One photo taken by the first Bulgarian volunteers shows Miles Zinn and a sleeping bear. That picture isn't a zoo photo where a moat and fence separate Miles from the bear. It wasn't taken in a circus tent. It was taken on a street in Sofia and Miles is right next to the bear. The big animal belonged to a gypsy couple. They used it to raise money (from people like Miles who paid for the privilege of taking the photo).
A favorite story of the first year's team also concerns a gypsy and his bear. It happened one day during a street car ride. Being on a street car was a common thing for them. Much of Sofia travels on those trolleys and the feeder bus system. A web of trolley tracks and their accompanying overhead wires crisscross Sofia. Looking at them, one could think that Sofia was caught in a giant spider web.
That day, several of the Nazarene volunteers were riding across Sofia. At one stop, they watched open-mouthed as a gypsy clambered on board pulling his bear with him! Apparently, bears aren't allowed on Sofia's mass transit system. The trolley driver came charging out of the forward compartment she had decorated with lace curtains and family photos. Storming to the back door, she ordered the gypsy and his bear off her tram.
Miles Zinn -- the young fellow in the photo with the bear -- Philip Rodebush, Todd Brant and Scot Riggins were close friends at Southern Nazarene University. The spring of their junior year, all four of them won elections to student government positions. That same year they made a promise to one another. None were ministerial students. However, they decided that, when they graduated, they would go together to some unevangelized people. There, they were spend at least a year sharing Christ. While SNU President Loren Gresham was already formulating his volunteer idea, he had not yet mentioned it to students. This was something they felt led to commit to by the Holy Spirit.
Miles and Philip already had short-term overseas experience. Both had been to Russia for a summer. One Christmas break, Philip went on SNU's annual Work and Witness trip to Mexico. During his senior year Miles took a missions course called "Perspectives on the World Christian Movement."
Around the time they covenanted with each other to give a year to evangelizing unreached peoples, the group of four made friends with Nick Konoenko. An ethnic Russian from Kazakhstan, Nick was a new foreign student at SNU. A former Soviet "republic," his country had become an independent nation when the USSR broke apart. The name itself, Kazakhstan, had an exciting sound to the four SNU students. So, the Kazakh people became the missions target for Miles, Philip, Scot and Todd.
Oil-rich Kazakhstan was an ideal target country in several ways. It is nominally Muslim, but fear of spirits is often stronger. Less than 1% of the Kazakhs are evangelical Christians.
When Southern Nazarene University took up Dr. Scott's challenge to adopt Bulgaria, it wanted to send its very best young people. There wasn't much time. It was already the middle of the school year and Hermann Gschwandtner wanted the volunteers in Bulgaria right after graduation. If young people like those four student leaders would go, the audacious experiment might succeed. It just might succeed.
Those four young men were approached about being among the first Mission Corps volunteers into Bulgaria. They said: "Well, that's great. We're excited for the church and the university, but we're headed to Kazakhstan."
President Loren Gresham entered the picture. He had been a coach. In 1981 he had led SNU men's basketball team to a national championship. He had to be able to give motivational speeches. That's what coaches do, isn't it? It should have easy for Loren to get those four young men to sign up for Bulgaria. One could imagine them listening to him, getting fired up and bursting out of his office. They would dash to the airport, buy tickets, and be in Sofia the next evening.
So, what did the former basketball coach do? He simply asked them to pray about it. There wasn't any painting of a vision on the canvas of their imagination. He didn't give anything resembling a rousing halftime speech. Days went by with no answer from the four. Anxiety levels mounted. Suppose those young men said "no" to Bulgaria. Would the project have to be postponed?
Finally, those four felt God saying: "Your friendship with Nick helped give you a tangible symbol of the unreached. Now it's time to move beyond a symbol. I want you to accept this challenge in Bulgaria!"
With Loren Gresham's help, God shifted those young men's gaze from that Kazakhstan's derricks and pipelines to a place producing a far different oil. East of Sofia, Bulgaria, rose blossoms cover the valleys. There, another kind of oil is produced: rose oil. Kazakhstan's oil comes out of the ground; Bulgaria's oil is made from rose petals. Kazakhstan's oil is measured in barrels; Bulgaria's rose oil the base for the world's most expensive perfumes is measured in grams.
When they had clearly prayed through about going to Bulgaria, they never looked back. That sure sense of a divine call steadied them through the problems encountered in pioneering in Bulgaria.
Recently, one of those four, Philip Rodebush, said to me: "It doesn't seem like we did much that first year."
In one sense, he was right. One thread may not seem like much to a huge tapestry. It's when all of the threads are put together that the marvelous and wonderful design emerges.. . . [ continue reading ]
|Knots don't look all that great in fine tapestries. So, weavers don't generally use broken threads. The Bulgarian tapestry is different in that respect. It has some broken threads in it. . . . [ read more ]|