ebook: God's Bulgarian tapestry

8. Youthful threads

On a flight into Bulgaria, an SNU professor sat beside a U.S. Commerce Department official. The professor was on his way to Sofia to visit the volunteers. As the two fell into conversation, the Commerce official found out what the university was doing in Bulgaria.

"This country's only hope is its young people," he said as the plane crossed into Bulgarian airspace.

Was his analysis correct? If so, maybe that's why God has made youth an important part of His Bulgarian tapestry.

The American volunteers in Sofia became used to lots of different things. They no longer stared at the stocky women in blue coats scouring city streets with high-pressure water hoses. They became used to seeing an occasional horse-drawn wagon coming down the street. They learned to endure long lines at bakeries and periods without hot water. They learned to survive intermittent water supplies and elevators that break down twice a week.

These young people grew up in single-family dwellings in small towns. They played in lush grassy backyards. In Sofia, they lived in bland, badly-maintained apartment buildings with very little grass in sight. Most of the volunteers owned a car in the U.S. In Bulgaria, they had to walk everywhere. The first group even joked about having "lost" a member of their team. How did that happen? Well, walking almost everywhere during their first two months in Bulgaria slimmed them down. In fact, they took off a combined 125 pounds. That's equivalent to losing one person!

The Mission Corps volunteers in Bulgaria got a month or so of language study. That's not nearly enough to really learn a language. Career missionaries often get a year or more of full-time language study. But these Mission Corps volunteers will be there for just one year. They want to accomplish something for the Lord other than learning a language. Actually, the limited language study time is not completely a negative. Many young Bulgarians are eager to learn English. So they cluster around these young Americans with whom they can practice their English.

Some strands of the Bulgarian tapestry's youthful thread stretch back to the 1960's. In 1962, Bob Bolton was the youth minister at Oklahoma City Trinity Nazarene church. That year, he took his high school group on a missions trip. It was the first of many youth-oriented mission trips he has led. For these annual trips, Bolton started using the name "Ambassadors." At that point, he did not know he was beginning something that would affect a Bulgarian tapestry. He was just trying to expose his youth group to missions.

However, a year or two into his mission trip experiences, Global Church leaders approached Bolton. They had some plans for a youth cross-cultural project and wanted to borrow his "Ambassador" title. Thus, in 1964, a group of musically talented Nazarene college students called "Nazarene Evangelistic Ambassadors" made a singing tour of several mission fields. Two years later, two such singing groups spent the summer doing concerts in several countries.

One negative thing about the Ambassador concept was that it involved only a few young people. On the plus side, it did help the denomination see how effective young people could be in cross-cultural evangelism. But, because the Global Church was picking up some of the expenses, there was no way to greatly expand it. The performance group concept did make a great impact on those mission fields involved. However, with the program's costs, it could only involve a handful of people at a time. Franklin Cook and others wanted a way to put lots of young people overseas each summer. So, the program's focus was shifted from performance to service.

The program's name also changed. The name Nazarene Evangelistic Ambassadors was dropped. In what may have been a take-off on the U.S. government's "Peace Corps," it became Student Missions Corps. Later, that same program was called Youth in Mission.

After the first year of SMC, Franklin Cook wrote a book called Discovery -- Student Missions Corps. In that 1969 volume, Franklin quoted a missionary: "Young people can do things we veteran missionaries could not accomplish. They can imagine things that, to us, are unimaginable. They have energy we don't have, vision that we call foolishness, and smiles that are completely disarming."

In the early days of the Student Missions Corps, an SNU religion major named Roger Hahn applied. He was accepted and spent the summer of 1970 in Nicaragua. Gifted in language learning, Roger came back from Central America speaking Spanish. He also came home with a heart for world evangelism. In Guatemala, Roger worked with two missionary families: the Galloways and the Birchards. As those missionaries worked with that young college student, they had no idea they were forming strands for a Bulgarian tapestry.

Roger went on to earn a Ph.D. in New Testament studies. A gifted scholar, he returned to Oklahoma to teach at what is now Southern Nazarene University. There, his Student Missions Corps summer saved him from being the stereotypical "ivory tower" scholar with very restricted vision and interests. Roger Hahn became good friends with Loren Gresham. Based on their cross-cultural experiences, they had long talks about what Nazarene young people ought to become. They talked about the experiences that a Nazarene university should provide for its students.

Loren and Roger dreamed about organizing huge Work and Witness trips to Mexico each year. Loren Gresham became SNU's president in the summer of 1989. One of his first acts was to appoint Roger Hahn -- who was by then religion department head -- as director of the school's first New Year's holiday trip to Mexico that became known as "Commission Unto Mexico."

In the summer of 1993, Loren Gresham asked Roger to assume chaplaincy responsibilities. For Roger, that meant more than scheduling speakers for the three-times-a-week all-school chapels. Combining his missions' passion with his new responsibilities for students' spiritual development, Roger became a key player in launching the Bulgaria experiment.

It was Roger who actually wrote SNU's partnership proposal to the General Board. Roger Hahn's summer on the mission field turned him into a life-long missions mobilizer. He became the facilitator for sending other college students overseas. The youth thread thus keeps reproducing itself. That is, of course, what had been hoped for all along. . . . [ continue reading ]

  Page:   ←Prev  |    1: Weaving the Tapestry   |    2: A Presidential Thread   |    3: Thread from Empty Spools  |   4: Directors' Threads   |   5: A German thread    |    6: A   Colored Thread   |    7: Broken Threads    |   8: A Youthful Thread  |    9: Of Shuttles or  Spinning Wheels   |    10: Faded Red and Gold Threads   |    11: Discarded Threads  |    12: Some West Coast Threads  |    13: A Very Weak Thread  |    14: Some Mexican Thread  |    15: Threads of Greenbacks and Tears   |    16: The Compassionate Ministry Thread   |    17: Some Parental Thread s  |   18: The Emerging Pattern   |   Next→ 

    -- Howard Culbertson,

Of shuttles or spinning wheels

arrow pointing rightThere's more to weaving a tapestry than just accumulating threads. There are looms, shuttles, and spinning wheels and the hand of a master weaver. Some things about this Bulgarian experiment seem more like spinning wheels or shuttles than they do tapestry threads . . . [ more ]

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