In September  I was honored to make a tour of 4 European cities, initially at the invitation of the Geneva church. One reason I was eager to return to Europe (where I have spent 12 years of my life, and my wife most of hers), is a concern for the churches. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:3:
But, brothers, when we were torn away from you for a short time (in person, not in thought), out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you. For we wanted to come to you-- certainly I, Paul, did, again and again -- but Satan stopped us. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy. So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God's fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them.
Not that I am Paul, of course, but these scriptures do seem to be more and more meaningful to me. Of course, the trials Paul spoke about were the fires of persecution, which had the potential to unsettle and even destroy the faith of the Christians. Recent trials in our fellowship have been of quite a different sort, but certainly with no less potential to unsettle and undermine faith. If you are like me, you earnestly want to know how people are doing, how the churches are faring worldwide. There is nothing like visiting someone to see how he is doing. Face-to-face contact can be supplemented by letters, emails, and phone calls, but these can never replace it.
I pray this update provides just such a window on how some of the saints are doing at least in parts of Europe. My observations are combined with the perspectives of several European Christians.
But before I begin the Euro update, I must express my deep thanks. This tour would not have been possible apart from the sponsorship of the various congregations, in addition to generous underwriting from private sponsors and website donations. At a time when many people are holding on to their money, it is heartening to come across those who seem eager to invest it in people. Programs are fine, buildings are good, but one of the strengths of our churches has long been our determination to invest in people. The European churches owe you a debt of gratitude. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for making the visit possible.
I landed in London on Saturday, 13 September, and spent the day in Oxford and London in fellowship with a number of good friends. Because of my personal ties with the UK (living there for 8 years, residency, meeting my wife in London, my UK family), I was especially concerned to see how the British Christians were doing, considering the trauma of the past 11 months. And I was encouraged! Although the former London Church of Christ is functionally meeting as 11 congregations, most of the members are faithful to the Lord and attend the meetings. I spoke twice on Sunday the 14th, and the majority of the present membership of 1400 made their way to one or the other of the meetings. My sense is that people are getting on with life, learning to rethink, to stand on their own feet -- and to do so in a spiritual manner. Certainly there is a tremendous need for preachers' the original London staff of 90 has shrunk to 2 --so do please pray for this vital need. Malcolm Cox, my host and evangelist in Northwest London, asked me to post his thoughts:
"Douglas Jacoby made an inspiring return to the land of his wife's birth and his home of many years -- the city of London. A large crowd of disciples from ministries all over the United Kingdom came together to worship and hear Doug speak, some to the morning location in South London, others to the afternoon venue in North London. His lesson on the unities of the faith (Eph 4.4-6) was precisely appropriate to the times in which we find ourselves. The message was heart-warming, inspiring and spiritually uplifting. Doug's personal sharing as well as his expert exposition of the scriptures moved our hearts to have greater faith in God and maintain a focus on what unites, rather than on what divides. As we concentrate on right teaching, on the right attitude and the right heart, we will find strength in God and our faith will grow."
After a full day of preaching and fellowship, and an Indian dinner with old friends, my work in London was done. The following morning I headed to Geneva.
The first nights I ever spent in Europe (1980) were in Geneva. In addition, Vicki and I had our honeymoon in Switzerland (just a short flight from our flat in London) in 1985. I was careful to remind my Swiss hosts of these facts -- which they did not fail to appreciate. (Everyone wants to think you believe their country is your favourite. And, of course, it is!) Arriving in Geneva on Monday, I was thrilled to see the beauty of the city, even more stunning than I had remembered it in 1980, when I was travelling through Europe by train. I stayed in the home of a man whom Vicki and I met 10 years ago when he was in Washington, DC, a wonderful brother and friend to many. My lessons were on Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday nights, as well as the Sunday service. Q&A times took place each day as well, in addition to private appointments with many of the members. Thierry Fender, evangelist for the Geneva congregation, shares:
"We were honoured to have Douglas come to spend a week in Geneva / Zurich / Lyon in mid-September. Among the topics discussed were salvation issues; grace vs. works; Holy Spirit; church and leadership issues. The views on these crucial topics were definitely fresh and inspiring. The churches are very thankful for Douglas' input and encouraging spirit. We've probably learned more in one week than we normally would in six months! I've personally appreciated on one hand is desire to work hard for our churches, and on the other hand his "neutral" attitude (not wanting to tell us what to do, but pushing us to wrestle with the Bible and decide on our own)! Thank you again, Douglas! Our prayers are with you, your beautiful family and your teaching ministry!"
On Wednesday the 17th, in the middle of my stay in Switzerland, I took the 3-hour train journey to Zurich, which lies in the German speaking part of the nation. (Geneva, in the western part, opposite the border with France, is French speaking.)
I had presented an evidences lesson in Zurich in 2001, and even transited through the city on other occasions through the years. The congregation is just over 100 members, and, like most Europeans, full of questions and determined to get the answers. (Yes, I like that!) My job was to preach for two evenings, Weds 17th and Thu 18th September -- including instruction on the Holy Spirit, which is an emerging interest in many of the European churches. My primary challenge was to get into the Word. Benno Mueller, one of the committee of 4 currently directing the affairs of the Zurich congregation, writes:
"The Zurich Church of Christ has had the joy to host two evenings with Douglas Jacoby as guest speaker. Doug was invited because of his reputation as a lover of the Word of God, his sound knowledge of the scriptures, and his profound convictions. On the first evening Doug spoke on the topic of central teachings in the Bible vs. peripheral doctrines, pointing out that the latter are also important and can't be neglected. He insisted that it is a must that all disciples agree on the former, the central teachings. The second evening was dedicated to teaching on the Holy Spirit, where the focus was on "how does the Spirit work," rather then "how does the Spirit not work". Both evenings were informative and insightful on the one hand and challenging for heart and mind on the other hand. Doug would not hesitate to challenge the audience to dig deeper in the Bible and to really take the time to study it. For example, he challenged many of us to read through the whole Bible at least once a year! We also appreciated Doug's short but precise -- and, shall we say -- relaxed analysis of our own church history. His explanations were definitely clarifying. At the same time, he called everyone to have a forgiving attitude about things that have happened. We are thankful to God that we could have Doug over to spend some of his time, heart and wisdom with the Zurich Church."
After Zurich (Weds-Fri), I returned to Geneva and preached Friday evening. On Saturday the 20th Thierry Fender and I made a day trip to Lyon, France, just 90 minutes from Geneva.
The French churches have undergone a great amount of transition these past few years. Lyon is one of the French cities, just 90 minutes across the border from Geneva. Saturday morning I had a strong French coffee and time of fellowship (not strong, just encouraging!) with Franck Descotes, former Paris evangelist who I have known since I met his sister Nadine (whom I baptized in the London congregation and whose wedding to Mark Templer I performed). I remember Franck's baptism. He and his wife, Fabienne, have moved to Lyon (Franck's hometown). His father, Girard is extremely ill and not expected to live long. Prayers are appreciated. Like Franck and myself, so many of us former staff members have ended up in cities we would never have predicted we would have come to! With the small Lyon group, morning and afternoon workshops addressed a variety of concerns. The French churches' Paris, Marseilles, and Lyon do need your prayers: pray for the disciples not to grow weary (Galatians 6:7-9). If you know any of the members personally'in France or in any nation outside your own, for that matter why not write a note, or make a phone call? The network of relationships is one thing that distinguishes us a disciples of Christ. One term for a follower of Christ, which appears in 3 John, is "friends." Friendship counts, because true friendship outlasts anything else. ("Love always preservers." "Love never fails.")
On Sunday the 21st I preached on the burning bush (Exodus 3 and Galatians 3), delivering a message on going in the Lord's strength (the Spirit), not in our own strength (the flesh), lest we burn out. After a Q&A session, barbecue, fellowship appointments and final dinner with the Fenders, my work was done.
The next morning we headed to the airport, and 20 hours later I was home. In Dixie. The kids asked, "What's that funny white stuff growing in the field?" "Cotton, my children," was the answer. Yes, we are at home in the South. But before I wax too lyrical, a few closing thoughts from the European tour.
Our own walk with God
Summing up my view on things in Europe, people are getting on with life and their personal walk with God. Some prefer to revert to being told what to do, others are maturing and realizing that church members need to take responsibility for their own congregations and their own salvation. There is an enormous need for local leadership to rise up -- a need for preachers of the Gospel, especially given the time requirements of lesson preparation -- and there is a need for communication. So many people I spoke to did not know what was happening in other parts of the world -- in Asia, the Americas, wherever -- and (naturally) assumed that the rest of the world must be experiencing the very same things they are going through. To some extent this is true (1 Peter 5:9), though it would be an enormous oversimplification to place all congregations in the same category.
The good outweighs the bad
As I repeatedly emphasized in my teaching, through all the changes the good outweighs the bad. While some have left the body, most have remained, and new members are being added'this was true of all the cities in which I spoke. The labor of the past has not all been in vain. A foundation has been laid, though this foundation needs strengthening through the word of God.
To the Word and to the Testimony!
It is surprising to me how many Christians are shallow in their knowledge of the Word, and many have ceased to seriously study the Bible. It must be true that we have got to where we now stand by implementing scriptural principles or failing to implement them. The way back -- though really, no one wants to 'go back" -- is to once again embrace the Lord and his Word, learn from our mistakes, learn from history, and (in humility) once again learn from one another. At the same time I must say that many disciples are being driven by the winds of change to their knees and to the scriptures. Many are eager to invest in education. Biblical education, theological training, the teaching ministry. It became apparent to me that many people I fellowshipped with are digging deeper, and are eager to invest wisely. I believe this motivation is why so many churches around the world are inviting teachers and others with theological training to come and instruct the flock. Not that there isn't any need for evangelists -- in fact, they are needed now more than ever! -- but members want to be fed and are thinking in more and more creative ways about what this means and how they will ensure their own spiritual appetite is met.
It is astounding to me how many of the brothers and sisters in Europe are old friends and acquaintances. Some I have known for 20 years or more, others perhaps for only 5 or 10. The changing constellations of relationships refresh the soul, provide for fruitful exchange of ideas, and remind us how the Lord, in his providence, works all things together for good.
What is truth?
One question (humorously) the churches wanted me to address was, What is still true? I believe we all know the answer: God is still true -- and ever will be -- his Word is true; and whatever was true a year ago is still true today. May we all build on the firm foundation of this truth (Matthew 7:24-27), erecting not a man-made edifice, but the brilliant and radiant church of Christ described in the Bible.
I hope these reflections from the European trip are helpful. Lord willing, I will return later in the autumn to Berlin, Zagreb, Budapest, Moscow and other cities. I am honored to be one of many evangelists, teachers, and elders who is ministering to the churches around the world. Please pray for all the workers who are striving to help others to make sense of the things that have happened, and to relay the message that God is still God.