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.