~Ryan and Noleen Thurman
We are indeed alive. We have survived, at times just barely, these intense four months of travel. We have driven over 4000 miles zig-zagging (see map below of our journey) through eleven countries. Our average stay time at each stop was 3.5 days, you can imagine how difficult it would be to live out of a van packing and unpacking so often. We are creatures of habit and routine and to not have this is was very stressful and exhausting. In spite of the challenges we praise God for his protection and grace each step of the way. We have been part of historic meetings, spent quality time with many from our team, and seen and experienced much beauty here in Europe. We do not take for granted that what we are experiencing as a family is a true rare gift, and we feel the weight of of what is being entrusted to us. The words of Jesus, to whom much is given much is expected resonate deeply with us
The primary purpose of this year in Europe is to encourage our team. God has given us significant time strengthening friendship, praying and strategizing together with our Antioch Network staff and board in Europe and also our ministry partners from Wittenberg 2017 and John 17. Being part of an international team serving around the world it is challenging staying close relationally, and conference calls and emails only go so far. But nothing can take the place of being in one another's home, sharing a meal together and having the time and space to talk unhurriedly where our hearts can begin to open up to one another and prayer comes naturally.
This has led us to visit our team and partners in these cities: Rome, Dahlem, Wittenberg, Trieb, Berlin, Lodz, Wieselburg, Crikvenica, Sarajevo, Mostar, Valetta, Ir-Rabat, Bari, Caserta, and the Vatican City.
Lodz, Poland with George and Hanna Miley
The City of Lodz: The Chemin Neuf community invited George and Hanna to the Youth Festival in Lodz, Poland, July 19-25, 2016. About 5,500 young people from over 40 countries attended. We continue to sense one of our primary assignments from God is to support George and Hanna Miley and help them finish well all that God has entrusted to them. It is a joy to walk with them in this special way! In Poland, our kids had a unique role, specifically our girls in helping Hanna sell her books. It was very meaningful to hear our youngest Elyana ask Noleen and I, "If George and Hanna are you spiritual parents does this make them our spiritual grandparents?" Yes it does!
Hanna was busy sharing almost every day with young people as they visited Radegast station where Hann'a parents arrived on their way to the Lodz ghetto and eventually to their death in the Chelmno death camp.
In 2010, ten of us visited Chelmno, the death camp where Hanna’s parents entered the gas van. (See A Garland for Ashes, chapters 19-21). Six years ago we arrived there on the anniversary of their deaths on May 3, 1942. But the gate to the site was locked; it was a national holiday and we could not enter and pray in the place of their final footprints. This time on Sunday, July 24, 2016, our last day in Poland, the Lord opened the way for us to visit Chelmno again, with a group of 20 or so from Germany, Holland, Belgium, Bolivia, Poland, France, UK and USA prayed together at the passageway leading to the gas van where Hanna's parents were murdered.
Below is a link to a trailer of a movie that was produced during our time there, Hanna Miley has a key part in this film. The full length movie in English should be out soon.
This was Ryan's second visit to Taize but our first as a family. Taize has deeply influenced our family and the work of Apprenticeship to Jesus. It also is a community that leads by example what it looks like for Christians from different traditions to be one as Jesus prayed for in John 17:21. We were able to make wonderful connections with our small group while we were there and with some of the brothers of Taize. It was also a very meaningful time for our kids in their own spiritual journey.
Ryan's work in Bosnia goes back 22 plus years. Noleen and Ryan have served off and on in Bosnia since being married. It had been seven years since the last time we were there as a family. It was a great joy to reconnect with so many dear friends and we sensed God speaking to our hearts that we are to be even more involved in the days ahead. Ryan was able to preach with Mladen at the church in Breza and also connect with one of his dearest friends Sead and his family in Mostar. We hope to have both families come visit us here in Gozo and potentially return to Bosnia in early 2017
Our New Home in Gozo (ours is the house with the black van in front)
Why again are you in Gozo? We were invited by colleagues to come and join them as they establish a Christian community and to partner with them in working towards Christian reconciliation and unity in a place deeply divided. Since being here, we have participated in a historic Christian unity gathering in Malta. Earlier this week I was in Malta connecting with the leader of the International Association for Refugees (IAFR) learning how we can partner in helping migrants and refugees while we are here. There is talk of establishing a 'safe house,' for women and children, here in Gozo where we live. (Currently there is no work with refugees going on in Gozo that we know of but only in Malta) Finally Gozo/Malta is a strategic location to use as a base as we continue visiting other team members in Europe and Turkey because of its central location and a hub for discount airlines. We also sense God has given us this large house (our rent is equivilant to what we would be paying at home) to have team members come visit us while we are here. Also if you have read this far you have earned an invitation to come visit us as well. :)
A2J Is Growing
It is very encouraging for us to see A2J flourish in our physical absence. We had our annual commitment service last month and skyped in to participate. We were deeply encouraged to have five friends make first time commitments for this new year. The team is is strong and full of vision. If you haven't visited our website recently, I encourage you to do so and check out the new resources http://www.a2jphoenix.org
Bonus Photos from our travels
Following Jesus our life will become not narrower, but broader; not more limited, but more boundless; not more regulated, but more abundant; not more faint-hearted, but more daring; not more incapable, but more creative. All this is Jesus and his spirit of freedom and peace.