Tag Archives: scripture

Sofia, Bulgaria

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Until January of 2015 year my wife and I were missionaries in Pskov, Russia.  There we came alongside a local church and partnered in their ministry.

(Listen to the above audio for a more in-depth update)

In Pskov, our work centered around orphanages, drug & alcohol rehab centers, and youth ministry. Unfortunately, new legislation by the government has forced us to leave the country.

In conjunction with our supervisor we decided to relocate to Sofia, Bulgaria – a Slavic country in Southeastern Europe that borders Greece and Turkey.

Bulgaria Total Population: 7 million
Bulgaria Total Protestants: 65,000

Ethnicities:
Bulgarian: 5.25 million (30,000 = .5% Protestant)
Roma: 300,000 (30,000 = 10% Protestant)
Turkish: 560,000 (95% Muslim)

The Roma (Gypsy) and Bulgarian populations are highly segregated. Of the ethnic Bulgarian population, less than one-half of one percent self-identifies as Protestant of any kind.

(Evangelism in a Slavic, Orthodox Context)

Over the last several months, we have been evaluating the mission field, getting to know local churches in Sofia and missionaries around the country.

3 Key Areas of Opportunity:

  • Internship program: Christian groups aren’t allowed on campus, so we’ll embed Christians on campus. (Read more)
  • Sermon and Book Translations: Bring solid Biblical resources to the people of Bulgaria.
  • Church Planting: Initially in Sofia, with the goal of spreading around the country.

Below are two recent sermons that I preached:

Every Christian’s Ministry

Invited by the King: Would you turn down a free invitation to a royal wedding?

They’re not Christians, They Sing!

A conversation with our landlady in Pskov illustrates the challenges of evangelism in a Slavic, Orthodox context. Click below to listen:

Some highlights from the conversation:

  • “They’re not Christians, they sing!”
  • “The Pechersky Monastery is the most unholy place on earth. People come from all over the world to hang their sins there.”
  • “We’re Christians, we paid to have all our apartments blessed.”

Read about another conversation, “I don’t read the Bible, I’m Orthodox!

Evangelism on a City Bus – Russian Orthodox

“I don’t read the Bible, I’m Orthodox.”

You don’t expect to actually hear those words. Everyone knows it’s true, but it’s never said. Certainly not as a means of identification.

Orthodox Bible

On the bus home from a seminar the other day, Nansi had a Russian study Bible on her lap. The man sitting across from her, a Jehovah’s Witness, engaged with us – easy enough when someone is carrying a Bible! You can read the story of that encounter here.

There had been four of us sitting in tight quarters, like a restaurant booth without the table. Sitting next to the Jehovah’s Witness was a woman, who I initially thought was with him. After he left the bus, since she had heard the entire conversation, I asked if she read the Bible. Immediately she answered, “I don’t read the Bible, I’m Orthodox.”

[“Я Библию не читаю, я Православная.”]

In response I asked, “Are Orthodox not allowed to read the Bible?”

After an awkward pause, ignoring the question, she said “that guy’s not normal,” referring to the Jehovah’s Witness.

Below is the rest of our conversation:

“I come from a different branch of Christianity, and I don’t really understand Orthodoxy. What is most important in Orthodoxy?”

“To be a good person.”

“That’s only possible with God’s strength.”

“Sometimes I feel that way.”

“I know you might think that I’m also from a cult, we work with the Baptists. We can’t be good people on our own. You can’t be a good person. I can’t be a good person. My natural self does not seek the things of God. It’s only when God resurrects me, though Jesus Christ, that I can live.”

“Why are you here, in Pskov?”

“My wife and I moved here because we want to help people. We have some friends from the area who recommended it.”

“My priest told me not to help people unless they want to be helped. I’m old, I’m in my 60s, I’m tired of people, I don’t want to spend any time with them. People don’t have the same values today, they’re only interested in money.”

“Were you a Christian in the Soviet times?”

“I never thought of it that way. I sang in the choir at church. I was a schoolteacher and they threatened to fire me because of my church going.”

Orthodox WomanAt first we thought she was angry when she asked us why we were here. I think she was just generally confused, didn’t understand why we would come. Admittedly, it doesn’t make much worldly sense.

A standard, nominal Orthodox Christian, who never goes to church, would also say it’s important to be a good person. It’s enlightening, however, to hear that from someone who is a regular part of the church’s life.

She thinks the Jehovah’s Witness is in a cult, and he thinks she’s an unbeliever, but both of them are trying to earn their salvation. I hope she gives up. I hope she stops trying to rely on her own strength.

She knows who we are, and she knows where we meet, but the cultural baggage against Protestants is so strong that very few self-identified Orthodox are willing to engage.

Less than 10% of Russians have any connection to any church. Most Russians are Orthodox only by ethnic identification. To them all Protestants are “Baptists,” and they’ve been taught that Baptists are Western traitors who practice child sacrifice. Seriously. Most believe the first accusation, and some the second.

This is one of our greatest strengths as foreign missionaries in Russia. We’re not Russian. It’s ok for us to be Protestant – I’m not a traitor for being one. Russians can engage with us as a cross-cultural dialogue, not a negotiation with an enemy. The problem is, we don’t even have the Bible as a common foundation.

Do you have any experience in theological communication with Orthodox? Let me know in the comments!

Read part 1: Evangelism on a City Bus – Jehovah’s Witness

Did Jesus Spend Saturday in Hell?

A few weeks ago, I listened to a sermon by Mark Driscoll on 1 Peter 3:18-20, one of the most difficult to understand passages in the Bible:

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

A traditional understanding is that after he was crucified, Jesus descended into Hell.  This is codified in the Apostle’s Creed, which I remember being exposed to in my two semesters at a Lutheran school:

Jesus Christ … was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.  He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

John Piper has an interesting interpretation up that would make the narrative more consistent with the very clear passage of Jesus to the thief in Luke 23:43 (“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”):

With regard to 1 Peter 3:19, I take these words to mean that Christ, through the voice of Noah, went and preached to that generation, whose spirits are now “in prison,” that is, in hell. In other words, Peter does not say that Christ preached to them while they were in prison. He says he preached to them once, during the days of Noah, and now they are in prison.

I encourage you to read the whole post for a fuller picture of the evidence for this interpretation, as well as its consequences.

Are You Alone in Facing Sin?

A child of the 1980’s, I was taught growing up that I was special … just like everyone else.  We are each unique individuals.  Which, on it’s face, is true.  This idea, however, can be taken to the extreme, when we start to think that we are supremely different from everyone else.  “Nobody can understand me, what I’m going through.  Nobody can possibly relate.”  This isn’t just teen angst, it carries on into our adult lives as well.

For Christians, we begin to think that no one struggles with sin the way we do.  Whatever our problem is, we imagine that we fight with it more than anyone else.  Everyone has an easier time with lust/gluttony/language/greed/drugs/depression/anger/etc.  This thinking can lead to us giving in, thinking that since we’re tempted worse than others, we have a different standard.  Paul warns us against this very idea (1 Cor 10:13):

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man.

Those thoughts that you’re having, that sin that you’re dealing with … it’s not just you.

And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

It may seem impossible, but there’s always a way out.  Often, the way out is never getting in to the situation in the first place.  Once we have identified problem areas in our lives, the first thing to do is stop putting ourselves in situations where the temptation can occur.  That might mean changing fundamental aspects of our lives, but God helps, and it’s all part of the restorative work that God begins when we accept him into our lives.

When we sin, we usually know full well what we’re doing, and that we shouldn’t be doing it.  We justify it to ourselves, making it acceptable, or a just-this-once execption.  We need God’s help, and when we’re tempted, we should ask him for it.  If we truly realize our problems, if we sincerely repent, and if we honestly attempt to overcome our sin, God is faithful, and will stand with us.

Pope begins Bible-reading marathon

Yesterday I wrote about how important it is to make an effort to read the Bible daily.  It appears that the Pope is of a similar mind, and earlier this month, he started a week-long Bible-reading marathon:

RAI state TV began its program called “The Bible Day and Night,” with Benedict reciting the first chapter of the book of Genesis — the holy text’s opening verses about the creation of the world.

The marathon will feature more than 1,200 people reading the Old and New Testament in over seven days and six nights.

Besides Roman Catholics, members of other religions, including Jews, Protestants and Orthodox Christians will participate.

Every few chapters the reading was being interrupted for Christian or Jewish religious music, and opera star Andrea Bocelli led the first interlude Sunday by singing Bach’s “Praise the Lord.”

Hopefully this will inspire more than just a temporary hightened appreciation for scripture, but will cause people to start reading the Bible for themselves.