Arise, Shine! True Happiness Awaits!
By Evelyn Tully, WMU (Woman’s Missionary Union, Southern Baptist Convention, USA)
For my sisters of EBWU
My summer of 2013 began with one of the happiest gatherings in which I have participated. It was your EBWU 5 year Election Conference in Hanover, Germany!
As summer ended, I have been in two of the happiest nations of the world! According to a 156 nation survey published by the United Nations, Sweden ranks 5th and Iceland ranks 9th. The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network drew information from Gallup World Poll data for the past three years. The aspects of life ranked were health, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices and social support.
In late August I traveled to these two beauty spots of our world. Before going, I read several books to acquaint myself with the country, especially the thinking of the people. After reading about these “seemingly” perfect places, my first though was “wow, I could like living there!” After being in the countries, I actually still feel that way but with different understandings and reasons.
I was a part of an eight member (all women) team that went to observe, listen and learn. I met some wonderful people….men and women who are connecting and relating with people in a deep since of commitment and involvement. The continuing process of this “mission trip” will be how we can strategize and impart the value for other Christian, missioning women traveling there. That processing has now begun.
While in Stockholm, we met together for in depth learning experiences. Imagine eight older but active, church-going women from America sitting in the darkness of a night club at Slussen! What is so wonderful, it is no longer just a “night club” but a gathering place for young Swedish song-writers, singers and others to come together and to share. Some are Christians; others are not. A small church meets; they call themselves “The Tribe”. The venue is owned by believers who want it to be used for Christian events.. The group is led by two young men, Urban and Sebastian. Urban, an evangelist, has a calling for ministering to younger people.
It was in this venue that we learned principles and techniques of “interviews” among the post moderns. We were sent out on the streets with a list of 20 words, asking people if they felt negative or positive to the words. Love, family, Sweden ranked high in positive. Religion, Death, God ranked high in negative. Findings of the surveys verified what we had read before our arrival. The majority of folks on the streets….and there were many…. were kind and responsive to us, but knew little or nothing about God.
In advance of our arrival in Sweden, we were aware of the changing of church structure. There have been two Baptist groups in Sweden that been functioning independently for years. Both have related to the BWA and the European Baptist Federation. It was my desire to understand this as much as it would be possible because of my commitment to work with women around the world.
In our training times, we learned of “mapping techniques” as we prayer walked specific areas. On the island of Sodermalm, we stood and prayed outside of Folkungakyrakan Church. This originally was the Old Salem Baptist church and was part of the Swedish Baptist Union. A wonderful young couple, Eric and Anissa, with whom we connected, work through this congregation. They are gifted musicians. This couple is reaching out to many youngsters, musicians and even hipsters, in the area.
A new church plant, Fridhemskyrkan, is on the island of Kungsholmen. This entity is meeting in the lower level of Kungsholmen Baptist Church building, a part of the Swedish Baptist Union. A woman pastor, age 79, continues to serve as pastor. We learned of a women’s ministry, Talita, a shelter, safe place for young women who want to leave prostitution having been caught up in sex trafficking. Anna shared her burden and her ministry at Talita including therapy, teaching, fellowship and practical assistance. Another couple, David and Laura who had invited the team, serve in this area. They helped us learn the changes in Swedish society due to immigration and refugee influx. Opportunities for ministries abound.
As we went out two by two on mapping assignments as “observers of culture,” we were able to talk to shop keepers, and others walking in the park and shopping in the area. Again, we felt welcomed and people were very gracious. We also were conscious of “little” or “no” knowledge of church or God.
Mikko serves with his wife in Finland. Mikko shared how his wife Heidi connects through crises pregnancy centers and one of his venues for communicating is with the university campuses. He helped us understand several opportunities in the future for ministries. Prayer walking and book translations are two identified needs.
We were stimulated to think about functioning in three periods of time (like time travel) at the same time: pre modern, modern and post-modern. Jack, from Denmark, used I Cor 9:10-23 to challenge us to become a student of the city, try to see things from others point of view, get outside our Christian circles, use creative gifts, hang out with futurists, immerse ourselves, settle in. His examples helped us with understanding adjustments that need to be made to be Christian in a very different culture.
While in cold, rainy, windy Reykjavik, Iceland, we also did survey questionnaires in two shopping malls. We prayer walked schools and neighborhoods and the venue for upcoming evangelistic preaching. We were able to worship with the International Baptist Church where our “host family,” Bill and Cindy, serve. People were there from several countries. We shared in a baby dedication, where the grandmother had come from Ghana to be present. There is a warm and friendly connection of this “church family” who meet in a school.
A very special sharing took place in Iceland. We gathered with other Christians for a prayer meeting. This group first came together five years ago, during an economic downturn. They had no intention of the group lasting, but they have. Once a week they come together to pray for a spiritual awakening in their country. There was a mixture of many people, from various church backgrounds.
A Scripture quoted from a participant was Isaiah 60: l. It was so poignant to us as many of us had grown up quoting that scripture in our early mission’s days in our churches. “Arise, shine for the Light Has Come!” As one continues in that chapter, we note the promises that are made: v.3 “Nations will come to your light” v.15 “I will make you the everlasting pride and joy of all generations” v19 “The Lord will be your everlasting Light” and v.23 “the least of you will become a thousand and the smallest, a mighty nation!”
With you, EBWU sisters, we are asked to “Arise, Shine” for Him. If we do this together, God can do the miraculous, even in places that do not know Him, and many do not “yet” even know His name!
Yes, I can understand why a Gallup Poll lists Sweden and Iceland as two of the “happiest” places on earth to live. They are beautiful. The people are beautiful. Those of us who went on this team, those who serve there, and those who read this know…..that these “happy” people would have complete happiness in Jesus Christ if they only knew and accepted that He came to save them and give them eternal life.
Evelyn Tully, WMU