by Howard Culbertson
4. Directors' threads
Suppose a Nazarene college all by itself had hatched the idea of opening new countries using only youthful volunteers. Mind you, such trail blazing without career missionaries hadn't been what Dr. Gresham originally envisioned. Still, let's suppose his original vision had been to open a new country with youthful volunteers. Would General Church leaders have felt comfortable embracing such an idea coming from and outsider? Probably not. The idea would have seemed too much of a departure from traditional and successful Nazarene strategy.
Fortunately, shaping this bold experiment were two men with "director" in their titles. They were the ones who really got the ball rolling to use an all-volunteer force supplying its own financial resources. One of those men was Dr. Bob Scott, World Mission Division director. It was under his leadership that Nazarenes with no additional career missionaries opened twenty new countries in one quadrennium.
During that period, however, the General Church faced escalating demands on its financial resources. Each year, more resources were needed just to maintain prior commitments. Among the soaring costs, for example, was health care for missionaries and for Headquarters employees. There is a limit to how far the stretchiest rubber band will go.
So, Dr. Scott asked himself: How can we keep advancing into new areas around the globe? Have we reached the limits of what we can do?
As we've noted, Robert Scott was in the midst of such agonizing when he heard Loren Gresham explain his "Mormon model" idea. Dr. Scott thought about the volunteer programs already in use. Wasn't President Gresham's thinking just a natural development of programs like what is now Mission Corps? What about going beyond Loren's idea of providing helpers for career missionaries to something more adventuresome? Could these volunteers spearhead the church's advance into a brand new country?
A missions' student at SNU, Melanie Elder, was a distant relative of Robert Scott. When Russia's door cracked open in 1991, Melanie was there with other Nazarene college students. Two years later, when she became senior class chaplain, she invited Dr. Scott to speak in one of her class chapels.
During that 1993 visit, Robert Scott met with Loren Gresham and some other campus leaders. "I like your young volunteer idea," Dr. Scott said. "Here's a proposal for you. I'd like to challenge you to adopt a country. Let's not spread these young volunteers all over the globe at first. Let's send them all to one country. With their help, we could enter an open door. They could carry the ball until we can get career missionaries in there. The country we'd like you to adopt is Bulgaria."
The idea was not nearly as foreign to what we were already doing as it had seemed at first glance. A structure to deploy young volunteers in year-long assignments was already in place. Naturally, some things would need fleshing out. However, even a training program for such volunteers was already being used with Mission Corps personnel.
Another director in this thread is Franklin Cook, Eurasia regional director. When it comes to projects involving young people, Franklin Cook is never one to say: "We've never done it that way." Throughout his ministry, Franklin has been instrumental in using young people in global outreach efforts. In the 1960's, for example, he started Student Missions Corps (now called Youth in Mission).
Franklin eventually moved to Europe to direct Nazarene work across Eurasia. God probably had many reasons for putting Franklin there. Undoubtedly, however, one very small reason was the youthful Bulgarian experiment which He was planning. Franklin certainly was among the Nazarene leaders most willing to experiment with young volunteers on mission fields.
Not long after the first volunteers arrived in Bulgaria, Franklin Cook went to see them. One evening, five of the young men took him sightseeing. They wound up on top of the National Palace of Culture. This is a huge concert hall/conference center built by Bulgaria's communists. They envisioned their National Palace of Culture as a triumphal showpiece. To make an impressive setting for it, several older buildings came down, creating a park around the "palace." Sadly, the building cost so much that one Bulgarian called it "a big hole in the pocket of an already tattered pair of pants."
The National Palace of Culture building did not become a sparkling jewel. On the contrary, it's a prime example of the deteriorating grandiose projects littering Bulgaria. Many never got completely finished. Most have had no upkeep work in years. Look around Bulgaria today. Anywhere you look, you'll see aging factories, run-down apartments, crumbling train stations, and poorly maintained roads. Construction projects sit unfinished for years because of a lack of funds or shortage of building materials or both.
One nice thing about the National Palace of Culture is its roof-top open-air coffee shop. That's why Franklin Cook and those five young pioneers took the elevator to the top. At the coffee shop, they ordered cups of strong Turkish-style coffee. As they sat sipping the coffee, most did not drink everything in their cups. Fortunately for them, they remembered the layer of coffee grounds covering the bottom their cups. Drinking the last drops of a cup of Turkish coffee can be a bitter experience!
After they finished their coffee, Franklin walked with them over to the side of the building. At the city's edge, there was Mt. Vitosha looming like a 6,000 foot backdrop. Looking around, they could see Sofia's blocks and blocks of gray high rise apartment buildings. They felt humbled by the audaciousness of what they wanted to see happen: have every Bulgarian clearly understand the gospel message. With their regional director, those young men walked around to each side of the building where they bowed and prayed for Sofia.
This director's thread, with its divisional and regional strands, is important to the tapestry. Two directors initiated and pushed the idea of entering Bulgaria with an all-volunteer force. As a result, Nazarenes are in Bulgaria today. Without those directors, the tapestry would have remained incomplete (like many Bulgarian construction projects!).. . . [ continue reading ]
The tapestry's German thread
|Converted at age thirteen, Hermann Gschwandtner felt a call to missionary service. After finishing his schooling, this young German he went to work for World Literature Crusade. Eventually he and his family wound up attending Frankfurt First Church of the Nazarene. . . [ read more ]|