16. The compassionate ministry thread
How have the volunteers begun Nazarene work in Bulgaria? Images of Jim Jones and David Koresh exploiting their followers made big news in Bulgaria. Scandals involving American televangelists did not go unnoticed. Those are the things Bulgarians think of when someone mentions Christians who are not Eastern Orthodox. It has not been easy overcoming such erroneous stereotypes.
In Bulgaria we have to show that born-again Christians are people who care deeply. We are fitted to do that. Nazarenes aren't into "excursion evangelism." We don't grandly go somewhere, make a big splash, report "thousands" of converts to supporters back home and move on. That's not our style. Indeed, our long term goals for Bulgaria center on planting loving, caring communities of Bulgarian believers. That will not happen overnight; it will take time.
A key to entering Bulgaria's open door was finding the way to offer that "cup of cold water" that Jesus mentioned. The team even came to see that compassionate ministry needed to be modeled for Bulgarian believers. They saw that they could be mentors in setting a tone for the future church in Bulgaria. So, early on, the team adopted a rule: If we cannot get young Bulgarians to join us in a particular compassionate ministry avenue, we will abandon that avenue and look for another one.
When the doors opened for Nazarenes in Bulgaria, Hermann Gschwandtner knew that open evangelism there had already become difficult. There were new freedoms. Still, evangelicals faced formidable problems in holding public worship services. As we've mentioned earlier, Hermann formulated a strategy built around a compassionate ministries foundation. As the denomination went into a country, it would register that foundation before attempting to register as a church. He used the term "Institute for Total Encouragement" as a title for those foundations.
That compassionate ministry thread has lots of different strands in it. Don Moore works with farmers wanting loans from international lending organizations. When communism took over, family farms were seized. The land was put into huge collective enterprises. Many of those families are now getting land back from the government. But they have no equipment with which to farm it. Nor do they know how to get loans to buy equipment. Don has helped several of these farmers successfully apply for loans.
The team ran on to an orphanage that desperately needed help. Their building needed considerable renovation and upgrading to its kitchen. If that work was not done, the government Health Department planned to close the orphanage. With the help of some Nazarene businessmen in the U.S., that kitchen was remodeled and the orphanage stayed open. Now the team has a regular ministry to those orphans.
Many of those orphan children were gypsies. Often despised by other Bulgarians, gypsy children are considered throwaways. Some have never sensed that anyone cared about them (much less, loved them). Such young girls will likely turn to prostitution with the boys becoming professional thieves. So they are desperately in need of loving, caring guidance. The Nazarene volunteers are determined to make a difference in those orphans' lives.
Nazarene Compassionate Ministries has shipped in a container or more of donated medical supplies. Bulgaria's hospitals are badly strapped financially, so this kind of help is badly needed. As those supplies have come through customs, the volunteers have discovered that some of them have been pilfered before they got them. The good news is that most of the medical supplies have been delivered to hospitals and put to use for needy people.
One ministry the team has had has been visiting elderly Bulgarians. To each home they took a sack of food. Each winter, several elderly people die in Sofia from malnutrition. When bad winter weather sets in, they sometimes do not get out and buy food. That first year, our group adopted about thirty of those couples or elderly singles.
One of those was a blind couple. The ministry to that couple began the day Don Moore saw a confused man in the middle of a busy street. Cars were honking at the confused man. Buses and trolleys were rumbling by uncomfortably close. Don ran out to the blind man and discovered that he was also quite deaf. Don got "Grandpa" Ivan safely back on the sidewalk. Then the Nazarene volunteers began visiting he and his wife regularly.
Another elderly lady with whom they made friends had a wood floor in her kitchen/dining area that had buckled upward. Amazingly, those floor boards were a foot higher in the middle than they were around the walls. Apparently moisture had swelled the flooring so much it no longer fit in the kitchen. The walls were unyielding masonry. So, the only place the swollen floor could go was up in the middle. It was an remarkable sight!
The elderly lady had no money to pay someone to fix her floor. So she had learned to live with the huge bulge. Then, to her surprise, one day several Nazarene volunteers showed up and went to work. They carefully dismantled the floor board by board. Then they pieced it back together flat on the concrete sub-floor (and, yes, there were a few boards left over!).
About one evening a week, the team plays basketball with Bulgarian young people. They had rent an old gym in which most of the lights did not work. That doesn't seem to matter. They race up and down the dimly-lit gym, laughing and shouting till they drop from exhaustion. On other evenings Bulgarian young people will come by the team's apartments. There, conversations often turn to the Bible and spiritual matters.
Will the gospel take root in Bulgaria? Yes. There will be all kinds of obstacles of mistrust. But the team has hit on a wonderful design for the Bulgarian tapestry.
The team came home from the Bankia planning retreat knowing they needed space for English and CPR classes. They began looking for something to rent. Everything they found in their price range needed extensive renovation. Other places were beautiful, but far too expensive. They were on the verge of giving up. Then, they came across a small four-room apartment that could be used as classroom and office space. That second-floor apartment was totally unfurnished. There was no furniture fund. So, at a team meeting they decided that each volunteer would buy one chair! Thus, they were in business. Classes started right away.
Scripture says: "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them" (Matthew 14:14). As the team has moved around Bulgaria, they've cheerfully offered a "cup of cold water." The part of the tapestry into which the Nazarenes are being woven clearly has a compassion motif! . . . [ continue reading ]
The tapestry's parental threads
|A first concern of prospective volunteers was about how their parents would react. Many have said: "What will my parents think? They're still reeling from my college costs. They think I should find a job right away. How can I convince them I should give my first year out of college to volunteer missionary work?" . . . [ read more ]|