Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I just wanted to write a 'quick' update before leaving for Skopje tomorrow evening.

Today ended up being a fantastic day.

Tommie took me to get a SIM card for the cell phone he is letting me use while I am here.  I didn't realize the degree to which I had relied on my cell, as my watch, alarm clock, planner and means of local communication, until it was gone for 72 hours.  Needless to say, it's nice to have those luxuries back.

(clockwise left to right: Kenneth, Tommie, Kim, Jen)

Tommie left for the Middle East for a few days, leaving his vehicle at my/our disposal.  I have to admit, I was quite nervous about driving Tommie's car on these streets, and though it was definitely a baptism by fire when he left me at the airport to navigate my way through downtown Thessaloniki, it ended up being a huge confidence booster.  Praise God Almighty, He lead me directly to Aristotelos Square, where I was to meet up with Kim and Jen, without having any real idea how to get there; even providing a parking space just feet from the main road across the street from the Square.

After meeting up with the girls, I had my first gyro platter at the intern-famous restaurant, Spata.  Having not really eaten dinner the night before, it made my first gyro in Greece, exceptionally delicious.

With intercessory prayer in town at the church at 7:00pm, the girls and I spent most of the day exploring some of the town around the Square.  It was great to finally get my feet on the ground and really get in to the city.  I think there's something about all the people interacting that energizes me in a way.  Worship and intercession seems to happen almost naturally, walking through the city.  They've been some of my favorite moments here.

After I ate at Spata, we decided to get coffee and just relax for a bit, as we waited for the cell phone store to re-open.  Most businesses close roughly between 2:30pm and 5:30pm for 'siesta' time.  It was good for the three of us to spend some time just talking, laughing, and enjoying hanging out with one another, as we adjust to life here.

I've realized there are fewer things on this earth that I enjoy more than interceding with brothers and sisters in prayer.  I think one of the reasons that I love it so much is because you can see the unity and fellowship of the Spirit of God in action right before your eyes.  You pray what people are thinking without knowing it.  You see what people are praying before they pray it.  Though people pray in a language you do not know, you can feel the power of God on their prayers.  It was great to meet a handful of new friends and have the opportunity to 'do the stuff' - the fun stuff! - alongside them.

Femi and his son, BJ

Afterwards, Jen, Kim, and I came back to Tommie's, had a really profitable time sharing what was on our hearts and spent the remainder of the night laughing about things that will likely not soon be forgotten.  "Tom Foolery?  Who is that?"

I picked-up Amy from the Airport a couple of hours ago.  It's good to see her and have her back here from Sweden.  I'm looking forward to getting into the swing of things with everyone, although much of the team will soon be leaving for Christmas.

Jen, Kim, and I will be headed to Skopje tomorrow to spend time with Bethany, Jon, and Danielle, through Friday.  I'm really excited to have the chance to spend some time and just enjoy them.

Please pray for the three of us as we travel to Skopje.  Pray that we would have favor and traveling mercies as we cross the border to and from Skopje.  Pray that our time together is all that the Lord would have it be.

Pray for Tommie as he travels to the Middle East through Sunday.  Pray for those in authority within the church that they would be given a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of His will, and that they would not grow weary in doing good.  Pray that we would fervently love one another from the heart and be unified.

Please also pray specifically for me, Jen and Kim - that we would rest in His grace and trust Him, simply loving God and others as we adjust to life here.

God bless you.  I love you all.  Please tell me how you are doing!


Thessaloniki Bay

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Psalm 84:10

"For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside."

Wow.  I am in awe of God's faithfulness.

Kim and I made is to Thessaloniki without any hitch.  Tommie (the pastor), Annika (one of the missionary worship leaders), and Jen (one of the Dwelling Place missionaries) were there to pick us up from the airport right on time.

They drove us straight to their little 'missionary community' in the town of Perea; which can't be more than 15 minutes from the airport.  Tommie, Annika, and the DP missionaries (Amy, Jen, and Kim) all have separate apartments within close walking distance of each other in this little town.

While Kim got settled in at her place, Tommie took me for hot chocolate at Joy Bar - a little seaside restaurant just down the street.  It was a good time to sit, relax, and talk for a bit before heading to church in downtown Thessaloniki at 7:00pm.

It was great to see many of the familiar faces that I had met during my visit with the interns in 2008 - Eva and Costas, Argy and Peggy, Dimitra, and Stravoula; as well as, many new faces.  I was encouraged at how much more confident they were in their faith and identities in the Lord.  They were noticeably more confident as they functioned with courage and purpose in their roles, serving within the body.

At first, I found it difficult to press-in and connect with the Lord during worship.  The songs were familiar worship songs; however, when everyone is singing in Greek, it can be a little difficult to worship with my mind, singing in English.  So, I stopped trying to do that for a bit and decided to sing in the Spirit.  I don't remember exactly what happened... I believe a slightly potent mixture of humility, spontaneous praise, declaration, and adoration of the person of Jesus, released just a touch of His presence that comforted my heart in such a powerful way.  What an unfathomable gift, that God would give us Himself, to live within us and walk among us, so that no matter where on earth we might be, Christiansburg, Virginia or Thessaloniki, Greece - He is there.

Dimitri, a guest speaker and pastor from the island of Thassos, shared an encouraging, insightful word on Elijah's character, as man with a nature like ours, full of weakness; however, zealous in his obedience to the word of the Lord, in the midst of intensely oppressive circumstances.  I really appreciated Dimitri's own honesty and candidness about his difficulties this year, as the apostle Paul unreservedly admitted to being, "afflicted on every side: conflicts without, fears within."  It releases such a burden from those that look up to people in leadership when they realize that individuals and families in 'ministry' are not without their own real struggles.

I was reminded tonight that there is nothing better than Jesus and being in the presence of God.  He is beautiful and glorious, and He's what this life is all about.  Every relationship and every purpose of God comes together when you have Him.  Every need is met.  Apart from Him we can do nothing, but in Him, all things hold together and we bear much fruit.

I'm looking forward to meeting with Tommie and the rest of the missionaries tomorrow for a time of strategy, instruction, vision-casting, etc.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of what God is doing here.  Thank you so much for your continued prayer and support.

I wish you Jesus.

Love, Ben.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

'Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How amazing are your thoughts concerning me, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!' (Psalm 139:16-17)

I will be enjoying the rest of the week at my parents' home in Fredericksburg, VA for Thanksgiving before meeting up with my friend and fellow missionary, Kim Bonner at Dulles International Airport, Saturday, November 27th.  Our flight is scheduled to depart at 5:50pm, ultimately arriving at our destination in Thessaloniki around 2:45pm Sunday, November 28th, following a brief layover in Frankfurt.

I'm really looking forward to a time of fruitful fellowship with family; as well as, time to rest in the Lord and spend time with Him in the word, as I prepare my heart for what lies ahead.  I'm tremendously excited about what the Lord has in store in Greece and in the time leading up to our departure.  What He is doing is always good.  I'm excited about seeing the other DP missionaries; as well as, reconnecting with Tommie and the church in Thessaloniki.  I'm looking forward to being in community with my brothers and sisters there as we pursue the Lord together.

I'm incredibly grateful for the overwhelming emotional, prayerful, and financial support that I have received.  Praise God, I have already met my prospective budget for my time in Thessaloniki! Thank you so much for your love and faithful giving.  May the Lord bless you and cause you to abundantly increase in all that He would do together with you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

clank, clank, clank...

... as the roller coaster cars slowly yet confidently ascend the hill before the first big drop.  As my departure date for Thessaloniki draws closer, I'm realizing that much of what has been on my heart and mind resembles such a familiar childhood experience.

A majority of the time passed before taking your seat and getting safely buckled into any great amusement park thrill ride is spent in line... waiting.  Though it's not the most appreciated aspect of theme parks, it's necessary if you ever want to experience any of the best rides worth waiting for.  So you wait, because you've heard about the ride, you can see the ride before you, and though it can sometimes feel like an eternity (as the line twists, turns, and snakes down hallways and open rooms you didn't think could have possibly existed), you do eventually arrive at the platform gate.

After being secured safely into your seat, a flurry of thoughts can flood your mind as it slowly and deliberately pulls away from the platform.  'Oh man, what have I gotten myself into?' 'Why did I get on this ride?' 'This is really happening' 'There's no turning back now.'  As the train of cars slowly ascend to the first big drop, following the initial stage of panic and confession of sin, things start to come into perspective.

As the train of cars makes it way higher and higher, you begin to see the surrounding land in a way you couldn't have before.  You're eyes are opened to other rides, games, and entire sections of the park that you didn't know existed, all ordered in a way that you couldn't have seen from the ground.

Then you turn and notice the person in the seat next to you.  You realize they're secured in the car right beside you.  They've been with you the entire time that you've been waiting in line.  They were with you in the car on the way to the park.  They were even there when you decided to make the trip together.  They were with you as the train left its platform through all your fear, doubting and second-guessing.  They'll be with you in the drop.  And they'll be with you when you walk off the ride together, with high-fives and excitement to share.  What's really important and what really matters becomes much simpler.

You're not alone.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." - Matthew 28:19-20