3. Thread from empty spools
Not many years ago, evangelicals watched in horror at the menacing rise of communism. In the decades after World War II, communism was on the march. Taking over country after country, this atheistic political system looked invincible. When the communists moved in, doors slammed shut against Gospel preaching. One heard stories of Christians martyred for their faith in communist lands. The only possible missionary activity in the communist world was Bible smuggling and radio broadcasting. Other than that, missionary efforts had to center on the "free world."
A 1985 Nazarene General Assembly brochure listed twenty target countries. They were countries Nazarenes missions leaders wanted to enter in the following ten years. None of those countries listed was "behind" or east of the Iron Curtain. The reason was simple. No one was anticipating that, within five years, communism would collapse. When that did happen, doors that had been bolted shut for years unexpectedly burst open.
The 1993 Nazarene General Assembly and Conventions were held in Indianapolis' RCA Dome (formerly the Hoosier Dome). In that stadium setting, Nazarene joyfully celebrated the excitement of entering lots of new doors. As the missionary convention began, two streams of people flowed onto the main floor from behind the platform. They represented all the countries where there was Nazarene work. Marching in, they carried flags of those countries (including all 50 U.S. state flags). Some of the marchers wore traditional costumes from their home countries. It was a colorful ceremony and I had been asked to participate!
A practice session was held the night before that opening ceremony. With lots of people and props, the practice was somewhat chaotic. Adding to the confusion were the name tags attached to the flag stands. The stands stood in a long line down in front of the platform. Each one had a country or state label on it. So, each of us who were carrying a flag had to find the right place for our flag.
Amid the confusion and disorder of that practice, the narrator was practicing his script. It was a roll call of the nations represented by the flags. Suddenly, we heard him say: "Now, these are the flags of twenty new countries that were not here four years ago when we last met for General Missionary Convention."
Twenty new countries in four years. What a huge expansion in Nazarene missionary outreach! It was even more amazing since it occurred with no increase in career missionaries and only modest gains in missions giving. One of those years, World Evangelism Fund giving had even decreased a tiny percentage point.
That brings us to the anguish created by all those new opportunities. You see, we needed to keep doing even more, ever reaching into new areas. But, with resources already stretched thin, how could we? How could we do anything more? Had the resources stretched as far as they possibly go while still having some effectiveness? Certainly, God was the Master Weaver working on those the world outreach tapestries. Still, how could we keep entering new countries when World Evangelism Fund could not support more missionaries?
Remember the list of twenty countries that Nazarene regional leaders had targeted in 1985? We did enter twenty countries in the next eight years. However, we still had not begun work all of those originally targeted. In addition, Nazarene leaders were scrambling to take advantage of unanticipated opportunities in eastern Europe. One new open door was Bulgaria -- a Balkan nation dotted with ancient tombs, ruins of Roman spas, Byzantine monasteries and Turkish mosques.
At that point, the "missions resources" spool looked exhausted. In spite of that empty spool, however, God worked Nazarene threads into His Bulgarian tapestry. What He led the church to do has affirmed Kittie Suffield's song: "Little is much when God is in it!" When the missionary spool at Nazarene headquarters ran out of thread, God called forth volunteers. These people came up with their own threads of support.
In the first year of the Bulgarian experiment, Nazarenes spent only $3,000 of World Evangelism Fund money there. That's not much for a country where we had thirteen American adults and four children. One fear was that people would cut World Evangelism Fund giving to help these volunteers. That hasn't happened. The volunteers' support money has been "new" money. It hasn't been a case of "robbing Peter to pay Paul." Same churches even increased World Evangelism Fund giving after they got involved with the Bulgaria project.
Hermann Gschwandtner added up Nazarene investment for the first two years in Bulgaria. That included each volunteer's expenses, donated medical supplies, and gifts from individuals and churches for various ministries (including the orphanage project). The grand total came to nearly one million dollars. Just $3,000 of that was World Evangelism Fund! "Little" had indeed become "much."
This Bulgaria project is the test of a new idea. Besides utilizing Loren Gresham's young volunteers, the church has tested a low-risk way of pioneering new work. That experiment seems to have been a success. Bulgarian government officials speak very highly of what they have seen of Nazarenes. With their encouragement, the process of officially registering the Church of the Nazarene has begun.
The success in Bulgaria prompted the church to try the same strategy in Hungary. Matt Robertson was a key part of the first two years in Bulgaria. After the first year, he married. Now, he and Shela moved to neighboring Hungary. There, they are copying the Bulgaria strategy, using volunteers from Mount Vernon Nazarene College. Since then, the same strategy of using volunteers has been employed in Croatia and Slovenia.
They say you cannot get blood out of a turnip. Probably not. In 1994 the church faced an impossible blood-out-of-the-turnip situation with Bulgaria. However, God wanted Nazarene threads in His Bulgarian tapestry. It didn't stop Him when the spools of thread had been used up elsewhere. He found another way to get Nazarene threads into the Bulgarian design. . . . [ continue reading ]
Directors' threads in the tapestry
|Shaping this bold experiment were two men with "director" in their titles.. . . . [ read more ]|