International Mission Board church planting catalysts Zack and Jennifer Dove were geared up to plant their lives in Oslo, Norway, in 2013. They had fine-tuned their expectations toward an urban setting, but a few months before landing there, circumstances shifted them a little further south.
Jennifer Dove, left, and her 11-year-old son Daniel, second from left, engage in cultural reenactments with Norwegians in Sandjeford, Norway, where she serves as an International Mission Board church planting catalyst with her husband Zack.
While the couple would still be in Norway, Jennifer noted they went through “almost a grieving process” when they found out they wouldn’t be going to Oslo. But they soon embraced their new assignment to work with and minister to Norwegians in Sandefjord.
Two hours further south by train and three years later, the Doves say they now see exactly why the Lord put them in the coastal town of 50,000.
Though Norway has historically been considered a Christian nation, spiritual life has withered in recent decades and church buildings often stand empty. As in many other European countries, postmodern thought promoting relativism and lacking definitive truth is the cultural norm. But every day the Doves seek to deepen relationships and bridge their conversations in the community toward gospel truths.
“Zack will say often, 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. But in 2007 while living in Atlanta, they traveled to Mariupol, Ukraine, to adopt their son William. While there, they visited American friends living there who drove them to a poor village to meet Christian believers.
“[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 were already extremely modest, 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.
International Mission Board church planting catalysts Jennifer and Zack Dove had planned to serve in Oslo, Norway, until God changed their focus further south to Sandjeford.
That humbling experience started changing the couple’s hearts about sharing the gospel outside of the American context, Jennifer said. “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.”
When they arrived in Sandefjord with their boys – William, now 14, and Daniel, 11 – the parents learned the town is located in 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.”
Jennifer and Zack have confidence in God’s plan and are “waiting anxiously for Him to show us where we can be a part of that plan,” she said.
“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.”
Pray 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 society.
Pray for an awakening and revival among existing believers.
Pray for the house church in nearby Tønsberg that as believers there boldly share their faith they will win souls for Christ.
Watch a video about the Dove family and their work in Norway:
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Writer Elaine Gaston has served overseas with her family in restricted-access countries. She is now based in the U.S. This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 4-11 with the theme of “The Gospel Resounds.” The theme undergirds the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The offering, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at IMB.org, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $155 million.)