Trip 38 / Entry 36 / The Last Day of Mnistry

Sunday, June 8, 2014

1,300 nights on the road

Perhaps some of you wonder why I go to this trouble of writing 36 blogs over a period of seven weeks? There are a variety of reasons but probably the most important might be this, it is a way of document my missionary journey. I doubt if anyone will care once I am dead and gone but for me it is quite interesting to have this history now documented over eight years or more in some 470 small vignettes likely been missing from my bed for at least 1,300 nights over the last thirteen years so this all stretches into quite a story for a boy from small town Oklahoma and Kansas.

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Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano

I wound up the seven weeks on the road in my home church in Europe where I have such old and good friends. This morning we had an attendance of around one hundred twenty or so in the sanctuary, so altogether, there were probably 150 in attendance when the children are added.

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This church has pretty much what it needs from parking to sanctuary and classroom space. It also has the advantage of good music and leadership. I mostly just sit back and enjoy it all until it comes my turn.

IMG_3239Today, I preached a message I have been carrying with me (something I think folks need to hear), “Disappointment with God.” What’s the meaning of disappointment? What does God have in mind by putting his people through it?

It all went well and I gave no real altar call but it almost always turns out people came for prayer for various needs and this morning two couples who happened to attend for the first time came with the intention of serving God in this church. There were several others. I love the openness of Latin people. It is so difficult to move a comfortable American by any appeal. 

 

Trip 38 / Entry 35 / Fidenza Outreach

Since I was to be picked up in Parma at four for a new church street project outreach in Fidenza we went back to Parma in time for a short rest and getting picked up by Francesco. Off we went.

It was a terribly hot in the afternoon without a breath of air when we arrived in Fidenza at about five-thirty. We parked and walked the four blocks to the city center where there was a festival. In Italy almost anything that features a balloon is called a feste.

Fidenza

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It wasn’t hard to find our outreach team. There were about fifteen young people from various nations gathered in a loose circle enthusiastically singing to the sound of a strummed guitar and another fellow beating on something that served as a drum.

The Brazilians

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10296994_733365286686696_4521078741189322577_n (1)Almost ten years ago I made about three subsequent visits to Portugal where I connected with Brazilian, Free Methodist missionaries to Portugal, Cindi and Eduardo. They had now come from Lisbon, Portugal to Italy and Parma, renewed acquaintance and be introduced to the Gruppo Cristiano Latino Americano leadership. Two new Brazilian workers who feel called to Italy, Moses and his wife, Jacione have been in Portugal establishing EU residency for this very purpose. Ten years haven’t seemed to make much difference in Cindi and Eduardo and to me they looked the same as when I left them. They also brought along another pastor, Cida whom I had met but frankly, hadn’t come to know because of the limitation of language for both me and her.

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After so many years we enjoyed reconnecting and promised to talk more on Sunday when we would have more time to socialize but for now we had to go to a service where I would preach.

IMG_3212The evening was shared by a band from Brecia that had come down to help. Even in the heat, they certainly held the attention of the audience with lively music interspersed with testimony and videos.

Trip 38 / Entry 15 / Kobarid, Slovenia

Saturday, May 3, 2014

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The Zelenaks and Kelleys

Later the same day we made a drive of about twenty minutes to the home of the Kelleys’, missionaries from Texas with the Southern Baptists International Missions Board. They come from Texas and have been in this area of Slovenia for eleven years, spending the first seven in Siberia. Now fully settled and mostly integrated into the community they are involved in a variety of mission activities. You can find Joe and Kim on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheGreatXchange/info   He describes his invitational sports ministry in the following way, “We facilitate spiritually and physically challenging and eternally rewarding volunteer mission experiences that result in a lifestyle of cross-cultural disciple making and international church planting.” 

A more specific explanation can be found at their website http://sloveniagreatexchange.com/  

IMG_2244Joe showed us his bicycle shed where he has ten or more first class mountain bikes hanging from the rafter. Then in other places you find evidences of mountain climbing, kyacking, rafting and so forth.

So how does it work?

Joe and Kim do their passion and I am always of the opinion that if we do what we are wired for, we are less likely to burn out. These Texans are avid outdoors people so they invite volunteers who share the same passion to join them in sharing the gospel through acts of service and the printed word as they encounter villagers, and others in camp grounds or along the road. More often teams of seven Christians, primarily from the United States, come to Slovenia to join Joe in a variety of sports activities which includes biking through the Alps, hiking, mountain climbing or shooting the rapids.

They are a lovely couple and because I grew up in their “neck of the woods” we had an immediate affinity. If you have an interest in this sort of experience or mission I suggest you contact them and give this a week of your time. I doubt if you will be disappointed. This is a very beautiful and inspiring corner of the world that desperately needs the gospel.

 

 

Trip 38 / Entry 12 / Kobarid, Slovenia

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Outreach

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IMG_5039I was quite happy to see the room fill in some and by the advertised time of 7:30. the crowd was somewhat respectable considering most people consider any church other than Catholic a “sect” which actually means a cult and something to be avoided. Events of this nature are most often viewed suspiciously and shunned by the general society at large. Even though Andrej is a hometown boy and known by IMG_4964almost everyone, no one knows quite what to make of him. So, before we ever begin the cards are stacked against us. Almost no one knows of or has ever heard the gospel so it is quite foreign to the ears of almost everyone and sounds to all like a strange doctrine.

IMG_5105Nevertheless, Andrej and Lydja keep smiling and inviting folks to their Bible studies and events. Tonight we have mustered about twenty locals, some driving from as far away as one hour. Altogether, counting our team we have an audience of perhaps thirty.

The music starts with Andrej on guitar, Mateja on piano and Polona helping with vocals. The crowd does their best to sing and after four or five choruses I am introduced as the special speaker. With translation I spoke almost an hour on “Who Is the Real Jesus?” At first the congregation seemed impossible to connect with but soon with text opened up and lots of story telling, I had them listening and interacting. At the conclusion I offered Jesus with one person responding. To some of my readers, this may seem like nothing but you have no idea what a decision like this will cost a person. It is a huge undertaking and people must count the cost. Several others talked with me following the concluding prayer and wanted counsel and prayer.

IMG_5249 CROPDuring my message one little girl of about eight years listened to every word and I could tell that she understood in English. Following the meeting I enjoyed meeting her mom, dad and sister. We had a great deal in common since the Kelley’s come as Southern Baptist missionaries from Texas, a denomination and state I know well.

 

 

Trip 38 / Entry 10 / Osijek, Croatia

Tuesday to Thursday, April 29 – May 1, 2014

The Osijek Evangelical Theological Seminary

The Osijek Evangelical Theological Seminary

IMG_2044We arrived at The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Osijek, Croatia where Chris once interned at about five in the afternoon, registered for our rooms and took a short ride into the heart of the city. I would be preaching here on Wednesday evening at the one hundred year old Pentecostal Church that now meets in a former Jewish synagogue.

Vukovar 

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Abandoned

Abandoned

Wednesday morning Chris wanted to drive me some thirty minutes away to Vukovar where 2,000 local defenders held off 36,000 over a period of 87 days. In the end two thousand were killed, 800 went missing and 22,000 were exiled many never to return. Vukovar took the brunt of the fighting and the evidence of automatic rifle fire and shelling  is still everywhere. Many houses remain abandoned.

Osijek

Me, Pastor Damir and Pastor Chris Scobie

Me, Pastor Damir and Pastor Chris Scobie

Osijek Centro

Osijek Centro

We returned to Osijek in the early after noon, met Pastor Damir, had supper and I prepared to preach. There were about forty to fifty who were very receptive and thought they seemed “Slavickly” stern and unmoved at first but were soon laughing and enjoying the message. The message on “Disappointment with God,” is not a theologically light one, I put a few bits of humor which they livened up to and I happily discovered that they are a very hospitable audience.

Chris, Pastor Damir and I went out for dessert where I was given an open invitation to come anytime I like.

The Evangelical Theological Seminary

IMG_2062IMG_2064I was absolutely stunned by the amazing facility that house the students and faculty and remarked that, “Even in America, we rarely see a campus facility as first rate as this one.” Built with over 4.5 million American dollars there are three floors of administration and classrooms unrivaled by most other seminaries in all of southern Europe. The library is one of the best in the Balkan region. Nevertheless, this being said, it suffers for a lack of enrolled students. They are desperate for new, young, trained workers for church planting and leadership.

North Street Band become “buskers” in Parma, Italy…

Francesco had this idea that we should go out on the street, where the people were, do some music and then hand-out invitations to the Friday night concert. To be honest, we weren’t too sure about this. I had my doubts because when I have tried to hand out invites or tracts, I have been thoroughly turned aside. I think this partly has to do with my being a foreigner and people thinking that, something I might give them would be in English and therefore irrelevant. Nevertheless, since we are guests and committed to supporting the ground team, we decided to try it. At two in the afternoon on Thursday we met on Via Farini, an area where many small cafes reach off of the curb and into the streets under large canopies of umbrellas. Usually at lunch (12:30 to 3:30) hundreds of young Italians sit and stand having their glass of wine, beer along with a Panini or slice of pizza. Regrettably, on this day it was unusually quiet with less than thirty percent of what might normally be expected. In spite of this discouragement, Fred, Joel and Asher struck up the Johnny Cash tune, “Grey Stone Chapel” which arrested people in mid- bite or mid-sip. No one expected to hear what they were getting. While the band went from song to song we (Dave Tysoe, the drummer and I) as well as others handed out invitations to Friday nights’ concert at Teatro Toscanini.

Usually, almost all street ministry is unproductive and often counter-productive accomplishing the opposite of what you hope for. In this instance, this was not the case with people eagerly taking our invitational cards. On several occasions I had conversations with English speakers who expressed their appreciation for the sound and skill. When I told them what we were up to, several said they’d come and many of those promises were fulfilled. About fifteen people at the concert were people we met on Farini and Cavour Streets in the center of Parma. Poor Asher had to drag a double-  base from place to place but it proved to be well worth the effort.

Here, I would like to re-iterate what I have said in other places. In all of my years of street ministry in Italy, this was undoubtedly the best reception I have ever had.

Let me give a little final advice at this point. This would not have been nearly as successful with about ninety percent apparently expressing approval if the band had been less than terrific. This is one of the problems with American style street evangelism (mimes and music) in Italy and Europe. Americans do not yet understand that Europeans are culturally sophisticated and will not tolerate mimes that feature tee-shirts turned inside out as costumes and card board boxes with hearts painted on the side as props.

As important as the audience and message might be, we must buy credibility by doing our best at what we do. Any audience must have some reason to listen to us share our story. Europeans are suspicious of the Church, “Christianity” and religion. They come into the conversation already having a bad taste in their mouths. Creating confidence is the big challenge and few will care about the message unless the messenger is credible.

North Street Band arrives in England

Arriving at Gatwick

Arriving at Gatwick

If you’ve kept up with my blogs you will have, by now, heard of North Street Band from Perth, Ontario and my plans to bring them over for concerts in England, Italy and Slovenia. Planning and fund-raising for this took the better part of a year, so we were excited to see how things might unfold after all of the dreaming and preparation.

Pastor John and Daniel showed up at Gatwick to meet us while we waited together for the five to show up. We carefully watched people come and go until after an hour, out of the doors they came. For the young guys, this was their first international trip so they were “eyes wide open.”

After greeting and loading the mini-bus, off we went to Eltham where we would be serving Eltham Green Community Church for the next week.

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They took a day or so to bounce back from jet lag and then it was concert time. They performed three times. First, they performed in the open air on High Street with many of us handing out invitations to the concert on Friday night and Worship Party at the church on Sunday morning.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 460Eltham is tough ground. The community is riddled with social dysfunction. Many children come from broken, abusive homes. Some leave home early so there are many teenage mothers and girls living on social assistance. Public drunkenness is rampant.  Drop out rates are high and large numbers of young people are involved in delinquent activities. It is within the context of this chaos that Eltham Community Church tries to make a difference.

UK 09-06 to )9-25 541North Street went ahead as best they could and though attendance at the events were not as high as we had hoped, the band was well received everywhere they played.

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A performance hall was rented for Friday night . It was cold and raining when the band finally took the stage. This turned out to be a good event seeing that so many in the church had no idea of who the band was or the music they played.

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UK 09-06 to )9-25 673The church on Sunday morning was packed where the band played a worship concert and I preached the gospel.