Well as it's nearly Christmas, I thought it was the right time to write a short(ish) blog on how things are going here in Melbourne, Australia.
It's now been exactly 94 days since we landed in our new country and to be honest it's felt a lot longer than that. Before I go into more detail I just need to honour three very important people in my life. Firstly my children, Daisy and Dexter.
Moving country is probably one of the hardest things we have ever done. Not only is it the sheer distance we are away from people we know and love, it's the feeling of starting from scratch and dealing with all the emotions that goes with that. For our two children I can only begin to imagine how it's been for them, putting their trust in their mum and dad who have taken a huge step of faith without really knowing what the outcome will be. All we've been able to reassure them with is what we've know from the start - Jesus wants us in Australia.
In the time we've been here, Daisy and Dexter have had to get used to a new culture, make new friends and start new schools. They've also had to start going to a new church and if you know Daisy enough, you'll know this is a HUGE deal. To Daisy, her church in the UK meant everything and was one of the hardest things for her to let go of. But she has been incredible. She has shown strength that has surprised us beyond words. She has dealt with her emotions and although at times has felt very low, she has found strength through worshipping on her own in her room and has astounded us on a daily basis.
For Dexter the move has been a bit easier as he is extremely strong in character and young enough not to experience the emotions that Daisy has faced. However, there have been times that he has been down but one of his favourite ways to get out of this feeling is to ask for us to pray as a family. Because of his eagerness to pray and Daisy's knowledge that God gives her comfort that cannot be obtained from anywhere else, we have prayed as a family nearly every night since we landed. Our bond as a family has grown in strength and it, in my opinion, has been because our children have been so inspiring. They are incredible.
Secondly my wife, Catharine. Wow. She has been my rock in this last three months. When we got here, our house in the UK had not completed its sale and I was an utter nervous wreck as we had no means of income. But Catharine managed to conjure up an inner strength that I can only describe as supernatural. For her, family is the most important thing in the world (after her Saviour, Jesus Christ). Leaving her family was only possible because of how amazing she is at understanding that God's promises over her life will not be broken and when God says He will provide, He will provide, whatever the situation.
In the first few weeks I don't actually know what I'd have done without her constant encouragement and support. I am a very strong person when it comes to my faith but for whatever reason I was not sleeping and was becoming more and more stressed over all we had to do and achieve in such a short time. Catharine kept me going and she lifted me when I was low. She is the most amazing woman on this planet and I'm so grateful to God for providing me with a friend and wife like her. Catharine, you rock my world!
After landing we knew we only had a hotel for a week and after that nothing. We hired a car and looked around for a suitable rental property and within a day of looking we found the place we're in now. Apparently in this country, renting is quite difficult because you need suitable references and a clear history of paying rent before being accepted. However, once the landlord who is English found out that we were and English family, he said yes to us renting with no questions asked. Amazing. This was God's provision in action.
Then there was Daisy's new school. We knew Dexter's place at any school would be a simple procedure, but Daisy's needs are much more difficult to be met when it comes to picking a school. When we looked around Berendale School (still in the first week), we knew it was the right place for her and we were even told that Daisy would be offered a place BEFORE grants had been accepted or given. This doesn't happen in the real world in Melbourne. God's blessing was on Daisy and on us once again. House? Check! School for Daisy? Check!
It was during this first week we realised just how amazing it was that we'd been given permanent residency within seven months of applying for our visa. According to the locals, this just does not happen. Most people have said, "wow, you guys must be here for a reason!" We are under no illusions that this visa was a miracle but to hear others who did not know our story say the same thing has been like confirmation after confirmation that this is God's ultimate plan for a lives. Such a good thing to know when trying to adjust to a new culture.
On our first Sunday we attended Bayside Church. It's local to where we live and while we were there we met a few great people and one told us about Moorabbin Primary School. he said that it'd be perfect for Dexter and when we looked to see where it was, we realised it was on route to Daisy's school and only a 10 minute walk from our house. We made an appointment and Dexter was offered a place right there and then. School for Dexter? Check.
That following week we then went crazy, driving around to as many 'op shops' (charity shops) as possible to buy the basic things we needed for our house. Our money was still tied up in the UK in the house but because of the amazing generosity displayed by friends in the UK we were able to buy the basics to make our empty house feel like a home. During this week I also signed up to a building agency to get some work, but in order to be paid correctly here you need a tax file number so we had to go to the city to get one. It was a bit of a pain, but we got what we needed.
The next thing was me finding a good job. As much as we knew we had a permanent visa and it was sponsored on the basis that I was a carpenter, we had arrived assuming there'd be loads of work for me. However, we were wrong. After to speaking to several carpentry firms, they'd all said that they didn't have enough work to take on anyone new. The agency I'd signed up with had gone quiet and so that only gave me one option and that was to phone a contact I'd made in the UK. You see, not only were there not many jobs around, my tools still hadn't arrive from the UK and our house STILL had not completed its sale which meant I had no funds to buy any tools.
So I phoned this guy who'd been the only one who responded from my barrage of emails I'd sent several weeks before we landed. He was very genuine on the phone and invited my to work for him the following week on a two day job. It was just the lifeline we needed because this has since led me to working for one of his contacts who owns a very high-end company in one of the richest parts of the city. But loads of patience was required in the build-up to this full time position.
Back at home we were still trying to understand exactly what God had us here for. Our local church was fine but we'd been visiting another church in the city called Planetshakers which was exactly where we were at spiritually but much further away for us to travel and both Catharine and myself have always had a heart to serve the local church. Planetshakers wasn't local and yet it felt familiar.
A few weeks later we finally had the news from the UK that our house had at last settled. The funds were transferred and we were able to pay off all of the debt which had accumulated from the visa, moving of furniture from the UK and everything we'd bought so far to make our house a home. It felt so good to be debt free for what was for me the first time in years. Although our bank balance was low, we owed nothing to no-one and felt as free as anything. It was such a great moment.
So we were now debt free, I had the promise of work, our kids had places in schools and we were beginning to find our feet in the area we were living in. But there was still the issue of where our church home would be.
I have been part of a church movement called New Frontiers all of my life and Catharine has been part of it since 1998 but in terms of church life that's all she's known, too. We were very secure in its doctrine and had never thought for a moment that God may have other plans for us, in another church, in a different movement. Melbourne has no New Frontiers church and although we knew this before we left the UK, we didn't feel as a couple we'd have the time or the energy to start something new with no-one around us. God had spoken to us loads about resting and how this was a time for us to rest in Him. But inside we were battling with where we should be going to church and what covering we were under. It was pretty unsettling.
One Sunday we went to Bayside and it just didn't feel right. This is not and in no way a slight on the church itself, they had been very supportive in terms of people lending us heaters and blankets for our home and someone taking my wife out grocery shopping one Sunday afternoon after finding out we didn't have much money. Our kids had been saying that they liked Bayside more than Planetshakers but we just knew that as a family we are just not meant to be doing 'nice church' without being used in some capacity.
So we stood in the kitchen, Cats and I, and prayed. We prayed and asked God to show us what we should be doing. In just one small moment it became clear. At Planetshakers we could relax and rest, while at Bayside we'd struggle to get comfortable and would find it hard work. God spoke about rest, didn't He? That night we went to Planetshakers and just sat there and breathed in goodness - this was the rest that God had spoken about. It was such an amazing feeling.
Since then, we've been going every week and having got involved with a local church group and spoken to the leadership a couple of times, we know this is where God wants us for now. The church's foundations are built on the values of honour, authenticity and identity - all these Cats and I hold very highly as our own values having been part of Bedford's King's Arms Church's Training for Supernatural Ministries course. God is so kind in giving us this and we feel so privileged to be a part of Planetshakers' movement.
These days, now we're coming up to Christmas, things have really fallen into place. We are seeing God's amazing provision in terms of finance from work, we have a small selection of local friends which is growing, we have an amazing church where we feel God will really use us and our kids are happy in their new schools.
All this, however, would not have been possible without God's provision and strength. We have had times of real soul searching in terms of what we're meant to be doing here, we've been learning at breakneck speed a whole new culture, we have been missing our families and friends in the UK and there have been moments when we've literally had 2 cents in the bank but have not gone hungry.
God has carried us through some very difficult moments and we're not naive to think the struggles are over. But we know this: God has fulfilled His promises and have delivered everything He said He would. We have rest in our hearts, we have the provision of finance and we have a new circle of friends both at church and in the local area.
It has been one heck of a journey so far but we feel so at home. Melbourne is the most amazing city and we know that this journey the Father has us on will be one that sees us growing in Him beyond our wildest dreams. My next blog will be about what the Father has been saying to us as a family but until then, have an amazing Christmas and may God bless all of you!