I just got back on Saturday night from a 2-week trip, during which I was in NYC, Turkey, Hungary, Ukraine – then a quick jaunt to Southern California, before making my way back home just in time for daylight savings! My internal clock was so confused by that point that losing one more hour of sleep didn’t even register.
Hagia Sofia, Istanbul
NYC from the top of the Empire State Building
The purpose for the European trip was to visit White Fields‘ missionaries and ministry partners in Hungary and Ukraine. I got to spend time with Pastor Jani and others from Golgota Eger, the church my wife and I started back in 2005. We also spent time in Budapest at Golgota Budapest and with the leaders of the Anonymous Ways Foundation which helps to rescue women out of sex-trafficking.
Pastor Jani – Golgota Eger
Pastor Laci – Golgota Délpest
After a few short days in Hungary, we flew to Kiev, Ukraine where Mike and I taught at a Pastors and Leaders Conference for Calvary Chapel Ukraine. Our topic was “movement dynamics” and we gave biblical and practical instruction about leading missional churches for about 50 pastors and church leaders from all over Ukraine.
After church we spent some time with George Markey, one of the pastors of Calvary Kiev, and he shared with us the vision for urban church planting in Kiev – a city of about 5 million people. Their vision is to plant 30 churches in Kiev in 5 years! This year their goal was to begin with 2 church plants, and God has already raised up people for those in the northern Obolon region of the city and in the southern Teremky region. Please join in praying for God’s work in Kiev through Calvary Chapel and for this big vision they have for church planting!
Ternopil and Kharkiv
Sunday evening, three of us got on an over-night train to Kharkiv, the second-largest city in Ukraine, near the Russian border – while Mike and his wife Marika took a train in the opposite direction, to Ternopil in Western Ukraine to visit friends from Calvary Chapel Ternopil.
In Kharkiv, we visited with friends from Calvary Chapel Kharkiv, including Pastor Victor Fisin and Assistant Pastor and missionary Nate Medlong, whose aunt is a member of our church. Nate and his wife Diana are on the front lines of ministry to orphans and children in the foster system in Kharkiv. God is doing great things through their ministry, so please keep them in prayer.
Coffee with friends from CC Kharkiv
CC Kharkiv’s new building
Returning to Kiev, I got to speak to the students of Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary on Tuesday morning, and then we spent time with one of the teachers and the director of the seminary afterwards. UETS is a doing a great work, raising up pastors and leaders from all over the former Soviet Union. They have a strategic partnership with the seminary I am currently attending: London School of Theology (LST), and they have several hundred students attending their many campuses all over Ukraine and one other former-Soviet country. Pray for their work!
While the others from the team came back to Colorado, I had one more trip before I came home: I went to Thousand Oaks, California for the first Expositors Collective – an interactive seminar for young people who have a desire to preach and teach the Bible well. As one of the leaders, I coached a group of young men who had a range of different experiences: from Bible college students to interns, to a staff pastor who sometimes preaches at his church. It was a great event, and one that was geared towards ongoing mentorship. This was only the first of what will hopefully be an ongoing collective to encourage expository Bible teaching in the next generation. For more information, check out expositorscollective.com
Probably you know what it’s like to have people you don’t actually know, but who you know of, because you move in the same circles and you have a lot of common friends.
Having been missionaries in Eastern Europe for many years, there are many people whom my wife and I don’t know personally, but we know of them, because we’ve been in the same places at different times, or we’ve met once or twice before.
During my recent trip to Ukraine, I met one of these people: a long-time missionary in Kyiv named Cara Denney. On this trip, however, I did get the chance to spend some time with Cara and really enjoyed getting to know her. We have a lot of friends in common, but this was the first time we’d ever really talked.
As Cara was telling me part of her story, she said something that was very profound: she was telling me about how she had a strained relaitonship with her mom for many years, but after she became a Christian, she was able to forgive her mother in light of how Christ had forgiven her.
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
It was a few years after that, that her mother approached her, and finally apologized for the pain and suffering she had caused Cara earlier in her life.
Now here’s the good part: Cara told her mother at that point, “Mom, I forgave you years ago!” — to which her mom replied: “I know. That’s what gave me the courage to say, ‘I’m sorry’!”
“I forgave you years ago.”
“I know, that’s what gave me the courage to say ‘I’m sorry.'”
That story reminds me of a few things:
It is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance.(Romans 2:4)
The fact of God’s love for us displayed in Him acting to save us through Christ — while we were yet enemies! (Romans 5:10) — shows us that God deeply loves us, and this kindness and love gives us the courage to come to him and confess our sins, knowing that they have already been dealt with in Christ and that we will be welcomed in and received with open arms by the Father.
You don’t have to wait for someone to say they are sorry in order to forgive them.
Some people will never say they are sorry. But if you hold onto resentment against them, you will be the one who suffers, not them! It has been said that holding onto resentment against another person is like drinking poison and expecting to other person to die. In the end you are only hurting yourself. In order to be free, you’ve got to forgive that person for what they’ve done against you, whether they apologize or not. And who knows, maybe like with this woman, the fact that you have already forgiven them will be the thing that gives them the courage to say, “I’m Sorry.”
After all, God is the judge, and Jesus has already died for that sin – which means that justice will be served and/or has already been satisfied. Knowing this gives us the strength and the freedom to forgive.
Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting to other person to die. In the end, you’re only hurting yourself. Forgiveness sets you free.
Yesterday I received my letter of acceptance from London School of Theology, where I will begin my postgraduate studies starting this September to get a Master of Arts in Integrative Theology.
I will be studying via distance learning, which means I won’t have to travel at all and will be able to make my own schedule, both of which are important to me since I’m a full-time pastor and have a family at home. I looked into a local school in Colorado, but I prefer the British approach to education. Also, British schools are more affordable than US schools when it comes to studying Christian theology because in the US it is only taught in private universities because of the separation of church and state – whereas in the UK public universities can have theology departments. I would recommend Americans who want to study theology to really consider looking into studying via distance learning in Britain.
I’m excited to go back to school and continue my theological education. It’s been nice taking a year off, but I am ready to get back into it.
Several months ago I met a couple who live in Berthoud, CO who run an organization called Ukraine Orphan Outreach. It was through them that I got connected to people at the seminary, and as it turns out there are several people from Calvary Chapel in Ukraine who work and study there.
I was impressed with their school and its mission: “To strengthen churches and transform society” – as well as the work they are doing to accomplish that. Having an interdenominational evangelical seminary in Ukraine is a great asset to the church here.
The school has many students from outside of Ukraine, and recently they started a second campus of their school in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. They also operate several mini-campuses in cities around Ukraine, for people who want to study with them but have difficulty coming to Kyiv.
I’m praying that God uses and blesses the work of UETS to raise up and train many ministers of the gospel to work in this country and the former republics of the Soviet Union.
As I wrote in a previous post, I am currently in Kyiv, Ukraine on a ministry trip. On my way here I had the chance to stop in Hungary for two short days, during which every moment was packed.
I arrived in Budapest Tuesday night, met with a few friends on Wednesday, and got on a train to Eger to visit our friends from the church we started there several years ago. There was an open house gathering at the pastor’s house for anyone who wanted to come see me and it just so happened that one of my good friends and our former worship leader, who now lives in the Netherlands, was also in Eger that day, and was able to come out and visit.
Jani and Tünde and I stayed up late that night talking about life and ministry, and on Thursday I woke up early for a marathon of meetings with as many people as I could. It was a short time, but because of that it was also a very focused time. That evening, rather than taking the train back to Budapest to catch my flight the next day, Jani decided to drive me so that we would have more time to spend together and talk.
Pray for Pastor Jani and Golgota Eger. They are doing a good work in that city and region.
And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)
Friday morning I flew to Kyiv, arriving at 11:00 AM. At 2:00 PM the Calvary Chapel Ukraine Pastors and Leaders conference began at the conference center in Irpin.
The conference was two days long and the theme was “Vision for Our Cities.” It was a pleasure to get to spend time with this great group of people who are doing important work, and get to share with them some of the things I’ve learned.
On Sunday morning I shared at Calvary Chapel Kyiv, and had a great time with that wonderful church which has great leadership and a great vision to reach their city and the country of Ukraine. Pastor George told me today: “We could literally start as many churches as we want in Ukraine, the only thing we lack is people to do it. People here are so receptive to the gospel, particularly in the East where the fighting is going on.”
“We could start as many churches as we want in Ukraine, the only thing we lack is people to do it.” – Pastor George Markey, Calvary Chapel Kyiv
As Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
At church in Kyiv, I spent most of my time talking to people in Hungarian; an ethnic Hungarian man from the Hungarian-speaking region of Ukraine was there, as well as a Ukrainian girl whom my wife and I know from when we all lived Debrecen, Hungary. As more and more people in the world are moving to big cities like Kyiv, the world is getting smaller as it gets bigger.
60 years ago this week, the Hungarian people rose up against the Stalinist government of Hungary and the Soviet occupation.
The revolution ultimately failed, and in the wake of it, my wife’s father, Ferenc, fled Hungary along with some 200,000 people, and became a refugee. Ferenc was able to escape across the border into Austria along with a friend thanks to the help of a local villager who helped them navigate the minefield at the border. Unfortunately they later received news that this man had been caught and executed.
Those who fought and those who fled were known as 56-ers (Ötvenhatosok).
Time magazine named the Hungarian Freedom Fighter the Man of the Year in 1956.
The revolution began on October 23, 1956 with rallies and protests. When the ÁVH (Hungarian secret police) fired into the crowd of protesters in front of the parliament building, people formed militias, armed only with rocks and molotov cocktails, but were later able to break into military weapon storage and get guns. The revolution spread throughout the country, and on Oct 28, 1956 Soviet troops withdrew from Budapest. The Hungarians thought they were free, and began to establish a new government, but on Nov 4, in the middle of the night, the Soviet army rolled into Budapest and crushed the revolution completely and finally.
One of the saddest parts of the story of the revolution, was that the United States had been broadcasting into the Eastern Block via Radio Free Europe, telling people there that if they were to rise up against the Soviets, the US would support them. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, because at the exact time when the Hungarians did rise up, the US was in the middle of negotiations about the Suez Canal and needed the support of the Soviet Union, and they weren’t prepared to turn the Cold War into World War III.
My father-in-law, Ferenc, was able to get refugee status in Austria and petitioned for asylum in the United States, and was among those who were accepted. The United States said they would accept 100 young men who were willing to work. They took them on a B-52 Liberator, and after a stop-over somewhere in Africa, they were brought to a military base in New Jersey. Asked where they wanted to live in the United States, they chose Chicago, because it was the only American city they had heard of.
Ferenc later gained US citizenship, got married and had 2 kids. He went to college and worked in the tech industry. He loved Hungary, but understood he couldn’t go back. He also loved America, because of the opportunities and the freedoms he enjoyed here.
It was also in the United States that Ferenc heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and became a Christian. He was born in Hungary during World War II and raised in the Stalinist era of communist Hungary, which meant that although he identified as Roman Catholic, he never practiced it. Upon coming to the US, Ferenc began attending Catholic mass, but the real turning point in his life came when his son, my brother-in-law, was invited as a teenager to a church by some friends. My wife and her brother had gone to Catholic church growing up with their parents, but as they got older they had stopped attending. Tony, my brother in law embraced the gospel message of who Jesus was and what he did: the Divine Son, dying in our place, for our sins, so we could be forgiven, justified and redeemed; rising from the dead that we might have eternal life through him.
Tony invited Rosemary, my wife, to come to church with him, and she did. He also invited his mom and dad, who were much more hesitant to come because of the charismatic nature of this particular church.
Ferenc, however, listened to what Tony said about Jesus, and so Ferenc looked for a church where he felt comfortable going and learning more. He ended up finding Calvary Chapel in Vista, CA – and Rosemary began attending with him.
Rosemary remembers the time when her dad really understood the gospel for the first time. She says that he was emotional, having been touched deeply by the love and the grace of God towards him, and at the same time somewhat angry, saying: “I went to church for years…but I never heard the gospel! Why did they never tell me that I needed to repent of my sins and put my faith in Jesus, and that God extends grace and mercy and eternal life to those who will receive it?”
I went to church for years…but I never heard the gospel! Why did they never tell me…? – Ferenc Kovács
Ferenc attended Calvary Chapel in Vista for years. While he attended there he met another man, István, who was also a 56-er. About this time, the great changes were taking place in Eastern Europe which led to the end of Communism in those countries. Calvary Vista led the way in sending teams to preach the gospel and to plant churches, first in Yugoslavia and then in Hungary.
Ferenc was so excited to see what God was doing, and he wanted so badly to go to Hungary and tell his fellow countrymen the good news of the gospel, and the message that God loved them and that Jesus had died for them. Unfortunately, he never got that opportunity. Ferenc suffered from Juvenile Parkinson’s Disease, a devastating condition for a man who had formerly been an avid athlete and soccer player. Ferenc died from complications from Parkinson’s in 1996, at the age of 59, but not before seeing his daughter go on mission trips to Hungary. His friend István did go to Hungary and spent years working with Calvary Chapel in Budapest.
We ended up working together in, of all places, a refugee camp
In 1998, Rosemary moved to Hungary to work with Calvary Chapel, spreading the gospel and planting churches. It was there that I met Rosemary in 2001. We ended up working together in, of all places, a refugee camp, in Debrecen, Hungary where we ministered several times a week to people mostly from muslim countries, who had never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. We provided for them materially through donations, and we also offered them Bibles and held Bible studies, translated into several languages. Over this period of time, we saw people from Kosovo, Iran, Afghanistan and several African countries become Christians after hearing the gospel clearly presented for the first time in their lives and having the opportunity to read the Scriptures for themselves.
Today, we have a modern-day refugee crisis. We’ve been told that they are a “Trojan Horse” – and maybe some of that rhetoric has some truth to it, but I also know that people were sceptical of people like Ferenc, my father-in-law, who came from a Communist country – and guess what: during the Cold War, some spies and people with bad intentions against America did come to the US pretending to be refugees. It doesn’t change the fact of Ferenc and many other refugees’ stories of escaping oppressive regimes and not only finding freedom, but also having the opportunity for the first time in their lives to hear the life-transforming message of the gospel.
I see the current refugee situation through this lens: the lens of my wife, her brother and my late father-in-law. I see it through the lens of the many people who became Christians in the refugee camp I worked in, who had never had the opportunity to hear the gospel or the freedom to become Christians in their home countries. I see it through the lens of the Iranian refugees I met in Budapest last year, whom White Fields church bought Bibles for, because they were hearing about Jesus and getting baptized, changing their names and evangelising other refugees.
I’m not afraid of refugees – my father-in-law was one. The mass exodus of people from Syria is a difficult and messy situation, but here’s what I’m going to do if Syrian refugees move into my neighborhood: I’m going to befriend them, love them, show them kindness and seek to share with them the life-changing message of the gospel, a message which they likely have never heard before. I hope you’ll do the same.
For the past week we have been on vacation in California. For the first week of it we were in Orange County where I attended the Calvary Chapel pastors conference in Costa Mesa. Rosemary and the kids spent time with friends and at the beach, and Rosemary was able to attend some parts of the conference as well. The conference was refreshing; a great time of focusing on the Lord and recentering as well as reconnecting with friends from all over the world.
After that we went down to North San Diego and visited friends and family there, and then came to Los Angeles to stay with family. We’ll be back in Colorado for church on Sunday.
One of the books I’ve been reading on vacation is Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Several years ago I read Crime and Punishment and it became one of my favorite books. I think Dostoyevsky was a brilliant writer, particularly how he developed characters and got inside their minds.
What was interesting about Crime and Punishment was that it wasn’t only a novel so much as it was a platform for Dostoyevsky’s view of human anthropology – in other words: what makes us tick. What I found even more interesting, as I looked more into Russian literature from that time period, was that the other great Russian author, Tolstoy, did the same thing with his novels, but he had distinctly different views.
Tolstoy was a pacifist, who considered himself a Christian, but didn’t want anything to do with church in any way. In fact, the more you get to know his views, you realize that he was extremely legalistic and held many strange interpretations of Biblical passages. For example, Tolstoy said that since Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39), that means that we should not even have police, because the role of the police is to resist evil people. What he was arguing for was beyond pacifism to a form of anarchy, which was based on his fundamental belief in the basic goodness of humankind: that left to our own devices, with no outside intervention, people would trend towards good rather than evil, and that the trajectory of the human race is towards greater virtue, peace and harmony. Tolstoy’s views were a major influence on Ghandi and others.
Dostoyevsky on the other hand, did not share Tolstoy’s views about humanity. Dostoyevsky considered himself a serious Christian, something which is very apparent in his writing, and he held much more traditional (and biblical) views about the nature of humankind and what makes us tick.
In Crime and Punishment, for example, the main character is a university student who ends up killing the older woman he lives with. The popular thinking at the time (and still in our time as well) was the Englightenment theory that people are basically good, and that when people do things that are wrong, the reason they do them is either because of lack of education or because of poverty. Thus, the thought is that if you can educate people and bring them out of poverty, then crime and violence, as well as racism and hatred will cease to exist. The Bible does not agree with this theory, and says that the reason people do bad things, is because we are sinful and broken, and sin doesn’t just affect us, but it dwells within us, it is part of our very core. We weren’t designed by God to be this way, and it is for this reason that Jesus came, to redeem us from the curse of sin and death. But apart from redemption, all people are sinful, which is the reason we do sinful things.
If there is any question about this, Nazi Germany is a perfect case study of how the most educated society in the world, which was well off economically, committed some of the worst atrocities the world has ever seen. If the Englightenment theory was true, that shouldn’t have happened, but the Biblical view would say: educated and rich people are still sinners, they’re just educated and rich sinners. What all people need is a new heart, something which can only be found in and through Jesus Christ.
In Crime and Punishment the main character is an educated young man who kills his landlord simply because he wants to, because he’s curious what it will be like, and then he justifies his actions to himself. Why do people do bad things? Because sin dwells within us, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, Dostoevsky would say.
I am only 20% of the way through The Brothers Karamazov, but am very much enjoying it. It tells the story of a father and his 3 sons, actually 4 – as one of the servants is also the son of the man. The father is a foolish and base man, his oldest son is similarly base, but at least has a sense of conscience which his father seems to lack. The second son is an intellectual and considers himself an atheist, but is torn because he realizes that if there is no God and no afterlife and no Heaven or Hell, then there is no meaning to life. The third son is an apprentice monk at the local monastery, where he studies under a devout elder. There is another elder at the monastery who is crazy, and somehow in his derangedness is more popular with the people than the devout and humble elder who actually says a lot of things which are good and biblical.
One of the points that Dostoyevsky is making in the book is that the life of sincere Christian faith put into practice is the truly good life. Through the characters he is showing the results of a life of sin and the meaninglessness and pain of life apart from God and encouraging the reader to forsake sin and turn to God.
At least that’s what I’ve gotten out of it so far. I’ll let you know if anything changes!
Here are some excerpts:
“Love God’s people, let not strangers draw away the flock, for if you slumber in your slothfulness and disdainful pride, or worse still, in covetousness, they will come from all sides and draw away your flock. Expound the Gospel to the people unceasingly. Do not love gold and silver. Have faith. Cling to the banner and raise it on high.” – Father Zossima, the humble and sincere elder to Alyosha, the third son who is a Christian
“Remember, young man, unceasingly,” Father Païssy began, without preface, “[humanism], which has become a great power, has, especially in the last century, analyzed everything divine handed down to us in the holy books. But they have only analyzed the parts and overlooked the whole, and indeed their blindness is marvelous. Yet the whole still stands steadfast before their eyes, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Has it not lasted nineteen centuries, is it not still a living, a moving power in the individual soul and in the masses of people? It is still as strong and living even in the souls of atheists, who have destroyed everything! For even those who have renounced Christianity and attack it, in their inmost being still follow the Christian ideal, for hitherto neither their subtlety nor the ardor of their hearts has been able to create a higher ideal of man and of virtue than the ideal given by Christ. When it has been attempted, the result has been only grotesque.
I see a lot of talk online about ‘Millenials’, and almost all of it is negative. It’s been going on for years now. Recently I saw a video in which a young woman apologizes on behalf of millenials everywhere for them being so awful. This video was shared widely by, you guessed it: people 35 years old and up.
A few years ago I went to a conference in Colorado Springs with Jeff, the Administrative Pastor at White Fields. The conference was put on by Barna Research Group and was about ministry to Millenials.
There were a few really good points made at the conference. One was that it’s going to be really hard to reach young people if they feel that you disdain them and don’t like them. The other one was, that despite all the chatter that Millenials are lazy, self-centered and entitled, if you really look at the virtues of this generation, you will see things like: they are heroic – they want to do great things and save the world! What if that was harnessed and directed towards good goals? That youthful zeal could accomplish many great things.
Here’s what I think: Each generation of adults is quick to forget that older people looked at their generation and thought the same things about them that they now think about Millenials. Remember GenX? Remember Generation Y? Remember how in the 90’s everyone thought the sky was falling and that the GenX-ers were never going to get jobs and move out of their parents’ basements?
Or how about we go back even a little bit further, to 1985, to John Hughes and The Breakfast Club. Remember the conversation between Vern the assistant principle and Carl the janitor? Here’s a clip to refresh your memory:
“The kids haven’t changed. You have.”
Good point, Carl.
One of the things I appreciate most about the association of churches I found myself in as a young person (Calvary Chapel) was that they encouraged young people’s zeal, and gave them outlets for it. As a young person I had the opportunity to go overseas, full of zeal and idealism, and serve Jesus. I will forever be thankful for that opportunity. They didn’t squash my zeal, they gave me an outlet for it. They didn’t tell me that if I wanted to serve God then I needed to go to school for 6 years first and get a degree in Youth Ministry, until I came out tired and so burdened with debt that I wouldn’t dare do anything daring. Being busy serving God and working with churches as a missionary probably kept me from the siren call of temptation and other vain pursuits.
How about instead of bemoaning this up and coming generation, we encourage them to use their enthusiasm and heroism for God’s mission and give them plenty of opportunities to do so?
Yesterday was our final full day in Ukraine. We spent the day running errands and going around with Ben to look at different properties the church in Svitlovodsk has their eye on to purchase.
As part of our support of the ministry there, White Fields donated towards their building project. They currently meet in a 50 square meter (500 square foot) space in an office building, with a few extra rooms for children’s ministry. They estimate that for 60,000 USD they should be able to either buy land and build something from scratch or buy and refurbish a building. Pray for them in this regard.
In the evening we held part 2 of the Work as Worship seminar. Travis taught and then he and I fielded questions on the topic. It went really well and I think that we could easily fine tune this seminar and present it elsewhere. It is a topic which affects all people but something evangelical Christians fail to teach on enough – or to give a comprehensive enough vision for. I look forward to how we might be able to bring this teaching to our church in Longmont.
Right after the seminar ended, Levi, the assistant pastor and worship leader, drove Travis and I to Boryspil, where we stayed at a hotel near the airport, and then at 3:30 we woke up and got to the airport by 4:00am.
We had a 5 hour layover in Frankfurt, so we took atvantage of the great public transport here and went into the city. If you’ve been to Frankfurt, you know that there’s not a whole lot to see, so that was plenty of time.
Right now we are in the airport waiting for our flight to Denver. It’s been an extremely fruitful trip, but it will be great to be home.
Today we spent the day in Kremenchug and then in the evening we did our first session of the Work as Worship seminar at Calvary Chapel Svitlovodsk.
The seminar was well attended and the Q&A drew many thoughtful questions.
Tomorrow night Travis will teach part 2.
I am looking forward to seeing how this seminar, as well as the one on Christocentrisity which Ben and I taught at the Pastors and Leaders Conference in Kyiv, can be shared in other places, including our church in Longmont.