30 Thoughts on Our 50 Days Overseas

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From January 25-March 13, my family had the unique opportunity to live (if 7 weeks counts as “living” instead of “visiting”) in another country. Home base was London, but as a family we spent time in Leicester (1 day), Oxford (2 days), Cambridge (3 days), and Edinburgh (7 days). I also traveled to Leyland (Lancashire County), Haywards Heath (Sussex County), Nottingham, Birmingham, Belfast, and Hamburg (Germany).

As I feared, with 38 sermons, 17 panels, and 6 children, I got very little work done on my dissertation, but we did manage to see a lot of great sites, including: London Bridge, Tower Bridge, the Shard, the Gherkin, the Cheesegrater, the Tower of London, Parliament (a personal tour), Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Hamley’s Toy Store (three times!), the changing of the guard, the British Museum, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, St. Paul’s Cathedral, a walk through Oxford, a tour of Cambridge, Warwick Castle, Edinburgh Castle, The Elephant House (where the first Harry Potter book was written), Greyfriars, St. Giles, St. Columba’s, St. Mary’s, St. Helen’s, Dickens’ church, C.S. Lewis’s boyhood church, and a number of other churches I found more interesting than my children (I should clarify: more interesting than my children found them, not more interesting than I find my children).

So what else? Well, here are a 30 quick thoughts (trust me, they won’t take long).

1. The body of Christ is wonderful. No matter where you are in the world, when you walk into a good, gospel church, you enter a sweet and familiar culture.

2. No one does fast food like America. Sure, they have McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC. But for fast food that is cheap, easy, and fast, there’s no place like home.

3. Speaking of which, I asked my kids halfway through the trip what store/restaurant they would most like right next to our place in London. They said Little Caesar’s. I agreed. A five dollar Hot N Ready would have been a welcome sight.

4. Oh my, is London expensive. Anytime we sat down to eat somewhere, it was easily $100 for our family. Groceries, gas, housing, land–everything is cheaper in the States, especially in places like Lansing, Michigan.

5. It’s surprising the little things you miss. I couldn’t find root beer anywhere. Ditto for deep dish pizza and good tortilla chips. And Brits don’t do sweets for breakfast. What’s wrong with waffles and maple syrup?

6. Which reminds me: if you’ve ever been to an American summer picnic with rich sausages, potatoes, and heaping piles of baked beans and thought “You know what, this would be perfect immediately after waking up in the morning,” then England is the place for you.

7. I’m a terribly picky eater anyway, so people have asked, “Was there any food in the UK you really liked?” Yes. They have some great cookies (er, biscuits). I had a delicious beef stew in Northern Ireland. And I’m now a fan of banoffee pie.

8. If I was single or married without children, living in a big city like London would be great fun. So much to do and see. So easy to get around without a car. Life is more challenging when you have a gaggle of loud, American children.

9. We were a bit of a freak show. I remember my daughter saying, “Why do they keep staring?” But that was the exception. Even if the presence of six kids was invariably shocking to people, most folks were accommodating, helpful, and curious in a friendly way.

10. I don’t know if public transportation will ever work to the same extent in America (we love our cars), but it works in the UK–very well in my experience. Once you get the hang of it, the country is easily traversable by bus, by Tube, and by train. I’m sure Brits have their stories to tell, but in our 7 weeks, everything was always on time and always dependable. And it still amazes me how little security rigmarole there is getting on and off.

11. For better and worse, I think the preaching in England allows for much less of the man’s personality to come through.

12. I found the preaching to be more reliably expository (I’m comparing reformedish evangelicals in both countries). We talk a lot about expository preaching, but I’m not sure that across the board we’ve been trained to do it very well.

13. I was often told I have a British sense of humor. I took that as a compliment.

14. Even among the Brits, however, there are differences in the humor. The Englishman makes fun of himself, the Irish make fun of each other, and the Scots make fun of the English.

15. Everywhere I went I asked people what they thought of the UK referendum to leave the EU. I found the opinions to be evenly split. If I had to guess, I’d say Brexit happens. I’ll be sure to pray for June 23 (which happens to be my birthday).

16. Everywhere I went–and I mean every single place I visited–people asked me about Donald Trump. They are laughing at us, folks, not with us.

17. Our hosts could not have been more welcoming. Our kids will always remember Mr. William and Mrs. Janet. Thank you!

18. Shrinking our living space down to 700 square feet was much more of a challenge for the parents than for the children.

19. Feel free to write me off as hopelessly American and too worldly, but churches in the UK (especially non-state churches) do not pay their pastors enough.

20. Almost everywhere you look in London, you’ll find a beautiful building, a piece of very old history, a stunning work of art or architecture, and a Pret a Manger. (“Why are there so many Pret Managers?!” my kids often asked.)

21. America is so young and has so much space.

22. And faster and more reliable wifi. That’s what Lee Greenwood is talking about.

23. I was caught once during a conference texting on my phone. This would have been completely normal at a Christian conference in the States. People here are constantly monkeying with their phones while people are singing or someone is preaching. I saw this much, much less in the UK and in Germany. Phones everywhere, but not during a sermon.

24. I think I could get into rugby. Cricket? Sorry, it still seems boring (which, I know, is how you feel about baseball).

25. As a student at the University of Leicester, I feel it is entirely my right to jump on the Leicester City bandwagon. Five points clear with eight games to play.

26. The reformedish evangelicals in the UK are Bible people. Everything is about the Bible–their training, their preaching, their discipleship, their small groups, their internships. I don’t think the fired-up Christian reads as much, and he or she is probably less conversant with systematic theology, but they are constantly in the word.

27. Every time I travel overseas I come home recommitted to writing books. It’s hard to exaggerate the strategic global importance of Christian publishing in the States–the way in which good books do so much good (and bad books can do so much harm).

28. The corporate worship was familiar, but with a few noticeable differences. In the English speaking world, and even in Germany, Christians are singing the Gettys and Sovereign Grace (plus a few homegrown songs I hadn’t heard). The church services I attended were simple and straightforward. There was less fuss about style (which was refreshing), but also less attention to liturgy (perhaps swinging the pendulum a bit too far in the direction of informality). One of my favorite things: there was always a long, thoughtful prayer full of rich (but never pretentious) intercession.

29. What a run along the Thames! I never post workouts online, but I was tempted by the 10k I did which took me past the Globe, past the Millennium Bridge, past The Eye, over the Westminster Bridge (wave to Parliament and Big Ben), down along the north bank, past St. Paul’s, around the Tower of London, over the Tower Bridge, past the Shard, and back home.

30. I saw wonderful gospel work happening across the UK and in Germany. Christians across denominational boundaries are working together (but not ignoring theological distinctives) to plant churches and train workers. The work was sometimes big and obviously impressive, but often small and slow (which makes it even more impressive). It was a blessing to see the word and work in another part of the world. The cultural context may have been different, but the state of lost people is still the same, the gospel is still the same, and the ways in which God uses good leaders, good churches, good preaching, good books, and vibrant prayer is the same there as it is here.

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