Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Serious Joy! (Part 2)

The following is Part 2 of my trip report from "Party with the Gypsies 2009," which I am scheduling to post on 6/8, 6/15, 6/22 & 6/29 while I prepare to travel to Bulgaria, Greece & Turkey with Global Celebrations again this year.  For 12 days, we'll be sharing God's Love, food, clothing, music & prayers as we reach out to poor gypsy neighborhoods in 3 countries; Georgian & Winnie Banov will also teach a "School of the Cross" missions internship while we travel "In the Steps of Paul" to historic sites of New Testament Christianity including Philippi, Thessaloniki, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus & Smyrna... Thank you for remembering us all in your prayers!

The Lord, the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel, says to the one who is despised and rejected by the nations... "Kings will stand at attention when you pass by. Princes will also bow low because of the Lord, the faithful one, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
[Isaiah 49:7]

Why gypsies? you might wonder... a few generalizations (for the sake of not going on too long): gypsy people have a long history of being outcasts, even hated, in many nations of Europe (including Bulgaria) - not assimilated into the general population, with a separate language, a reputation as thieves (all they stole from us was our hearts!) – often without land ownership or regular employment or accepted status in the local culture, "living for the moment" rather than planning for the future... in many neighborhoods we visit, the gypsies are essentially squatters who can be evicted at any time from their makeshift housing. Scripture passages describing God’s heart for the rejected (like Isaiah 49:7, above) come to my mind as Georgian & Winnie & Zhoro explain their ministry to this "outcast" population while we criss-cross Bulgaria in our air-conditioned motor coach (which is actually a huge blessing, since we cover a lot of miles and pour out all we've got all day long while visiting some of the poorest places I’ve ever seen – a good meal, hot shower & clean hotel bed are refreshing, too, at the end of each busy day).

Global Celebrations and their partners in Bulgaria not only honor the gypsies as objects of God's Love, but are also training some of them as missionaries to reach across borders, and have begun to establish new believers & churches not only in Bulgaria but also in neighboring Greece and Turkey. I can't help but think there are distinct advantages to not being excessively bound by culture or materialism, since most of us (North American short-term missionaries) have to allow God to work in us to achieve this goal :) and we learn so much about the simplicity of love & joy as we see how quickly the hearts of the rejected poor respond to music and dancing, hugs and smiles and prayers... not just material things!


Our strategy as Global Celebration "new wine missonaries" is to drink in as much as we possibly can of the joyous truth about what God has done for us in Christ, and then overflow with His Love as we spill out into whatever place or people group is next on the itinerary :) more specifically, we enter a village - sometimes Global Celebration or local pastors have been there before, sometimes it's a whole new village that has no idea we are coming - armed with toys & trinkets, face-painting & stickers for the children, musical instruments, colorful flags, streamers and noisemakers - a little bit like the circus coming to town :) but with much more personal attention to each individual... we hug children, practice our few phrases in Bulgarian ("you are very beautiful" for girls and women of all ages, "Jesus loves you" & "I love you" etc)... After a while, Georgian or one of the Bulgarians uses a megaphone to preach a short salvation message and asks those who are sick or in any kind of pain to raise their hands so we can pray for them.

In every single village we visit, there are healing miracles. What I mean is, although not every single answer to prayer manifests immediately (God does follow up - we hear some wonderful stories of things that happened after the team visited last year), still not one village doesn’t testify to multiple significant healings within a matter of minutes after we pray with them.

One night I tell my roommate that, while I've been around this kind of healing fairly often in the last 25 years, I have never personally prayed for anything more serious than a headache that left instantly; this bothers me a little, because I'm on my church altar team at home and when we pray for the sick, I know my faith is a lot stronger for gradual healing, to the point that I wonder if I really expect immediate results any more...

The day after this conversation, I am privileged to pray directly for a 3-year-old boy whose mother says he can't walk – we set him down on the ground (he cries at first) and I tell him in English (Winnie shared a few days earlier about spiritual impartation that goes beyond the limitations of language), "you can walk, in Jesus' name!" while positioning his mother a few feet in front of him so he will walk toward her. He takes a few steps - she is startled but encouraged, so I gesture "continue, keep going" and turn to pray for someone else next to me - when I turn back around a few minutes later, that little boy is PULLING his mother all over the yard!!! and she's beaming, amazed and obviously happy... my head starts to doubt, like maybe his problem wasn't that severe, but the look on her face tells me this is a truly wonderful change from his previous condition!

In the next village, almost exactly the same thing happens: a teenage girl is brought to us for prayer because she is mute - as we pray, I look at her and say with newfound confidence, "you can speak, in Jesus' name!" and in moments, she is speaking, a little rough at first, but as members of our team encourage her to say more and more words, she improves, as her relatives look on with delighted smiles...

Throughout the trip, gypsies tell Georgian (in Bulgarian, and he translates for us) that heart trouble, asthma, and kidney pain have disappeared; in one new village, a woman who had had a stroke and was paralyzed on one side is walking and praising God, her teenage daughter is weeping with amazement, joy and gratitude, saying, "my mother could not do this for 7 months!" (we have that one on video)...

The testimonies are endless, so I will close this paragraph with two observations: one is that we seemed to enter in to this kind of childlike faith in God's ability to do the miraculous as simply and easily as we hugged and danced with the children - one activity (loving) seemed to flow naturally into the other (healing)... and, as I've heard missionary Heidi Baker preach many times, stepping in to the supernatural is like stepping in to a swimming pool, you don’t push or fight your way in, you just step in... I think somehow the expectation that God really will do what He says He will do (heal the sick, answer prayer, love through us) is not unrelated to simple childlike trust and moving in His love and joy.

Winnie jokes on the bus as she preaches about entering by faith into the reality of what Jesus has already done on the Cross, saying we "need to press the easy button" - I order some from Staples as reminders and gifts for teammates when I get home, thinking it would be fun to have one on the bus next year, we could all press it as we climb back onboard after an outreach and hear the refrain (as each one gives it a tap), "that was easy!" "that was easy!" "that was easy!"

To be continued (on 6/22/11)...

“Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”
[Luke 7:22]

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