Monthly Archives: November 2013

Macedonia – Part 2

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Panoramic view from high above the capital city of Skopje, Macedonia

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Casey, Drew, & Sasha standing beneath the 216-ft tall “Millennium Cross” atop the Vodno Mountain high above Skopje. It was constructed in 2002 to serve as a memorial of 2,000 years of Christianity in Macedonia and the world.

As I’ve spent several days now in this country, there are some revelations that have been burning in my spirit.  I’m not sure if they all are directly connected or not, but I feel a great responsibility to share what happens here – mostly because so many of the readers of this blog are partners and co-laborers with us, but also because I am quickly developing a “soap box” inside of me about testimony.  I simply believe that we as Christians too often forfeit great moves of His spirit because we don’t adequately honor Him by sharing testimonies of His great faithfulness, love, and provision toward us.  What if we all were diligent every day to not only SEARCH for all the ways He reveals Himself around and in us, but also SHARE what we discover?  Spoken testimony prepares the environment for the miraculous!  Jesus said in Luke 21:12-13, “But before all these things, they will lay their hands upon you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons.  You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake.  But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony.”  Did you catch that?  Whether we find ourselves in a prison for our faith or not, we WILL have occasions for testimony!  I just feel so compelled to do my part, so here goes:

  • There is absolutely no doubt that most of the time I am in a foreign country, I find myself not only out of my comfort zone, but not even in view of it!  I mean I am WAY out of my comfort zone.  It is a great challenge for me, but it drives me to dependence upon Him in ways I wouldn’t experience otherwise.  The thing about comfort zones is that they can easily become pockets of resistance for the Holy Spirit.  Jesus made a point before His death to clearly establish the coming of His Holy Spirit, saying, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever… I will not leave you comfortless… But when the Comforter has come, whom I will send unto you from the Father…” (John 14:16,18; 15:26) Jesus knew His departure was going to force the disciples out of the comfort zone they had experienced of His physical presence near them.  They needed a Comforter to ease the lack of comfort.  If there is “comfort” already present in our lives in the form of earthly things, it’s as if we are telling God that we don’t need His Comforter.  Thank You, Father God, that You rejoice in our lack of comfort because it is only in those times that we can experience all that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, can bring!
  • It is so easy to look at things in a nation like this and realize how similar America is beginning to look and think, at times, that true revival is impossible.  In the U.S., at least we have hundreds of thousands upon thousands of churches that MIGHT be tools of revival.  Here in a nation like Macedonia, there isn’t even a thousand churches in the whole country!  In his book entitled Heaven on Earth, Alan Vincent quotes his wife as saying, “You cannot prove God to be the God of the impossible until you find yourself in an impossible situation.”  Lord Jesus, I believe in Your Word and the power of Your risen life.  I ask You to take the impossible situations we see with our earthly eyes and transform them into a living miracle of Your presence, alive and living for You, the true and great King!”
  • Because so many of the pastors and leaders that we work with here are first-generation Believers with no family history of Christianity, they all seem to live each day with a sense of urgency and focus that are far beyond the normal attitude I carry each day.  The conversations among the Christian brothers and sisters here are so clearly Spirit-led and focused on the true Kingdom work at hand.  Furthermore, the commitment to their prayer lives is remarkable.  They exemplify the poor in spirit Jesus referred to in His very first public message, the Sermon on the Mount.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the Kingdom of Heaven.”  (Matt. 5) This, of course, was not primarily focused on poor from a monetary standpoint.  This was meant to describe the attitude of the person who has come to the end of himself and found that he has nothing of himself.  This leads to utter dependence and utter reliance upon the Lord.  The poor in spirit realize they cannot buy or bargain with human currency or standards.  They reveal that one of God’s primary activities is to bring us to the end of ourselves and our own strength.  At THAT point, the rules of our faith change!  The promise of this kind of “poor” is the living Kingdom of Heaven on earth – not just His Kingdom someday when we pass from this earth.  It’s available NOW!  Oh God, give me the courage to keep praying that You would wipe out my human strength so that I am “poor in spirit,” completely dependent upon Your strength.  This is the place of the great miracles that we long to see and experience!  I long to live in the active flow of your Kingdom!

I pray that you are encouraged to search for the testimony of God in you and around you, and that you would be filled with Kingdom courage to share what you find!  May He be glorified and you be strengthened with His true strength!


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Macedonia

Pastors Venco & Sasha

Pastors, Venco & Sasha

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Drew, Rick, Casey, Sasha in front of Alexander the Great statue

 

Ministry Training school

Skopje Ministry Training School

Kocina, Macedonia

Kocina, Macedonia

Testimony @ Sasha's Church

Testimony at Sasha’s Church

Gypsy family

Casey & Sasha with Gypsy family

Greetings from Skopje, Macedonia!  Drew & I arrived here on Friday morning and were immediately off to a running start!  It didn’t take long for us to experience confirmation of what we already knew about our friends, Sasha & Maria Vuletic and their family.  Dana & I had the chance to spend a week with them at our family camp this past summer in Austria.  Randy & Drew have known them for several years now.  They are truly a family rich with God and His great love for others.  Everywhere we have been we witness the magic that happens when Sasha enters a room!  People are simply drawn to him.  His genuine, loving approach causes others to respond positively to him.  God has strategically positioned him in this capital city for great influence.

Friday evening we had our first session with the ministry training school that Sasha leads.  Drew spent about 2 hours teaching on some introductory principles of the topic of “What is the Kingdom of God.”  Saturday morning, we returned to teach and I had the opportunity to lead a 2-hour session in the Kingdom of God material, specifically on the topics of “When is the Kingdom, Revelations of the Kingdom in the Old Testament, and Culture of the Kingdom.”  There were about 15 students of all ages in attendance, one of which was a gentleman by the name of Ramadan who lives with his family inside of the gypsy community of Skopje (more about that later.)  These students have committed themselves to meeting every other weekend, eight hours at a time, over a two-year period to be trained and discipled in order to be equipped for reaching their nation and region for Christ.  In the U.S., most would think this type of extensive training is unnecessary, but Sasha made a statement that really captured my attention: “It is a mistake to not know what you believe.”  Because of the heavy Muslim influence here, it is absolutely necessary for Christians to know what they believe and why they believe it.  I’m just about convinced that America needs to adopt this as well…

The commitment to this two-year program is a heavy one for Sasha and his family as well.  They actually have two different groups going through the training (each at different points in the process).  One of the two groups meets one weekend, the other on the following weekend and so forth… In order to prepare for the teachings, Sasha spends a considerable amount of his time translating materials and preparing for the presentations.  Additionally, he has planted several churches, raised up the next generation of leaders, and handed them off.  The church he currently pastors is only 2-3 months old and is growing!

Saturday afternoon, Drew and I traveled by bus 2 1/2 hours southeast to another Macedonian city called Kocina.  This city is towards the Bulgaria border.  The landscape there was fascinating to me as I was recalling all of the places in Scripture that the nation of Macedonia was mentioned.  Some of the same soil in this area was walked upon by the apostles as they carried the Gospel in the years following Pentecost.  I tried hard to imagine what those days were like!  Seeing the sheepherders, farmers, and rows of crops was like stepping back in time.  Kocina is home to another friend of P.I., whose name is Venco, a pastor of a local church there.  We arrived on Saturday evening, expecting to go straight to his home.  Instead, a man who didn’t speak any English picked us up and drove us to the church, where Venco was awaiting our arrival.  He told us, “We have a youth meeting tonight. I will postpone my teaching so you can teach us tonight.”  I looked at Drew and said, “Good luck!”  At the time I was glad I could pass it off to him, but I was quickly reminded by the Holy Spirit that if I were alone on this trip, I would be the one getting ready to speak in that moment.  The Bible does say to be ready in season and out!  I received my on-the-spot invitation the next morning, however, when Venco asked me to stand up and give my testimony in front of the crowd just before Drew stood up to preach!  Following the Saturday church service, we had a wonderful traditional Macedonian meal cooked by Venco’s wife and then we were shown to our upstairs bedroom where the temperature was a cool 40-something degrees!  It was a COLD night’s rest.  We had another great lunch meal before Venco drove us back to Skopje, in time for Sasha’s Sunday evening church service where Drew preached, and I again was asked on-the-spot to share something.  I was ready for that invitation though!

One very amazing part about this particular trip is that our dear friends, Rick & Holly Betenbough, who had traveled this past summer with P.I. to our Austrian family camp and connected with Sasha & Maria, were here for 3 days.  They were part of a business conference and spoke in several church services in Poland (where Drew & I will be heading on Thursday), and when they found out we were coming to Macedonia, they agreed to stay in Europe a few extra days and meet us here!  They were with us at Sasha’s school and church in Skopje and they spent a lot of time with their family while Drew and I traveled to Kocina.  The four of us shared a tiny apartment together for the weekend!  For more reasons than I can even begin to type here, their friendship and partnership on this journey are a miraculous example of God’s redemption and great love.  He is bigger and better than I ever imagined.  He is truly amazing!  God is about to radically expand their influence all over the world.  They are two of the greatest Kingdom carriers I’ve ever met.

One of the most exciting things that Sasha & Maria are involved in is the local Gypsy community, in which approximately 70,000 people live (10% of the city population).  Maria helped start a preschool in the gypsy community about 10 years ago.  It was birthed out of one of the previous churches Sasha started, and is now an independent NGO.  Every other day, the school also hosts a feeding outreach program for the children living in the community.  In addition to food, they provide clothing to the children – as long as their parents agree not to sell the clothing given to their children.  In this community, many parents force their children to beg on street corners to try and earn a few dollars.  Despite the opportunity their children have to receive free, healthy meals several times a week, many parents would rather risk starvation for a few dollars. It truly is heartbreaking.  One of the men in this community is Ramadan (the man I mentioned above).  He is currently enrolled in the ministry training school that Sasha leads.   His father was an Imam – a teacher and leader of Islam.  In effort to try and buy influence with one of his neighbors, he bought a Christian Bible to give to them, but before he could present it to them, Ramadan picked it up and began reading it.  Instantly, it began to awaken something inside of him!  His father was highly critical of this and very upset, but it was too late.  Shortly after, he gave his life to Jesus and began serving Him.  Eventually, his father kicked him out of his home.  Right up through his final days, Ramadan shared Christ with his father, and just before he passed away, his father confessed Jesus as the “real God.”  He admitted that the Qur’an just had too many “holes” in it.  The Word is alive!

For all of you who have made it this far in the blog, I would like to ask that you prayerfully consider joining us at some point here in Macedonia on a short-term trip.  We have begun discussions with the Vuletics about helping them fulfill a great desire of theirs – to have a weekend marriage conference with both Believers and non-Believers alike!  They are hungry to have couples come and help them facilitate and share throughout the weekend.  In addition to that, we would have plenty of opportunity to minister in other areas and see some beautiful parts of this great country!  Stay tuned for more details.

One interesting note… On the flight to Europe, I sat beside the film director of the soon-to-be-released independent film entitled “The Unbelievers.”  Unfortunately, we didn’t strike up any conversation until the last 10 minutes of the flight.  I told him I would watch his film, though… Google it.  It definitely is an interesting project.

Thanks for your prayers!  God is good!