As many of you know, to me writing a newsletter is like climbing a mountain – I get there in the end but it’s a hard slog! This is partly due to the fact that when I look back over the past months I feel that all I have been doing is sitting down with leaders, listening to their stories, talking, laughing and drinking lots of coffee…. very meaningful to them, as they keep telling me, but not a lot to write about! That said, I feel enormously privileged to still be able to do what I believe the Lord called me to do so many years ago. Below is a little snapshot of the wonderful brothers and sisters I have sat down with in Russia, the Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia and the USA since I last wrote.
The churches in Siberia working with Vitaly
Following their Arctic winter the churches are very active during their summer months, sending out evangelistic teams to visit small towns and villages throughout the region. This resulted in a new church being planted in the town of Posevnaya, south of Novosibirsk. They also organised a number of holiday camps for young people in the city of Novosibirsk. Having a strong leadership team in Novosibirsk has also enabled Vitaly and Nadia to spend considerable time this summer in Odessa, Ukraine, planting a church. A small group from Novosibirsk, whom I know well, have relocated to be part of the new church plant – a distance of 2801 miles. In July I was able to spend two weeks with Vitaly and Nadia and the young church. What a joy!! Odessa is a strategic city on the Black Sea coast and was much larger than I expected, with a population of over one million people. Although it is narrow, it stretches out for miles along the Black Sea coast. Building a relational community is therefore quite a challenge, especially as many people have to rely on public transport.
The meetings were precious. I love new beginnings and it took me back to the time when I first met Vitaly 20 years ago in Novosibirsk. Then there were just a handful of people and it is truly amazing to realise what the Lord has done, not only in that city but in the region, with nearly 2000 in the Novosibirsk church alone. For several days Vitaly and I drove round to find a suitable place for the new church to meet as the large apartment room where they had started was definitely too small. We finally found an excellent venue, centrally positioned and right opposite a tram stop.
The church in Novosibirsk also financed the purchase of a sizeable plot of land which includes a derelict building. This will be turned into a drug rehabilitation centre, modelled on the successful one in Novosibirsk. It was encouraging to see how a team from Siberia had driven over (a 5 day journey) to start the restoration work.
In October I travelled to see Ludo Kara in Nitra, Slovakia. As you know, I always encourage leaders in churches to find part-time or full-time employment if possible. There are several reasons behind this: to have a better idea of the issues their congregation faces in the ‘real world’, to recognize the workplace as an important mission field and to minimize the financial burden of their support by the church. I have observed that many full-time leaders are so busy with church they don’t know anyone to share the gospel with so this also gives them the opportunity of making non-Christian friends.
Although over-qualified with two MA degrees (Agricultural Engineering and Theology), Ludo got a job as a prison officer through Boris, the leader of the church in Levice who was already working there. Boris shared with me how Ludo was much loved by the prisoners who had nicknamed him ‘little father’ for his pastoral heart. Ludo said he simply applies the principles of the kingdom of God to his work. Ludo has since been promoted and now lectures at the training college for all prison officers in Slovakia – which just happens to be in his home city of Nitra! He also regularly has great conversations with the Director, a 7th Day Adventist. You may remember that Ludo has a very musical family – his five children continue to excel and are now all playing professionally in different orchestras.
On the Sunday I was blessed to meet with the three churches who work with Ludo for a wonderful meal of goulash and fellowship. They are maintaining their focus on family, relationships and the organic nature of His Kingdom. However, they are obviously feeling the effects of having a large ‘faith church’ 60 miles away, which is preaching a popular gospel.
During the late summer, a group of leaders from the different churches I work with and I spent some time together – no teaching on the agenda, just lots of discussion time till the early hours, relaxing, swimming in a lake and generally letting our hair down. We intend to do this a couple of times a year as it really strengthens our relationship together.
It is particularly encouraging to see the progress being made in the church of Szczecin – every visit I notice new people! They have a real concern for the marginalized of their society and have organised an effective feeding program for people living on the street. Helen Stainsby does a remarkable job leading another team working among the drug addicts in the city. Their passion for the lost is expressed every week through “Street Church” – which is simply taking the church out onto the street – so much to be thankful for. See their Facebook page for more photos: https://www.facebook.com/KosciolUlicznySzczecin?fref=ts
A few days ago I enjoyed another short but very busy visit to Szczecin. Jacek Matlakiewicz, my good friend who leads the Torun church, also drove up to meet me and I was really blessed to hear about his recent business trip to China with his wife Alina. They had been able to meet up again with Xulin and Jinmei, two young Chinese business graduates who had both been on a 6 month placement in his company. During this time they had both started their journey with Jesus. It was a tremendous encouragement to Jacek and Alina to find that they had grown in their faith and are now very active in their own church.
Praise the Lord for Facetime and Skype, this enables me to stay in regular contact with everyone. It turns my study into a conference room. All my friends are just only a click away.
In my last newsletter I suggested several books and I understand from the comments received that it was appreciated.
Tom Wright has now published yet another book called: ‘How God became King’ (2012).
In his typically well thought through and challenging way, he brings together the themes of Kingdom and Cross in a culture which still pushes them apart. With the background of the Old Testament and Jewish history, what Wright delivers is not just theologically refreshing in its holistic nature but incredibly practical. Highly recommended!
‘The Kingdom Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited’
(2012) by Scot McKnight is an excellent book to read in conjunction with Tom Wright’s book
Finally, a treasure of a book is ‘Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes’ by Kenneth E. Bailey (2008).
“From a childhood in Egypt to a career working within the Middle East, Dr. Bailey has established himself as the premier cultural interpreter of the life of Jesus. Using insights from cultural anthropology and skilled exegesis, suddenly the Gospels come alive as the Middle Eastern stories that they are. Long after other scholars’ books are forgotten, Bailey’s work will continue to be a timeless resource into the world of Jesus.”
Have a look at this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjrG22mSRs8&feature=related
To finish, I would like to share with you some thoughts on the 15 Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120 to 134), which I have been re-reading and meditating on recently. They were traditionally sung at the Passover meal, and I have been trying to visualise Jesus singing before making the journey to the Mount of Olives (Matt. 26:30). Before that they may have been chanted by the Israelites as they came out of captivity in Babylon and journeyed towards Jerusalem. Babylon means ‘confusion’ and Jerusalem means ‘possession of peace’. We may ourselves be on a journey out of the captivity of religious confusion or the confusion in our own hearts to a place where we can experience God’s peace so that we begin to understand God’s will and purpose.
Journeying through the songs can teach us a lot: to see God in things present (Ps. 120), to learn where to get our answers and recognise God’s objectives (121,122), to learn how to wait (123) and to have our fortunes restored (126), to learn to let the Lord build the House (127), and to learn to embrace suffering (129), humility (131) and unity with our brothers and sisters (133).
The Lord will not change this world for us but He will change us in this world and produce in us a spirituality that will become a catalyst of change to the world around us. His pleasure is to teach and help us in the midst of the challenges and circumstances we find ourselves in.
Let me say again, I am so grateful for your partnership in the Gospel. Thank you so much for your prayers and financial support, without which I would find it impossible to do this work. I pray that you will experience the joy of His presence as you give yourself to whatever He has called you to do.
With best wishes for a wonderful Christmas!
Love and grace,
It is with great sadness that I am writing to let you know that Zygmunt Galaszkiewicz vel Mlynarski lost his fight with terminal cancer at the age of 54 on Sunday 18th March.
Zygmunt has been a good friend for over 20 years. I first met him in Szczecin when the church there had just started. He always showed a great love for God’s word and was one of the first to study at the Bible School there, eventually becoming its administrator. Zygmunt had a real pastoral heart and for several years led the church in Szczecin as the pastoral elder.
About five years ago he moved to Manchester and quickly found his role in serving the Body of Christ, particularly caring for the elderly, homeless and destitute asylum seekers. His happy countenance, kindness and lovely Polish accent meant he was loved by many.
Starting to write this newsletter, I was reminded that exactly 22 years ago on August 24th 1989 a Solidarity-led government was elected in Poland, marking the beginning of a nonviolent victory over communism in Eastern Europe. Since that momentous time, the whole region has been on a roller-coaster ride of change. Foolishly, it has by and large copied the greedy western model of materialism, whose weaknesses have become so apparent during the last few years. However, precisely because of the situation in which the world economy finds itself, this is the time that God’s redeemed community, the Church, can shine, demonstrating the true values of God’s Kingdom (Phil. 2:15,16).
Just before our annual summer break with family in Holland, I made a long trip through Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, visiting valued friends and co-workers in the gospel. I was delighted to reflect that many of the relationships go back 20 years.
Throughout Hungary, the Agape churches are continuing to grow under the caring leadership of Istvan Perjesi. During the last two summers for example, their young people have targeted several villages, showering the communities with random acts of kindness; as a result, new church plants have been started there.
Many times my work seems to consist of sitting down with leaders and just listening; simply being with them is often a huge encouragement in itself. That is precisely what I did for many hours during my time in Slovakia when Ludo Kara again took me on long walks through his beloved city of Nitra; after all these years, I must know every small café! Walking, talking and listening – it’s at such times as these that revelation, insights and encouragement come.
From Nitra I journeyed by train to Krakow in Poland where I was joined by Leszek Zajac and Jacek Matlakiewicz. For the following three days we met up with a very interesting group of people in the Polish mountain area, south of Krakow. The group is passionate about reaching the young Polish generation and has been able to successfully bridge the great Polish divide between Protestants and Catholics. They are now planning to start Fathers and Sons camps along the lines of a very successful American model. It was so refreshing for us all to spend time with leaders from a different stream. I believe good things will come out of the friendships made during those days.
Chris writes: Goos and I travelled to Torun in June for Jacek Matlakiewicz’s 40th birthday – Goos has suddenly realized that many of the ‘young men’ that he works with have shockingly reached the 40, even 50 mark! Goos first met Jacek in the late 1980s when he visited a group of about 100 hippie students who were experiencing a move of the Holy Spirit. Later, during a Bible week in Slovakia, Jacek and Alina, also a student, turned up with a tiny tent on their honeymoon – a pretty clear demonstration of their commitment to the things of God. They eventually left the hippie group when they realized its Christology was askew and started weekly meetings in a community centre near the university, which quickly grew. Goos remembers Jacek stood out clearly as a leader – he was always listening to teaching tapes! Having completed his MA in Classics, Jacek went into business to support himself and has since organized several successful seminars to encourage other Christians in business. Alina continued with her studies, gaining a PhD, and now lectures at the university. Their two beautiful children are great fun. It was great to see how they are making good friends with other parents from the school and recently Jacek took several fathers in the church, together with fathers they’ve befriended, away for a very successful ‘fathers and sons’ weekend. Hence, meeting with the group near Krakow was particularly relevant and encouraging.
I have been visiting the church in Szczecin about every six weeks for the last two years and am encouraged how they are increasingly experiencing God’s unmerited favour. For instance, I just heard that last week 80 homeless people were fed through a weekly program initiated by a dedicated group in the church. I have been really blessed as Leszek
has been assisting me more regularly in Szczecin, even though it involves a round trip of 10 hours! In future I hope to slowly take some steps back, enabling me to give more time to other responsibilities. Leszek Zajac
While in Holland I have had several lengthy video conferencing talks via Facetime with Vitaly Maksimjuk. The church in Novosibirsk, Siberia, has been preparing itself to plant a church in the city of Odessa, southern Ukraine and Vitaly and Nadezhda have been spending the summer there. He excitedly told me all about the hunger for the gospel there, their first meetings and the relationships being built. For a very long time I have been encouraging the churches I work with, not only to reach out in their own country, but to go beyond their borders and reach out to the nations around them, especially those of their own language group. I am attaching Vitaly’s recent email (click to view as pdf) which describes the situation far better than I could!
Some of you may have assumed that I had retired due to my great lack of communication – I really apologise that I have not written since Christmas. The Lord has blessed me with good health for which I thank Him, and, as long as I am physically able, I plan to continue the work to which He has called me. Besides the regular trips to those I have been working with for such a long time, I am also planning to visit the Ukraine and Uganda again. Those of you that are internet savvy may have seen some of my short postings on Facebook, which I intend to do more regularly from my little IPhone.
Chris and I were able to spend a lot of precious time in Holland with my 87 year old mother while my sisters were enjoying well deserved holidays. While her body has aged visibly, her “inward man” is going from strength to strength. Wonderful to talk to her about the resurrection, heaven and earth being brought back together again and the certainty of our future hope! Do read Tom Wright’s book “Surprised by Hope” if you have not done so already.
Recently, my friend Stefan Bos, director of BosNewsLife, a Christian news agency in Budapest, sent me an important account of Christians in Libya (click on the link). It is vital to keep ourselves informed of what is happening to our brothers and sisters round the world. “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (Heb. 13:3 NIV). It is vital for us to regularly pray for them during our public meetings.
I want to leave you with a thought-provoking quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who established a training school for young leaders in the confessing church in Germany just before and during the War. It was only a few miles from the church in Szczecin. They made a prophetic stand against Hitler and Nazi Germany and Bonhoeffer paid for it with his own life just a few months before the end of the war: “The church’s task is not simply to bind the wounds of the victim beneath the wheel, but also to put a spoke in the wheel itself.”
Let me say again, I am so grateful for your partnership in the Gospel. Thank you so much for your prayers and financial support, without which it would be impossible to do the work the Lord has called me to. I pray that you too will experience the joy of His presence as you give yourself to whatever He has called you to do.
London and Friends
It always surprises me how fast time goes. Sitting here behind a desk in Novosibirsk, Siberia, it seems ages since I went by train to London for the day to see my old friend Peter van Niekerk. On his way back to South Africa from the US, Peter was just stopping over to see Carmel, one of his daughters, who lives in London. It was wonderful to just hang out together for the day, catching up on what God has been doing in our lives and our families. As he is deeply involved with many churches in the different countries surrounding S.A, it was a particular delight to share with him my experiences of the month Chris and I spent in Uganda. Seeing that Africa was getting under my spiritual skin, in true Peter style he seized the opportunity and invited us to come with him on a trip to Mozambique and Malawi. Well, that gives me more to pray about! Isn’t friendship a wonderful thing, particularly when it stretches out over many years – a refreshing tonic for the soul!
Arrived 7.30pm at Entebbe airport and immediately impressed by the heat and noise of this African country. We will be based at a Catholic guest house in Kampala, the capital.
Speaking at a 2 day conference for church leaders – our first experience of the real Uganda! I am thankful that Pastor Stephen is driving me around throughout our stay as negotiating the pot holes and deep gulleys in the roads takes considerable skill. We arrived at a small church in a ‘shanty town’ type community, with barefoot children, long-horned cows and goats sharing the bare red earth outside which looked like a rubbish tip. Inside, the corrugated iron roof and earth floor made it feel like walking into an oven! There was no door and once, while I was speaking, a cow wandered in! I decided to teach on what the kingdom of God means in practice and managed to persevere in spite of sweat pouring down my face. Chris found it just too hot and had to stand outside. With the obligatory PA turned to full volume, both she and all the neighbours didn’t miss a word!
For the rest of the week Chris joined a team from the UK running a holiday camp for the younger children who attend the school at the Kampala Children Centre (KCC).
Stephen collected me at 5.0 am to travel east to Tororo, a village near the Kenyan border, for a leaders’ conference. We arrived at 10.30 to find 80 people waiting in another little tin-roofed church. However, this one had a floor of hardened cow dung with a pattern imprinted and the surrounding area was clean and tidy – impressive! It was baking hot with a bit of a breeze. I explained to the smartly suited leaders that they had a choice between me teaching in a short sleeved shirt or passed out on the floor! Even then, I took a break every hour or so to cool down under the mango tree outside.
Over the three days I was told 166 leaders came, many walking as far as 25km; about 50 came by bike. I was particularly impressed by a pastor in his mid-70s who had cycled the 25km – and not on smooth cycle tracks like in Holland!
The local church and the leaders who had stayed over packed into the church. Many mothers had brought mats and sat outside with their children. Before I left, I was given a love gift – a live chicken! I was able to graciously accept it and ask them to look after it for me and let it produce chicks.
On the long drive back we stopped to take a photo of 3 baboons sitting by the roadside. They immediately started begging at the car door! We later stopped at the source of the river Nile, which starts at the northern edge of Lake Victoria and travels 4,000 miles (6,000 km), taking 4 months to reach the Mediterranean at Cairo.
A welcome free day relaxing at the guest house with Chris, who’s been working with the children at KCC. Fascinating to sit and watch eagles soaring – we counted up to 17 – as they seem to fly in formation like a squadron!
Tues 13th/Wed 14th
Speaking at 3 different venues both days: mornings at a leaders’ conference, afternoons to young professionals in the city centre and evenings at a church meeting.
Uganda is an amazing country in so many ways. There seem to be at least several thousand churches in Kampala, from the small poor neighbourhood church to the megachurch. It is said that over 80% of the population are Christian, 10% Moslem.
The majority of churches seem to have very noisy overnight Friday prayer meetings as well as many midweek meetings – we can hear gospel singing virtually all day!
We were taken to visit ‘Africa’s prayer mountain’ by Stephen and Robert, both of whom were involved in setting it up in the mid 90s. People come to fast and pray as individuals, groups or churches, for instance the head of the Inland Revenue brought her department up to pray! Basic accommodation is available and an auditorium where there is regular teaching on Prayer and Fasting for those new to it. We met two young men who had arrived from Rwanda to pray for several days. We felt privileged to pray there with Stephen and Roabert, a very interesting author of many books, a self educated intellectual, who has also been preaching in the surrounding countries for many years.
Chris and I joined Arnold Mwonge and Stephen on a trip to South Western Uganda, to the city of Mbarara. The journey gave a fascinating insight into rural Uganda, especially the state of the roads, which often are full of deep potholes that have to be avoided. Having set of at 2.30, apart from a brief photo stop at the equator, we arrived at the Hotel the church had booked to find it had no electricity! Another was eventually found and we sat down to eat at 11.30 pm.
The past weeks have been wonderfull. Christmas with all the children and grandchildren. Today an tomorrow the birthdays of two of the most inportant women in my life, Christ and Abi. I pray that during this coming year all of you will experience more of His Love and Grace as you grow closer to Him.
I feel I have conquered jet a new challenge as I have writen this from my IPhone
The picture is of our garden after heavy snowfall yesterday turned it into a fairytale scene.
This week I flew over to Holland to be with my mother; she will soon be 85 and I hadn’t seen her since August. We’re praising God for the steady progress she’s been making since her last stroke, so much that the medical staff are now talking about her going back to live in her own home again. I’m sure it was no coincidence that, after I’d booked my ticket for Holland, I was invited to participate in the European Prayer Breakfast in Brussels. Jacek Matlakiewicz drove over to Holland so we could go together. It was an amazing experience! More that ever before I realised that the Lord, in the way only He can, places people who love and follow Him with all their heart in strategic and influential positions. The main speaker was Andre Rouvoet, the Dutch Deputy Prime Minister, who shared about the aspirations of so many east European citizens who long for freedom, while here in our comfortable democracies in the west we have taken so much for granted. He then continued to spell out to all of us the responsibilities that come with freedom, quoting many times from Paul: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13). From every angle and using many practical illustrations he stressed how we are to take our responsibility seriously in politics. It was a privilege to interact with a number of them, personal details were exchanged and only the Lord knows what will come out of this.
One more evening with my mother: We talked today over lunch about the time I left home at 19 to study at the Bible College of Wales in Swansea, Wales – she realised that I might never come back into her life again if I went from there to some far flung place in the world. This made me think about the two amazing women in my life, Mama and Chris, my wife, and how they have been willing to make the sacrifice to let me go. It’s a challenge to reflect if we are willing to release people – sons, daughters, leaders – into the further purposes of God. Are we willing to let go of things we feel we have a right to, such as ministry, churches, positions? It’s the women in my life who probably challenge me most – not forgetting my radically-minded daughter!!.
Tomorrow I will catch the early plane from Amsterdam to go for a long weekend to Szczecin. I will keep you posted.
During the 12 days home we had a busy programme as we had my youngest sister Marianne and her husband Wouter stay with us. We had been looking forward to this for a long time and had a lot of fun together. What made it particularly memorable was that we celebrated our grandson Josh’s 18th birthday at the weekend with a big family party. And now on Sunday my granddaughter, Janneke will become 13 and a teenager. At times like these I realise that I must be getting older!!
It is already two weeks since I returned from an encouraging time in the USA. It was such a joy to be with Chuck and Vi Pals and other friends in Chicago, whom we helped in establishing Living Word fellowship in the early eighties. The church is a vibrant community who have established two new growing congregations in the past few years. It is so encouraging to see the progress and the steady growth with every visit.
During my time there I stayed at the home of David and Sharon van Dyke who have been a great support to the work of Diakonia. Dave and Tim Pals (son of Chuck and Vi) a few years ago rose to the challenge as successful businessmen of travelling to Novosibirsk, Siberia, to teach and encourage an emerging group of entrepreneurs. During my time there I also was able to have a lot of fun riding one of their buggies.
From there I went to the north of Chicago to spend a few days with Jacek and Wendy Wheadon and the Polish Fellowship they lead. Although they have now been given their all-important Green Card, they are experiencing difficult times. They seem to have been affected by the economic downturn, more so than the established American families around them
After a 7 hour drive I arrived in Spooner, Wisconsin where I stayed with my friends Tom and Chris Clements, who together with Michael and Rebecca Macone have become the focal point of a growing group that has gathered around them. It was refreshing to be in a gathering where everyone participated in making valuable contributions.
“A true story…”