ARP News Update

Missionary Updates
Grab a cup of coffee, sit back, relax, and catch up on news from the Thomas family in Turkey and Jubilee Birthday lady Judi Hodges in Berlin.

Turkey – Joshua and Vonia Thomas:
Dear friends,
We are so sorry it’s been so long since we’ve written. The month of February flew past us. And it appears that March will go by even more quickly.

The girls and I are coming back to the States for 3 weeks.

We knew that I had to go back to the States, for a short time, due to visa rules.
As most of you know Joshua is American, but I’m Canadian. I have to come back for at least a few days before July 28.

Since I must come back anyway, World Witness recently let us know they would like for me to stay a few weeks, and visit a few churches while I am there.
We will be based in South Carolina, arriving on March 19 and leaving April 8.

If your church or small group would like me to come and share what the Lord is doing in Turkey, I would love to do that.  I’m praying that the Lord will open doors and use this time for His glory.

  • Pray for the planning of this trip. Please pray that I would have many opportunities to share about what the Lord is doing here in Turkey.
  • Pray that the Lord would use me to encourage other about missions and His church around the world.
  • Praise the Lord to the opportunities He is already beginning to give.
  • Pray for Isaiah as I will be gone for 3 weeks and for Josh and he to have a special time together.

Love in Christ,
Vonia Thomas

Berlin – Judi Hodges (a grandmother?)
Christmas and January were especially a nice change. Rebekka and Guilliaume moved back to Berlin from France, bringing their 1 and ½ year old daughter to live with me for three weeks while they searched for an apartment. I loved being a family! Rebekka was my first intern in the Family Center four years ago and I got to play mother of the bride and the groom for their wedding then. Now they have returned to Berlin and they have joined our church plant and I get to be an adopted grandma.

While looking for an apartment for them, I decided I needed a new home as well. The old apartment had become too expensive and I felt I needed to cut back on the demands on both my supporters and myself. So after several disappointing visits, I found what I felt was as good as it was going to get… next door to the apartment house where the church plant is housed!  The apartment was smaller, but I felt like it was a good opportunity, and only three floors up… surely I could handle the stairs. My borrowed bike was giving up the ghost and walking the ½ mile to church was not as much fun in the snow and ice.

I filled out numerous forms to apply for an apartment, and was the first of eight people looking at the apartment to hand in my papers. I simply handed them to the landlord when I walked in the door! The last visitors were not even in yet. Immediately, two others offered to pay cash. But the landlord was bound to honor my papers as first in, and I had arrived at his office an hour early, a 70-minute bus ride across town.

But God had a different plan!  The landlord explained that the other woman really wanted that third floor apartment so her cat could sit on the balcony. Would I be willing to look at a first floor apartment directly over our church, which was not yet advertised? It was a bit bigger, a different layout and only 5 Euros ($7) more a month. I agreed, rode back home, met the neighbor and saw the apartment. It was perfect! It was freshly painted white with big windows and my floor would be the ceiling of the children’s Sunday school room. My rent and utilities would be cut in half and for all intents and purposes rent-controlled, unlike the ever escalating costs of the old apartment!

I immediately signed the contract and gave notice on the old apartment. This required three months paid notice… double rent for three months and a second deposit for the life of the apartment rental! Suddenly I needed a lot of cash, but the long-term savings would be more than worth it. I had to re-paint the entire old apartment, remove all fixtures, putty all holes, clean and scrub every surface and do a detailed transfer of the apartment back to the previous landlord. It was exhausting and demanding. I began devoutly praying for a sub-renter with the hopes of avoiding the three months extra rent (Still praying for this one).

During this time I also was expected to work, so there was some play time as well. We had winter break for the kids during which I planned, organized and lead a three-day, day camp for 15 children from our church, continued weekly kid’s Bible club, did weekly mentoring with several women, planned and lead a women’s breakfast, and participated in our house Bible study group every other week.

The church was also growing by leaps and bounds in courage, outreach and in steady visitors. At our end of the year members’ meeting, we reviewed the year’s goals and set new ones. We prayed and fasted and decided to take the step of adding more Sunday events. Not feeling yet up to staffing full worship services, we decided to keep our two Sundays of worship service and children’s Sunday school during the afternoons as they were, (3:30-5:30 with coffee and cake fellowship after the service). To this we then added a first Sunday brunch at 10:30-12:30 with personal testimonies. Third Sundays would now be 10:30 – 12:30, with a church seminar, with in-depth treatment of a biblical theme or principle. (There are very few churches in Germany where there is any kind of adult Sunday school).  Fifth Sundays will be an afternoon time of worship and prayer.

The wonderful planning of our God is that my living room and the long narrow room with my dining table are exactly what we needed for an older kid’s class. The children’s class downstairs is now completely designed for the 2-4 year olds, and Anna Oates is leading that class. After our workday on Saturday, we were able to even build together a kicker table in the small basement for the older boys, with a corner for dress-up play for the girls. We can breathe again and parents can enjoy the fellowship while their children are taught, cared for and entertained.

This is a big step forward for our small church. We had also seen growth in our home Bible study to the point that we now are two groups of 8-12 adults and we are considering a third group. Sunday was our second brunch and we had 32 adults and 22 children present.  Several families and individual guests were present, including non-believers who have come to visit us through the ministries of “Mama Talk,” a parenting course based on Christian principles and offered to the public; Kid’s Club, and the Focus:Life classes of a Christian midwife held in our rooms during the week.

We also see some new faces coming through simply being seen in the neighborhood! The storefront location attracts lots of interest. “D” just moved here last week, saw the sign, attended Sunday’s brunch, bought a book for house Bible study and wants to get involved. He is a young man who came to Christ through a para-church organization in the Ukraine.

As I was buying some supplies in the neighborhood hardware, the owner bagged my goods and asked if I had far to carry them. When I said I was just going to the corner to Paul’s Church, he asked, “Are you a sect?” You have to appreciate that the Germans are very direct. I’ve gotten used to fielding these kinds of questions: “No, sir, we are an evangelical Christian church reaching out in this community. You are welcome to drop by for a cup of tea or coffee to get to know us.”

Wednesday morning we begin offering the rooms to neighborhood parents for a two-hour toddlers’ play time with coffee and tea for parents. Mothers from the church will be there as well to enjoy the fellowship and strike up conversations and relationships that lead to Gospel conversations.

We are beginning the new book study on personal evangelism in the home Bible study groups and we are diligently seeking God’s leading about offering a 10-week series of three-hour meetings on Friday nights from spring into summer. We call it an Alpha Course, and it will mean offering a light supper, presentation of basic Bible truths, and discussion groups. We are praying for a minimum of 10 people to sign up.

In June we will participate in a neighborhood festival, offering a children’s game area, rooms for being quiet, an information booth about local Christian churches and a chair and the chance to “talk about what’s on your mind.” For Easter vacation, I will probably do another mini-camp (VBS style) with our church kids.

The end of March I will get to meet with other World Witness missionaries for a short retreat here in Europe. At the same time I will get to meet with a former youth leader from my early ministry here, who is now serving as a street evangelist in Madrid. I am so thankful to see what God is doing in his life. Then at the end of April I will fly home to attend the celebration of my youngest sister’s marriage. I tear up just thinking about it.

On a personal note, I continue to have some problems with the nerve damage in my foot (from former back surgery) and I have small tears in my left shoulder cap. Therapy and care may help to avoid surgery. Please pray for God’s healing.

Our deepest desire is to see new believers come to know and love Jesus! Please be praying that God will be honored and glorified here in all that we do! Pray for a harvest of souls!

Please do keep praying for a German pastor to take up the reins as our missionary pastor looks toward furlough in summer 2010. We need both the man of God’s choosing and the financing for him of God’s providing. Pray, pray, and pray!
Love and joy to you all in your walk with our Savior!