Dear Loved Ones,
Greetings from soggy Tallinn. Our beautiful snow turned to slush as temperatures warmed up and the fluffy flakes turned to drizzle. It's been raining for about a week and now the days are shorter than they were not so very long ago. The long winter nights will seem less dark once we get some snow that stays with us! In the meantime Jaime reminded us that we should count our blessings (after all, it's not been long since Thanksgiving...), and be happy that the temperature is warm, in the middle-to-high 30's F, and it's not bitter cold and windy! =) She's right, of course. We are happy that the coldest days haven't hit yet! Right now Mike and Zachary are in Tampere, Finland, working for 10 days with that infant church, holding worship services and Bible studies as these special people await the day when their own full-time workers arrive. (This is Zachary's first "mission trip", outside our own work. He turned 13 in November and is really growing up. We're so proud of him...)
We hope that your Thanksgiving was a time to remember! We shared the meaning and history of our American Thanksgiving several times this past week. In fact, we had FOUR Thanksgivings! Our first was a Thanksgiving celebration with our Let's Start Talking follow-up class on Tuesday night. There were 17 who gathered to study English using the Bible, and to learn more about what Christians have to be thankful for. After the lesson and practice time, we all enjoyed a short history lesson concerning the American tradition and then had a meal of turkey and dressing, potatoes and gravy, vegetables, breads and desserts... we even had homemade cranberry sauce made with Estonian cranberries!
The second Thanksgiving was for the Ladies' Class on Wednesday night. Here about 25 ladies studied "The Thanksgiving Psalm", along with Paul's instruction to the early Christians concerning being thankful, then we gathered into a circle to share what they were thankful for. This time there was no turkey and dressing, but we did have "tea and kringle" (wonderful Estonian pastry) afterwards. Mike's men's class joined the ladies for the goodies and fellowship time!
The third Thanksgiving was actually Thanksgiving Day! The Banks family and Stephany, plus Ron and Judy Warpole, stood in a big circle in our kitchen as each person (beginning with the youngest) told something they were thankful for. Then we thanked God and gathered around the table to enjoy the traditional Thanksgiving meal, complete with turkey, cranberry sauce, hot rolls and pumpkin pie! The guys even got to watch a taped American football game, and afterwards, as is our tradition, we watched the old classic movie, "It's A Wonderful Life" to officially begin the Christmas season...
Our fourth Thanksgiving was on Friday night. The teens meet each Friday, and this time the lesson was about (can you guess?) ... thankfulness. Again a short lesson was shared, time was taken for each (23 in all) to share something he/she was thankful for, then everyone enjoyed trying these traditional American dishes, most for the first time. Nothing was left-over, so they must have liked everything... =) All in all, we cooked turkey and dressing three times... and we're still not tired of it!
As you can imagine, with so much going on to celebrate Thanksgiving, we had a lot of time to think deeply about our blessings. God has been very good to us. We are thankful to be a part of this work. We are thankful that our family has remained healthy. We are thankful that the Lord has been so very faithful to watch over and provide for our oldest sons as they are away from us. We are especially thankful for the many, many people who sacrifice in order that we might be here. We are thankful for you...
Now we are looking forward to the busy activities of December. Even though it is the darkest month of the year, the joy of the Christmas season fills our hearts. There are so many things planned! Besides the usual classes, studies and services, December is full of extra activities. This weekend will begin the season of festivities as the Girls' Class meets first at Judy Warpole's for our lesson on "Creativity - learning to be like God" followed by a cookie decorating party at the Banks' home. Sunday is our December fellowship meal following the time of study and worship. Then in the early afternoon we will have Ron's "Sunday Seminar" on body-life in the church.
The teens, led by Nikolai, are busy preparing for our December "Camp Reunion" where they will get a chance to work with kids from our summer children's camp to put on a production of the birth of Jesus. In a culture where Jesus is not even a part of the Christmas holiday, it is so good to be able to share with them about God coming to earth at a time when they are open to listening! Besides parents of the camp kids, we will also have the opportunity to share the message of Jesus' Coming to Earth with three orphanages!
Our Bible Club kids have challenged the rest of the church in a food drive for the Christmas "food boxes" which the church will distribute the week of Christmas. The Bible Club is hosting a "Coffee House" on Sunday afternoon, the 14th, and the price of admittance at the door will be one food item. There will be entertainment to be enjoyed as well as coffee, tea, or hot chocolate and Christmas treats. Afterwards there will be a time for all to join in some singing, and just enjoy being together. This is one of the Bible Club's LTC "service challenge" events, and everything goes for a good cause!
The Christmas boxes will be put together by the Ladies' and Men's classes the Wednesday night following the Coffee House. In the years past we have distributed 20 - 25 boxes to people in need at this time of year. We hope to do the same again this year. Getting the boxes ready is a fun time, and never takes as long as we think it will. There is always time for fellowship and "tea" after the work is done!
Year's end is a time for looking back over the past year, and looking forward to the New Year. 2003 is drawing to a close, and it has been a good year - God has done so much for us. One big accomplishment this year was the purchasing the rooms we meet in -- God is so good. It is our goal to have the note paid off in five years if we can, and with God's help we can. We had six new members added to our number during this year, and had a wonderful summer camp staffed and directed by nationals and local missionaries. Many contacts were made through our Let's Start Talking campaign, and our fellowship deepened during our second "All Church Retreat". We've seen the national brothers and sisters stepping up and taking responsibilities more and more -- from teaching the children on Sunday morning in the Bible class, to teaching at camp, and even taking a turn teaching the Ladies' class. Nikolai has grown so much, and is the national leader. His Bible knowledge continues to grow, and his lessons get better each time he preaches.
2004 will be a very special time for the Church in Tallinn. This coming year will mark the 10th anniversary of the planting of the church in Tallinn, and in Estonia. It is a time to look back and see how far the Lord has brought us, and look forward in faith, and to plan for the future growth of the Lord's Kingdom here. Much has been done, yet there is still much to do.
On a family note, Christmas time is a wonderful time of year for the Bankses. It is the only time of the year that Chris and Geoff get to come home, and we look forward to spending time as a family over the holidays. Chris will arrive on the 16th, and stay until the 28th. Geoff is due to arrive on the 21st and stay until January 11th or so before heading back to Harding. Also with us this Christmas will be our "other sister", Stephany Tibbles, our mission intern. Our little guys, including Tim, are excited about having their big brothers home, so they can (hopefully) play in the snow together! Titus and Drew are ready for Christmas! They have already re-decorated the Christmas tree so that their favorite ornaments are in the front! They are such a joy... God has truly been good to us.
It is our prayer that your holiday season will be filled with love and laughter as you are surrounded by those you love. May God keep you close to His heart. May He fill you with His grace and excite you to do even more in His kingdom in the coming New Year. We are so very thankful for you, and ask you to please continue to keep us in your prayers. We love you.
By His grace and to His glory,
The Banks Family
Mike, Debbie, Chris, Geoff, Jaime,
Kari, Kaci, Zach, Tim, Titus & Drew
PS-Our web site is up and running! Find us at www.tallinnchurch.org .
By Mike Banks | EUROPE | Estonia