by Ryan Thurman
We are constantly in danger of losing sight of the big picture. Just as you click the minus (-) sign on google maps to zoom out from your neighborhood to see the whole world, we need this same zoom out feature to see beyond our narrow view to the expansiveness of God’s heart and purposes. We need occasions to pause long enough to see where we have 'lost our way' and allow ourselves to be reoriented into the grand story of our God who loves us and created us to care for His creation and called us to partner with him as He works to restore and reconcile all things to Himself.
This letter is my reorientation ‘project’ as I remember and mark God’s grace in this year. May it encourage you to listen to your own life, and as Frederick Buechner writes, “see it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
Serving with Antioch Network
This year has been extraordinary for our family. As we entered into our eleventh year with Antioch Network and my second year serving as President we were asked by the Antioch Network leadership council to consider spending a year overseas to encourage and bring greater connectivity to the Antioch Network team spread throughout Europe and Turkey. We said yes. We have now been in Europe for half of a year. It has been an exciting time with many occasions for fruitful ministry and personal growth. We have also experienced the vulnerabilities of being separated, both by miles and time zones from our friends, family and spiritual communities. We have been carried by your prayers for us.
The Ministry Expressions of Antioch Network
As you can see from the chart above, Antioch Network is involved in a rich variety of works across the globe. So far we have traversed through eleven different countries in Europe visiting our team. Some parts of our journey led us to pray, serve and fellowship with nobility, bishops and even Pope Francis. At other times you would of seen us tucked away in a small cafe in a major European city worshipping Jesus with Muslim converts who had immigrated from the Middle East. In Malta you would find us taking into our home and caring for the most vulnerable—refugee children, whose mother was seriously ill. You will also find us working with our colleagues here to build Christian community and a network of Christians committed to the ministry of reconciliation and Christian unity.
I recently travelled from where we are living in Gozo an island of 40,000 inhabitants and where their is virtually no crime, in fact we rarely lock our car or home, to Istanbul a city of over 14 million that is suffering from violence and fear. I went to visit our team there. I listened to their stories of hope and conviction amidst the uncertainty of their future. I was sobered by the candid discussions of their ‘emergency exit plan.’ I left one meeting that was in the area of a deadly terrorist bombing, missing it by only a few hours. I found myself at times seized by fear in different settings and was in awe of the grace and the courage that God has given my Antioch Network colleagues who stay and continues to bear witness to the gospel in a place where so few know and follow Jesus.
(I cannot post photos of our team there or of the work they are doing there because of security reasons)
What I have seen this year
Great suffering all around. Humanity is reeling more and more out of control as it moves further and further away from its Creator. Violence, injustice and apathy run rampant. War with its death and displacement of people continues to increase. The body of Jesus here on earth, the church, is enduring intense affliction and persecution.
Yet signs of hope abound as the kindness and mercy of our God continues to lead the way. Jesus continues to draw people to himself giving them the gift to trust in him. I see many Christian communities being the hands and feet of Jesus. I see them expressing compassion and gentleness and I see many standing up for truth and justice even at a personal sacrifice.
Jesus prayed that we would be one in Him and Jesus will get what he prayed for. I see the church coming together like never before. As Christians from different streams increasingly place Jesus at the center and learn to receive the gifts from one another that Jesus has placed within each stream and learn to forgive one another the divided body of Christ will become reconciled and grow in visible unity. This will not only make God more visible but also release healing to the divisions and pain of all humanity. One example of this is the Historic Christian traditions from the Middle East that are coming to the West because of war and persecution. They have much to offer us as they have learned long-suffering and how to persevere in their faith in the midst of suffering and persecution.
We are doing well overall. As mentioned earlier it is a challenge to stay connected to our family and friends and at times we can feel forgotten about by those at home. But God provides what we need as we look to Him. Noleen is doing well, she greatly misses her work as a Doula. She excels at keeping the family together through all the ups and downs of life overseas. She continues to have seizure episodes every week or two, (she had an intense one today). The kids miss home often, but they are also enjoying this unique opportunity. They have met many wonderful people and been enriched by the living history and different cultures we have experienced. Here in Gozo, Noleen is homeschooling the kids and they are finding ways to interact with the culture and people. Ethan is taking a carving class at a local school and making beautiful stone sculptures. Micah is playing soccer and the girls are taking horse riding lessons. You can see photos from our life in Gozo below. Some of our family highlights were having my parents meet us in Rome and help us travel to Gozo and get settled here. Also it was a great gift having Noleen's mother come visit us in Gozo! We also had a beautiful time with our spiritual parents George and Hanna Miley in Poland. Another highlight was watching our children love and care for the Eritrean children while they were with us. Finally, it has been a great encouragement to see our A2J family grow and thrive as we have been away. We are so grateful for the leadership of the Malakowskys, Alianzas, and Jesses!
Thank you for taking the time to read this! We are grateful for your friendship!
With Love and gratitude,
Ryan, Noleen, Ethan, Keilah, Micah, and Elyana
As you know both Noleen and I love photography and find it to be an act of worship and a way of bearing the image of God, as those called to create beauty. These are some photos we have taken along the way.