IMB church planting catalysts Zack and Jennifer Dove were geared up to start their lives in Oslo, Norway, in 2013. They had fine-tuned their expectations toward an urban city setting, but then, a few months before landing in Oslo, circumstances shifted them south.
“We went through almost a grieving process with it, but then we realized . . . that God was calling us to work with and minister to Norwegians and Sandefjords in Norway.” Two hours by train to the south and three years later, the Doves see exactly why the Lord put them in the coastal town of 50,000.
Although Norway has been considered a Christian nation for a thousand years, spiritual life has withered in recent decades and church buildings often stand empty. As in many other European countries, postmodern thought with its relativism and lack of definitive truths is the cultural norm. That context makes sharing the gospel more than a simple event. Instead, it’s an everyday part of their lives as the Doves deepen relationships and bridge their conversations in the community toward gospel truths.
“Zack will say often that we need to let the gospel be the filter. We don’t need to let cultural norms be the filter, and so just share a little bit and see where it lands and plant that seed,” Jennifer said.
Starting the Journey
In their first years of marriage, the thought of living cross-culturally hadn’t crossed the young couple’s minds. Then, in 2007, they traveled from Atlanta to Mariupol, Ukraine, to adopt their son William. They also visited American friends who were living in the country and who drove them to a poor village to meet with Christian believers for an afternoon.
“[The villagers] didn’t have a lot but just had so much joy. They had just gone through a really bad storm. A lot of them had severe damage to their homes . . . which weren’t much to begin with,” Jennifer said. When it came time to pray, the Doves wanted to pray for the believers’ homes and the damage the village had suffered, but the believers instead wanted to pray for Zack and Jennifer and the child they were adopting.
Jennifer said that humbling experience started changing their hearts about sharing the gospel outside of the American context. “Sometimes it just takes a moment like that for your eyes to be open, for your heart to be open to what God is doing in other parts of the world.”
The Right Place
When they arrived in Sandefjord with their boys, William, now fourteen, and Daniel, eleven, they learned that it is one of the least evangelical counties in southern Norway. “There’s a need here and while it looked at first that there were . . . other reasons for why we ended up [here], we know now that God wanted us here and it was God’s plan for us to be here,” Jennifer said.
“I really feel like Sandefjord is on the verge of something big, that God is really up to something in this city,” she continued. “We know that God has a plan. We’re watching for it to unfold and just waiting anxiously for him to show us where we can be a part of that plan.
“Just knowing that people are praying is such an awesome thing and then just knowing that people are giving to Lottie Moon [Christmas Offering], that’s such an encouragement—to know that there are people giving their tithes and their offerings so that we can go out and reach the people here in our community.”
- That people would break free from a culture that tells them that truth is relative, that they shouldn’t talk openly about personal or faith-related topics, and that they must conform to the society.
- For the house church in nearby Tønsberg as believers there boldly share their faith. Pray for a multiplying movement to take hold.
- For an awakening and revival among existing believers. Pray they would see fruit through sharing their faith and seeing people follow Jesus.
Elaine Gaston has served overseas with her family in East Asia, Central Asia, Cyprus, and the United Kingdom, working among people groups in restricted-access countries.
This story originally ran in the December 2016 edition of Missions Mosaic from Woman’s Missionary Union.