We send greetings of grace and peace to you all in Jesus Christ. We give sincere thanks to all of you who pray for us and support us in various ways. We thank God for his provision and care through you.
2010 was a year of major changes: my dad died in late February; my four years with UCCF (Universities & Colleges Christian Fellowship) came to an end in August; and in late September we started a church in our home and I enrolled as a part-time student at the University of Glasgow. Much prayer went into the decision to start a church, and it was especially with confirmation and encouragement from church family and leadership in Indianapolis that we stepped out in faith to do so. In the following report, I outline first what is going on with the church plant, then give a snapshot overview of how the family is doing, and lastly I try to tell some of the personal story of being called to our present course of action.
The church (unnamed as of yet) has been going four months and they seem to have flown by. The same group that we started with are still coming: there is one other family besides ours: Travis and Alison with their four- and six-year-olds, Felix and Eirlin. There are also the ‘singles’: Malcolm, Val, Robin, Kirsteen, Helen, and Rachel. Helen’s American boyfriend, Wesley, was also with us until his return to California in January. Most were unchurched people at the time of joining with us. Some are from Christian families and some not. Many had been going to church as teenagers, became disillusioned with it at some point in university or after graduation, and hadn’t been going for several years. A few are still students at university, the rest are ‘young professionals’.
What Does a Sunday Morning ‘Service’ Look Like?
There are a few in the fellowship with some background in leading musical worship, and when they are available to do so, we have a time of praising God through song before the teaching of his word. When there is no music, we have a time of open prayer. We have been studying through Luke’s Gospel and are currently on chapter six, slowly but surely seeing how Luke builds his portrait of Jesus that we might believe in him and follow him as his disciples. The teaching lasts for about an hour, including some time of open discussion since it is a small group (the sermon notes are available by clicking here on this text).
The young children stay in for the time of musical worship. Then our daughter Lydia, my wife Andrea, and Alison each take turns in rotation taking the children to the kitchen and leading them in an age-appropriate Bible time during the adult teaching time. The older children stay with the adults throughout. All the children say they very much enjoy having church in our home and they mix well with the adults, participate readily and freely in group discussions and ask questions with candour and perceptiveness.
We have honestly been a bit surprised at signs of spiritual activity and growth even in this short time. Those coming have felt safe enough in our gatherings to voice their sincere and hard questions about the faith. They have been very open to such answers as we are able to give at this time and the continuing love and welcome they receive from the fellowship. Prayers offered aloud from those still seeking and searching, asking for God's help to believe and obey him are also encouraging signs.
Our small fellowship has also begun to really get to know one another and care for one another beyond Sunday mornings. They have been meeting socially during the week, supporting one another’s creative ventures outside church, and helping one another in various ways. Some of them even took our older children for an outing because they said they desired to get to know them better too. One of the single women hosted a ladies’ weekend in her parents’ house out in the hills of Balfron last month. We take these indications of sincere fellowship as yet more signs of God’s blessing.
Several of the people have also approached us expressing a desire to tithe to the church and we are in the midst of setting up a bank account for them to do so. This modest amount of money will be used to purchase coffee and tea for Sunday mornings and will otherwise be usefully saved toward the need of renting a public space in the city centre when we outgrow our living room. This willingness to give we also discern to be a sign of God’s work in their hearts.
How Will the Church Grow In Size?
As yet we are not ‘advertising’ the church to the city at large but are simply working with this small group that have naturally come together. The word is very slowly creeping out that we are having this meeting in our home and so others have expressed interest in visiting. We have no idea when this might cause us to grow beyond the house as a meeting place (we probably can’t hold more than about 15 people in addition to our family) but we feel led that it is best to let the fellowship grow in tiny trickles like this for now, through natural contacts and relationships, and by word of mouth as God draws people in.
Who Am I Accountable To?
I meet once a month with former colleagues from UCCF, Cully and Clive. They are both also in full time ministry and are married men with children. We spend about four hours together sharing, studying the Bible, and praying. At a more formal level, I am accountable to my pastor in Indianapolis, Dave Kosobucki, and the board of elders at Horizon Christian Fellowship Central, who ordained me as a pastor. I’m pleased to say that God has also provided Andrea with some women’s fellowship outside of the church through a handful of mums from the children’s school, one of whom is a pastor’s wife.
Lydia, aged 15, will be entering Fifth Year of High School, in the autumn. Otto, aged 13, will enter Third Year; Jack-Lewis, aged 12, will enter his First Year of High School; and Hugo, aged 5, will enter Primary Two. Olive Ann is 14 months old. All are in good health. The three oldest children have each publicly professed faith in Christ over the past year or so and we are treating them as young disciples, trying to help them in their growth through Bible reading, prayer, and obedience to Jesus’ Lordship in all of life (creativity, studies, play, relationships, etc.).
Andrea still works as a full-time homemaker, caring for Olive Ann and running the household. Her health has not been good since being pregnant with Olive Ann and this has been a point of some stress and trial for us. I help out quite a bit with the house and kids and yet still she works hard from morning until evening managing the household. Added to this, of course, is hosting a church meeting in her home every Sunday. She has been very taxed and exhausted both emotionally and physically and has chronic back pain. Her doctor has started her on medication for an underactive thyroid and this has had mixed results. We are trying to carve out time for her to really rest and also for her creative endeavours, but it is difficult. As I said, she has some friends who give her some spiritual support and even the young women in the church have begun to offer to help if they can at various times. One other helpful development is that Travis and Allison live next door to us and are now beginning to host some of the Sunday mornings in their home, which gives us a welcome break.
I am able to attend university part-time for free due to our low income. I have been able to maintain good marks so far in my subjects, English Literature and Philosophy, but it is very difficult to meet university deadlines and requirements whilst keeping up preparation for Sunday teaching and also helping out quite a bit with children and home. For now, however, we believe this is the path I should be taking, acquiring learning and skills in these areas, and staying in touch with the world outside church by this means.
This picture of our family life looks busy and rather stressful, which is an accurate depiction. We surmise that it is a combination of being in a very demanding time of a large family that still has some small children in it, as well as the spiritual strain and struggle of birthing a church. We are trying to hold on and be faithful in what we have come to believe is God’s calling for us at this time in our life. We hope and trust he will sustain us, for his glory and our joy.
In closing this report I want to share more personally about God’s calling on my life as I understand it at this time. I have tried to give as objective a report on the state of our mission here in Scotland as I can, for my own sake as well as for the information of our supporters.
For a handful of years now I have felt a keen homesickness for the States, particularly Indiana, the region in which I was raised. As a person of a philosophical and artistic bent, I am susceptible to perhaps overly intense and stirring emotions and ruminations. At this time in my life, though we have lived in Scotland nearly 9 years, I find that I feel rootless. We have, of course, adapted and acclimated to Scottish culture, and it is a beautiful culture and land, even though flawed (just like every other nation on this planet, including the one I come from originally).
Even though Scotland is a desirable and blessed place to live in many ways, still I often yearn rather piercingly to be back in the land that reared me, that I know so well in my bones (though in some respects it is no doubt changed beyond recognition to me, not least because I have myself changed whilst away). I sometimes long to be near family and old friends and familiar sights, sounds, places, weather and climate, landscape, peoples, customs and so on. Andrea does not share this feeling so keenly with me. She is more settled in Scotland, though she misses America at times. But over the past few years she has prayed and tried to trust God to lead the family aright through me as the husband and father.
I share all this, which may seem like a slightly abstract inward feeling, because it pertains to what I believe is God’s calling on my life at this time: though much of my heart would like to return to the States, I believe I have heard decisively from God that he does not permit us to return at this time.
In some desperation about two years ago, I literally prayed that God would allow us to return to the States, that he would bring this time of mission in Scotland to a close and permit us to move back. It was a very serious prayer for me to pray and I did not make the request lightly. It was a very momentous thing for me to approach God with this petition. I made my case before him and pleaded the painful longing and uprootedness in my heart. It brought me strangely close to God and made me freshly open to his voice.
In the period I awaited his answer, I happened to be reading through the Gospel of Luke in preparation for taking a group of students through its sequel, the Book of Acts. In the long middle section of the Gospel, chapters 9 through 19, Jesus speaks much of the cost of discipleship and I felt him speaking vividly and directly to my own soul like I have rarely heard the voice of God, in such phrases as:
- ‘whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it’ (9:24);
- ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head… Follow me… Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God… No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’ (9:58-62);
- ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple… first sit down and count the cost… Otherwise, when he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish”… So therefore, any one who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple’ (14:26-33);
- ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers and sisters or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life’ (18:29-30).
I knew without doubt what God was communicating to me. I needed to be freshly willing to give up absolutely everything to follow him and obey his will for my life. My will was answering ‘yes, Lord’ in submission, but it took some time for my emotions and mind to settle into it. One evening I recall vividly, I sought space alone in our full and busy little house to pray very seriously to God about this again. I found Otto and Jack-Lewis’s bedroom to be empty and I knelt at their bottom bunk. With a deep and long sigh I told God aloud that I was saying ‘goodbye’ to America forever if that is what he required of me. I would live and work wherever he willed for however long he willed it. It was maybe the hardest thing I’ve done in my life so far. The next day is when I received the phone call from my sister back in the States that my dad was diagnosed with cancer and had six to nine months to live. My submission and resolve were immediately tested by fire.
During our visit to the States to bury my father six months later, the pastor and his wife and several others at Horizon Central in Indianapolis confirmed in no uncertain terms that I had the gift of being a pastor-teacher and they felt I should stay in Scotland and plant a church there. They were willing to ordain me for this purpose. They also encouraged me to enrol for university part-time so that I could fulfil God’s call on my life to develop the academic and creative passions that also feed into my pastoring and preaching. We received much needed encouragement and cheer from them and returned to Scotland resolved to start the church, the very beginning results of which you have read about above.
I still do not know how long God will call us to this: short term, long term, or lifelong—that’s up to him. We’re trying to hear and obey. I share all this because I want people to know where I’m coming from with this and why I’m doing it. It’s not been easy at all for me to come to this decision and it’s not always easy to stick at it. I still have stabs of yearning for the States and sometimes feel rather bewildered in trying to obey this call to pastoring. I do not feel triumphant—indeed, I feel more conquered than conquering! It is not all joy and glory and success. However, I do feel a quietly surprised sense of God’s hand of blessing on what we’re doing when I see the effect in the lives of the people that attend the church. At this point we are just trying to be faithful to his call and we hope we are open, attentive, and submissive to how he directs us in all of it. Right now, it seems to me that the need for us is here in highly un-churched Scotland rather than in the States. I try to remain very open to how God will guide. If he shuts doors and moves us on, my intention is to obey. We are very open to questions, counsel, and challenges, but we also very much need ENCOURAGEMENT and PRAYER.
Thank you so much for reading this lengthy report. It is from the heart.
Love in Jesus Christ our Lord,
Dan, Andrea, Lydia, Otto, Jack-Lewis, Hugo, & Olive Ann Petersen