28 July 2017

Mission Frontiers: The Roma

Several months ago I was asked to consider contributing to a Roma-focused edition of Mission Frontiers.  Of course I took the opportunity to share some insights from our ministry.  The July-August 2017 issue is now out and focuses on ministry with Roma from a variety of perspectives.  You can read the whole set of articles here:  Mission Frontiers


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

video
http://www.cbf.net/ogm/