Journey of a Church Planter: Emma Whittall in Stockholm

My friend Hazel Flood asked my wife Emma to write on her blog and Hazel kindly allowed me to republish it here including Hazel’s introduction and closing question.

I’m delighted to welcome Emma Whittall to the blog today. Emma and her family planted a church in Stockholm 3.5 years ago, no small thing I’m sure you’d agree. A while back I asked if she would tell her story of church planting and what the journey towards it was like, she generously agreed.

It’s valuable to hear what it’s like for an individual to discover life is probably about to take a massive turn in an unexpected direction.

We can tend to assume that our lives will progress much the same as they always have, but sometimes God moves in on us and does one of His special ‘and then God said…’ moments which He seems to enjoy. Listening to such a story may open a door in our thinking and cause us to ask: ‘What if God said something similar to me?’

I was seven months pregnant with our second child when my husband first told me that he felt God was saying we should church plant in Sweden. My first reaction wasn’t entirely holy – whaaat? Really? I have to think about this now? But after I got over the initial shock, I began to realise that this was a very real proposition for our soon-to-be-increasing-family and I began to sense God’s leading too. Not all the time though! Some days it seemed like a ridiculous idea – me? Start a church? In Sweden? Come on, you can’t be serious. I don’t do that sort of thing! And other days, I felt a bit irritated by it all. I wanted to think about our baby, choose a name, plan, feather my nest. This felt like a bit of an inconvenience. But I had to let those thoughts go and let God take care of some of those things. It was as though there was only space in my head for one thing at a time.

We know that it had to be a decision that we made together, just one of us being certain wasn’t enough. We both had to be settled and sure. So we began to pray, to talk to a few trusted friends who were wiser than us, to keep an ear tuned to God and keep an open heart. I found that God was faithful.

He led me in ways that were personal to me. I’ve found that in major events in my life, whether full of joy or full of sadness, He uses His word to guide me, often it can be just one or two short verses that settle my heart about a matter. That was how He comforted me when my dad died suddenly. That was how He led me when I was thinking about marriage. And there have been other times in between. This time was no different. All of a sudden, out of the blue (although I suspect God may have had a hand in it) up popped ‘Be still and know that I am God’, (Psalm 46:10) in my quiet time. That was the verse God used to settle my heart when I moved to Shrewsbury, so instantly I was taken back to that time, remembering God’s faithfulness and provision for me in that move. So why not this time too? Another quiet time, another verse – ‘Here I am. Send me’ (Isaiah 6:8). This immediately reminded me of a prayer and desire that I laid before God in my 20’s. ‘God, I want to be one you can send, I want to be willing to go.’ I hadn’t thought about it for years, and here it was, right in front of me again. Was that still true? It’s easy to say yes when it’s theoretical, but this was a very real possibility. Was I really willing to go? Would I rest on God, be still in Him and know that He is God in the midst of all the uncertainness and newness? But as I meditated and chewed on these verses, my heart grew less anxious and more settled.

We saw God use scripture, prophecy, input from friends, and even Facebook to lead us. My husband’s Facebook page randomly opened in Swedish just after we’d had a conversation about moving – it’s never done it before or since. Over the summer, the evidence for moving began to stack up. It felt like driving though a town, and every time we got to a set of traffic lights, they turned green. Our question changed from, ‘should we go?’ to, ‘why would we not go?’ and that was a question that we didn’t have a reasonable answer for. Our daughter was born. We took a quick trip to Sweden. Our hearts and minds were made up – which isn’t to say it didn’t feel scary and huge, and at times, still a bit ridiculous (us – really?!). But underneath it all, we knew we could trust God, if He was telling us to go, then Sweden was the best place for us to be.

So now it was time to tell people. We were settled, our closest friends were settled, now we had to put our money where our mouths were and tell our family, our friends, our church. Now it started getting real. One of the conversations that I was nervous about was with my mum. Not because she wouldn’t understand, I knew she’d be whole-heartedly for us, but because my dad had died suddenly a few years before and the years in-between had been full of challenges and difficult for her. The last thing I wanted was to add to that, so the idea of leaving mum felt like a high cost for me. But God had been leading her too. She left Oxford around the same time that we moved to Sweden, and went to Bethel in California for a year, then came out to join us church planting in Stockholm. Now we share a house and are church planting together. I highly recommend church planting with your mum – we have our own personal cheerleader when things are tough, a babysitter on call 24/7 and a faithful pray-er. She is everyone’s granny and our little church is richer for it.

We’ve been in Sweden 3.5 years now and have seen God continue to bless us, to stretch us in many different areas, to provide for us and our children, to grow his church in our city. It’s a roller coaster adventure, but through it all, ‘Be still and know that I am God,’ is never far from my heart.

How about you, what do you recognise in Emma’s journey? Do you have particular verses which have helped clarify a decision and settle your heart?

Photo by hector melo

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