E-book: God's Bulgarian tapestry (Part 5)
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by Howard Culbertson
5. A German thread
Lanzingen, a picturesque rural German village, is home
to only 500 people. However, that little village is the site of the command post for Nazarene
efforts to evangelize the former European communist empire.
When Hermann Gschwandtner became a Nazarene
missionary in early 1990, he looked for living quarters in Frankfurt. Everything there was far too
expensive. He went a few miles to the north. There, in the little village of Lanzingen, he found
something affordable. It was actually bigger than what his family needed. So, one upstairs room
with a large balcony could be his office. There were extra rooms for anticipated overnight guests
connected with Hermann's work. Best of all, the rental price fit his budget from World
The story of this German thread goes back several decades.
Converted at age thirteen, Hermann Gschwandtner felt a call to missionary service. After
finishing his schooling, he went to work for World Literature Crusade. He was with that
organization for fifteen years. This stocky curly haired German's administrative gifts led him to
become WLC's executive director for Germany and Eastern Europe.
Rev. Gschwandtner and his family began attending
Frankfurt First Church of the Nazarene. In 1984, the pastor left. During that interim period, the
church board asked Hermann to fill the pulpit. The church warmed to Hermann's vibrant
preaching and energetic leadership.
So, instead of searching elsewhere for a pastor, they asked
him to become their pastor. He eventually prayed through on saying "yes" to their request. He did
not feel he was abandoning cross-cultural evangelism. Rather, he felt he was being led into a
ministry as a missions mobilizer. In his first year as Frankfurt First pastor, Hermann asked the
congregation to double its missions giving. They did!
More than four years went by.
Then, in early 1989, cracks appeared in the imposing Iron Curtain dividing Europe. Although
communism looked quite firmly entrenched in eastern Europe, some winds of change were
blowing. In the first months of 1989, Communist governments began easing travel restrictions.
By the fall, Nazarene leaders felt they should be working more visibly in eastern Europe. Because
of Hermann's previous ministry in eastern Europe, he had already caught Robert Scott's eye. So,
Dr. Scott and Nazarene General Superintendent Jerry Johnson asked
Hermann Gschwandtner to become the church's first Eastern European Coordinator.
On November 9, 1989 Hermann said "yes" to becoming
Nazarene Eastern European Coordinator. He faxed his response to the Nazarene International
Center. In that response, Hermann listed some goals he felt were reachable at that point in time.
Twelve hours after that fax reached Kansas City, the East Germans abandoned their police-state
mentality. They threw open the gates to their hated Wall. Around the world, television screens
showed the delirious crowds surging through the Berlin Wall. Those were heady days as cranes
rumbled up to dismantle the concrete barriers.
In their wildest dreams, no one had imagined how rapidly
the communist world would collapse. Only hours before the Wall opened, Hermann said "yes" to
a new job. The Nazarene leaders who had recruited Hermann thought the position would mainly
involve the patient cultivation of isolated believers. Suddenly, he found himself looking at
wide-open opportunities where communism had collapsed.
What was he to do? He knew that almost all the General
Church resources were already committed elsewhere. He went to prayer, knowing that was the
about the only resource on which he could count. He knew he would have to take some risks. He
knew he would have to experiment with some new strategies.
Russia was the first former Soviet bloc area to be entered.
Hermann's work made possible Loren Gresham's visit to Russia in 1991. Loren's vision for
sending young volunteers to mission fields was really crystallizing. At the same time, Hermann
was trying figure out how to Eastern Europe's open doors. It was providential that Hermann and
Loren wound up with time together on that Russian trip. Maybe the Master Weaver had
something to do with it!
After the start in Russia, Hermann turned to Romania and
Albania. He used SNU and Point Loma students giving a summer to open those two countries.
He helped ENC set up a semester-long resident study program in Romania. Hermann knew the
deep skepticism of people emerging from communist domination. Though hammered by decades
of propaganda, few eastern Europeans believed communism's promises. Even so, they sacrificed
living standards and political freedom in the name of that promised Utopia. As a result, many
eastern Europeans were left with a nihilistic outlook.
Hermann knew such people would be impressed far more by
what they saw done in Jesus' name than they would by sermons
about the Savior. The strategy he devised for these former communist countries centers on
nonprofit foundations. In each country, an "Institute for Total Encouragement" would be legally
incorporated. Hermann believed that compassionate ministry activities would create interest in
the gospel. From this, he envisioned the sprouting of house churches led by bi-vocational
By late 1993 Hermann decided it was time to enter Bulgaria.
He had already made several trips to that beautiful mountainous country. He was captivated by
the Bulgarians' plight. Eroded landscapes scar their country. Industrial waste taints large areas.
Their economy is a shambles. And, of course, Bulgaria's disastrous experiment with communism
caused as much spiritual damage as it did economic and environmental. Hermann felt the Master
Weaver saying that He wanted Nazarene threads in His Bulgarian tapestry. But how?
On paper, the idea of opening a new country with an
all-volunteer force looked chancy. Only with Hermann's close supervision would the strategy
succeed. As we've noted, things began to unfold rapidly in positive ways. The group had the
foundation legally registered by late summer. Then, in the autumn, tragedy struck. Near
Frankfurt, Germany, Hermann had a terrible automobile accident. Those who saw Hermann's
crumpled car said there was no way he should have survived.
"Satan did this," Hermann
wrote to friends from his hospital bed.
If demonic forces had engineered Hermann Gschwandtner's
accident to shred the Bulgarian tapestry, they failed miserably. Though badly injured, Hermann
survived. Even wearing plaster casts, Hermann managed to get back to work via telephone and
The convalescent process took time. After he recovered,
Hermann went to Sofia to meet with Bulgaria's Minister of Religious Affairs. The man was
delighted to discover that Hermann was from Germany. Since he also spoke German, he and
Hermann carried on much of the meeting in German. The government official saw that the
Church of the Nazarene was an international church. He was impressed. He had expected to see
Americans ordering everyone around. Instead, here was a German directing a group of American
With a German as their leader, Nazarenes got a better
reception than they would if only Americans had gone to Bulgarian government offices! . . . [
continue reading ]
A Kazakhstan colored thread
|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. . . [ read
SNU missions course materials and syllabi
Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma
City, OK 73132 | Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax:
Updated: February 5, 2019
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