Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Right in Front of your Nose

Back when I was in college I spent two summers in Kodiak, Alaska, as a student missionary. The pastor of that church had gone to New Orleans seminary. One day, while he was going through the line in the seminary cafeteria, he asked the African-American woman serving him if she knew Jesus. She stopped, put down the big serving spoon, and said, "Yes I do, but in the four years I have worked here you are the first person who has ever asked."

Recently I was in Bulgaria for a week-long Wycliffe Romani team meeting at a Christian conference center. While I was in Bulgaria, I also wanted to meet with the Adventist Publishing House “New Life.”  Twenty years ago they had published O Neevo Zaveti, a translation of the New Testament in one of the Romani languages spoken in Bulgaria, and I wanted to talk with them about recording the whole New Testament with our partners, Faith Comes By Hearing.

Towards the end of the week I discovered that Mladen, a young Roma man who worked at the conference center, could speak some English. Everyone knew he was a Christian because he always had his Bulgarian Bible with him and in the evening he played the guitar and sang Christian songs with the rest of the musicians in our group. One morning at breakfast I showed him my copy of O Neevo Zaveti and asked him if he could read it. He could, and he was very excited to see it. One of the Wycliffe team members nearby told him that this was a meeting of Bible translators working in the Romani languages. He said, "THAT'S what you are doing here?" 

The translator asked him what his favorite verse was. John 3:16. I turned to it, and he read it out loud with only a bit of hesitation. He asked if he could have the book. I told him he could borrow it, but I need it for a meeting on Monday. An hour later, at the morning coffee break, he came up to us and read out loud the whole story of Jesus at the house of Simon the Pharisee and the woman washing Jesus' feet with her tears. I asked him if this was exactly his dialect, or just near his dialect, and what did he think of the quality of the translation. He said it was definitely his dialect, but he had encountered 2 or 3 words he was not familiar with. He would have to study it more to judge the quality of the translation.

On Monday the head of Wycliffe’s Bulgaria Romani team and I went to New Life Publishing House to discuss recording O Neevo Zaveti. The assistant director we spoke with was very enthusiastic about the idea since many Roma do not read. However, there are a few problems. When it was printed in 1995, it was still back in the days of little 3.5” floppy discs. The disc apparently went to the printing house and never returned. The translator was working on the Old Testament and was nearing completion when he passed away. They have electronic files for the Old Testament, but not for the New. During the meeting we talked by phone with a Roma pastor who had helped with the distribution of the printed version twenty years ago. He explained that the translation was in rather bookish, formal speech which was not widely accepted by people as normal conversational Romani. This explains Mladen’s reaction.

We now need to decide whether to record this New Testament as it is or if the Wycliffe team should use it as a basis for revision. In either case, the first step is to get it back in digital form. Please pray for wisdom for the Wycliffe team and for us in this matter.

One thing has already been made clear so far:  Do not neglect to engage in conversation with the people right in front of your nose. Just like Mladen, they might be the person God intends to be a blessing to you--or for you to be a blessing to them.

Keith Holmes

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A week filled with interruptions

“The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life -- the life God is sending one day by day.” C.S. Lewis

Day One
Finished Project
   Water interrupted the planned outdoor work of the short-term mission team from Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) - Heartland.  Rain kept us away for one day from a beautification project planned at the community cemetery in Vazec, Slovakia.  Our local partner, Jekh Drom, planned the project to coincide with the team's visit.  The team worked along side of unemployed women who were sent by the local labor office.  The goal was to beautify the memorial to a group of fallen soldiers and partisans who lost their lives defending the city from Nazis at the end of World War II and to add new greenery at the front entrance of the chapel in the cemetery.

  The CBF-Heartland team was interrupted a few times by laughter and then by singing when they hosted an evening with a local group of retirees.  Whether it was the line dancing to the tune of Boot Skootin' Boogie or the full-bellied singing during the chorus of Delilah when Harold Phillips played on the accordion, everyone had a tremendous time.  One of the four Anna's present interrupted once to let us know that we should visit the local school to see the Vazec Room.  It was filled with items she had sewn in the traditional Vazec design.
Retirees Group Singing for the team
   Danka, member of the local non-profit we work with, then interrupted the school director's summer vacation to request that the director open the school and give the team a tour of the room.  We learned that not only had Anna had provided the fabric samples, she had also provided the school with her own wedding photo and a framed copy of Slovenka magazine from last century which included Anna on the front cover!  Good thing we did interrupt the school director's summer.  Since the school was shut down and no one would be there until late August, our little interruption saved the school tens of thousands of dollars in repairs from the water which was leaking from upstairs through the ceiling into the cafeteria!  The director called later and thanked Danka for insisting that the team from CBF-Heartland visit the school before the leak had done more damage.
Finished product of the sewing group
   One of the moms who was part of the sewing project (and for the record, there was one father present too - a widower who is raising two children) had her week of fun and fellowship interrupted when she had to miss a day to go for a job interview.  As we were preparing to leave, she walked quickly down the hill from the bus stop and greeted us all with a huge smile.  Out of hundreds who applied for jobs, forty were selected and she was one of them!  No one minded having our departure for dinner interrupted as we shared hugs and congratulations.
   And finally, dinner was interrupted.  Before Danka could serve the incredibly delicious meal she had prepared for the team, Harold, on behalf of CBF-Heartland presented Jekh Drom with a symbolic check representing their generous support for the Samuel Project - a multi-year partnership between CBF Field Personnel Dianne and Shane McNary and the local non-profit Jekh Drom to address the educational and hygiene needs of an impoverished Roma community in Vazec.  Afterwards, Clara Youngblood presented Danka, Martina (president of Jekh Drom), Harold and Gwen Phillips, and Dianne and Shane McNary with beautiful prayer quilts made by a group in her church, Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City.

CBF Heartland symbol of support
Clara presenting Danka her beautiful prayer quilt
   Thanks be to God for the many interruptions we had this week; it was in those interruptions where our lives found meaning as we experienced the presence of Christ.  

Monday, August 4, 2014


Have you ever tried crocheting? Crocheting is a
traditional art in this Roma village in the Republic of Moldova, but no one thought the current generation of girls would be at all interested in learning it. Nina, a woman who sells some of her crocheted creations, had tried to interest some of them. She reported no success. Yet she was willing to try again at a day camp for teenaged and pre-teen girls in her local Baptist church. The day camp focuses on introducing the girls to Jesus and God's profound love for them as well as empowering them personally. To everyone's surprise, several girls eagerly volunteered to learn. No one was prouder then they were when they successfully completed the decorative flowers Nina taught them to crochet. Unless, of course, it was Nina herself.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Don't Run with Scissors...

Have you ever thought about learning to use scissors? Most of us learned in early childhood how to take those blunt-ended slivers of silver with bright plastic handles, and a piece of construction paper, to craft a work of art. We would proudly take this master piece home to our moms to be displayed in a prominent place, probably the refrigerator.  It's a childhood activity we take for granted.

This week while doing Club (VBS style activities) I helped two young girls who had no idea how to use scissors.  The sisters, about 7 and 10 years old, just sat and stared at the construction paper, crayons, and scissors they had been given.  They quickly looked at what the other kids were doing and drew something similar on their papers.  The next step was cutting and both girls were puzzled.  "Can you help me?"  With a little coaching and practice the girls soon got the hang of it.  They happily began cutting multiple scraps of paper and speaking rapidly to each other about their new found skill - using scissors.

This scenario underscores why the need for education among the Roma is so important.  These girls live in the poor section of town where the local school is known to be sub-par.  More than likely their parents do not support them in their education because they see no need for it or because they are consumed with the daily struggle of providing for their family.  The exact reasons for these girls' lack of education is unknown but what is known is that there are many more like them.

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