Does God show up when you take a leap of faith? In our experience, absolutely. Our leap of faith was taking our two youngest sons out of school, packing up our home on the Isle of Wight, leaving our two dogs with a family from our church, and heading out to Meribel for the entire winter season. Sounds idyllic, but boy, did we have some struggles. Many in our family thought we were absolutely bonkers: “If there was a God, why would he want us to disrupt our children’s education?” Harry, our third child, who’s at a special needs school on the Island, was given no guarantee that he’d have a place at the school when we returned. Sammy, our youngest, was like a bull in a china shop in our small apartment. In the end we had to enrol him in the local French school. He found that a massive challenge, but he did make some good friends, and his games lessons were skiing or cross-country skiing!
On top of that, our oldest son Freddie fell on the very first run of the very first day of the season, and had to be helicoptered off the slopes. Luckily it was no worse than concussion and a broken wrist. Annie, our daughter, developed sinusitis. Harry had a severe recurrence of ulcerative colitis – and so we had to cope with emergency toilet dashes by trying to remove gloves, ski jacket, ski trousers, long johns etc as fast as you can – not easy, especially when you’re in a cable car with no immediate access to a toilet – we’ll leave the rest to your imagination. So we definitely felt under attack.
We knew it was going to be hard, so why did we do it? Well, we knew that if we wanted our church plant in Meribel to grow, we needed to be there to water it. We couldn’t build a Christian community remotely – we had to be at the heart of that fledgling community. And Lara felt called. It was easier for me, as I’m in Meribel a lot anyway, and I love the mountains. Lara loves the sea, she loves our church family on the Island (not that I don’t love our church family!), so it was a big wrench, but she definitely felt this was from God, and wow, did God repay us in spades.
We lived in our three-bedroom apartment just up the hill from the centre of Meribel. A few years previously, someone had prophesied over me that I’d be a light on the hill – so we put a light in our window overlooking the resort. The chaplains, coming out for two-week stints, stayed in a separate apartment, in the centre of Meribel.
After the craziness of Christmas and New Year in a ski resort, life developed into a sort of routine. We’d have church on Sunday evenings, meet friends (Christians and non-Christians) at L’Abreuvoir on a Tuesday evening for apres-ski drinks. And on Friday evenings we’d invite the chaplains and other Christians in resort to ours for a fellowship dinner. The rest of the time, we’d ski, work (running Meribel Ski Chalets), and Sammy would go to school. Life was very full, and to add to that, we had the best snow season in 40 years, which was an answer to prayer and meant great skiing, but a lot of extra time shovelling the car out of the snow.
All the while, we just wanted to encourage people to come to the chapel, to meet God and see their lives changed. We wanted, and still want, people to get closer to God. Surely to get close to God, God has to be there in the first place? Well, of course God is here – you just have to look around at the stunning mountains, snow-capped peaks, blue sky, rugged outcrops – the beauty here is awesome. But God is more than just a God of creation, sitting on a cloud in heaven zapping things into being. He’s a God of the intimate, of the here and now, and he shows up when we need him most.
Whilst we were in Meribel, away from the Isle of Wight, the daughter of a very dear friend of ours, died tragically, leaving two young boys without a Mum. On that Sunday night, at bedtime, Sammy (aged 10) was asking Lara how God could let this happen. He was questioning his faith. Lara suggested praying, and at the end of their prayers Sammy thought that if he spoke to Lindz, the lead-singer of Christian band LZ7, Lindz might help Sammy restore his faith. Now we didn’t know Lindz so this seemed a tall order, but nothing’s impossible with God. Lara remembered that Gordon, who’d been the chaplain a couple of weeks previously, knew Peter, Lindz’s Dad. So she emailed Gordon a request to contact Peter, to ask Lindz, if he wouldn’t mind having an email conversation with a 10-year-old boy in Meribel having a crisis of faith! This email arrives on Lindz’s phone on Monday morning, whilst he’s at the gym, at the very moment he was googling ski holidays in Meribel. Lindz had promised his 6-year-old that he’d take him skiing for half-term, but he’d messed up the dates, and was now desperately trying to sort a last-minute ski holiday.
To cut a long story short, Lindz phones us and says “Can he come and stay…tomorrow?” Of course we say yes, and Lara and I just look at each other and say “What just happened there?” And when Sammy came home from school, we said to him, “Sammy, you prayed on Sunday, we emailed on Monday, and Lindz is coming to stay on Tuesday – you can never again doubt that God answers prayers!” But the blessings didn’t end there. As we’ll see in the next blog, Lindz’s stay with us led to even more answers to prayer, and each Sunday, we could see the Holy Spirit was at work in the chapel.