“A year ago today, I got on a plane and headed for a small village in the middle of the Swedish woods called Holsbybrunn. Thus began the transformation…” Take a few minutes and read Ruthie’s encouraging, moving and challenging story of hope, grace and transformation. Her honest words will encourage your soul. The text is included below, but go to Ruthie’s personal blog for the full story and lots of pictures: Confusing Cultural Changes
On September 13th 2016, I remember sitting with my mother, on the balcony of my childhood apartment, watching and soaking in a beautiful thunder storm. I remember singing because that’s one thing my mom always misses when I’m gone. After a few songs, I remember sitting quietly, listening to the sound of rain hitting the leaves on the trees and the ground below. I remember thinking, “What am I doing?! Why am I doing it?! I don’t belong there.” And so many more things were zooming through my head. I looked over at my mom with tears in my eyes and said, “I’m not ready.” She softly answered, “I know. But you’ll be okay.” I then told her that I was really excited and didn’t quite know what to make of these mixed emotions. What wasn’t I ready for? Why did I want to go so badly despite my worry? No matter how worried or scared I was, the excitement got the best of me. I was a ball of nerves. More so than any of my other moves.
The next day, I was packing my things. Looking around my old room and the place I did a lot of my growing up, I knew I didn’t want to stay, but I also didn’t necessarily want to leave the familiar for the unknown. I was headed to Bible School. Me. I thought I had it all together, but at the same time was too screwed up to find God. On the outside I was a good Christian girl. I did the right things (most of the time), knew what to say and how to say it, I loved worship music, but was too scared to let myself actually worship because, you see, I was scared to not be good enough, worthy enough, put together enough and whatever else I thought. So, I kept people and especially God at arm’s length (further if I could), and there I was, going to a place where I would live with people in community, where things were designed and meant to make you get to know others. Moreover, a place built for you to get to know God, to deepen what you already know, to let Him in, to grow, to mature, to love and be loved and so much more.
At this point in my life I had spent the past 3 years keeping people out of my life. I knew how to make people think and feel like they knew me when, in reality, they knew very little about me. I was hopeful, yet absolutely terrified that all of this would change. I was sick of hiding, I didn’t even really know myself, and I surely wasn’t a big fan of who I had seen myself become. I felt dead inside, but I always knew that there was a little something trying to claw its way out of the wreckage that I called life. I felt like a spectator to my own life, yelling at myself “Wake up!! Do something! You can’t go on like this!!” And it always fell on deaf ears.
A year ago today, I got on a plane and headed for a small village in the middle of the Swedish woods called Holsbybrunn. Thus began the transformation. From the very first day, I felt like I had arrived at home. (And for those of you who know me, you know that home isn’t the most familiar concept to me.)
I unpacked, and immediately went on a walk through the woods. I walk a path that I vaguely remembered walking as a pre-teen with my sister many years before, just to reminisce. I also walk to get away from the other students. Because as much as it felt like home, that scared me. I wanted to make a good impression. Put my best foot forward (even though I didn’t think either of them would make for a very good impression). I wanted to be liked. Even if I didn’t necessarily like myself.
Looking back, I thought I was gonna be the only messed up one there, I thought that the other students were there to continue their walks and deepen their knowledge. I thought that they were gonna be all put together and ready to start, and that there I was, screwed up and not even knowing where to start.
Man oh man was I wrong. Some were more advanced in their knowledge and walks with God and some didn’t even really know God yet. We were all messed up in one way or another.
On this day, one year ago, I met my family. I didn’t know it yet, but from even before we all got there we were destined to be a family. We had our disagreements, our misunderstandings, our bad moments, our ugly moments and our frightening moments but we also had our loving moments, our caring moments, our silly moments, our musical moments or competitive moments and sooooo much more.
We were, we are and we will always be, a family. Unified and brought together, broken and dying, from many different walks of life, to be made and grown into a family. To forge a bond in Christ and with Christ. We are fishers of men. We are a net, woven together in love. We are brothers and we are sisters in Christ. And dare I say it again, we are family.
I praise The Lord that I didn’t let fear of the unknown stop me from embarking on this lifelong journey with Him, and that Holsby was just the first step.
I thank The Lord that I am a Torchbearer for Him and that He uses places like Holsby and all of Torchbearers international and other organizations and churches and conferences, etc. to light the flames inside hearts all around the world, to go and bear witness of the gospel.
I am living proof of the saving grace of Jesus Christ and His healing power and love.
Here’s to a lifetime and then eternity with You, and our big family.
It was 10:00 on a Monday morning, when suddenly around 40 kids from all over the neighborhood began pouring into our yard! WHAT was going on at the Thomas house?
It was the first day of Sommarklubb! Three years ago we decided to have a five-day club in my friend’s yard in order to gather kids from the neighborhood, play games, do crafts and tell Bible stories.
As we walked around the neighborhood inviting kids, my heart began to sink. It seemed like everyone was on vacation or had other plans! I thought maybe six kids would come, but I hoped for 10. We prayed and kept inviting people and the kids came! We had around 20 kids that year. Last year we averaged around 30 kids. Linnea Blomgren (2015-16 alum) came back to help— a huge blessing! This year we had 50 by the last day! Wow! Praise God! Half of the kids that came were from non-Christian homes! Because the club was in a backyard instead of a church, they felt comfortable coming.
Our theme this year was, “Treasure Hunt!” We began each day with some fun songs. Then the treasure chest was opened and the treasure of the day was taken out which led into the Bible story. We had three wonderful volunteers from CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship) teaching the Bible stories and leading the games. Following the story we had craft time, led by Elke. This was probably one of the favorite things about Sommarklubb for the kids! We ended each morning with fika and games! On the last day, a man from our church came to share his testimony and explain why Jesus was his biggest treasure. We ended the day with a treasure hunt and a visit from a clown. What fun!
Ways that God worked:
- There was no rain during the daily two hours of club time— even when it was forecasted to rain!
- There was one little girl in Emmalise’s class that we especially wanted to come. We will call her Anna. We had invited her each year, but she never came. After the first day, Ember asked me if Anna was going to come. I told her I didn’t know and then we prayed that she would come. That afternoon Maria, one of the CEF volunteers, met her on the road while she was on a walk. Anna started talking with her and so Maria told her about the club. Anna was excited to come and, later in the day when Emmalise saw her walking past our house, we went out to talk with her and her mom about it. She came the next day and each day after that! God worked that out!
Please pray that the songs that the kids sang during the club would continue to go through their minds. Pray that they would know the love they felt here was because of Jesus. AND PRAY about hosting a small club in YOUR back yard next summer! If you are unsure about teaching the lessons, there are CEF workers in Europe and North America who would love to work with you and to teach!
Have you figured out the numbers yet? I wouldn’t try too hard because there’s no pattern or puzzle with these numbers. Instead, prepare yourself a little fika and I’ll share with you the story that these numbers tell.
It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon, and though a little breezy the sun was shining at Holsby to help us give a warm welcome to the students who would take part in our first summer Bible school. We were ready to make a start with 5 students, we were hoping for 10, but pleasantly surprised to have 23 and 1 most favored infant. In all, 8 different countries were represented.
For these students it was 3 weeks of getting away and by the end many wanted to stay away…or rather stay here. However, the first Sunday night we saw in the story of Jesus getting away with His disciples, which resulted in the feeding of the five thousand, that getting away in God’s economy involves community, navigating the unexpected with trust and gratefulness, learning to be dependent on Him, and returning home to live that out in everyday life. “Away” for our students was exactly that and with the combination of 4 lecture series, a hiking/canoeing trip, restful afternoons with optional activities, and being together over meals and games of Kubb, “away” at Holsby proved to be a refreshing time.
It was also a festive time. In the mornings and evenings students feasted on God’s word, which included teaching from the book of James, the seven letters to the Seven Churches, and a combined series on being alive in the Old and New Testaments. In just these few weeks, students found out that dining over the word of God is truly satisfying, but it also grows one’s hunger for more. And so after 44 lectures, there was a desire for more, but with that the growing readiness to go home and continue living by “every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt 4:4).”
When it wasn’t feasting in the classroom, it was feasting in the dining room, in Jönköping, in family homes, and even in the forest where many of the students spent an afternoon picking 17 liters of blueberries. As jars of jam were taken home, so were the many memories of this first summer Bible school. However, it is more than good memories that we want to leave people with. I think this student’s comment says it well: “Summer Bible school made us realize how accurate the Bible is to nowadays and how the Bible is Alive! It brought us much closer to God, and gave us the desire to have a personal living relationship with Him.”
Holsby isn’t the answer to having a deeper relationship with Jesus, but it’s definitely a place where many people fall in love with Him again, a place where they can get away to be spiritually and physically nourished, and a place to slow down and realign one’s priorities with His. If summer Bible school is something you or someone you know would benefit from, then come join us on 7-8-2018 for what will begin the telling of our second summer Bible school. Find out more details and apply at Holsby Bible School.
Mike Dorsey, from Florida, was a student at Holsby Bible School the very first year — back in 1973-74!
In a visit this spring to his home in northern Florida, I asked him why he chose to go to Bible school. He replied:
“I was interested in the Bible [and] I wanted to find myself, and find God’s plan. At 18 or 19, one is looking for what the future will hold. I wanted to know this great plan that God had for me! By the time I left Holsby I wanted to know what God wanted for the rest of my life. But it was not that way. I kept waiting.”
As Mike got older, he continued to think about what God wanted HIM to be. He later learned that God does not always tell us exactly what to do — HE gives us choices!
“It is not so much what we do, but how we work/function right where we are! God needs ordinary people to be examples of Christ. If one is waiting for a big plan, one misses the normal life. God needs people working in these ordinary places. That is where the real ministry field is!”
Mike became a Christian at about the age of seven. He was raised by Christian parents, and always attended church. At Bible school he was fascinated with the Bible, which he found to be a never-ending journey. He learned about the choices one must make. In the process, he found how important the ordinary life is. It was not just having a vocation laid out in front of you. It was distinguishing between BEING and DOING! “I realized that God wanted me to live daily according to HIS desires. I didn’t find a specific vocation. I found more of God Himself – found God for Who HE is! I didn’t necessarily find just a purpose for life, but HE gave me a love for HIS Word. I found that God does not only lead, but HE often nudges!!”
Mike attended college, graduating with a Bible and Religious Education major, later complementing that with a Teaching and Social Studies major.
Mike was known for writing music while at Bible school; in fact he continues to compose to this day. During the month of November that first year (1973), Holsby and the surrounding area got hit with a severe windstorm. Literally thousands of trees in the forests were blown down. The school was without electricity for 3 days – not even any heat in the houses. Our kitchen personnel had to cook outside in the snow over a fire!
It was during this time that the Lord gave Mike a very special song – straight from his heart and a strong testimony of his relationship with the Lord. The evening we were with Mike and his wife, Wally and I sang this song once again – this time with Mike on the guitar (along with piano accompaniment).
May your hearts be blessed to hear these words, the testimony of which lives on to this day …
I NEVER REALIZED BEFORE
I never realized before how much I really needed You,
But I know that I do, now I know that I do.
I never thought that I could say
How much I really loved You,
But you know that it’s true,
Yes, You know that it’s true!
Never before have I felt peace like this inside,
Peace that’s surrounded by Your love.
Something like this is just impossible to hide,
I want to tell the stars above!
I know I couldn’t find the words to tell You what You mean to me,
You have set my heart free, You have set my heart free.
And I will always follow you wherever you will lead me,
Where You want me to be, where You want me to be!
Show me the way that I can love You some more,
I just can’t love You enough.
Give me the faith that I have never known before,
Show me the meaning of Your love.
I never realized before how much I really needed You,
Now I know that I do, now I know that I do.
I never thought that I could say how much I really loved You,
Now You know that it’s true, yes, You know that it’s true!
Camp Holsby has started up again this year! We welcomed our first few groups this last week. What a great way to spend a week or weekend with a youth, family or confirmation group. Do us a favor and if you’ve been impacted by Holsby, consider telling your church or youth group about coming to camp here. See ya soon!
As Spring School gets underway here at Holsby, the days are getting longer and the sun is coming out. Instead of a white blanket of snow over the campus, the grass is looking greener by the day and the birds are singing louder than ever. A sense of peace and awakening is over this place as students gather for ultimate frisbee and dare to swim in the nearby lakes (although it seems a little early for that yet!). But spring has evidently arrived and is announcing itself with wonderful warmth and brightness!
In our first service together this term, we heard a sermon from John Poysti, our Director at Holsby. He was preaching from Zechariah 9 and talked of us, as Christians, being ‘prisoners of hope’.
This concept had never really crossed my mind before. Many of us have read that Jesus came as part of His mission to ‘set captives free’, so what then does it mean to become a prisoner again? Surely this makes no sense? But instead of this being an illogical statement, this call to become prisoners of hope instead reveals something very beautiful in the character of God.
This passage talks to the people of that day, but also to us now. Speaking to the 50,000 Israelites who had chosen to return to Jerusalem after their captivity in Babylon (whilst many of their people chose to stay behind) verse 11 says ‘because of the blood of My covenant with you, I have set your prisoners free from the waterless pit’. Here, the Lord brings attention to the covenant He made with the Israelites back in Exodus when He promised to save, protect and restore His people. The covenant talks of God’s deliverance and provision for the Israelites at that time, but also tells us of the ultimate fulfillment in Christ that is real in our lives today.
Here, the passage says that prisoners will be set free from the ‘waterless pit’, and this picture is a vivid one. When you are in a pit, you are extremely vulnerable and helpless. You can’t climb out, you are imprisoned a long way below the ground. This is a perfect illustration of hopelessness. But, the Lord says that because of His promises, through Christ He has set us free from this helpless state!
We, who were stuck in the pit, with no ability to save ourselves from the ultimate end of death because of sin, had no way to be saved. But Jesus, through His work on the cross, went down into the depths of the waterless pit for us, so that as He defeated it, it need have no power over us anymore either. We are set free from this place of despair and instead, given freedom from sin!
So now, we know this freedom in Christ from sin. However, the verse 12 goes on to say ‘return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope’. A stronghold is a picture of a high place, a fortified place, one that speaks of safety and protection. And because Christ became a prisoner of despair on the cross for us, we can choose instead to be a prisoner of hope. The fortress the King is inviting us to return to is a place where the King guarantees our safety. It is a place where He assures us of justice and salvation. It’s a prison we choose, because it’s a fortress of hope.
Sometimes I am just amazed at the lengths that Jesus goes to save us, even though we did nothing to deserve it nor did we ask for it. But Jesus says, Return to Me. Return to the fortress of hope. I have prepared the way. I have paid the price. I invite you to become a captive of my love, my forgiveness, my cleansing. Come to me! I am your hope.
Live in a great community. Have fun serving God. Share Jesus’ love. Be a volunteer at Camp Holsby! We still have a few spots left in the program, hospitality and kitchen departments for this coming summer. Check it out by clicking on the picture below! Hope to see you at Camp Holsby!!
At the moment, snow covers the ground here in Holsby and it is giving everything a wonderful wintery feel! The snow could not have come at a better time as we had our annual winter retreat last weekend with all the students. The winter retreat is a day set aside to spend time together in community, doing activities and being outdoors. We were planning on going ahead even if the weather wasn’t top notch, but a dumping of snow a few days before made it even better!
The day started after breakfast, with our students being shuttled out to the nearby village of Skirö. Table tennis, billiards and clearing an area for broomball on the lake followed as we waited for everyone to arrive. Chaos ensued as 70 people attempted to put on jackets and boots ready for our hike!
The hike took us through the forest, and the snow on the trees added beauty to our surroundings. Of course, snow on the ground meant many a snowball ambush was made as we went along, and you always had to be on the alert just in case someone jumped you with a pile of snow in their hands!
After our sack lunches, we split off into different activities in the afternoon. Some braved the cold to play ice hockey and broomball on the village’s frozen lake. Others opted to stay inside and were kept busy playing table tennis, chess or spending time chatting and fellowshipping with one another. A group also baked chocolate balls and cookies, which quickly disappeared when our mid-afternoon fika time came around!
As the afternoon progressed, the sun came out from behind the clouds and lit up a spectacular sunset. It was a privilege to be in the midst of God’s beautiful creation, watching the sun go down and making footprints in the snow.
Dinner was brought to us and we ate until our stomachs were full! What is it about the outdoors that always makes you so hungry?!
The schedule for the day was non-stop, as after dinner we heard a student testimony and prepared to play group games – family group competing against family group. Noise, laughter and true competitive spirit came out as we passed candy from person to person using raw spaghetti, did relay races and tried desperately to find that piece of information in the newspaper!
My personal highlight of the day came after the games, when we got wrapped back up again and stepped out into the moonlit night. The stars twinkled as we walked to a nearby lake, each family group holding a flaming torch to light our way (we are torchbearers, after all!). The lake was frozen, covered in snow and surrounded by forest. We stood in a circle, holding hands and singing ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Bless the Lord, My Soul’, before splitting into our family groups and lighting Chinese lanterns. Stood there together, in unity, watching our lanterns rise, was a memory to cherish. We watched as they floated up and became the size of the stars (at least, most of them floated up. My family group’s lantern rose, then promptly caught fire and descended quickly). But being stood there, each family group together with one another, was just special.
Those who have been in Holsby often comment on the community that is felt here. And on a day to day basis, our community is strong and together. But there are also the moments when you really stop and thank God that you are here, in this moment, with His people. And that night was one of them. ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!’ Psalm 133:1
Camp Holsby has a remodeled website! Check it out and don’t forget to spread the word about Camp Holsby! Youth groups, confirmation groups and family camps are welcome. We still have days available during the spring season and a few open spots during the summer season as well.
Special thanks to Samuel Weirich for the web design, photos and hours of work gone into the renovation. Also special thanks to Alex and Esther Herbert for getting the website jumpstarted in the first place.
Even though I’m British, spending last year with some Americans and Canadians has made me more aware of the traditional holiday of Thanksgiving. A few weeks ago, we had our own Holsby version of Thanksgiving, called ‘Höstfest’… it’s Thanksgiving with a Swedish twist!
The purpose of Höstfest is for all the staff, students and guests to gather together, spend time in fellowship with one another and to take time thinking on the good gifts we have from God. Our theme this year was ‘God’s provision,’ and we started off the evening with a great Thanksgiving dinner. Brad (our chef) brought out the centerpiece of the evening, a huge turkey with sparklers, with the ‘Halleujah’ chorus playing in the background. There was much conversation and laughter as we ate and enjoyed the abundance of food the kitchen gave to us!
After singing ‘Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart’ together (in both English and German) and a devotion by Luke on Philippians 4v11-13 (strength to be content in the sufficiency of God’s provision), we sat in our family groups and talked on the theme of the evening, sharing with each other about the way we saw God’s provision in our lives. Some responses included family, being able to come to Holsby, fullness of joy, the fruit of the Spirit, the beauty of nature, the act of restoration, forgiveness, the blessing of community and for giving life to us. It was a special time as brothers and sisters in Christ were honest with one another and could share stories of God’s generous heart toward us.
Following this, each family group put together their very own patchwork, combining all the individual responses to the theme of the evening. Here’s an example of the Schoon family’s creation. They are now displayed in our dining room to help us remember God DOES provide, and He is faithful. For me, one of the biggest blessings of the evening was seeing what the children had drawn, one picture being of the cross and the empty tomb. A reminder to all that God’s biggest provision for us is the death and resurrection of His Son!
Pumpkin pie and ice cream followed and conversation over tea and coffee finished off a brilliant evening…
All in all, Höstfest 2016 was a great time of reflection, praise and community, looking back on all the many blessings God abundantly gives us. The time together concluded with much laughter, very full stomachs and lots of pictures!