Can Ministry to the Least-Loved lead to Church Multiplication?

That’s one of the questions our team considered during our week at ReachGlobal’s Church Planting Institute in Slovenia last month. To give a more specific illustration: Can there be a clear line of sight from serving people with terminal illnesses to our ultimate vision of multiplying transformational churches among all peoples? We left the conference knowing that the answer is “yes.” It is true that we can serve the needy in a way that has no impact on church planting, but under the guidance of the Holy Spirit any act of service can lead down a path that not only builds up but also multiplies the church.

This truth was confirmed the following week as we hosted a gathering of missionaries from 11 countries here in Bucharest. Most work among Muslims. Our subject was “Disciple-Making Movements.” Over the course of the week we learned a simple approach to discipleship which turns our daily interactions and relationships into great opportunities to plant seeds for multiplying disciples and even churches.

One key to multiplying churches is having a simple definition of church that eliminates all the aspects we’ve added on over the centuries, stripping it down the meaning Jesus intended when He said, “I will build My church.” At the heart of the Biblical definition is worship, prayer, Scripture, obedience and evangelism all focused on Jesus through the work of the Spirit. We practiced a Bible study method that plants the seed of all these elements right from the first meeting. The cool thing is that this type of study requires very little advanced preparation and can be led (and passed on!) by a team member who is working with a group of disabled people, abandoned children, a survivor of trafficking or just the neighbor next door. Praise God that we can all be part of His amazing work in growing His church!

 

Bad People Make Good Soil

It was just getting dark in one of Bucharest’s poorest neighborhoods as we walked down the street heading toward a place of ministry. Up ahead I saw a gang of sketchy-looking young guys and thought we better hurry past them and not draw attention to ourselves. Our teammate, Shannon, and her friend Ana Maria were leading me to a place where they had formed some connections with mothers and children. To my alarm, instead of hurrying passed the dubious group, my two companions turned right toward them and asked how they were doing! I was too surprised to join in the greetings and slunk past to a crowd of children just beyond. We had reached our destination. It wasn’t a safe-looking outreach in a building with an organized program, but a large alley hemmed in between two run-down apartments, and brimming with people. The children came streaming toward Ana Maria and Shannon to give them big hugs.

Once my heart rate slowed down, I joined in the conversations. Within 10 minutes I met Alin and Elena, a couple in their teens who I ended up hanging out with for the rest of our time there. Once they learned I was a believer they asked question after question about the Lord. I hadn’t met someone so interested in talking about God in a long time. We read the story of the calming of the storm and they were able to see a clear application in their life. They need Jesus to calm some of their stormy relationships. They asked if I could bring them a Bible on my next visit. I hope to see them again soon and teach them how they can use the New Testament I give them to led a discovery Bible study with their families.

It was pitch black by the time we left and I thanked the Lord for reminding me that sometimes we need each other to overcome our fears and reach the people who are most hungry to hear the truth. Even if it feels a bit embarrassing to learn a lesson on courage from younger female co-workers, I’m just happy that God’s patient in showing my truth. Let’s don’t hurry past “bad people.” Their hearts are often the most fertile soil for the Gospel.

Mary and Martha Luke 10:38-42

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Five short verses in Luke 10 tell us the ageless story of Mary and Martha. It is such a brief passage, yet contains so many layers of meaning and application that we can never get to the bottom of it. Notice that Martha was seeing the situation that day in black and white. Either you do your share of the work or you are lazy and selfish. Seeing only those two alternatives Martha missed the “full color” world of devotion to Jesus in which Mary was basking. Oftentimes, we find ourselves stewing like Martha over the way someone close to us is acting. We set up the familiar black and white dichotomy, rehearsing arguments that prove how wrong they are. God gets pushed out of the picture altogether. Yet, He is there beckoning all of us to drop our guard and see the deeper heart issues involved. Listen for His voice inviting us into the vivid color world of devotion.

First Week in our new simple church

Last Saturday night Jorge, Virginia and their children were late getting home. They were especially eager to arrive and make some quick preparations for Sunday morning, which was to be the first meeting or our new church. So, their hearts sank when their key wouldn’t open the door. They knew immediately what the problem was. If you leave a key in the keyhole on the inside of the door, then a key from the outside will not turn and open the lock, no matter how much you jiggle or pound on the door. After trying for a several minutes they turned to the Lord and asked Him to help. Immediately Virginia saw the image of a bobby pin in her mind. She realized that would be the perfect tool to push the key out the other side, but they would need one without the little nob on the end to be able to slide through to the back of the key hole. They were considering going to ask the neighbors for one, when Jorge looked down at his feet and saw something small in the dark hallway. He bent over to pick up a bobby pin, and not only a bobby pin, but one that was missing a nob on one end! They were stunned. It took another 20 minutes of work but then they heard the key fall and the heavy metal door swung open.

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This is the bobby pin Jorge found… notice the missing tip!

Once inside they knelt with their children, Eliza and Filipe and thanked God for not only getting them inside, but also reminding them that He works through the simplest smallest tools to open locked doors. During the prayer Filipe said he opened his eyes and saw angels at the window! The next morning at church we asked God to use the simplicity of our new approach to touch many lives in Bucharest and to open doors into corners of this city which have no Gospel witness.

Our first meal together as a church! Jorge was our photographer  :-)

Our first meal together as a church! Jorge was our photographer 🙂

“Why is small so big? Small does not cost a lot. Small is easy to reproduce. Small is more easily changed and exchanged. Small is mobile. Small is harder to stop. Small is intimate. Small is simple. Small infiltrates easier. Small is something people can do. Big does not do any of these things. We can change the world more quickly by becoming smaller in our strategy.” Neil Cole from Church 3.0

A Bluer Sky

In September 2011 Jen was entering her second year as interim director at Bucharest Christian Academy (BCA). God had just led us to a nice temporary facility that allowed us to save thousands on rent as we completed our school building project. Nevertheless, the budget was very tight and we needed more students to supply the necessary funds. Also, as of July, our ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers, Emily and Johanna, didn’t have any students signed-up. God answered both Emily and Johanna’s prayers, along our prayers (we remember that some of you were part of this!) in a wonderful way just a day or two before the year started. In walked a group of Chinese parents with their children- 5 new ESL students to give us a total of 7 children in that program.

Among the young people who arrived that day were Chen Lin and Sunny. As these new students learned English, they also experience the loving Christian environment at BCA. They heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and God began working in their hearts. Over these two years both Chen Lin and Sunny repented of their sins and believed in Jesus. Last year, Sunny’s brother Hao Hao joined her at BCA. Just a few days ago he announced on Facebook that he has become a follower of Christ, as well! He wrote that the sky seems bluer and the trees greener today. When God transforms our hearts, everything around us becomes new. Hao Hao seemed to be quoting one of Jen’s favorite hymns:

Heav’n above is softer blue, earth around is sweeter green!

Something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen:

Birds with gladder songs o’er flow, Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,

Since I know, as now I know, I am His and He is mine.

(from I am His and He is Mine by George W. Robinson)

It’s a new school year with new challenges. Tony Barbusca, our director, is facing similar financial pressure to the beginning of the 2011 school year. And guess what happened!? The week before school started we were delighted to see a new group of Chinese students arrive, bringing with them a financial blessing to the school and much more importantly, the opportunity for our staff and students to live out and share the the Good News of salvation.  Join us in praying for more stories of transformed lives.

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BCA students and teachers enjoy a children’s display

A Different Kind of Summer Camp…

“For I came not to call the righteous but sinners” Matt 9:12

“You’re ugly!” “Your breath stinks!” “You’re fat.” That’s some of the interaction I heard between the teenage girls attending camp Living Water last week. Mixed in were all sorts of comments that I shouldn’t quote here, even if I knew how to translate them accurately. It was a challenging week, as we tried to influence, convince and at times coerce these young ladies to join in various camp activities. They’d be enjoying themselves for a time and then things would unravel. At one point Jen had to get Cami, the camp director, to intervene when some of them had decided to go topless at the trampoline. To say the least it wasn’t your ordinary camp.

Shock was our first reaction to their rude, outrageous behavior toward one another and camp staff. But, another perspective emerged, as we began to hear their stories. Abandoned by their parents, most have been abused from an early age at the state orphanage and eventually prosituted. Many have gotten pregnant and been forced by the authorities to have abortions. All this has taken place before any of them has reached 18-years-old. Several are presently in their early teens. Knowing this harsh reality, their behavior became much easier to understand. But what hope can a person of that background possibly have?

The Bible lessons at camp came from Psalm 139 and the life of David. I could see in their faces that they fully identified with David… the least likely to be chosen among his brothers, the victim of Saul’s vicious attacks, and the sinner who had fallen beyond hope. What good news for people like David, like these girls, like us—that Jesus did not come to earth for the righteous, but for sinners. He didn’t come for the healthy, but for the sick. That is Good News!

Each evening, Costi, a young Romanian man spoke about the Lord and how in His eyes each of them is special. Some girls acted up during his first few talks, while others listened intently. As the week went on, he told them the surprising news that he had grown up in the same orphanage where some of them had lived. Now he has a beautiful family and joy in life all thanks to the work of Christ. His life has been transformed. That got their attention. On the last night as he shared the Gospel there was absolute silence, eyes filled with tears and the young people crowded around him as he finished the message. Thanks to Jesus’ love, there is hope for the hopeless and a ray of light that shines into the deepest pit.   

The camp is beautiful! Here’s a picture from a week when they had younger kids there.ImageDave with Maria

ImageLexi (Emma’s friend) and Emma with Lucia

Resurrection Joy in the Darkness

Fundeni Hospital can be a grim place. It’s an imposing, gray complex of buildings on the east side of Bucharest, where many cancer patients go for treatment. Sadly, most of the people I have visited there over the last 10-15 years, passed away within a short period. One friend from our church in Craiova was coerced by her doctor at the hospital to pay large sums of money to have a malignant tumor removed. Praise God that she is doing well now, but the whole experience left me with a bitter taste concerning Fundeni. I remember once walking through one of the halls at Fundeni seeing crowds of sick patients and their family members trying to get into a small room where information on testing was being handed out. They were treated rudely adding additional pain to the trauma they were already facing. Why do places like this have to exist? Sometimes, walking those halls I’ve felt a deep hopeless that seems to emanate from the place.

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Still, God’s light shines in the darkness! On our most recent flight from the US to Romania we brought a package for Jeremy, a young missionary who we had not previously met. When he came to our house to pick up the box, he also told us about a “play room” that he had helped start at the Fundeni hospital. I was intrigued and went to check the place out. To my surprise I discovered a bright cheerful room where children undergoing cancer treatment come to play, do crafts and hear Bible stories every day of the week! I was shocked to see such a joyful oasis in the middle of those hopeless surroundings. When we heard that the grammar school teachers at BCA were organizing an Easter outreach (Orthodox Easter is May 5th), Jen told them about the Fundeni Play Room.

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God provided some wonderful resources for the outreach. A church in the US sent 35 colorful pillows that had been hugged by their children. These were added to gift bags for the patients along with a Children’s Bible, the Jesus Film, food and some other surprises. The BCA children worked hard to learn two Romanian Easter songs and prepare crafts. The highlight of the time was when our children opened plastic Easter eggs to tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Romanian children and their parents crowded around to see what was in each egg. When Claudia, our story teller, got to the last egg she told them that the contents represented Jesus rising from the dead. They all started guessing what might be inside, but no one could figure out. When the BCA kids opened the eggs to show that they were empty because there is no one in the tomb and Jesus is alive, spontaneous applause broke out. Everyone in that room of Fundeni hospital was smiling and rejoicing that Jesus has conquered the grave.

Christ is risen! And that is good news to everyone. It penetrates to the darkest corners of this world!

Dave