Countdown to Korea – A promise fulfilled

Only 2 people signed up at the Filling Station that night.

And the hard work was only just beginning.

For the rest of that week we ran between our free time, our general duties and the “Global Celebration” preparations. The day before the event I was still focusing on keeping the faith. I contacted the Events Manager who had helped us set up the auction (By the way the 50 individual auction prizes were phenomenal and very impressive, we had been blessed beyond belief by people’s generosity. Yet would there be only a small group of people to bid for them?!) The Events Manager said we needed to send out an emergency email to all our contacts to encourage them to attend the event. I spent time drafting and preparing the email which my workmate then sent out. However, we didn’t have time to hang around or even to make last minute phone-calls to try and up our numbers. Anyway despite our anxiety we still, in our heart of hearts, wanted people to only come if they felt that God was calling them. My colleague Eve said to me, “do you want who YOU choose to come or who GOD sends” (the answer was obvious but I wished he would hurry up about it!) My other colleague saw me looking worried and offered up there and then for the auction an all body massage! To be honest I could have taken her up on the offer in a shot!

On top of our plans for that night, the question about the Triathlon BBQ still hung in the air. As I spoke with the Hospitality Director there was a very strong feeling that we should just stick with washing the cars and call the BBQ quits. I knew that other team members wanted to do it anyway so we had division within the ranks that needed to be handled with wisdom, love and grace. I relayed the Director’s thoughts and my own to the rest of the team. But we decided that with the “Global Celebration” so near we couldn’t consider the Triathlon at that moment and would have to shelve it until the following day at least. So back to that night’s festivities.

One of our prayer team members Eva was amazing with helping to set up the Great Hall for the event. Even though we were uncertain about the actual numbers expected and how to lay it out. In effect she did an excellent job. We were even blessed with beautiful hanging decorations already in place from an engagement party that had been held in the Great Hall only a few days before. In his grace and goodness God had even thought of that detail too.

The kitchen was filling up with people cooking their dishes (with the usual last minute dash out in the car by my line manager to get certain chocolate needed for a Brazilian dish that had somehow in all the food ordering frenzy earlier on in the week, had been forgotten!) As the hot cupboards and food preparation utensils were brought in I considered the vast amounts of food especially due to the small numbers we had on our list. As a backup, the community would be called in an hour or so later to polish off any leftovers. I was so touched and blown away by the support and belief that our fellow volunteers had in us as I ran home to change into a nicer dress and get myself organised.

In the end we only had one or two extra people attend that didn’t originally sign up. In fact two people who were very supportive and we were expecting didn’t even arrive (with very good reasons I am sure but it was still a disappointment)

I was standing in the welcome lounge eagerly awaiting the extra people I believed God would send, slowly starting to realise that in fact it wouldn’t work out that way at all. The hall was big and the group was small but the Ashburnham Place volunteers were so welcoming and the food was such an amazing spread! (Admittedly I didn’t in fact eat any in my tense overseeing. I was told later there was some very nice gluten free options which I was sorry to miss out on but they went into very worthy tummies 🙂 ) Still I stood outside in the Welcome Lounge and prayed as I did so. But the hordes of last minute arrivals were not meant to be. I went into the hall trying hard not to get emotional – despite everything the evening had not gone as I had hoped or prayed, it had not gone along the lines of MY idea of success. I shed a few tears discreetly with Bex before leaving and hanging around outside. I found that whenever I went in there I was faced with an event that was not the success I hoped it would be.

Eventually though I realised I was being robbed of enjoying the fruits of our hard work and endeavours so I went back in. I was surprised and pleased to find that the painting I had been taken with during the whole journey (previously mentioned) was up to be bid for, so I laid down £20 (one weeks pocket money) hoping I was successful due to its sentimental value for me.

As the community came in and the outside supporters met and chatted to them I started to realise something. It only became more obvious and apparent as The Ashburnham Drama Group performed their sketch, much to the fun and hilarity of the audience, and some of the lads performed their amazing break-dance moves to the whoops and cheers of the friends. This was what it was all about! Not about numbers but about blessings. Being together as a family, having fun and supporting one another, breaking bread and getting to know one another, united in a common cause. Whether it was cooking, preparing, dancing, performing or just being there to support one another and be blessed with a good evening and some exotic food, we were all one body in Christ. That was what God intended, this was his idea of success. It was then that I started to glow inside.

Despite this I still operated under the worldly way of looking at worth and value. Our Facilities Director David Giles was going to be the main auctioneer for the bigger, more valuable items and Bex joined us to discuss whether some of them should be held back and sold on Ebay in order to get more money in based on their worth. We only had a small gathering and they would not be likely to bid high on so many items. In the end we decided that David would see how the auction went. Before it began I was pleased to find out I had won the painting. I will treasure always its reminder of the amazing and stress-inducing journey God had bought us on – that I had said at the beginning that I didn’t want a safe life, I wanted a spirit filled life. And it wasn’t over yet. I still feared the auction would be an embarrassing let down and with that in mind, though the fact humiliates me now,  I couldn’t go in and be a part of it. I stood outside and listened. Items started to go for good money with only a little coaxing needed from David on a few things. As items were sold for over the £100 mark, people cheered and clapped at the finalisation of the sale. I started to smile to myself and bask in the joy of all we had achieved.  Then Fabian, one of the volunteers, came out and asked me why I wasn’t in there. I explained. He gave me a kind pat on the arm and told me to enjoy it, it was our night and we had worked so hard. Enjoying it I was, very much, especially when two of my friends bid against each other at the very end, everyone watching (and listening!) with bated breath to see who would win. This was of course the first live auction that many of the volunteers would have seen and they were all behind us, cheering us on to raise the money. I stood there and smiled to myself and to God as people bid and cheered and clapped. I was amazed at the amounts that we made. I came in afterwards and joined in the atmosphere, David grinning from ear to ear at his hard and fruitful labours. I was in an even happier mood as I took the money from the cards of the bidders. All the items had sold and our friends in the community, (despite my thinking that there weren’t enough people to sell it all!) had really come out in generosity for us. It was overwhelming.

The final total we made from donations, the small auction and the larger auction came to £1,218. Alongside the rest of the money we had raised this was now enough to buy the conference tickets and the plane tickets, everything that had an urgent deadline. God’s promise from the rainbow had been fulfilled. As we had a quick celebration together (patting on backs etc, very British!) and then went home to rest I found I was buzzing too much to settle straight away. When the dream finally became a reality I expected to weep, fall on my knees and worship, or at least do something memorable!  But I was buzzing so much and in so much shock that it didn’t really sink in. I just went home contented and slept!

It was the following day that I started to realise just what God had done that night. We had prayed and agreed that the whole journey was to be a blessing to others. God had met that prayer and wish in all his fullness. Looking through the eyes of the world we could be disappointed that a voucher for two to attend an ACT event (worth £400) went for £50, or a voucher for an afternoon tea at the Orangery went for less than it was worth. But when you hear that the voucher for the free spaces on the event went to someone who would never have been able to afford it any other way and who was going to bring her ill mother with her, you started to see it differently. You started to see the blessing and God moving. The people who bid for the afternoon tea at the Orangery were going to take a friend anyway but then bought the money to the auction hoping to kill two birds with one stone by giving the money to our cause and win the voucher. They risked being outbid. But then, by God’s grace, won it anyway and were still able to bless their friend and us at the same time. When you know this, you see it differently and you see the blessing.

To God, worth and value are two different things – that night gave people a chance to be blessed with things they normally couldn’t get their hands on or normally couldn’t afford. The more I looked, the more I saw how blessings abounded. Not only was the actual evening a gift but so much flowed from it. God didn’t care about the numbers he just wanted to use us to bless others as we raised the funds, we had the people GOD sent and it made all the difference. Plus, the person who painted the picture that I won was so chuffed that her painting had been sold for actual money – I’m sure it boosted her self-esteem about her artistic abilities no end. When she found out it was me who bought it, how much I actually paid and that I was so pleased with it, she glowed with joy 🙂

Despite this we still had to decide about the Triathlon on the Sunday. Also we now found out that the usual caterer at the event (our previous competition, in a friendly Christian way of course!) had decided to only do the minimal catering as he didn’t believe it worth the work. I prayed and considered what my feelings were ready for our group talk. The following day we were washing cars for the Orangery guests. As we set up and prepared for our mornings work, greatly encouraged by the previous night we talked it over.  I felt strongly that the door to the Triathlon was not promising or yielding even to the point that I said that I felt I couldn’t work on the BBQ if we chose to do it. Maybe that was harsh but I couldn’t stand there and serve people honestly if I didn’t agree with the concept. I felt our time would be better served washing cars. Maybe the vehemence of my feelings was a bit of a shock to the others but I had to speak honestly. I had prayed that morning for softened hearts and for us to remain amiable with one another as a team. We sat for a moment in silence and then Tom suggested that we use the burgers and buns to do a thank you BBQ for the community . We all felt that was the better choice and breathed a sigh of relief. Since they had been given to us to make money from I wasn’t sure how this change of plan would sit with those people concerned. But we all agreed that we had been blessed and supported by others beyond anything we could ever repay. This BBQ wouldn’t even come close. But it was what we had to offer. We knew that anything we gave out would be given back to us. And it says in the bible that the measure that we use will be taken, shaken and poured over back into our lap. We wouldn’t be able to bless those volunteers who had supported us as the majority of them had no left. But we could pass the blessing on to the new volunteers in their stead. We felt great peace, this seemed very much like a spirit inspired idea. And I’m sure those who counselled us to avoid the BBQ breathed a huge sigh of relief!

So on the day we woke bright and early and with some amazing volunteers blessed the visitors at the Triathlon, raising £60 for our coffers.

We then booked the conference tickets, the plane tickets and our accommodation. With Bex as an accountant (of sorts!) she found that with careful management of the finances we would be able to take another person just as we had prayed for!

So after a time of prayer, we spoke to a volunteer Lea and she agreed to come with us 🙂

So the rest I suppose you can say is history – God’s promise had been fulfilled and continues to be as we journey along with him in faith. Prayers were given up for Meidy’s visa (that ran into a few hitches) but were overcome, thanks be to God. We still haven’t done the BBQ but the burgers and buns are sitting there (in the freezer!) and will be brought out at the right time, probably September when the summer madness has died down.

We leave tomorrow! Thankful for all that God has done in and through people and of course expectant of all he will do in the coming two weeks.

Expect blog posts on my return 🙂

Also prayers appreciated for all aspects of our journey.

Oh, and just to show that God truly is perfect in all of his ways – it was Lea, our last minute addition to the team, who painted the picture that I won at the Global Celebration and that has been such an encouragement to me during this time. Now Lea is able to take that leap into the unknown with us knowing that whatever awaits us on the other side – God is there.

 

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Countdown to Korea – Pennies from heaven

And so we travelled through each day with our eyes set on the goal, the finishing line, enduring the race set before us. Everything seemed to be shifting and working in our favour.

Then Bex checked the prices of the plane tickets and they had risen again. We tried to remain positive, believing that any extra costs God would also rise in turn to meet. As if to counter-act this we were presented only an hour or so later with another encouraging sign from above. Joel and Jun (two volunteers who work on the grounds of Ashburnham) gave me 4 plastic cups full of pennies, coppers and silver coins. They had been cleaning out the large fountain by the Orangery tea-room and had gathered all the coins that people had thrown into the basin, obviously believing it to be some kind of Christian wishing well! 🙂  Jun and Joel wanted us to have them as a donation towards our Korea fund. Under their direction I labelled all of the cups with the approx. differing amounts and found that it equalled almost £12, an amount not to be sniffed at! Another small nudge from God to say “I’m still here”, a gentle balm to settle the current tension. Also, it was touching to consider that people had been throwing those coins in the fountain for ages, probably never considering for one moment their future use. Each one seemed like a wish, a blessing, a prayer from an unknown supporter cheering us on towards our goal. The coins had gathered and waited for such a time as this. God demonstrated he would provide different amounts at different times and in different unexpected ways!

In my free time I was calling around to try and secure more donations from local companies towards our “Auction of promises”. As expected some declined to help us for varying reasons and others gladly gave their support. But still we had no-one signing up to the actual event. I would open up the folder and gaze at a blank page, pleading with God in soul and spirit. I felt almost as if I was trying to force something to happen, as if begging to God would make him act. As if I could change things through sheer determination alone. I decided to pray at 3am every other night leading up to the “Global Celebration”. I rose at the appointed time and sat outside my room looking out over the prayer centre courtyard bathed in the moonlight, praying for the Lord to move. The following day I went into work but still there was no tangible interest shown. Then later that day I came back from a break to find two people had registered! – I opened the folder with relief and saw the one solitary name who had booked.  The ice had begun to break. We were on the way. I knew that God had come in answer to our prayers.

I was able to make a last minute connection with my Welsh friend and fellow Ashburnham supporter Martin who was holding a men’s breakfast that Saturday. On that day I stood up before 40 men and talked about Korea and all we had been doing including the “Global Celebration”. Despite prayers that many people from the breakfast would sign up, no-one did. Later on I met Tom and Bex down in the Orangery car-park to continue washing cars for visitors. We managed to wash 7 cars that day (and had several happy helpers) We had decided to stop working at lunch time but one guest was saddened to hear she had missed our car washing slots and asked if we would consider washing / cleaning her car anyway. So after lunch we trudged back down and did our final car. The lady made a generous donation and also signed herself and her friend up to the come to the Global Celebration! Slowly the numbers were rising and we became more hopeful. However I soon found out that one of my friends who had been well for a while was once again on a dangerous and self-destructive downward spiral. I carried this burden within me, battling the lies from the enemy that it was a spiritual attack aimed at us. If the devil could get me to believe this attack was all our fault, it would give him a significant stronghold.

My praying in the night now took on another burden, that of praying for my friend as well as for the Global Celebration and our trip to Korea in general. Then I came under attack myself. In all fairness this attack had rooted itself several weeks earlier, round about the time that Bex and I had been chasing the rainbows. I won’t go into details. Sufficient to say it was an attack that came from an outside source and tapped into areas of personal weakness the devil knows I have and has exploited many times in the past. This resulted in me shifting my focus away from God and his ways and running off down a path of the devils making. I repented, bringing myself back into God’s presence. This, teamed with the fact that I was disrupting my sleep patterns and sending my hormonal disorder into disarray made me quite ill. I had an emotional and spiritual breakdown in my room, where I wept in fear. Lies were poured into my ears from every which way. How weak was my faith! I should be a stronger, better believer. I wouldn’t be worrying if my faith were strong. In fact did I really have any faith at all? Why should I suffer with my health and not be able to do for God even the small, simple things that other people can do? Surely this made me lesser in his eyes? What must God think of me? We were never going to do this! (All the usual suspects!) What I needed to reveal to myself was the fact that they were lies. So I spoke against them, speaking the truth into the atmosphere. Even as I did so peace began to find me again. I felt a sense of the truth as if God were speaking into my spirit. Why were we really going to Korea? Not for money, fame or prestige. But for God. We were doing this completely in pursuit of him. Of course we would come up against opposition. In regards to the strength of my faith, I felt God speak to my spirit about how proud he is. The devil hates anything being born or growing and does all he can to stop it. What I was experiencing were growing pains. My faith was growing and the frustration I felt was the feeling of my faith being stretched. I realised that although God loved my obedience and my desire to offer up that time to him, I merely needed to ask and then trust. Self flagellation and making myself ill, a possible way to battle for answers to prayer was not what he wanted or needed – he was on the case. I just needed to “let go and let God” and let him move. Peace reigned once more.

The following day I was washing a car with Tom and a few other volunteers when I popped up to the office to see Bex. As I walked through the door I found her in tears. I knew straight away that the attack I had endured the day before had also been targeting Bex. We were obviously doing something right! Bex and I prayed together and we were given the gift of peace. It was the sheer hard work and struggle that we were all under. On top of that the Triathlon may have to be cancelled due to so little uptake. This was a door we were trying to open that now might not yield. We may be about to lose one of our largest fundraising events – one we were depending upon to get us almost to the finish line. We felt it was being snatched away from us leaving us to struggle for a little while longer. Still, having gone through the same thing I was in a stronger position to support Bex. We called in some prayer shields to pray for us remotely and that evening we met after supper with a few other trusted friends to pray away the devil’s fingerprints and focus once again on God in strength. It was about this time that we were gifted with a large donation on our Justgiving page that, glory be to God, got us almost half way to our goal. Despite the issues with the triathlon (the outcome of which we had now placed in God’s hands) we were very happy to discover the prices of the plane tickets had dropped again in our favour. Our prayers had been that God would not only provide for us but also supply the means for us to take another person. Could this ever be a possibility?

We continued to work to get the “Global Celebration” off the ground. Slowly people were booking in but considering we had accounted for 60 we were still only at about 9 people. Not a good turnout. When one of the directors spoke to us about it, we could tell he was just as concerned as we were. But at least people had begun to show an interest.

Bex made a point that the evening was about being a blessing to those who came and the community. I tried to feel the same way but found it very hard, battling my usual method of viewing success by numbers and appearance. God was trying to show me a new way.

He had in his goodness provided us with accommodation for  Korea. In fact at one point Bex’s friend had booked us into a missionary house when we actually didn’t need it – we had gone from worrying about securing a place to stay to having too much choice and actually having to cancel arrangements made on our behalf 🙂

The Tuesday before the Global Celebration the numbers for the evening rested at 18 (I was still praying that God had a whole coach-load of people who would show up on the night without prior warning!) We decided to make our last big appeal at the Filling Station that night. The Filling Station is an evening full of prayer, worship and ministry with a main speaker sharing on a particular topic. (http://thefillingstation.org.uk/)  It gives churches and local people a chance to meet together and be “topped up” with the spirit. The perfect place to touch the hearts of local Ashburnham Place supporters. We put our leaflets out on all the seats, watched as Paul (one of the Ashburnham Place directors) gave a notice about our plans and then settled back with our event file ready to sign up the hordes of people who would charge our way!

We also shared a smile as we saw the next filling station topic, scheduled for the 12th July, a week before our departure.

“Learning how to walk in the unforced rhythms of grace”

God had done it again 🙂