opens up pathways to friendship. What fun to run around and be silly together.
Saturday was a day to enjoy our beautiful city and a trip to the Vasa Museum and Skansen, the open air museum filled with Swedish history did not disappoint. One of the brown bears was putting on quite a show by climbing a tree and enjoying his perch on top. Welcoming this group to our Sunday worship celebration was a joy. The out-going president of the group preaches on Sunday morning and Carol Simpson from Strasbourg, France gave a great message on opening wide the doors of the church that many in our congregation deeply appreciated.
The closing banquet is a time to goof off, show how untalented we can be and enjoy a warm laugh before we say our good-byes. Our banquet host, Michael Simpson is the President of the International Space Institute in Strasbourg, France. He's looking mighty presidential in this photo.

We took part in an ABBA lipsync that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Even so, it was good fun and reminds us that we really can be ourselves with this group.
We were encouraged by the worship and prayer. We were inspired by the stories of how God is using the International Church in so many different ways across Europe. We were filled up by the love of good friends and ministry colleagues. It was a privilege and a joy to host this conference and we are so happy that our friends had such a good time here. Now we all look forward to being in Paris, France next year and the anticipate with joy the rich and abiding time we know it be.