E-book: God's Bulgarian tapestry (Part 12)

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by Howard Culbertson

Some West Coast threads

     Not all the North American threads in the Bulgarian tapestry came from the U.S. heartland. Some come from the West Coast. At least one was spun in San Diego. That one involves Dr. Nancy Hardison, business department head at Point Loma Nazarene University. An Episcopalian, Dr. Hardison developed a passion for getting business students interested in mission work. In the early 1990's Norm Shoemaker was Point Loma's spiritual development director. He had a special interest in mission work and thus encouraged Nancy's interest there.
     In 1993, Hermann Gschwandtner got Nancy to come as the featured speaker for small business seminars in Albania, Bulgaria and Romania. As part of the trip she had planned to look for opportunities to take Point Loma students to Eastern Europe for a business and missions trip. Former communist countries like Albania, Bulgaria and Romania were struggling to make enormous economic changes. For decades their economies had been centrally planned. When communism collapsed, they began moving to a free enterprise system that was consumer oriented and market driven.
     Few of the Bulgarians that came to Nancy's seminars were born-again believers. They came because they wanted to know how to run small businesses. However, discussions wound up ranging far beyond profit and loss issues. Participants expressed deep concern about the countries' moral and ethical plight. When the Bulgarians heard Hermann Gschwandtner talk about the Church of the Nazarene, they begged him to come plant that kind of church.
     Riding around Bulgaria that summer with Nancy Hardison and Hermann Gschwandtner was a young accountant. Mark Ogden was a graduate of Northwest Nazarene University. In Bulgaria, he and Nancy and Hermann were chauffeured around by a doctor who, they say, would have made a great chariot race driver. Mark talks vividly about his white knuckles as he gripped the car's arm rest. Between terrifying automobile rides, he became gripped by a vision of what the gospel could do to Bulgaria.
     Feeling a strong pull to Bulgaria, Mark went home to talk with his wife and two young daughters. He and Hermann stayed in touch. Months later, the church began gearing up to send the first volunteers to Bulgaria. Mark and Cari Ogden agreed to join the team (along with their two small daughters). For most of the two years the Ogdens spent in Bulgaria, Mark was team leader. It was he who led the volunteers through their initial pioneering time.
     Mark Ogden is not from the West Coast; his roots are in Missouri. However, had it not been for Nancy Hardison's burden for seeing business-trained missionaries, Europe, it's likely Mark and Cari would not have gone to eastern Europe. So, the Ogdens ministry to Bulgaria is the result of a West Coast thread.
     After those summer seminars, Dr. Hardison's burden for Eastern Europe continued to grow. She saw information on 1994-95 Fulbright teaching fellowships in Albania. One opening was for a business instructor. Nancy applied with the understanding that Point Loma would give her a leave of absence to do it. She saw that Albania also had a Fulbright opening in teaching medicine. Nancy's husband was qualified to fill that position. So, he applied for that one.
     It was unusual for a husband and wife to apply for Fulbright fellowships in the same country in the same year, but the Hardisons did. And they were both accepted. Thus, they arrived in Albania about the same time the first volunteers landed in Bulgaria.
     The group in Bulgaria went through five weeks of intensive language study. Then, they were ready to try to launch into ministry. The question was: where to begin? At that point, Hermann Gschwandtner asked Nancy Hardison if she could come up to Bulgaria. He wanted her to lead a two-day organizational retreat for these first volunteers. The volunteers were raring to get going with their newly-registered Institute for Total Encouragement. Hermann wanted them to get off to the best start possible.
     The Hardisons flew up to Sofia from Albania. Hermann Gschwandtner came in from Germany. For the planning retreat, they and the team of volunteers went to Bankia, a little resort town. Up early in the morning, they took trolleys to Sofia's central train station. There, they caught a run-down commuter train out to Bankia. While the trains in Bulgaria run on time, they are all in need of refurbishing. This one was a prime example of that!
     For some reason, the little train didn't merit a place alongside a platform in Sofia's central station. To board it, people went to the end of one of the platforms. Then, they had to walk along the tracks on the concrete ties and gravel to where the train was waiting.
     In Bankia, the September air was crisp and cool. Everyone had their jackets on. Change was in the air! The leaves on the trees were turning colors. Some were even beginning to drop. The young people kicked up the leaves as they walked from the train station up to the little pensione where they would stay.
     Nancy led the team through some brainstorming on how to get started. She divided them into five groups according to their interests. Then, she asked them to visualize various programs that could be launched by their foundation. By the end of the retreat, the team had a plan to initiate programs in five areas:

     Nancy asked the team to verbalize their dreams about their year of service. Then, she had them assess what they could realistically accomplish given the available resources and personnel. On the last morning, she prodded the group with increasingly pointed questions:

     When the Bulgarian tapestry is finished, some of it will reflect the planning skills of a Point Loma Nazarene University business professor.
     There was another PLNU strand woven into the tapestry. Matt Robertson graduated from Point Loma with an English degree. The first year or two out of college he floundered around somewhat aimlessly. Then, Matt began sensing a desire to take the gospel to eastern Europe. After hearing Hermann Gschwandtner in Centralia, Washington, Matt Robertson volunteered to go where Hermann needed him. So, Matt joined the Bulgaria experiment. Unlike most of the other single volunteers, Matt committed himself for two years. Then, as it turned out, he was the first Nazarene volunteer to set foot in Bulgaria. Arriving in early May, he made the first contacts and found apartments for the team.
     In his two years in Bulgaria, Matt Robertson organized and led the English teaching program. In the summer between his first and second year, Matt returned to the U.S. to marry Shela Schwanz. She was an MK, a missionary kid who had grown up in Haiti. After Matt's second year in Bulgaria, the two of them moved to Hungary to pioneer Nazarene work there.
     Still another western U.S. strand was Jim Zink. In his 40's, Jim was on the pastoral staff of Nazarene church in Enumclaw, Washington. Earlier, when he was teaching school, Jim had accumulated a small retirement fund. To join the thrust into Bulgaria, Jim took a leave of absence from the church and cashed in his retirement fund.
     Seeing how God led Jim's life adds richness to this tapestry. A few years ago Jim felt led to take a leave of absence from his work. He went back to college to get a degree in Third World microeconomics. He did not know it then, but that would be exactly the background needed in Bulgaria with the team's economic development thrusts. Jim fell in love with the helping street vendors -- the smallest of the small businesses. His concern for lowly street vendors put a very human face on the team's plan to help Bulgarian entrepreneurs.
     Jim Zink also turned out to be the computer whiz for the first year's group. He went through all the hassles to get on-line and establish E-mail connections with the U.S. He spent frustrating hours trying to get modern computers to work with Sofia's antiquated phone system. Because he succeeded, he became the group's "mailman" during the first year.
     It would be overstating the case to say the Bulgarian tapestry has a West Coast look. Still, there are some West Coast strands that have contributed greatly to it.. . . [ continue reading ]

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A very weak thread

Next chapterA teen-age Philip Rodebush came home from the 1989 Nazarene General Assembly in Indianapolis saying: "I've found the girl I'm going to marry.". . . [ read more ]

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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658
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