Marcus & Amber Yoars

Echoes from the mission field of Norway

Tag: mountains

TimeOut 2015 Recap

Psalm 123:6 says, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” I can’t think of a better, more succinct way to sum up our last three months of serving in the Bible school here at KRIK Høyfjellssenter. Indeed, what God has done has left us all—students, staff and leaders—in complete awe and filled with joy. Our God is truly amazing!

When the staff of TimeOut (what the fall Bible school is called) gathered a week prior to students arriving the first week of September, there was an incredible sense of unity among us. God quickly joined our hearts together like family, yet there was also an acuteness in the spirit that was beyond the norm. It didn’t take long to understand more of why that was. This year’s group of students came with an exceptional level of openness and hunger for God, and this was obvious within hours after their arrival.

Whereas it usually takes weeks to cut through walls of emotional protection, hardened hearts or straight-up skepticism, this year’s 36 students were ready for God to transform them by the first day of teaching, which was all about uncovering those things in our lives that we often sweep under the rug. And what made this group so unique was both their genuineness in supporting and loving one another, as well as their willingness to pursue God. In almost every camp or Bible school setting, you’re bound to have a few students who are forced to attend and make it known that they’d rather not be there. And yet even among those who struggled with the many hours of classroom teaching during this year’s Bible school, there were still no bad attitudes to be found.

Because of these and other factors, the staff quickly had a sense that God had raised the bar for this TimeOut compared to other years. He not only wanted to establish a foundation for these students—which is often what happens when many come from backgrounds where they’ve rarely been in God’s Word—but He also wanted to equip them so they could be sent out to transform Norway and beyond.

As in years past at TimeOut, students weren’t allowed to share what they do for a living until Week 3, which helped them get to know each other better without prejudgments and gave room for many to open up with a vulnerability they had never experienced before. Because Amber and I were full-time staff leaders this year, in addition to our responsibilities of teaching and leading worship, we were also given four students each that we would walk closely with and mentor during these 10 weeks. Our groups included everything from doctors to mechanical engineers to social workers to lumberjacks to teachers—truly a beautiful mix!

Some students accepted Jesus as savior for the first time. Others experienced the Father’s unconditional love in a way they never knew possible. Many were filled with the Holy Spirit and received their prayer language. Almost all learned to hear God’s voice and recognize His presence more in their lives. And still others were delivered from demonic influences and set free from lifelong strongholds.

Many of the leaders who have been here for years talked about how what was the ceiling for previous years had become this year’s floor. That was evident almost daily in our “morgensamlings” (morning meetings), during which one or two students would share their testimonies and we would worship and minister to each other. We could sense the Holy Spirit’s presence as students spoke honestly about their struggles and victories in life, and from this place of recognizing God’s grace and love came a deep worship—through songs, words and prayers—that often left us literally floored amid the Lord’s almost tangible presence.

One of the highlights almost every year is the Hjertefokus (“heart focus”) week, in which a team of experienced counselors comes and helps students walk through both teachings and group sessions that allow God to unveil and heal emotional wounds. There is nothing like seeing the Lord set people free, and during this week we once again witnessed radical transformation in several of the students. Some even looked physically different after experiencing God’s true freedom!

For Amber and me, the 10 weeks once again were a beautiful time of God using us—our gifts, our life experiences, our hearts for people—to the fullest. I led worship a few times each week, which was always a delight with the group so eager to experience more of God. I also taught for a couple of weeks on worship, prayer, vision/calling, and what the Bible says about sex and relationship issues (e.g., cohabitation, singleness, purity, etc.). Amber taught—which was first for me to experience—during the last week to get students better prepared for “re-entry” into the real world. And together, we led some teachings on marriage and communication.

Outside of the classroom, however, we stayed extremely busy meeting with and counseling students and staff alike. Some of these meetings left us stunned by Jesus’ faithfulness to reveal Himself and heal even the deepest of wounds. So often we knew that our job was merely to “show up,” and indeed, when we did that in faith, He did the rest.

Before we left the States last year God gave us a vision in which we saw Hemsedal as the hub for what looked like a flight map. Out of this tiny town in central Norway came many “routes,” only these routes were actually trails of fire, with each destination being ignited from the burning fires of Hemsedal. We have continued to see how this vision is coming to pass, but during this TimeOut it became even more of a reality as students were equipped and empowered to return to their hometowns as carriers of His fire. Praise God that He is raising up trail-blazing revivalists that will spread this holy fire throughout Norway!

We’re on Top of the World (Almost)!

Though sad to leave our new “family” in Hemsedal, we packed our belongings in a car lent to us by a friend and headed out for yet another crazy adventure in Norway—this time traveling more than 1,500 miles in the dead of winter to Tromsø, where we begin the next phase of our assignment this year.

Our first stop was a bit of a detour in terms of location but turned out to be yet another divine sign of how God continues to lead our journey. For months we’d wanted to visit Norway’s main YWAM base, located in Grimerud, and develop relationships with some people we’d previously only connected with online. So before we traveled too far north, we planned to head there for an overnight stay. Our stay turned into four wonderful days, however, as God blessed us with some amazing new friends and ministry connections—while our car received some much-needed repairs for the long drive from a mechanic on staff. (Hey, working breaks are a good thing when you’re traveling down a mountain on a sheet of ice!)

Driving in Norway in the winter is an adventure; you quickly learn to check weather and highway updates before setting out or else risk being stranded in your car during a storm because of a mountain pass being closed. Yet praise God we hardly dealt with anything other than clear, blue skies (at least during all four hours of daylight) throughout our journey. Indeed, God had a special grace for us during the week—from favor with our accommodations to Brayden and Xander having a blast the entire way (we have THE best boys in the world!).

To be honest, at times it felt as if we were on a true “missionary” journey from biblical times. We prayed and stayed with kind strangers from around the world­—from Eritrea to the Philippines—who became like family to us because of our connection in Christ; we lingered when we felt the Holy Spirit leading us to stay in certain places; and we listened intently in intercession to what the Lord was saying about different places we drove through. In fact, Amber and I quickly realized that God had arranged this trip for greater purposes. Had we not driven, we wouldn’t have had the privilege of literally praying through towns, cities and regions of the nation and sensing the spiritual climate of its different parts.

One of the highlights was crossing the Arctic Circle (see images below), where we stood in the middle of a silent stretch of highway to soak in the reality of being so far north and yet still having hours left in our journey. The sun—have I mentioned we don’t get to see it much these days? :)—peaked over the blanketed mountains and created this unbelievable scene I’ll never forget. In fact, unbelievable became the word of the week as our eyes captured stunning sight after stunning sight. Norway truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world. (And we’ve come to accept that pictures will never do it justice.)

Another unforgettable moment was arriving in a fishing town where we stayed with a fisherwoman whom God is using to spark revival in her community. Despite having a past so rough that the town completely shunned her when she returned, our friend Linda is a walking testimony of God’s redemptive nature. Her stories of how she’s listened to and obeyed the Lord’s every whisper—and then seen Him work miracles—brought us to tears. The Lord gave both Amber and I specific words of encouragement and insight for Linda, and His presence was thick during our time together. She also introduced us to an African family whom God sent as fellow missionaries to Norway, and whom we believe are like generals in the spiritual realm. Though Amber and I have both been deep in “intercessory” and “spiritual warfare” circles, these prayer warriors brought those terms to a whole new level for us. It was especially meaningful to be prayed for, sent out and blessed by these wonderful intercessors before we reached our final destination: Tromsø.

We’re now in Tromsø, where we’ll spend the next few months working with Norkirken Tromsø, a church that’s invited us to help them build a family ministry, mentor some of their young leaders, teach, train and serve however else we can. We spent our first two days in Tromsø unpacking (we’re living with an incredible couple, Kjetil and Live) and getting our bearings around town, but today we met with the church leadership and were blown away by their hearts. They are a unified, gifted and wise team that’s currently facing a challenging crossroads, and I pray that we can come alongside them to truly lift up their arms in the everyday battle for this area. Tromsø is famous as a tourist destination for seeing the Northern Lights, but right now it’s also incredibly dark—both physically and spiritually. We’re excited about seeing the Lord’s light shine even brighter!

Before I wrap up this update I wanted to share with you another faith challenge we have in the coming months. Since we’ve been in Norway, God provided a transition period in which I’ve been able to bring in some income by helping my former employer until they found my replacement. That season ends this month, which means it marks our first of completely depending on those partnering with us on this journey. Though that may be a little frightening in the natural realm, we’re so encouraged when we think of those who have faithfully supported us through these months. Yet without more people coming alongside us, our season in Tromsø—and beyond—could be difficult. That’s not just financially speaking, but also spiritually. 

If you sense God stirring you in any way to join with us, we would deeply appreciate it. We know God is always faithful to provide what we need, and we’re confident in this more than ever—especially as we’ve seen Him supply our every need thus far. Yet we also know how true it is that every little bit counts. So thank you in advance for believing in us and supporting us with your prayers, your donations and your overwhelming love. May 2015 be the year that we—together—see Norway transformed for God, person by person.

Finally … an Update!

It’s embarrassing that we haven’t blogged in weeks. I know, I know—we’re not the first missionaries to falter right out of the gate with maintaining a blog. And yes, we have 100 legitimate reasons for that—everything from traveling to working crazy hours to having limited wi-fi where we’re living. But still, it’s embarrassing. (Thank goodness Amber’s kept up on Facebook whenever possible.)

The truth is, when Bible school wrapped up and students left a few weeks ago, we knew we’d still have several major tasks and assignments here at KRIK Høyfjellssenter in Hemsedal. But we had no idea life would continue to be this busy. Yet as it was during the 10-week Bible school term, we’re amazed by how God continues to open doors for us and use us everywhere we turn.

I (Marcus) continue to get invitations to speak, teach and lead worship around town, and it’s been exciting to watch God go deeper with many of those we’ve shared life with over the last few months. I’ve taught more at a local church (Lighthouse)—I still have a hard time calling it “preaching” ☺—and have helped them with worship. I’ve also been discipling a few guys, counseling them through different situations and having the privilege of helping them understand more of what God is doing in their lives. Amber is doing the same with several women and, as usual, she’s been a magnet for countless others.

Yet one of our most exciting and fruitful assignments in the last few weeks has been working specifically with the leadership team at KRIK Høyfjellssenter and helping to counsel them through an exciting yet challenging season of life. Since our first days here, the two couples who live and work at the mountain center, Gudmund and Helene, and Øystein and Synne, have made us feel like family and invited us into their lives. Often it’s easier to share the details of your life—challenges, triumphs, concerns and all—with outsiders who can offer an objective point of view, and that’s been the case with us. We’ve been honored to walk alongside these couples, who make up KRIK Høyfjellssenter’s leadership, by asking questions, listening to their thoughts and dreams, and praying with them. But even more so, we’ve treasured their authentic friendship.

More than a decade ago, Synne had a vision to see a Bible school that would train, equip and send out true followers of Christ from the mountains of central Norway. At the same time, others—including another friend of ours, Øyvind—were involved in bringing that vision to reality … and then some. KRIK Høyfjellssenter celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, yet based on all that happens at this mountain center, you’d think this was a mega-ministry that’s been around for decades. From marriage conferences to Bible schools to youth camps to extreme-sport events, KRIK Høyfjellssenter keeps the calendar full year-round with events that center on a vision to “inspire and equip young adults to know Jesus and follow Him.” (Yes, they reach far more than just young adults—which is part of what Amber and I have been discussing with the leadership team.)

Gudmund, Helene, Øystein and Synne have big dreams for KRIK Høyfjellssenter, yet they also carry heavy loads in leading the ministry. What’s been so exciting for Amber and me is how God sent us during a season when we could help them to reaffirm their vision yet evaluate what it will take to grow—personally, as couples and as a ministry. Though we’re confident God sent us to Hemsedal for many reasons (many of which have been blatant and with evident fruit), if it had solely been to encourage these new friends, that would have been enough for us.

Arriving in Hemsedal

We’ve had an amazing three weeks since our last post visiting old friends and meeting new ones in Bergen and Stavanger, two cities that share the same beautiful Norwegian coastline but showcase their unique personalities as soon as you enter them. In Stavanger we stayed with our dear friends, Steve and Anne Kristen Bruns, and their wonderful children, Julia, Jenny and Mattias. We attended a conference called Åpen Himmel (Open Heaven) at their church, IMI Kirken, where we were able to connect with so many incredible people coming from all over Norway.

We stayed in Stavanger longer than expected, but this ended up being a huge blessing for us. One thing it allowed us to do was get to know the staff at IMI Kirken better. We were so impressed not only with the hearts of the people there and the unity among the leadership, but also the healthy culture Senior Pastor Martin Cave and Lead Pastor Egil Elling Ellingsen have helped to create throughout the church. Imagine combining the best parts of some of America’s leading churches known for discipleship, missions, outreach, healing and “hosting” the presence of God … and you’ve got an idea of the treasure that is IMI Kirken. Their missional approach is making major kingdom impact not only in Stavanger, but throughout Norway and as far as Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. In our opinion, it helps that they’ve had two of the most amazing people we know—Steve and Anne Kristen—helping to steer this through their church network called Agenda1.

In Stavanger we were also able to work on our visa applications in a way we hadn’t expected. Though Marcus had researched the process extensively from the U.S. and we’d been advised to apply shortly after arriving in Norway, we weren’t planning on doing this from Stavanger. Yet we stumbled upon the fact that Stavanger is one of only three cities in Norway with a foreign workers office that can help reduce the application process time. Had we not been there, it’s likely we would’ve had to leave the country after our tourist visa expires. In addition, we were all able to get appointments (which you need to officially submit your application) over a two-day period—something that normally could’ve taken weeks if not months. Once again, God went before us and opened doors we couldn’t have! Now please stand with us in faith that there will be no hitches at the tail end of this process and that we’ll be granted our visa in the coming weeks.

The big news for us now is that we’re in Hemsedal, in the breath-taking mountains of central Norway, and can actually unpack our things. Woohoo! After living out of our suitcases since June 15, we’re ecstatic about being able to “settle down” in one place for the next two months. It begins to wear on you when you haven’t had any routine for more than three months, so we’re thrilled about getting back on a schedule—both for us and the boys.

Just as important is that we’ve been able to quickly plug into the amazing ministry here at KRIK Høyfjellssenter . We’re helping out with KRIK’s Fjellbibelskolen (Mountain Bible College), where 20-30 young adults come for a 10-week “Time Out” program that is the spiritual equivalent of drinking from a fire hose … with some extreme-sport team-building outings on the side.

We arrived Monday, just in time to see the last gasp of fall colors on the trees (thank You, Lord!). Already we’ve experienced a variety of weather typical for these mountains—from bright-blue skies to ominous clouds to the season’s first snow on the mountain peaks. For the last two days the high winds have howled through the valley and our cozy wood cabin has creaked continuously. Today I (Amber) already have my wool layers on (exciting!), but I’ll admit, I’m saddened to watch the fall leaves getting blown off the trees, signaling an abrupt end to my favorite season. From where I’m writing this I can still see a little patch of yellow and red trees—I’ll pretend they’re left just for me to enjoy a couple more days.

Our surroundings are stunning, yet even more beautiful right now are the people around us, many of whom we’ve already melded our hearts with. It’s rare to find a group of staff and students this unified and sincere in their love for each other, and they’ve welcomed us with open arms. The Bible college offers two programs a year, each with slightly different profiles and content. The average age of the students is 25, which means most of them are already beginning their careers or at the end of the university studies. They’re here because they’ve decided to take a “time out” to set everything aside and focus on God. Talk about moldable hearts and teachable spirits!

This week the topics were “Understanding the Father’s Heart” and “Hearing God’s Voice,” and Marcus had the opportunity to teach a few sessions yesterday. First, though, they asked him to share more of his testimony before teaching, and during that time I saw a special thing happen. He talked about his father and what he did in university work as a missionary to Hong Kong and how he invested his life into the Chinese students there. Marcus mentioned that he first met Jesus because of what he saw in his dad. And he shared about his father’s memorial service in 1999—how thousands came to honor the legacy of a man who spent most of his life investing in students’ lives for the kingdom.

Marcus then told them about our own process of being called to the mission field and how it connected to his parents. But when he told the students how much he loved his dad, and that he was standing before them largely because of his father—because of the legacy he’d left him—my sweet husband broke. It took him a few seconds to compose himself, but I will always remember that moment and hold it dear to my heart. Many of the students understood the depth of what he was saying and were crying too. And later, as Marcus wove together his testimony with his teachings, it was as if the Holy Spirit were guiding the entire session. I was so proud of Marcus. I always love seeing him with his teaching hat on—he’s such a gifted teacher (like his dad, I imagine). But I’ve also been proud of how he’s stepped out in faith several times already this week to deliver God-appointed “words” that have gone right to the heart.

As for me, I’ve loved every moment as I’m starting to build relationship and get to know the students and the KRIK staff. I’ve already had some incredible one-on-one times with young women, many of whom have pulled me to the side for a talk and ended up pouring out their hearts to me. We’ve encouraged, counseled, guided and prayed with so many, and yet we’re only a week into this … yes! This is exactly why we’re here, and it’s so fulfilling to once again be in a place where every day we’re being used to mold and shape lives—now as a family. Thank You, Lord … You are so good!