Lanzingen, a picturesque rural German village, is home to only 500 people. However, that little village was for several years the location 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 Global Mission!
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 pastor of Frankfurt First Church, 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 on 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 Global Church resources were already committed elsewhere. He went to prayer, knowing that was 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 began crystallizing at that point. At the same time, Hermann was trying to figure out how to enter 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 then helped Eastern Nazarene College set up a semester-long resident study abroad 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. In the end, 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 pastors.
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 was a shambles. And, of course, Bulgaria's disastrous experiment with Communism caused as much damage spiritually as it did economically and environmentally. 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 bad 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 fax.
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, there was a German directing a group of American young people.
With a German as their leader, Nazarenes got a better reception than they would if people
with only U.S.A. passports had gone to Bulgarian government offices! . . . [
continue reading ]
1: Weaving the Tapestry |
2: A Presidential Thread |
3: Thread from Empty Spools |
4: Directors' Threads |
5: A German thread |
Colored Thread |
7: Broken Threads |
8: A Youthful Thread | 9: Of Shuttles or Spi
nning Wheels | 10: Faded Red and
Gold Threads | 11: Discarded Threads&nbs
12: Some West Coast Threads |
13: A Very Weak T
hread | 14: Some Mexican Thread
15: Threads of Greenbacks and Tears |
16: The Compassionate M
inistry Thread | 17: Some Parental Thread
s | 18: The Emerging Pattern
-- Howard Culbertson,
|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. . . [ more ]