Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Missions: All People to All People

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” I Cor 1:25

Sitting in the church pew waiting to speak to a group of Chinese Americans in the San Francisco bay area, I once again reflected on the almost accidental and somewhat surreal events that led to this moment.  Who would have guessed that EFCA ReachGlobal would help mobilize the Chinese church to come alongside Roma living in Europe? Who would even believe that the Chinese, of all people, would be called to serve alongside the Roma in Europe?  Was it really only 5 months ago that we met with Chinese, Romanian, and American believers on a dark and foggy night in a Roma village in the mountains of Transylvania and began to see how we could work together for God’s glory among a forgotten people group?  It was like I could clearly see individual pieces of the puzzle but they didn’t seem to fit together in any logical way.  But it is evident that there is a growing clarity to the picture on the puzzle.  

Less than two years ago the staff of the Great Commission Center International (GCCI) read a few articles that Melody Wachsmuth wrote about the Roma in Europe.  They came to the conclusion that there was an unreached people group of 10-12 million people spread across Europe.  Since that time they have organized a vision trip, a conference representing Roma in 16 countries, 3 mission/vision trips, and an outreach English camp in Hungary led by Chinese believers. 

During this same time EFCA ReachGlobal Europe created the SERVEurope Catalyst Team led by Jim Baker and staffed by yours truly.  Besides recruiting and growing our team, we were given the task of finding opportunities where God was working in Europe and reporting where ReachGlobal could uniquely join in.  These opportunities were to fit into our mission’s overall goals.  As a mission ReachGlobal Europe is asking God for:
100,000 disciple makers 
10,000 transformational churches
15 locations with Acts 19 results, including 5 Complex Urban Center (CUC) sites

One of the areas of opportunity quickly identified itself as a “hidden revival” among the Roma.  With a growing sense of excitement about tracing the story of this revival throughout Europe, the Catalyst Team traveled to Spain, Bulgaria, and Slovakia.  And the ReachGlobal city team in Bucharest, Romania asked for our help to create a ministry description for Roma ministry workers.  So we decided to travel to Bucharest from a conference in Budapest, Hungary. The historic Roma for the Nations Conference is where our paths converged with Chinese believers and GCCI.  Right after the conference, we ended up on "The Long Road To Bucharest" traveling with Romanian and Chinese missionaries for 4 days over 800 miles stopping at 12 villages/cities to see how God was working among the Roma. After our trip SERVEurope Catalyst Team sat down with the members of the Great Commission Center International and shared impressions of the conference and the trip and to decide on follow up steps.  One of the follow up steps was this church meeting.  After meeting with GCCI representatives in the day the English speaking Chinese churches in the San Francisco bay area were invited to hear about God’s work among the Roma in Europe.  

This is a unique time in the history of the global Church and the movement of God among Europe’s 10-12 million Roma.   It seems that God has uniquely equipped the Chinese churches to reach the Roma in Europe.  They do not have the negative constructed images that European nationals often have that lead to mistrust from both sides.  Furthermore the Chinese are able to enter a relationship with the Roma without the real or perceived sense of the westerner’s power and wealth.  And as Dr. Thomas Wang pointed out that evening the early history of Chinese Americans was one of migrating to the USA, working hard for very little money, being stigmatized and seen as an undesirable by the majority population.
The further I reflect on the movement of God among the Roma the more I come to see that God is putting seemingly random puzzle pieces that don’t seem to fit.  But the more they come together the more I see a beautiful, multi-cultural, multi-generational picture that is not bound by geography, culture, or man’s lack of imagination.  It is a beautiful picture and I feel privileged to be a witness to its’ creation.  EFCA ReachGlobal is helping GCCI to mobilize the Chinese church to work among the Roma in Europe.  But just as the Chinese have been uniquely equipped to work with the Roma in Europe, other churches around the world have also been uniquely equipped.  For now I will leave you with 3 recent quotes about God’s work among the Roma in Europe and the video of the Roma for the Nations conference.  Or we can continue the dialogue.  And if you are interested in finding out more, check out ReachGlobal Mission Needs or write  EuropeCatalyst@efca.org

“All of this conference, this convention, was started by Chinese because they felt a burden for the Roma people.  So that’s kind of the “foolishness of God” because in the world it doesn’t go together. You know, the Chinese and Roma people.  You know, how is that possible?   But God is just, in his wisdom God is just pouring out His love into Chinese hearts.”  Misha Bakic (Serbia)

“I am amazed at Chinese people having burdens for the Gypsies.  It’s wonderful!  It’s a miracle!” Rene Zanellato (France)

“We pray that all Roma will turn to Christ and become soldiers of the cross.  Hallelujah! May God’s will be done!”  Dr. Thomas Wang-Great Commission Center International

                 Roma For The Nations Conference Video

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Visit With the International King of the Gypsies

Warm Hospitality

I must admit to being a bit overwhelmed when I first walked into the palace of the “International King of the Gypsies” in Sibiu, Romania.  The contrast between the poverty in the Gypsy villages where I had been the last 3 days and the wealth of this palace was quite stark. We walked into the communal living area where there was a living room with a TV and a long banquet table.  The aquarium stocked with exotic fish was topped with what looked like a brass crown.  But the family’s warm welcome and abundant hospitality, along with their energetic story-telling and genuine care for the Roma people won me over quickly. We met his wife, his sister, his children, and saw one of the twin grand-children.  Adults, teenagers, and children constantly passed through the room, some stopping to say hi, some just heading upstairs.  Conversation at the table covered a wide range of topics.  Dorin told about a bet that he had made with a local TV newscaster that he could lose a certain amount of weight.  If he won, he would get to be the announcer on TV for one broadcast!  Luminata shared a commonly believed legend that the Roma are a “lost tribe of Israel”.  Dorin’s wife brought out a wonderful dessert (after a gourmet, 4-course meal) and stayed to talk with us.    Very early in the visit I sensed that this was a family that God wanted me and others to pray for.

How It Started

It all started a week earlier at the International Roma Consultation in Budapest, Hungary.  Luminita Cioaba, sister of the King and a well-known poet/author, was one of the participants. Her family’s standing in the Roma and Romanian community allow them to minister in a unique way and influence many Roma Christians. Because her church does many projects to help the Roma people she was invited to the conference.  Stops at her church and supper with the King were added to our adventurous mission trip agenda.  That day, we had already met several Roma pastors and been in very poor Roma villages.  Arriving 2 hours late (part of the adventure) for a worship service, we found out that the believers had stayed the whole time waiting for us.  We were warmly welcomed by Dorin and Luminita and the rest of the congregation.  Even two hours late, they still wanted us to speak and sing and then join them for supper.  

People of Influence

Our visit to the household started in Dorin’s office where we found out just how much influence he has.  There we learned that he is the the president of the International Romani Union. We also saw the courtroom where he presides as judge in local Roma matters. Dorin is a lawyer by profession.  (I would actually meet a Roma pastor later who, earlier in life, had stood before Dorin and received community service instead of jailtime.  He said that Dorin was a fair judge.) In his role Dorin has fought for inclusion of Roma in EU countries and been a loud voice of accountability in use of EU funds which he says have not been used wisely in many countries. 

A Call To Prayer

After supper, we had the opportunity to pray together and it was one of the most meaningful times of the trip for me.  I was able to share a word of encouragement with Dorin and his wife that seemed to resonate with something they had been praying about for a long time.  I left the house with a lot to process and a nagging question of how cooperative work could look like.  There were some theological differences that would be worth talking about and the kind of projects they were involved in were just a little different than I had imagined.  But one thing was sure.  I left convinced that this was a family of great influence among the people with whom I was called to love and work.  So I committed to praying for them regularly.

God is moving among the Roma in Europe.  ReachGlobal has city teams in Madrid, Sofia, Prague, Stockholm, and Bucharest that are working among the Roma.  Click here for OPPORTUNITIES TO SERVE or WRITE ME.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Fire of Revival in Romania

Pastor Florin, with red on his jacket, fields a question about the gypsy revival in Romania
"But how does it FEEL to share the gospel with other Gypsies?"  The question hung in the air as a room full of Gypsy pastors in Romania absorbed it.  This wasn't the normal methodological, missiological question that pastors are used to hearing, as evidenced by the long pause.  Jim Baker, my colleague, had bypassed the intellectual/volitional path that we are used to and was looking for a heart level answer. These pastors had been sharing the following stories (and more) about God's work and the rapid spread of the gospel in their area:

  • A dream that led a family to the church to be baptized.  
  • A village where 70% of the population was attends church and the subsequent closing of all the bars in the surrounding area.
  • A vision to preach the gospel in the non-Roma section of their villages.
Pastor Florin paused at the question and the translator asked if he understood.  "Yes, I understand."  After a short pause his eyes lit up and he continued, "It feels like a fire burning in me.  I can not NOT share the gospel.  People need to hear the good news and I must share it!"

He then continued to preach with energy (or descriptively "with fire") for several minutes about how the Gypsies needed to hear the gospel and the Romanians also needed to hear the gospel.  "Yes, they have treated us badly.  Yes, they have hated us and caused us great injustice but God tells us to love them and they need to hear the gospel.  God is the God of forgiveness and so we must be people who forgive."

Later we enjoyed a home cooked meal at his house and saw the fruit of the fire he was talking about.  He is building a church for the 60 members in one village where they will house a school for 30 kids who are served in an after school tutoring program.  They have plans for similar building projects in two other villages.  In one of the villages the local witch doctor lives next door to their land and daily throws garbage on the property while speaking curses.  One of the highlights of this trip was praying with local believers on the site of this land.  I can honestly say that I felt "the fire" that Pastor Florin was talking about manifested in a deep desire to see God's glory shining in this village where people were enslaved by the occult.  

Meeting with Pastor Florin, hearing his vision for ministry, and experiencing he "fire that burns within". has changed me.  It has caused me to ask myself why the fire that compels him to share the gospel sometimes seems more like an ember within me.  It has caused me to be in awe of the depth of forgiveness which I hear from the Gypsies who are forgiving those who have hurt them because they want to share the gospel with them.  It has caused me to wonder why God has chosen one of the most persecuted, despised people with a tragic history to ignite the flame of revival in Europe. I don't have all the answers but I am sure of one thing.  God is at work among the Roma in Europe and I have a lot to learn from them.  I will be writing more stories of God's work among the Roma in Europe so stay tuned.  If you are interested in hearing how you can be involved, WRITE ME.    

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Question

"Was that God?"  This was the first thing that Alice, a Gypsy teenager, asked after leaders of the English Camp prayed with her in the middle of the night.  She had not been able to sleep because of anxiety and fear.  During the prayer time she felt, in her own words, "a peace and a calm that I have never felt before". After sharing that she lived in almost constant fear and was involved in occult practices, she said she wanted to live a life without fear and accepted Jesus as her savior and peace giver.  This was 13 years ago in our first year of working with the Roma Gypsies. We did not know at the time that the Lord was starting us on a path that would teach us greater dependence on Him, a boldness for sharing the Word in the power of the Spirit, and ultimately to our present role in ReachGlobal. 

During the last 13 years we have prayed with dozens of Roma in local ministry and in several eastern European countries.  We have heard this question voiced after prayer time over and over.  It came after concerted prayer for various addictions.  It came after prayer for family members who were suffering.  It came after prayer for a sick child who was healed.  A variation (Is that how God works?)  even came from 2 different Christian leaders who saw significant growth in ministry after a "call to prayer" went out and the American church got on its' knees.  "The Question" became so prevalent that we began to expect it after prayer times and smiled when it came! 

This path of learning has led us to a new role in ReachGlobal Europe directly supporting its' mission.  Although the role (and the team related to the role) will be "officially" announced after the new year, I have already been working in it.   After much discussion with ReachGlobal Europe leaders and others about the best place for this ministry, I will be part of a newly formed team of "catalysts" at the Europe level.  I will be available to work with city teams and our strategic partners in Europe to mobilize prayer and Gospel impact among Europe's most marginalized people. This, of course, includes the Roma but also victims of human trafficking and others.  We are looking forward to the challenge and seeing how God works through the new role.  Wouldn't it be great if hundreds or thousands more in Europe asked, "Was that God?" after His people prayed in faith according to the Word and saw answers?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Reverse Culture Shock

Yesterday I stopped by the local hardware store here in Indiana to pick up a few things.  Every time I walk into a hardware store, I remember a classic language event from my time in the Czech Republic.  I was walking with a Czech pastor friend to the hardware store to pick up a few things.  We were having a deep, intelligent, theological discussion.  Continuing the conversation, we walked into the local hardware store without a break in conversation.  While we were still talking, the salesman asked what he could do for me.  I turned to him and confidently spoke up, "I am hanging some pictures on a concrete wall so I need some...(awkward pause as I realize I don't know the word for "anchors" in Czech) those little plastic things that go into the wall...then the screws go into it".  "Hmozdinky?", he said.  "Yes!", I said.  It was such a remarkable contrast between my aptitude in specialized work language and my hardware store language and I have told that story many times as an example of how long it takes to get to a "fluent" level of language even after you sound very professional to some people.

So fast forward 5 years to yesterday.  I was happy to go to a hardware store in a country where I was born and grew up.  Although I have never been known as a handyman, I can get some minor things done around the house.  When the salesman asked what I was looking for I confidently spoke up and said, "I need some 25x16x1 inch air filters for my (awkward pause as I realize I can only think of the Czech word "kotel" for furnace) you know, heater...gas run...with air ducts that heats my house." "Furnace?", he said.  "Yes!", I said. feeling quite inadequate and embarrassed.  I know the word "furnace".  It just didn't come as quickly as the Czech word and I think I got flustered because that's not supposed to happen in my "born and bred" home country.

A lot of things like this have tripped me up after living in the Czech Republic for 16 years and trying to adjust to life in the USA and I am sure there are still more to come...

Thursday, February 7, 2013

An Adult In Thailand

In the midst of a dizzying array of new sights, sounds, and experiences I am having in Thailand, one thing has really stuck out on this trip.  My son has grown up.  This may sound simplistic to you but think about this.  Matt moved to Thailand after high school graduation so I am seeing him live and work on his own for the first time.  It has struck me that I am watching him live out his OWN faith and navigating the world apart from our family unit.  It has been gratifying and produced a great amount of fatherly pride. 

I had the opportunity to minister side by side with him and Dora as he invited us to help teach family relationships in an English Club.  Our family has always had a high value on ministering together.  So from a young age, our kids have considered themselves just as much missionaries as Dora and I are.  Our kids have always joined in where they can with English camps, translating, and church planting work.  So to be joining Matt in HIS ministry was gratifying and emotional.  This is a young man who is making a difference in the world. 

So when my jetlag woke me up this morning at 4:00 AM, I found my thoughts wandering to the importance of living out faith in your family.  If the family unit contains the closest relationships you will have in your life, then living out your faith within that unit is arguably the most important thing you will do in your life.  If you are like me, that statement has produced, at times, a low level anxiety because of the incredible responsibility that gives me as a father and a husband.  But by the grace of God, in my fallen-ness and in spite of my many poor examples of how to live, my children have picked up some good things.  Fathers, continue to fight the good fight and live out your faith within the family!

5 Related Thoughts:

1) Faith lived out within your family is a powerful conduit for Christ-like transformation.
2) Faith lived out within your family is sometimes planned but most often expressed in regular, daily life.
3) It is only by God' grace that you can be a living witness of Christ in your family.
4) God's call looks different for each individual but transformation is a constant.
5) On a personal note, I am VERY proud of all my children.  I need to express this to them more often.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Prayer for Orphans

I can think of a hundred reasons why I shouldn't write this post today. All of them have to do with how this could be taken or how I will be seen when you read this. But I have been talking more and more lately about my "mystic" tendencies, so I will risk sharing this publicly. It is a true story about my encounter with God in prayer and an invitation to intercede for orphans in Haiti.

Last night we had a marvelous visit with an American family living temporarily in Prague. We were amazed at how many seemingly random connections we had. One of the biggest ones was that he and his family had served in Haiti after the earthquake. They had been at Operation Love The Children of Haiti, the orphanage where I visited in order to connect a Czech mission agency to short term work in Haiti. Furthermore, they are adopting a child who I remember interacting with (not talking with...I don't speak Creole.) This family has a real burden for this child because he is older, has been an orphan for a long time, and the process of adoption is taking so long. We spent time in intensive prayer for this boy and the speeding of the process of adoption.

So, with this on my mind and my heart, I was shocked to see a Facebook post from TouchGlobal about a different child who just died at the OLTCH orphanage. The story tells of one volunteer's grief and frustration at losing a child. I was very moved and fell quite naturally into intercessory prayer for the children and workers of this orphanage and others in Haiti. I had turned on an Internet radio station when I came into the study that was playing Christian music. I don't know when it cut off but sometime during my prayers, I noticed the overwhelming silence. In the long silence I felt the burden of intercession and what I can only name as God's grief over the orphans of Haiti and the families who will adopt them. After some time, I stood up from where I was sitting on the couch. At that moment, two things happened. First, I stood up into the sunlight streaming through the window and had to close my eyes because it was so bright. Second, the radio kicked on again and Jeremy Camp was singing these lines: "Power in hand speaking the Father's plan. You're sending us out, light in this broken land. We will overcome by the blood of the Lamb. And the word of our testimony, everyone overcome."

And the tears came. And I literally got on my knees to worship the Lord. And I met God in a deep way. And I felt compelled to write this testimony to His greatness, His ability to speak to his children, and His care for the widow and the orphan.

Can I ask you to take a moment and pray for the workers at OLTCH and other orphanages in Haiti, as well as the families going through the long, arduous, unpredictable process of adopting internationally?