09 June 2017

How God Opened Doors

This week I, Shane, have been in Sofia, Bulgaria meeting with the Freedom and Justice Core Group of the European Baptist Federation.  I am a member of the Group related to Roma ministry as well as Freedom of Religion or Belief for All.  This meeting was hosted by Didi Oprenova, co-pastor along with her husband Teodor of First Baptist Church - Sofia.  On Thursday as we drove north from Sofia to the port city of Lom on the Danube river.  We went to visit what we were told was the first Roma church in Europe, perhaps even the world, which is in Lom.  The previous post is about it.  But along the way, Didi shared another story I want to pass along.
Sofia Baptist Church's new building today
In the 1980's, under intense persecution by the Communist government, the Sofia Baptist church's pastor was replaced by the Secret Police.  Already all of the regular preachers had been either jailed or forced to sign a promise not to preach any longer.  The installation of a false-preacher was the final straw for many in the church.  Though some continued to attend the services out of fear, suddenly Sofia Baptist Church was mostly empty.  The Communists had effectively shut the doors to the church.  This crisis was when God opened many other doors of ministry.

Teodor's grandfather was an evangelist.  He did not care about the threats from the Secret Police when he was caught distributing New Testaments or brochures about about the faith.  He kept bearing witness to Jesus Christ no matter what.  He visited a local hospital, where he knew he could find people he could share with.  On one visit, he shared with a Roma woman who was there with a young girl who was not growing as she should.  They prayed together and the woman invited Teodor's grandfather to come visit her town of Berkovitsa.
Berkovitsa Baptist Church
One early Sunday morning, the believers who were not interested in being at the church with the false-preacher left to go visit a small church in the north of the country.  When they drove near Berkovitsa, they decided to stop and visit the woman from the hospital.  She was so excited to have her early-morning guests, she asked them to sit down and she would return in a moment.  Twenty minutes later she returns with many of her neighbors and asked the displaced Baptists to share the Good News of Jesus with them all.  This was the beginning of the Baptist Church in Berkovitsa.

Hygiene center the city mayor required the church to build in exchange for the property where the church building now stand
During these difficult years of persecution when the group of traveling Baptists were going out from Sofia to encourage others, ten churches, mostly Roma, were planted.  Today across these parts of Bulgaria and especially in those ten churches, the early morning visits, late night counselling sessions, and long trips across the mountains are celebrated as a time when God was really doing something incredible.  Sometimes difficult situations are looked back upon as blessings.

First Church of its Kind

In Lom, Bulgaria, in a part of town where "everyone has heard the Gospel, and we're to blame" there is an unassuming building that houses what I was  told is "the first Roma church in Europe and probably even the world!"  The words of the church's current pastor and the description of the church from my friend, Didi Oprenova, were the beginning of a wonderful time of sharing and hearing testimonies in this church.
Sharing a testimony of faith, sorrow, and joy!
Though details differ, the story of the beginning of the church includes an illiterate Roma man who stole a Bible (some stories say that it was from a Baptist colporteur) because he thought the gilded pages of the Bible were real gold!  Further details vary from this point, but all the stories re-converge at the point when the Roma man hears the message contained in the book of gold he had stolen, repents, and becomes a believer.  Others in his area also became believers as he began to share the Good News with them.  Then, in the early 1900's, a church for Roma was established.
First (Roma) Baptist Church - Lom, BG

During a recent meeting in Sofia of the European Baptist Federation's Freedom and Justice Core Group, the members of the Group visited two of Lom's Baptist churches including the first of its kind Roma church.
Core Group, 2 pastors of 2 Lom Roma Baptist churches and a few members

05 June 2017

What does the OGM mean to you?

Nothing like interrupting a quick lunch to ask "What does the OGM (Offering for Global Missions) mean to you?" #OGMImpact


02 June 2017

Team Devotion

We chose #OGMImpact and have asked our church-related short-term ministry teams to use it when they post things on social media.  The importance and impact of the Offering for Global Missions is found not so much in budgets, but in the lives of real people who minister and whose lives are impacted by that ministry.  

Drew Kingery, member of CBF Heartland's short-term ministry team serving in Va┼żec, Slovakia this week beautifully captures in words the picture of #OGMImpact.

Devotional May 31, 2017

Harold asked me to do the devotional while in Vienna.  He said to do it on what we experienced or what we saw.  Not exactly an easy thing to do.  I have picked four bible stories to go with four things that we have experienced thus far this week.  I am not sure if the Bible stories fit perfectly but we shall see.

Mathew 19: 13-15
Adam, Katy, Natalia, Nicholas, Robo, Martin, Samo, Andrea, Kafka, Nicholas, Paulo, Alexandrea, Alena, Robo, Davie.  

Each morning we go to the school and each morning we are greeted with smiling faces and unsure looks.  But each morning a barrier is broken and we share thoughts and smiles with kids that we don't know well but know better after each session.  They see us in the hall and greet us with "Hello!!"  They are the future of their world.  

Mathew 25:  31-40
Janko, Linka, Milan, Samson, Koloman, Youshko, Rosa lea, Lupka, Deanna.

These children are at the bottom of the social ladder.  Their housing is sub standard.  They are looked down upon.  They are deprived of basic human needs.  We see them at the school and the Samuel Center.  They have never ending smiles and energy.  They are in constant motion.  They seem to want to learn everything and can't wait there turn to be next in line.  They cheered each other on during the sack race.  They do everything in a big hurry.  

Acts 2
Johnny(Walker), Janko, Martin, Daniel, Maia, Ellen, Alaina, Anna, Danka, Kavitka

We went to the Lutheran church on Monday night and met with Daniel and some men from the surrounding villages.  Harold presented a different aspect to the story of David and Goliath.  Shane was the interpreter.  We went around the table introducing ourselves and telling a bit about each of us.  Even though we spoke different languages we were together in spirit and worship.  This evening we meet with the "AARP" group at the community center.  Here we took turns singing songs in our own languages, and enjoying Harold's accordion playing, laughing and joking with one another.  Once again we were speaking different languages but we were together with spirit.

Luke 10: 31
Danka and Ava

Yesterday a Roma family came to the Samuel center.  The man had an injured hand.  It was bleeding pretty bad.  It did not matter to Ava or Danka that he was Roma or not.  They treated his injury and they went on their way.  To the best of my knowledge with no questions asked or payment given.

This is our first visit here.  We didn't know what to expect.  We have found it very fulfilling, enjoyable and a blessing.  As some people say sometimes we get more out of an experience than the ones we are helping.  We may not know our full impact but we have been given the grace to be a part of God's work.