"Preach the Gospel to all creation" Mark 16:15
|report by mission leader Mark Puckett|
Warriors of the Light
The 2003 Romania mission, launched and executed July 3 through July 14, was a huge success by any conceivable means of measure. Lives outside the church were changed, lives within the church were changed, churches were changed and energized, and all because more than 70 Romanian believers said "YES!" to God's command to go and tell the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Romanians were assisted by five Americans, who wore the hats of advisors, counselors, coaches, mentors, pastors, and encouragers. Working together, they expanded GNI's mission reach to more than 20 unchurched villages and towns throughout the district of Prahova, contacting nearly 3800 people, sharing the gospel almost 2500 times, and beheld 988 people making professions of faith in Jesus Christ!
Three-year Ramp-upThe 2003 Romania mission was the third year of ramp-up of increasing Romanian take-over of GNI's work in Romania. The number of Romanians going out as evangelists has increased from 14 in 2001, followed by 26 in 2002, and then to 74 in 2003. This was the second year in which 100 percent of the evangelism was put into the hands of the Romanians, and the first year in which Romanians also assumed leadership and training responsibilities. Next year will see a further increase in their responsibilities, and the last stage of GNI American personnel involvement.
The mission strategy is focused on planting new churches. The district of Prahova, for example, has a population of almost 900,000 souls. They live in over 500 villages and towns, of which only 20-25 have evangelical churches. There are three major strains of evangelical churches in Romania: Baptist (whose roots are North American Baptists), Brethren (whose roots are European Baptists: Mennonites), and Pentacostals (whose roots are also North American). These evangelicals make up 2 percent of the population, whereas 89 percent are Romanian Orthodox. This ratio varies greatly by region. The districts in Western Romania have the stronger evangelical presence, representing up to 6.5 percent of the population. Eastern Romania, where GNI is working, has a per district evangelical presence of as little as 0.2 percent. The work is great and challenging anywhere in Romania, and especially in Eastern Romania. It makes no sense for the evangelicals to compete with one another, and this has become the driver for the mission strategy. Only villages and towns who have no evangelical witness will be targeted for church planting.
Each American, and Pastor Ion (with whom we have worked these many years) was responsible for a group of 14-16 Romanians. The group leaders assigned team leaders from the more experienced of the Romanians, who are from Pastor Ion's Campina area churches. The team leaders then led the training on the weekend before the mission work. The training included memorization and role playing evangelistic encounters. The final step in getting ready was team selection. My own experience was a suprise blessing. My team leaders, consisting of four young ladies: Lavinia, Cami, Simi, and Irina, met with me to decide which persons should be on their teams. They came into the meeting giddy and asking for the favorites of their newly-found friends to be on their own team. I explained the need for team balance with respect to experience, age, personality types, and gender. The local team members were quite diverse in these areas, so I knew making the team assignments would not be easy. The girls, whom I had nicknamed "My Tigers", prayed with me over the process of determining the teams, and went to work on their own. Within a few minutes, my interpreter, a member of the church in which we were ministering and who knew the local team members well, leaned over and said, "They are almost finished, and they have done an excellent job of putting the teams together". The girls shared with me their recommendations, and they had done very well. My confidence in them began to soar. Day by day they took their teams into the streets and byways, day by day people were saved through their proclaimation of the gospel, day by day the proteges of "My Tigers" took more of the responsibilities in sharing the gospel.
Stories from the StreetsFaith and courage are two things we, as Christians, like to think that we have in plenty. The truth is, however, we don't know how much of either we have until it is required. One family was asked, by the Lord, to measure their faith and courage. Wednesday evening, heading home from a 'team leader meeting' that included Coca-Cola and popcorn, "My Tigers" and I were celebrating the goodness of the Lord in the first three days of the mission. Thursday is always the toughest day on these trips; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I knew the girls would need rest, and we were wanting to get home early. Upon our arrival, Lavinia received a phone call. It was unusual since 1) she didn't live in this town, and 2) it was after 10:00pm. It was bad news. Her father and uncle, working in Italy, had been mugged, and Lavinia's father took a hard blow to the head. He was not doing well, and later we found he had been in a coma the previous three days. As might be expected, Lavinia took the news hard. The other Tigers, all sisters from the same town as Lavinia, rallied around her. We prayed together, read from the Psalms together, and did a brief exploratory on the question "Why?". Lavinia and Simi did not sleep well or much that night. I don't think any of us rested, but the one who felt the greatest burden was Lavinia. Her mother was with one our teams in another part of Prahova, and her older brothers were each in different towns on mission as well. There was never any talk of regrouping the family. That desire was not even expressed. There was no complaint of fatigue. We continued to pray as we walked. Lavinia's face still shone as she shared the gospel. Several people prayed to receive Christ through Lavinia's proclaimation, but none of them knew of her heavy burden. Her mother and brothers responded in the same fashion. They did not let this tragedy deter them from what the Lord had called them to do. They trusted the Lord. Many professed Christ as Savior because of their faith, and the reports of Lavinia's father were better each day, coming out of the coma the day after Lavinia first received the news. Faith and courage: only testable under fire. They are warriors of the Light.
Boldness. How is it defined? Is it the same as brashness? Is it the same as bravery? Is it a little bit of both? Is it perhaps more than both brashness and bravery? Webster gives the following definition for boldness: [n] the trait of being willing to undertake things that involve risk or danger. That is what I saw in the Romanian evangelists during the mission. Irina walked along a dirt road, Bible and tracts in hand. She is 16, and this is her second mission trip. I have known her for at least 8 years, attending her baptism (as well as Lavinia's and Simi's) in March of 2002. I had been down with a back injury since before the mission began, spending the first two days unable to go out with the teams. I stayed with our van and prayed, which was a good thing for me. I walked a few meters behind Irina and her teammate Lumi, praying as we went. Irina stopped at a store, a small one-room shop that sold junk food and drinks, both soft and otherwise. Four men, ranging in age from the late 30s to mid-50s were talking, and a couple of them were drinking, though not noticeably tipsy in any way. Irina asked if they would answer a few questions about their beliefs, and they obliged her. She received the expected bantering about 'religion' throughout the questions, but then calmly asked if she could share her testimony and then the gospel. She shared both, without flinching, without a quiver in her voice, without getting much encouraging feedback from them. She invited them to receive Christ. They refused, but took the tracts she offered. She thanked them, gathered her things, and went down a shady lane to find others who would be willing to hear (and one old woman she encountered heard, and believed). Irina led many people to make professions of faith that week, people of all ages and stations in life. For me, Irina's sharing with the four men was 'boldness' personified. She is my Bold Tiger, a warrior of the Light.
PostlogueThe big story for me on this trip was the Campina volunteers. It was among the Campina volunteers we first ministered. They were the ones who embraced and supported our work in the beginning, and it now has become their work in the Lord. It was their children who attended our afternoon children's meetings in the late 90s (thank you, Mary Pike), and now have grown into the legacy of "going on mission". They do it in their schools, and in villages near their own, where transportation is not an issue (they go "pe jos", which their way of saying "by foot"). The Campina volunteers are blessing to me and to their pastor. What grace has been given to see this glorious time!
There are many more stories from this mission that are being told and remembered in Romania even now. They talk and share about the great encounters in battle with the great unseen enemy, and the great victories they witnessed in the Lord. They tell these stories because they were faithful, courageous, bold, and compassionate enough to say "YES" to their Master's call. They celebrate the stories as warriors of the Light.
The 29th Chapter of Acts continues...