Back again in Ukraine

Ukraine mapFor the last week I’ve been back visiting where I lived in 2008 and 2009, in eastern Ukraine. I guess it depends on what you are looking for. This isn’t Monaco or Hawaii. But for me, it is now (and was 6 years ago) a very nice place to be, among friends who hold the same views and beliefs as I do and who’ve dedicated their lives to serving the Lord.

But it can be a tough place to be in some ways and it’s a challenge for me to write this blog post and to keep it upbeat and cheerful. Because this place can be “not for the fainthearted”. It’s not a matter of violence or crime, the statistics on that are probably pretty low. And it’s not the simmering border war with Russian separatists that is still happening about 200 miles (@320 kilometers) to the east or the Russian takeover of Crimea 200 miles to the south. At one point these things did look like they would spill far into the country but it no longer really looks like that.

No, the overarching narrative here that affects nearly every life is the extreme deprivation, resulting from years of severe economic hardship, already prevalent before the worldwide crash of 2008. And I’m at a juncture here because the Bible teaches us, “Whatsoever things are true, righteous, pure and lovely, if there is any virtue or praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) In brief, we should aim to stay positive. And at the same time, Solomon said, “Sorrow is better than laughter for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” (Eccles. 7:3)

So I’ll tell you the good news first. My friends here have continued to stay on the wall of Christian service during the 6 years since I left here. There are not a whole lot of them but they’ve worked tirelessly in this country, often focusing on what they can do in the vast numbers of orphanages and places for the mentally challenged. Someone has said, “A little bit of love can go a long, long way.” It sure needs to here and it does. Besides delivering physical aid to these places which just barely get by, a surprising ministry for my friends here has been what’s called clowning.

fixed-Dom Malutki 12“Clowning” might not sound like a great idea to some. You may think we have too many clowns around already when we look at the politicians and so many other sources of light, frivolous froth that seems so prevalent nowadays. But this is Ukraine, not the “rich-and-increased-with-goods” West. Here I find that the clowning my friends do in orphanages and detention homes is closer to being like what Solomon said about these things, “A merry heart does good like a medicine but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

patch AdamsIf this still seems strange to you, perhaps you’ve heard of the movie starring Robin Williams, “Patch Adams”, about the true story of a famous doctor who used clowning to cheer up his patients and how much this helped them. That’s what my friends do here and it’s been both successful, as well as much appreciated by the authorities in these parts. Of course my friends are dedicated Christians and are doing all this to bring light, love and joy to a part of the world that really does need it very much, increasingly so.

horse wagonOK, that’s the good part; now let’s talk about the bad, ha! It’s the economics. And you could think, “Oh, Mark, at least it’s not violence, crime or diseases.” Hmm. Let me give you some statistics and you can see how this would work for you. You’re retired and draw a pension from your government? Millions here do and they receive… $45 a month. That’s $ 1.50 per day. An average wage in Guatemala is about twice that, I’m told. Are you going to buy medicine on $1.50 a day? No. You’re just barely going to avoid starvation if you somehow have some place you can grow some potatoes, have an apple tree and a few chickens you feed.

woman plowingYou’re a teacher in your prime, not retired? Let’s see. You’ll receive… about $55 a month. At 40 hours a week that would be about $.25 an hour for your efforts. Your tops in your field, medicine, and are #2 at a large city hospital? You’ll be getting less than $200 per month. So it’s all kind of indescribable. Almost like a sci-fi movie where all that you’ve taken for normal is deeply distorted so that things are surreal, Kafkaesque.

I could tell you much more but I won’t. It’s against this backdrop that my friends here work daily to try to bring hope, love, truth and a little happiness and joy amidst such grim deprivation. It moves me and affects me. Verses like “Unto whom much has been given, much shall be required” (Luke 12:48) and “They that be strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak” (Romans 15:1) have always under-girded my life as keystones of how I should respond to the gross darkness that is upon so much of our world. Being here has been a reminder of how much I and many of my friends have and how much we have to give (in so many ways) to help others.

 

News about Witnessing in Germany

German streetI received a thrilling testimony from a Christian sister around my age in Germany who’s been a faithful witness for many years. I’d like to share this with friends far and wide as it’s certainly not the kind of thing you’ll see on the evening news. But I really believe this is something that makes news in heaven.

This sister lives in a large industrial city in German which has very many Muslim refugees, as well as German citizens of Middle Eastern background. And on top of that, it’s one of the centers in Germany of the far right, anti-immigrant, nationalist movement. A few months ago I helped my friend to get a shipment of several hundred Gospels of Luke in Arabic which she would be able to use in the times she goes out witnessing in her city. Here’s part of a letter she wrote me yesterday.

passing litI was out witnessing after some time of not being able to go out much and at first it was such a battle; but that always happens. I’d copied some tracts to pass out and it had become late already. I was starting to get tired but was dissatisfied because I’d taken 10 Arabic Gospels of Luke with me, with the determination to give them out. But I was by that time just tired and wanting to go home.

I told myself, “OK, I’ll walk toward the train station and on the way pass out some more things.” I realized there where quite a few people also streaming toward the train station so I just asked Arabic-looking people if they spoke Arabic and offered them then the Gospels of Luke.

There were two families with little kids and each looked at me like they wanting to say, “Are you in your right senses? We are Muslims.”  sharing wordSo I told them that the Quran teaches we should read the “Injils”, the gospels about “Isa”, Jesus. They both reacted with an “Ohh”, realizing I might know more about the Quran than them, and took it, thanking me for it.

On the way I passed the big cinema and decided to see if there was an announcement about the new movie with Joseph Fiennes about the resurrection of Jesus. And there were 2 young girls sitting with Muslim head-scarfs on, around 15 or 16 years old.

I offered them Gospels of Luke too and at first they were a bit mixed up in surprise. Then the younger one started to get all excited and I heard the word “Injil” several times. Then the older one caught on and thanked me profusely, even kissing the booklet. That was my time to be startled.

Phew, what a great time I still had! One more guy took it because I said yes when he asked me if I’ve read the Quran. I have read only here and there a verse but that’s probably more than many Muslims ever have read, like most church people don’t read their Bible.

giving GoL flatIn all I was able to give out 8 Gospels of Luke in Arabic and a bunch of German and English tracts, thank you Jesus! I was all poured out when I arrived at the train station but very happy.

I am still praying for one or more Muslims to teach the Bible and who can help me better spread the Good News (my strength is so little for this great job) if you like to pray with me for this.

Much love, C.

Angela MerkelI don’t know about you but this just made my day. It’s exactly what I’ve written about in blog posts like “Merkel’s Call”, “Enemy at the Gate”, “They that be with us…” and several other similar posts about conditions presently in Germany and Europe. What this dear sister wrote about shows that it can be done. It would be great it if was some huge, mass movement that everyone can feel they are swept up in and feel a part of. But that may not happen. Meanwhile, it’s up to individuals to just share the love of God and the truth of God with the lost, like the people of faith have been doing since the days of the Early Church.

It may not seem like much. “What is this among so many?” (John 6:9) But it’s a start. And I know personally a number of other folks around Europe who are doing daily exactly what this dear sister in German wrote about.Go flatOne shall chase a thousand and two shall put ten thousand to flight.” (Joshua 23:10) May the Lord bless this dear German sister for her faithfulness to share God’s love and truth with the lost and may others catch the same vision and passion.

Hard Knocks Witnessing

you are wrong flatI’ve often mentioned the subject of witnessing and it’s certainly a huge subject. I’ve never yet been in a church that teaches personal witnessing to its people. But witnessing at times can be tough. Everyone probably knows that and it’s one reason so few people do it.

I was on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, California decades ago, witnessing to young people when I was a young person myself. Then, off to my right and striding down the sidewalk in the early evening was someone decked out in a full Satan costume, red cape, horns, mask and all. As he walked by he was repeatedly saying in a deep voice, “I’ve come to see my kingdom”. This was many years ago and I’ve been told it’s much worse there now.

While witnessing is really like sowing seeds, it also can be like a battle. Some folks just have their standard lines they throw back at Christians since most Christians don’t know how to answer tough questions. I remember one that really stumped me when I was about a year old in the Lord. This guy in Los Angeles told me that Jesus never actually said that He was the Son of God. That really got me right then. I’d been studying the Word and had memorized a lot but I just couldn’t think of anything right then that absolutely proved the guy wrong.

But it really got me into the Word about it. Later I found what I figure was the best place where Jesus said He was the Son of God, John 10:36b, “…do you say of Him who was sanctified and sent into the world, ‘you blaspheme’, because I said I am the Son of God?

Actually, when you think about it, Jesus didn’t go around all the time telling everyone He was the Son of God. He called Himself “the Son of Man” over 70 times  but the specific places where He said He was the Son of God were rare. So that guy back then long ago sort of won the conversation I was having with him that day. But then I knew what to answer the next time someone pulled that one on me.

Weapons to Pakistan 1-flattenedMaybe that’s another thing about witnessing that most people just don’t want to experience. You just might meet your match, ha! The only thing is, it may be your match but not the Lord’s. Like anything, you have to hone your skills or, better yet, let the Lord teach you how to witness and share your faith. You may have your stumbles or bumps in the road but you keep taking it back to the Lord, learn your lessons, Weapons to Pakistan 2-flattenedand do better next time. A little like what happened to me years later in New Delhi, India when I was witnessing door to door there and a woman almost immediately, upon opening her door, yelled at me, “Why are you selling weapons to Pakistan!” I wrote about that experience here.

I was a smart-alecky 18 year old atheist in my first semester of university  when a young Christian student at the university was going door to door in the dormitory, witnessing for the Lord. I gleefully welcomed him in to have a talk, like a spider to a fly.

The thing is, I’d never before met a Christian like that. I tried all my old lines I usually used to mock Christians. I laughed long and heartily at him. He stood his ground with a friendly smile and just kept sharing his faith with me. I rejected the witness he shared with me but that experience changed my life.

Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin.” (John 15:22) Up till that time, I’d never really been witnessed to by a strong Christian. But after that event I was much more accountable and two weeks later, having rejected the messenger of God, the messenger of Satan was allowed by God to come to me in the form of a hippie on campus who sold me my first marijuana. For the next 2 years my life gradually went downhill till I very nearly died on drugs and went to hell, an event I told you about in “Lucifer and the White Moths”.

delivered your soul-1 flatBut it was the faithfulness of that young Christian student at my university to share God’s message with me, even though I rejected it, that was part of God’s plan in bringing me to Him. And I share this here to show how that, even if you have a “negative” witnessing experience, as that dear brother had with me that day back then, “nevertheless Christ is preached” (Philippians 1:18) and it was an integral part of God’s plan for my life. Even if someone gives you grief while you’re out witnessing, it is still your faithfulness that counts and you have “delivered your soul” (Ezekiel 3:19), as the Lord wants us to do.

Enemy at the Gate?

enemy at gate 2A movie I really enjoyed was “Enemy at the Gates”. One reason is that I lived over two years in Moscow and in the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine. Knowing that part of the world, the people, the history and their sufferings, made it all the more moving to me. The subject of the movie is the battle of Stalingrad and I have Russian friends from Stalingrad, now called Volgograd.

It’s based on a true story of one of the bloodiest, heart-wrenching battles of World War II. The movie shows that the Russians were so bad off that two soldiers were given one gun and a handful of bullets each, enemy at gate 3the idea being that when the first solder was shot, the second one was to pick up the gun and keep going. But the hero of the movie, played by Jude Law, grew up as a hunter with his grandfather and was a crack shot with a rifle. Lying motionless among his dead comrades in the battle of Stalingrad, Law uses his rifle skills to pick off Nazi officers at a distance during the battle. He actually gets pretty good at it.

It’s an amazing story but then another layer is added. A fledgling writer of propaganda for the Communists finds out about Jude Law’s beginnings of success. And it’s not just the battle in Stalingrad they’re losing; the whole Russian nation is utterly defeated and afraid spiritually at that time. They need heroes. They need to hear about a victory. So the writer begins to write up what the young sniper is doing to turn the battle at least somewhat towards the favor of Russia. And soon the nation is taking heart as they hear of a common soldier picking off the Nazi officers in the battle there.

trojan horseIt’s not meant to be a parable but today it became like a parable to me. “The enemy at the gate.” How many times have we heard something like that in reference to the current refugee crisis in Europe? “They are sent here to invade us, to defeat us! They are the very forces of Satan, every last one of them! It’s a Trojan Horse. We’re doomed; it’s the end of civilization! The enemy at the gate!

Pardon me but that’s a lot of hooey. It’s sensationalist propaganda from folks often not even from Europe who have a political agenda. I’ve written about this in “Merkel’s Call” and “Come, I Will Send You”. I will send you 1 flatBut right or wrong, many millions of people are very afraid, just as the Russians were over 70 years ago. Back then, just a tiny handful of sharp shooters had a major hand in turning a loosing battle into a victory, rather like the British aviators did in the Battle of Britain.

Is there any parallel to this today? Well, first, we aren’t talking about sharp shooters, airplane battles in the sky and killing people. And we’re not talking about Nazis battling Communists. crowd scene trainWe’re talking about millions of poor souls who’ve had it so bad in their home countries that they’ve risked their lives to cross land and sea, hoping to find refuge in Europe. What can any of us do? I’ve been with these people personally several times recently; here’s a post about when I was on the Macedonian border with them a few weeks ago, called “Encountering Refugees”.

In this case, I think what Angela Merkel has said is just incredible. She’s said her people should show kindness, hospitality and love to these refugees.refugees at tables And some are doing that, I met and worked with them last month; this is what I wrote about in “German Refugee Camp”.

How can those so many view as “enemies at the gate” be met today? By snipers? If you’re a Christian, what’s your greatest “weapon”? It’s love. Wouldn’t that shock and invigorate Christendom if a few brave souls plunged into the events of today and found that these “enemies”, many of them at least, turned out to be our friends? Turned out to want what we have? Not just the material wealth of the West but the truth that the West was founded on long ago? That the Love of God in Jesus was and is all that it’s said to be. That might alter the mood of whole nations to hear some good stories of the love of God and the love of our neighbors actually wining out over the hatred and fears we’ve been taught. That’s what I was personally seeing and experiencing last month at the refugee camp I was in in Germany.

“Mark, do you really believe that? Do you think love is going to win out in all this and that everyone will put down their antagonism and love one another? Come on; get real!”

Maybe not; maybe all of Europe is not going to come around to love and accept this flood of refugees. And probably not all of them are going to be humble and thankful for the help they are receiving.

But I know some will. Some will find that there are good and kind Europeans, even ones who come with the love they have from God. And there will be changes of minds and hearts; there will be miracles of love because that’s happening already. For some, this is their hour. How it all will play out, I don’t know. But if ever there was a time for Christians in Europe to show love to those who need it so much, now’s the time.

In Stalingrad, it only took a few. But it changed the course of history and invigorated the Russian nation. May God in heaven today find those in these times who will answer His call in this hour and turn this crisis into a mighty victory of His love and truth.

Christians, the endtime and witnessing

get out Gods truth flatIt’s always struck me, when reading about the prophecies of the future to come, that repeatedly the future believers are pictured as being witnessers and proclaimers of His truth and power. There are many examples of this. One of the best is found in Daniel 12:3, a verse specifically about the last years before the second coming of Jesus at the end of this age. It says, “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”  This is a direct prophetic verse about the future times which speak of the people of the endtime who will “turn many to righteousness”. That’s witnessing, folks. That’s an active, fruit-bearing body of believers who evidently are having a real harvest in the final days.

But there’s more. Some of the verses that have inspired me the most about this are from Daniel 11. The context is that Jesus Himself specifically referred to Daniel 11:31 when teaching His disciples in Matthew 24 about the times immediately prior to His second coming. But what do the next two verses in Daniel 11 say? Daniel 11:32b says “but the people who do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits. Strong. Doing exploits. Like the Early Church, witnessing miracles , “greater works shall they do”. (John 14:12)

please teach us flatThen the next verse in Daniel 11 says, “And they that understand amoung the people shall instruct many”  (Daniel 11:33) There it is again. Not only will some endtime Christians be strong and do exploits, it says that some will have understanding and that they will instruct many. Not only miracles and greater works but also fruitful witnessing and teaching, explaining to the people of the endtime what’s happening around them, because of their knowledge of prophetic events unfolding before their eyes that they recognize from their study of Bible prophecy.

The believers turning many to righteousness, doing exploits, being strong, understanding, instructing many in the final years prior to the return of Jesus . Sure sounds like an on-fire, fully-functioning, dropped-out multitude of believers, a bride “who has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7). Inspiring, no?

But as we look around us in our present times, we see so many pundits of fear who want to tell us who the Antichrist is. They want to tell us who are enemies are, they want us to become fully armed with carnal weapons. But are those folks preparing us to be “strong in the Lord and the power of His might“? (Ephesians 6:10) Are they discipling Christians to be the light to the World that the Bible says some will be in those times? Or is it a constant cacophony of consuming fear and hatred of “our enemies”? Are we really going to go to war against the Antichrist forces with AK-47 assault rifles? Here’s the Bible’s answer to this as found in Revelation 12. “And they overcame him (the devil and the Antichrist) by the blood of the Lamb, and by the Word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto the death.” (Revelation 12:11) Nothing about armed Christian militias there.

If the believers of the endtime are people who dependent on spiritual weapons rather than carnal, if they’re going to be strong enough to witness and do mighty works in those times, then so much of Christianity now will somehow need a huge, mighty turn around.died in faith The vast majority of Christians today are spectators, at best. They’ve left the arena and are watching from the grandstands. But Scripture says that the bride of Christ in the endtime will be in the arena again, literally or otherwise, like the believers of the Early Church.

Maybe it will take a continuing loss of Christians across the whole spectrum of the faith, a vast falling away that will be the shock that’s needed for the few that are left that they need to get down to business with God like few, if any, have done in the last few hundred years. At some point, somehow God is going to find those ones who will fulfill those verses given so long ago about the believers of the endtime. And, yes, I do hear of some here and there who are banding together in a new wave of witnessing and discipleship, like I wrote about in “German Awakening“.

endtime witness-flattenedBut overall and for the most part, right now things look bleak. So many want to tell us who our enemies are, those who we’re to fear and even prepare to kill. But where are the noble souls who are preparing His people to be the mighty witnessers and disciples of the endtime that we read about in Scripture? Oh, dear Lord, please raise up the believers You spoke of who will be those that will turn many to righteousness, do great exploits, and instruct many before You return.

Brakes and Gas Pedals

Command Isreal flatGod told Moses, “Command the armies of Israel that they go forward.” (Exodus 14:15) That’s what we should be looking to do; we should be determined to go forward for the Lord. He said to go forward for Him and with Him, through the Holy Spirit. And they did. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) “Go therefore and teach all nations…” (Matthew 28:19) And gradually, through fits and starts, His earliest disciples did that. So going forward for Him and His cause should be our default position, our basic vision.

This is why, when I was writing “The Stand”, about the stand of faith, that I got a little concerned. Because perhaps the majority of Christians need more encouragement and admonition to use their “gas pedal” than to use their “brakes”. Using our brakes is certainly necessary and a matter of life and death at times. But maybe it’s like the little girl said about the purring cat, “Oh look, mommy! The kitty has gone to sleep and left its engine running!

We’re not supposed to go to sleep and leave our engine running. We’re not supposed to sit around with our foot on the brakes in some kind of defensive, “hold the fort” attitude. If there’s been a bane of organized Christianity in our times, it’s been this. And it’s now gotten to where virtually everyone thinks that this is Christianity. “Go to church on Sunday. Be good. Don’t be bad.”

Did Jesus say flatJesus didn’t tell His disciple, in the 40 days He was with them after His resurrection, “OK guys, this has been great! Now everyone go back to your old jobs, go back and join a good synagogue, blend into society. It’s all over! I’ve done what I came to do so you guys can relax. Enjoy life!” Umm, no.

Of course many churches do teach the Bible and even salvation, faith in God and in Jesus. But often at some point it just doesn’t go any further. How many churches really instill in each individual member that they can and should witness their faith and win souls? Paul said, “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16) To which the standard reply is, “Oh, we can’t all be Paul!”  Or “Oh, I’m not a preacher! That’s what we pay Reverend Smith for.

Lord help us! Has human nature changed in the last 2000 years? Nope. “They all began to make excuse.” (Luke 14:18) Or as Solomon said, “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the council of God stands assured.” (Proverbs 19:21)

Tell them I need them flatSo let’s answered a couple of those things that our hearts often throw at us. “Oh, we can’t all be Paul.” Right. But we can do what we can. And so often that’s a good deal more than we are doing. Maybe you can’t be a missionary right now. But you can witness to the circle of people you come in contact with. Virtually everyone can do that. This is the message the Lord gave me for the precious Christians I spoke with in Bulgaria back in March, that I wrote about in “God Needs You.

Hardly any church anywhere puts their membership under conviction to lead others to Christ. Virtually no church I know really instructs their members in how to personally witness and win souls.  That’s why I’m so glad I was born into a soul winning, discipleship Christianity. Because if the Devil can’t stop you from being a Christian, then he’ll try to stop you from being a disciple and  serving the Lord. He may not be able to stop you from having your engine running, but he’ll sure try to stop you from putting your foot on the gas. And I think that must sadden and perhaps even anger the Lord.

The only Christianity I’ve known has been one that endeavored to be based on the book of Acts and the Early Church. “They went forth and preached everywhere.” (Mark 16:20) “But Mark! I’m not a preacher! What do you want, Mark? For us all to go stand on some street corner and preach?!” Nope. But you could pass tracts to people you meet. You could be “always ready to give an answer of the hope within you.” (I Peter 3:15) You could be “instant in season and out of season.” (II Tim. 4:2)

Paul on the road to Damascus

Maybe it’s like something else Paul said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (II Cor. 5:11) Paul really knew what it was like to be found utterly wanting and under the partially judgment of God. He was blinded for 3 days by the hand of God. He knew what it was like to be utterly blinded spiritually and even physically. Maybe that helped him have the compassion and drive that he had the rest of his life.

Many have been Christians all their lives. They’ve never really known what the horrendous torments of hell are like and so they don’t have the driving motivation to help those still in those straights.But one way or the other, each Christian needs to put their foot on the gas, not just the brakes.

We have the answer, we have the Lord, we have salvation and we are charged before the Lord to share that with others. “He that withholds it tends to poverty, but he that scatters abroad it increases.” (Proverbs 11:24) “He that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) Step on the gas.

The Swelling of Jordan

refugee marchThis month-long road trip around Europe to do recordings, visit friends and work with refugees has been great. But also at times it’s pushed me near to my personal frontiers of endurance and strength. It’s reminded me of what the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Israel long ago, “If you have run with the footman and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace in which you trust they have wearied you, what will you do in the swelling of Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5)

For a few days last week I was at a refugee camp of about 1000 people, serving lunch there. My fellow food servers were from Tikrit and Kirkuk in Iraq, Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Khan Yunis refugee camp in Gaza. We had a pretty good conversation about life and God when we had lunch together afterwards. I gave out Gospels of Luke in Arabic to the ones of them who hung around and with whom I had deep conversations.

One of my goals in being at the camp has been to do as I did on the Macedonian/Serbian border 3 weeks earlier, to mix and mingle there and to find ways to pass out Gospels of Luke in Arabic to these ones.refugees at tables After serving lunch a few days ago, I was later sitting at a dining table, talking to some Syrian refugees. One young man told me he’d graduated with a law degree from a university in Damascus and he asked how it could or would work out to use this in Germany. I told him I didn’t really know but it would take time and patience for him to be able to do that here. The young lawyer told me that his brother had been shot dead by ISIS troops and that he himself had been shot twice but survived.

Sometimes when there are 5 or 6 Arab men you’re talking to, it’s not perhaps the easiest and best time to pull out Gospels of Luke and give them out. On the other hand, maybe your confidence would run that way and you’d have the faith for that. My experience is that when there’s a group like that, they react differently than when you’re in a one-on-one conversation with someone. So as much as I wanted to turn things more towards the spiritual, it just didn’t work out. But I determined to remember their faces and see if I could find some of them later when they were not all together.

And I was feeling tired, really tired. So often “the spirit of a man will sustain his infirmities” (Proverbs 18:14) and the Lord just keeps you going by the Spirit long after the flesh would like to stop. On the other hand, it can happen that you just run out of steam and the Lord in His wisdom pulls things back a little as you really are at the end of your resources. For me, the days and weeks of living out of a backpack and moving from place to place a lot during winter in Europe have been catching up with me a little. And I just could really feel it yesterday that I needed to pull back a bit and “quit while you’re ahead”, as they say in some places.

Gosple of Luke

The Gospel of Luke in Arabic

But also I wanted to do a little more to get out the Gospels of Luke I’d brought. Then, as I got ready to go, I saw one of the Syrian men who’d been sitting at the table with me earlier. He was an older guy and spoke no English. But he was sitting by himself now and he just kept looking at me. So I took that as sign from the Lord and went over and gave him a Gospel of Luke. He took it in his hand, looked up at me with a deep look and then put it in his pocket. I felt better.

And again, literally going towards the door leading out of the camp, I saw another Syrian man who’d sat at the table with me. I was able to give a Gospel of Luke in Arabic to him also. And again I felt better. I was pretty exhausted as I walked back to my place here. But like Solomon said, “The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul”. (Proverbs 13:19)

This morning I feel better physically. And I was thinking about that verse, “the swelling of Jordan”. That’s how it is now, the swelling not only of Jordan but much of the Middle East, fleeing the terrorist insanity of their lands, looking for refuge here. And like the verse says, “what will you do in the swelling of Jordan?”

Angela MerkelI’ve been really surprised by the response of the Germans, both their Prime Minister (I wrote about her in “Merkel’s Call”) and the people themselves. Even with all these refugees who’ve come here, they took in 1.1 million last year, they say the number of those who’ve volunteered to help in Germany is more than equal to the need. I’ve had to “eat crow” a bit with some of my thoughts about Germans that I’ve said in the past. They’ve shown a Godly civilization and compassion that in some ways astounds me in this day and age.

As weakened and fragile as Christianity and humanity have seemed to be in our times, some at least are responding with vigor and empathy to this great event and opportunity now happening. Hopefully it won’t only be with food and blankets but also with the saving truth of Jesus Christ and God’s Word which is the only thing that can really reach down and bring a new, transformed life to all those in direst need.

1 AM in Sofia, Bulgaria

sofia night 1My bus was delayed on the border so I didn’t get into Sofia, Bulgaria till after midnight. I was expecting my friends to meet me at the bus station. But as I looked around the nearly empty station, I had a bad feeling about how I’d not really made sure to completely be definite that they’d meet me there. I tried to phone them from the station but my roaming service on my phone was not connecting so I couldn’t get through. Things were getting bleak pretty quickly and it didn’t immediately get better.

There were some ominous looking taxi drivers hanging around who wanted to drive me somewhere. But I didn’t know where that would be. I asked someone at a food stall that was still opened if they could phone my friends. But they didn’t speak English. I was rapidly realizing that I was in a real fix and a potential dangerous situation.

There were 3 young guys standing around at the food stand in the bus station. I say young; I guess they were around 19. They weren’t grown men but they weren’t really kids. They heard me speaking English and said they could phone my friends on their phone. They did but there was no answer. I noticed that they were friendly, willing to talk and be helpful. So I explained to them what had happened and took the step of faith to ask them if they knew of any hotels in the area. It was past 1 AM and it was looking like a hotel was about the only alternative as I was not getting through to my friends and it was getting real late.

The three young Bulgarians said they knew some hotels in the area and could take me there. Needless to say, I was sure sending up some prayers during all this. The thought did cross my mind several times that I probably looked pretty vulnerable to any late night denizens of the deep who were looking for some soft target and easy pickings.

As we went out to their car, I’ll admit I thought about how these guys could just drive me off somewhere to kill me and rob whatever I had with me. But I was checking in with the Lord and also trying to get the witness of the Spirit on the whole thing. And I was not getting any checks in the Spirit against the way things were going.

sofia nightWe starting driving around downtown Sofia and soon found a hotel that was nicer than I was figuring to stay in. Two of them went in to check the price and it sounded surprisingly low to me. But they wanted to see if they could find something for less. At length, after trying a few other places, I told them that the nice hotel they checked out would be fine. I was also telling them how much I appreciated their help, that I’d come to Bulgaria to speak in churches and that I prayed that God would bless them for their helping. They continued to just be kind hearted “good guys”, for lack of a better term.

I checked into the hotel with their help and was finally up in my room for the night when the phone there rang in my room. It was my friends in Sofia who I’d been trying to reach earlier that night from the station. They had gotten the call from the young men and phoned the number back. Those guys told my friend where I was so she got in contact with me.

End of story, I guess. But I can tell you I was mighty glad to be safely in a hotel at that hour of the night in a foreign city where I didn’t speak the language and knew hardly anyone. I was very aware that it all could have gone much worse. And it really stood out to me that those 3 young men were there at the bus station at that time and were able and willing to help me. I certainly saw it as the Lord’s love and hand, getting me through a potentially very dangerous situation.

It reminded me of the verse, “…underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27) I’d failed to be diligent in making sure of my contact and meeting with my friends in Sofia. But in spite of my failure, the Lord came to the rescue in bringing along those young men to help me. It reminded me of another time I wrote about in the blog post “God’s Little Miracles” where a similar but even more supernatural thing happened to me late one night in Austin, Texas.

God-is-chanceSome folks will say, “This is all chance.” That’s certainly how I used to look at it in the past. In fact, one time before I was a Christian I blurted out one day to my friends like it was a revelation, “God is chance!” And the Lord proceeded to get a good deal of mileage out of my saying that. I wrote about that in the blog post “God Is Chance.

I’m just really thankful that the Lord was there to rescue me that night in Sofia. It could seem like a little thing or a “coincidence” that those young men were there and helped. For me, I recognized that it was again the Lord’s mercy on my life. I’m so thankful for that.

 

Terrorist Infiltrators

[On November 14th I was going to publish this. But the sad events in Paris, France a few hours earlier were so vivid and visceral that it seemed to not be the best time. I’ve left it unchanged. It’s definitely a “minority report” but, I believe, very needed to challenge us to turn the evil tide of these times.]

migrant boatHave you seen all the articles and posts about the fear of terrorist infiltrators among all the refugees coming to Europe? You can’t really miss it. And, don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that there are ones like that among all those coming to the West right now. I don’t doubt that at some point there will be attacks in the West, perpetrated by Islamic radicals.

But allow me to give you something even greater to fear and be shocked at. Where are the people of God who feel challenged by all this, to rise up as His true witnesses and to win as many of these people as they can to Him?

Most people love fear, rage and nationalism/racism far more than they love to be challenged to live their faith in God. Fear and hatred sell and are sadly popular. People need to be told who their enemies are, right? But this gets even more personal; bear with me.

It would not really be correct if I said, “I once was a terrorist”. me 72 fixed-ABut when I was going to university, I was getting real close to circles of people who would today be called that. It was the height of the anti-war movement in the late 60’s. I was in university but working as a writer and editor on the most well-known “underground newspaper” in the state of Texas. I helped write it, put it together with a group of about 10 people, drove a van across central Texas to get it printed and then sold it on the street.

“Mark, that’s so innocuous. Mark, Muslims HATE us and want to KILL us!”

At one point there was a major riot/demonstration at my university. Thousands of students stormed the main building. The police came, then the National Guard surrounded the campus and it was on all the national news services.demonstrators I was one of 6 people who were inside the main administrative building, negotiating with the president of the university.

During that fall, the organization “Students for a Democratic Society” held their nation conference just off our campus. I went to their meetings and to the private parties afterwards. I met the top leadership, some of whom were soon to end up on the FBI top 10 wanted list as leaders ofThe Weathermen. I was very drawn to these people as I was very grieved by the events of the times.

Back then two guys approached me who said they were soldiers at nearby Fort Hood, one of the main US Army staging posts for the Viet Nam war. They said they were part of the underground movement. “Give us the LSD and we’ll give you the machine guns”, they told me. Almost certainly they were undercover FBI guys. But that’s how my life was back then.

“What does this have to do with Islamic migrants and terrorism?”

This. I wasn’t into killing people or violence. I was just desperate for truth, justice and the triumph of good over evil. And through it all, the God of Abraham saw my heart and brought me first to Him, and then months later to His Son.

I believe and know with all my heart that within this multitude of people coming to Europe and the US from the Middle East, there are many, perhaps very many who are as desperate and heart-sick as I was in my youth. refugee in fieldAnd somebody witnessed to me back then. Somebody didn’t look at my longish hair and strange ways; they looked into my heart and saw a desperate, needy soul.

But my question is, will there be people in our times who can look past all the propaganda, hatred and fear about Muslims and see instead a multitude of people who God Himself has allowed to come to our lands?

Paul on the road to Damascus

I was virtually on the road to being a “terrorist” in my youth but God intervened and brought me to Him. Saul of Tarsus sure must have seemed like a terrorist to the early Christians. But God saw his heart, knocked him off his high horse and called him to be His servant. But there had to be Christians back then who could see the hand of God in this and who accepted Paul as their new brother, rather than the “terrorist” he had been.

Is it Scriptural to share our faith with terrorists? Is it in the Word? First, for those who keep up with these things, it’s common knowledge that Jesus Christ has been way out in front of all of us on this for years. 01For years, Muslims all over the Middle East have been having living, life-altering experiences with the Son of God. This is what I wrote about in “Suicide Bomber Sees the Light”.

And it was the same way at the time of the Early Church. Christ Himself was way out in front back then as well and dramatically appeared to one of the very worst “terrorists” of the Early Church. But then what happened? Let’s have a short Bible study on that and see if it applies to today.

Saul had been blinded by the Light of the Lord and had been led into Damascus where he was for the next 3 days. We pick up the story at Acts 9:10

And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias. And the Lord to him said in a vision, “Ananias”. And he said, “Behold, I am here, Lord.

And the Lord said unto him, “Arise and go into the street which is called Straight and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus. For, behold, he is praying and has seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.”

Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he has done to Your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on Your name“. But the Lord said unto him, brother saul flatGo your way; for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.

And Ananias went his way and entered into the house. And putting his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto you in the way as you came has sent me, that you might receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales. And he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.

We hear so much about Saul and his Damascus road experience. We are all thankful for Paul. But when Saul became Paul, God needed an Ananias. Today that should be you and me. How would it have gone if there had not been ones like Ananias and others who were willing to be led of the Lord to minister to this man who had been their feared, fearsome enemy until then? This can be one of Christianity’s finest hours if there are those who will see God’s hand and this opportunity from Him to share our faith with these ones.

Could there be danger? Yes. Will they all become Christians? No. But, I challenge you here: watch not only for some future terrorist attack from Muslims coming to Europe. Instead, watch to see to what degree Christians rise up to love, welcome and share their faith with these ones in this hour.

If the Christian response is anemic, halting and virtually non-existent, then that in the realms of heaven may be far bigger news and a greater disappointment than any terrorist incident. If God’s people are so defeated and uncaring that they don’t let Jesus in them be the Light, Love and Truth that so many of these poor souls coming to these lands so desperately need, then God help us all.

German Refugee Camp

German Refugee CampI’ve been visiting a camp in Germany for refugees from the Middle East. There was a riot one evening in the camp that my friends work in daily. People from one nationality got very riled up against folks from another country in the camp. Chairs were thrown, furniture broken, water hoses pulled out of the wall and 200 people fled to the streets. Over 100 police were called in to quell the disturbance. It was a very big deal.

My friends the next morning got an emergency email about the situation in the camp. They wrote back that they weren’t afraid and that they were on the way there. It turns out that they’d already been scheduled to do a major performance and skit for the 1000 or so people in the camp the next day. It was to be based around the parable of the Sun and the Wind and how that love is more powerful than violence, an interesting theme indeed when contrasting Christianity and Islam. So, strange as it may seem, the uproar the night before made the setting perfect. The Lord had prepared hearts and allowed the riot to happen so they’d see their need all the more.

sun and wind“The sun and the wind” (Based on the fable by Aesop)

One day the sun and the wind quarreled about which was the stronger. The wind said, “I’ll prove I am. See that old man down there with a coat? I bet I can make him take his coat off quicker than you can.”

So the sun went behind a cloud and the wind blew until it was almost a tornado. But the harder it blew, the tighter the old man wrapped his coat about him.

Finally the wind calmed down and gave up; and then the sun came out from behind the cloud and smiled kindly on the old man. Presently, the man mopped his brow and pulled off his coat. The sun then told the wind that gentleness and friendliness were always stronger than fury and force.

german camp and guitarsMy friends came to the camp with their guitars. But some of the ones they planned to work with in the camp were terrified because of the events from the night before and didn’t want to do it. So they prayed with them against fear and at the same time prayed with several of them to receive the Lord. This helped and they were more relaxed.

Also some of the main workers at the camp talked with various factions there to try to restore calmness and cooperation between national groups. Each ethnic or national group, Syrians, Kurds, Afghans, Iraqis, etc, have their own group leaders and they talked to their people in their language. The German Christian woman who heads up the camp spoke to them about forgiveness and peace. She said if some were doing evil, it would not be accepted; that they are going to build up something there in peace.

My friends and their helpers started their performance with the song, “Love Can Build a Bridge”. But then while some were singing, a man from one nationality came up and insisted that he speak on stage. He wanted to apologize to the other nationality group that his people had gotten into the fight with the night before. He publicly asked them for forgiveness. Then he went out into the large crowd, shook hands and gave hugs to the ones his people had been fighting with. This man was actually one of the ones who were working with my friends and he played the role of “the Sun” in the skit.

He’d told my friends days before that those people have no concept of forgiveness and love because it is not emphasized in the Koran. They can’t relate to it. So when my friends talk to them about forgiveness and love, they really listen and they don’t know what to say. It shakes there concept of things that Jesus came for love. They said they never heard that before, that Jesus came to bring God’s forgiveness to them.

german camp crowdThe skit started. One of my friends was “the Wind”, Mustafa was “the Sun” and there was another Muslim guy who took his jacket off. So afterwards my friend asked the hundreds watching the skit if they understood that the sun is more powerful than the storms and that love and forgiveness are more powerful that hate and violence. I should mention by the way that this friend of mine who was sharing this is actually from Asia and was raised a Buddhist. But he became a Christian in his 20’s and is one of the most vigorous, fruitful Christians I know anywhere.

He said that he wanted to pray with everyone so he knelt down on stage and asked others on stage to knell with him. He prayed for them and their countries, that God would stop the wars. He told them he was a Christian and that he wanted to build bridges of love and faith. He asked who wanted to pray and very many raised their hands. He prayed a prayer that they repeated, that God would stop the war, that they would have peace there in the camp and a better life. And that they would have Isa (Jesus) in their hearts as their friend.

The devil wrecked havoc there the night before because he was mad that the next day there would be such a victory. I was just so encouraged and inspired when I heard about all this. It’s not something the media will report but I think it was a very big thing in the Spirit that “the poor have the gospel preached unto them.” (Luke 7:22)