Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What The Offering makes possible

Several months ago I was enjoying coffee with a few friends at a gas station on the way back from a meeting in Prague.  Included in this auspicious group was Ksenija and her husband Toma.  Toma is pastor in Croatia and former president of the European Baptist Federation.  He told me about the incredible ministry being done in Serbia among several Roma communities.  I was invited to visit and witness for myself what God was doing among these people.  This weekend I was able to go.

The Friday drive from Košice, Slovakia to Osijek, Croatia was without incident.  Well, except Budapest which is always a nightmare to drive through, around, or near.  Once you cross the event horizon near Budapest, time stands still.  Anything gained by leaving early disappears into the darkness of the potholes which are waiting to greet you in Budapest.  But I digress.
Shrapnel scars on the river walk along the Drava river in Osijek - a reminder of the Serb/Croat war.
On Saturday, Toma and I left early because we were headed to Vršac which is on the other side of Serbia.  Toma continued to speak about going to the end of the world and entering the Twilight Zone as we made our way along the 250 kilometers towards Romania.  After Friday's drive through Budapest, every road in Serbia was a walk in the park.  The countryside was beautiful.  Hard to believe that less than twenty-five years ago war tore this area apart as neighbor turned against neighbor in an effort to find independence and exert control.  When we passed through Lazarevo, Toma pointed out that this was the town where Ratko Mladić was captured.  Mladić is the Serb military leader currently on trial for war crimes in The Hague.
Don't let that smile fool you . . . Mrs Magda can stare you into submission in a heartbeat! (Mrs Magda, me, Toma's brother)
We arrived in Vršac in time for lunch with Toma's mom and brother.  The pastor of the local Baptist Church, Avram, came for lunch as well.  I confess that I was a glutton . . . and it was not only because Toma's mother forced me to continue eating.  What an incredible cook she is!  After lunch Avram, Toma and I headed south to the village of Parta.

In Parta I met Jovan and Radica along with Nenad, who goes by Tosa.  These three have given so much in service to the Reign of God in this region by reaching out with the Good News and giving of themselves sacrificially in order to help others know the joy of Christ.  Their charisma was evident; their faith was vibrant.   Tosa, having never left Serbia, speaks almost perfect English! They spoke about the successes of their outreach activities in neighboring communities - how one fellowship quadrupled in attendance when they were able to devote their energies to the work on a regular basis.  The lack of dependable transportation is one barrier to their ministry.
(L-R) Avram, Jovan, Tosa, and me standing in front of Baptist Church in Parta
We visited the Baptist Church in Parta where these three regularly serve.  The beautiful sanctuary was built in the 1980's when, so I was told, the loud worship music caused the walls to start giving way in their old mud-brick building.  God has been faithful in providing for their needs and they have shown faithfulness in using their meager resources for God's glory.  The opportunity to impact the five or six communities on either side of Parta is restricted, however.  Without different transportation and a long-term commitment to partner with this congregation, to encourage and pray for them - and yes, to financially support them - they are unable to grow the ministry any further.

As I asked about the situation of Baptist work in Serbia, it was disturbing to hear how laws which recognize only the majority Serbian Orthodox church make life very difficult for Baptists.  Unable to own property or even open a bank account, local churches are tightly connected to the Serbian Baptist Union which was grandfathered in as a religious group.  All properties are owned by the Union and arrangements for church bank accounts must be made by the Union as well.  Years ago, automobiles to be used in the Parta ministry were confiscated by customs police because they refused to recognize the legitimacy of the local church.  The punitive laws about recognized faith groups in Serbia represent a religious liberty issue of great concern to Serbian Baptists.
Christian Baptist Church - Parta
Toma and I returned to Osijek, arriving about 20:30.  We picked up Ksenija who had been at an ecumenical meeting for women in town with representatives from Croatian and Serbian churches.  With Toma's excellent translating, I preached on Sunday morning at the Osijek Baptist Church.  I did do a very brief introduction in Slovak since the church was founded by ethnic Slovaks who lived in the community - a few of them came up to me after the service and identified themselves as Slovak.  Several women who were in town for the ecumenical meeting visited the church that morning.  It was a beautiful worship service.  After lunch with the Magdas I returned home to Kosice.

I usually don't write about my trips in a format like this.  But I did so in order to share how this trip was made possible.  Not only was it through contacts with local friends and churches, it was made possible because you gave to support the Offering for Global Missions.  The Offering makes it possible for us to connect with others and provide a way for you to connect with them with confidence that your prayers, encouragement, and financial support are targeted in such a way to honor what God is already doing among our brothers and sisters in Serbia.  Supporting The Offering enables us to do the "due diligence" on the ground to ensure effective partnerships.

If you have not given yet to The Offering this year, you can make your contribution online immediately.  If God is speaking to you about meeting the needs in Parta which I have shared here, then write to me at smcnary(at)thefellowship.info  (If you have not seen emails listed in this form before, it is to cut down on spam.  Replace (at) with @ and email me!)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Day 7 - An Impulse Toward Hope

            Peter Gaži, 27, is from Valaliky, a village near Košice, Slovakia.  We first met Peter when he was a senior in high school and we taught English there.  We've kept in touch with him over the years and have had opportunity to share meals in his home with him and his family and to attend the service where he was set aside as a deacon in the church.  We were not able to be present at his ordination as a priest, though our thoughts and prayers were with him.  While visiting Peter in Lomnicka where he has served as a chaplain since mid-2013, we spoke about faith and what his prayer was for his people.   
"To believe is worth it," he began.  He spoke about how demotivating it is to live without faith and the blessings that come to the believer and also to others through the life of someone who has faith.  The individual, their family, school, everything changes when a person begins to live a life of faith.  And this faith is visible to others and gives them a source of hope as well because, "It is demotivating to live without hope.  Hope gives a future - a transformed future."  And then he mentioned something which really caught my attention.  He spoke of "an impulse towards hope."   
When I asked what he meant by that, he said that the most important impulse or glimpse of how everything can be transformed by faith and fill a person with hope, is Jesus Christ.  And quickly he added that it is possible to have an impulse towards hope from others as well, "another person - a mother or teacher.  Maybe Ghandi or Martin Luther King, Jr. can also be for someone an impulse towards hope."  From Jesus and perhaps these type people we can catch a glimpse of what life can be like when transformed by faith and filled with hope.  "The hope which comes from and is the impulse for transformation can also transform the whole nation."      
Looking out the window we noticed the dozens of children playing in the road.  Lomnicka is not only an all-Roma village, its population has the youngest average age of any other city in Slovakia at just eighteen years old.  This year in the church they expect 150 to participate in Confirmation.  "This why it is important to find that hope" Peter added as he gazed at the group of children.  I commented to Peter that he had lost a little weight since I saw him last.  "I've lost more than 30 pounds. Lomnicka is not an easy place to serve" he says with a smile. 

Please pray:
  • For Peter and the impulse towards hope he represents.
  • For the people in Lomnicka and for the servants of the church who serve, often at great personal sacrifice, in order to show God's love.
  • For more openness and dialogue between different religious groups who may serve side-by-side in a community yet rarely seek ways of serving together.

 Shane McNary, Slovakia and Czech Republic

Friday, April 11, 2014

Day 6 - Not Ashamed

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.   Hebrews 11:16     

When my friend Robert, a chaplain in the prison system here, asked me to come and speak at the prison where he works, I admit that I was a little hesitant. I'd never been to a men's prison, and wasn't sure what to expect.  I also wasn't sure what I had to share with them, but my friend wouldn't give up, so I agreed to go and speak at the weekly chapel service.  One of the main reasons I agreed is because of the fact that a high percentage of the prisoners are Roma and I thought it would be a good opportunity to see how they live there. 
   Like most Czechs, the prisoners love singing.  In visiting with the prisoner who led the singing (a Roma man), I found out that he came from Litomerice, the town I lived in when I first came to the Czech Republic. We talked about our favorite places there and some people we might both know and we both got a little teary-eyed as we talked.  
  They spent the first 20 minutes of the service singing, mostly praise songs, but also a few popular Czech songs. Then it was my turn to share. I gave a brief testimony, and spoke about the work I do here in the Czech Republic and then let them ask questions. Not surprisingly, their questions were more about life in America and why I chose to live here, but some were also interested in why I am a missionary. This gave me the chance to share my conviction that we are all missionaries no matter where we are.  I truly believe that God is not ashamed to be called their God and has indeed prepared a city for them.

Please pray:
  • For Roma prisoners and their families in the Czech Republic. Pray that they will find hope in God's promise of a heavenly home.
  • For the Prison Chaplains in the Czech Republic; this is a new concept here and the funding and other support they receive is minimal.    

Rachel Brunclikova, Czech Republic

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Day 5 - A Shining Light

            The osada (settlement) in Vazec, Slovakia can be a pretty dark place.  Lots of Roma squatting in small shanties on the edge of the village, but there are a few bright spots in Vazec.  One shining light is Danka, a Slovak woman, who works tirelessly for her community particularly the Roma.    
In 2009, Shane and I met Danka at the social work office in one of the city buildings. She was quiet and modest with a heart to work among the Roma.  As we have worked with Danka over the years, she has continued to show her love and concern for the Roma in her community.  Even though she is no longer employed as a social worker, she continues to volunteer her time.  Sharing a meal around her kitchen table with her family, you can see the commitment that she and her family have to strengthen their community.      
Along with several others, Danka has established a non-profit called Jekh Drom (One Way) to work with the Roma of Vazec to address needs identified by the community.  The areas identified are:  1) employment; 2) housing and 3) education.  We have committed to work alongside this non-profit to encourage and assist them.     
 Jekh Drom has drawn a lot of criticism from the majority population of Vazec who have no interest in assisting the Roma to improve their circumstances.  They have a hard road ahead of them . . . but with a shining light like Danka, the way is looking a little brighter.  

Please pray:
  • For Danka and her family that they will be encouraged to continue their work
  • For Jekh Drom (One Way) as they explore options for a community center near the settlement
  • For the Roma that they will be actively involved in looking for solutions to meet their needs
  • For teams from the US who will be serving in Vazec this spring and summer.
Dianne McNary, Slovakia and Czech Republic

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Day 4 - Dreaming Big

I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  Joel 2:28b NIV    

I admire Reilo. He had this idea and did it. Like most Sinti Romany in Germany of his generation, he never finished school. But after he became a Christian, he longed to have the Bible in the language of his own people. He was young; he had a vision. He, his German pastor, and a couple of other Sinti began to translate, without any training and, in Reilo's case, barely an elementary school education.  This led to involvement by Wycliffe Bible translators, the establishment of an organization to create and distribute Scripture material in Sinti Romani, and, ultimately, the entire New Testament in Sinti Romani.     
By the time we made that audio recording of the New Testament, Reilo had become an older man. His sons and his daughter served as voices on the recording as did Reilo himself. The New Testament is now available in printed as well as audio form. Reilo still dreams dreams. After all, work on the Old Testament is still in progress . . . .

Please pray:
  • For the distribution and use of Scripture materials in the Sinti language, especially the New Testament;
  • For wisdom and insight for all Romany (and personnel like Wycliffe) involved in Scripture translation.
Keith Holmes, Resource Coordinator

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Day 3 - Big Dreams

“Poverty is an enormous waste of potential," someone once said.  In Romania, Romany children are not only disproportionately poor; they are also faced with deadening discrimination in the school system and often lack support from their homes in pursuit of an education.  Consequently, few Romany children make it past the 8th grade. Dormant within these young multitudes lie future scientists, ministers and entrepreneurs... except they will not enjoy the keys to pursue those realities.    

Andrea is a 14-year old Romany girl who lives in the poorest neighborhood of Bucharest, Romania.  Like many of her peers, she is poor and has no Christians in her family.  Nevertheless, Andrea recently expressed that her dream is to be a missionary or a preacher when she grows up.  It is only through the Ruth School, a free, Christian school in her sector that she has the freedom to access her dreams and unlock the bold future God has called her to.  At the Ruth School, she is able to both study hard and hear the Good News of Jesus Christ every week in chapel. Because of Project Ruth and its school, people like Andrea have the opportunity to discover hope for their life in Christ, and to study hard to make their dreams a reality.   

Please pray:
  • For Andrea, that she will overcome all her challenges to prepare for ministry and proclaim the Good News to her world.
  • For the students of Ruth School, that the Gospel and their education will empower them to transform their own lives and the life of their community.
  • For Project Ruth, that it will thrive in its ministry of educating and empowering the Romany people for the glory of God.
 Skyler and Ronella Daniel Bucharest, Romania

Monday, April 7, 2014

Day 2 - A Unlikely Teacher

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
John 1:1 (NIV)     

I first met Anna* at church - a noisy, come-and-go Romany church with services in Sinti Romani with simultaneous translation into Dutch. Anna, with her 7 or 8 children, more grandchildren, and at least as many great-grandchildren, was the senior woman in this woonwagonkamp (trailer park). She had been instrumental in her husband, the local barro or leader, becoming a Christian years earlier. She had mentored younger Sinti women in the faith. And she taught me, with my two degrees and years of Bible study, a very important lesson as well.    
Before we met, I had assumed that a major part of Christian growth involved reading and study - personal devotions, group Bible studies, thought-provoking books. How did functionally illiterate Christians (like Anna) mature (like Anna)? I didn't get it until I got to know her better. She is a woman of the Word - not the static word caught in print, but the living Word speaking to her through worship, speaking to her in crisis when she fasts and prays, speaking in fellowship with other Christians. She may be shaky about Biblical history, but very firmly teaches others about this Word by sharing stories of God at work in her own history.  Thank you, Anna, for teaching me as well.

*Name changed for privacy. 

Please pray:
  • For Romany Christians to mature in faith and, like Anna, disciple other Romany;
  • For Christians everywhere to humbly learn from one another.
Mary van Rheenen, Resource Coordinator

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Day 1 - Introduction: "Unexpected Partners"

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  Philippians 1:4-6 NIV      

As CBF Field Personnel among the Romany people of Europe, our work frequently involves sharing our faith, sharing the Gospel, and sharing hope in places that are dark with difficulty.  As with any mission endeavor, however, we are continually surprised and transformed as we work - because we so often find bright spots of light in those dark places.  We meet people in whom God is already strongly at work, whose faith and energy inspire and encourage us along the way.  We do not work alone:  God is already at work ahead of us!     

These stories are so encouraging to us that we have dedicated this year's prayer guide to sharing them with you.  Our prayer for you is that, as you pray along with us, you'll find encouragement and inspiration as well - not just from these stories, but right where you are.  Where has God placed these kinds of people in your life?  Who inspires and challenges you?  Let's give thanks to God together for unexpected partners!

Jon and Tanya Parks, Slovakia