Monthly Archives: November 2012

Faith: A promise of “Happily Ever After?”

“But what does it mean that we are created in the image of God? Do we look like him?”

“How did the tree of knowledge open their eyes? What was really different afterward?”

“Did God curse them directly, or the land, or both?”

The questions were not easy, particularly when thinking about trying to clothe them in culturally appropriate descriptions.   There is a deep-seated belief among some Roma that they are cursed—a legend recounts one Roma who stole a nail from the cross of Christ— thus explaining why they are despised and poor.  Speaking about the curse in Genesis 3, therefore, is a sensitive matter.

This was the third Sunday of the new Roma church in Darda—the village I have been visiting for the last year and a half.    The first service was a big celebration—Roma pastors traveled from Serbia, a Roma music group led the singing, Croatian pastors attended to bless the church, and more than 100 people showed up to enjoy the occasion.  After the service,  a feast of two roast pigs further marked the day as one to remember.  I had been wildly excited, feeling privileged and awed to have been a witness to this processA year and a half ago, the first Roma couple had decided to follow Jesus after the wife had been healed. This was followed by other conversions and a few baptisms.  Now, Roma believers

Proudly welcoming the guests.

stood proudly waiting to greet the visitors, rushing around serving the roast pig to people, cleaning up, and generally taking ownership of their church.

But that was the first week.  Now it was painfully apparent that the new believers knew next to nothing about the Biblical story. And I was worried—were we imposing some form of a Croatian Pentecostal church upon them?  All of my theological and cross-cultural training swirled around my head as I sat among my team—five people who span four cultures, three languages, and a variety of theological viewpoints— listening to the discussion of Genesis 1-3.   I had thought the sermon, preached by one of our team, was very clear, but the questions being asked were a reminder that  cultures communicate with different symbols and images.

One man thought that Adam and Eve were literally blind before their “eyes were opened” when they ate the apple.

Another woman thought the apple contained a physical poison that oozed its way through their bodies and affected their offspring.

Another man thought that the apple gave certain powers that God had to restrain.

I didn’t agree with all the answers given, and I continue to wrestle with the reality of having little control over outcomes. In fact, I have no idea what will happen with this fledgling church.   But the truth is this:  God was already at work in the village, and it is the Spirit who carried things this far. Even more, God brought together an unlikely group of five people with different backgrounds, cultures, and languages, who share a love and respect for one another and  for the Roma.  We must choose to believe that this fragile group of new believers will continue to follow Jesus, spreading the message of hope and reconciliation in a way that transforms the village—and this choice is certainly an act of faith.

I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”  I Corinthians 3:6,7


A sign of glory?

He existed in layers of bitterness—each passing year cementing his rage until his mind contorted with an intense hatred toward himself and others.  Born with cerebral palsy,  Boris* was unable to walk or take care of himself.

One day, he looked out the window and saw  a neighbor boy whose face looked different, as if he were glowing.

“Come up here and tell me what happened to you,” he called down.  So the boy brought his Bible and came to tell him how he had come to Jesus two days before. Boris felt something come alive inside his spirit as he listened and opened the Bible.

That night,  Boris  heard a voice telling him how to pray the Lord’s prayer. “My family was Communist and we were a mix of Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim,” he said.  “So I didn’t really have any tradition to follow. But I think this prepared me for what happened next.”

Three days later, Boris was in his room, trying to do some kind of Eastern meditation, when suddenly he prayed, “Please give me the Holy Spirit.”

“I didn’t know why I asked that…I didn’t even know what the Holy Spirit was..but this yearning came from deep within me.”

Right after he prayed, Boris experienced an electric wave move over him…once…twice…and three times.  “I felt life in my body for the first time because I had been physically paralyzed before,” Boris said.  The experience grew more intense and suddenly Boris saw a burning cross. The next thing he knew he was kneeling before it.  When he looked up, he saw Jesus looking at him.   “What are you doing here, my Lord?” Boris asked.

“It was strange…I wasn’t a believer in Jesus, but when you see Jesus there is nothing else you can call him. Suddenly, everything was instantly clear to me…who he was, what he was doing, and who I was.”

Boris heard Jesus say, “Before you become my child, you must renounce your hatred of yourself and others.”  Boris began to cry and then felt himself come back into his body again.

For the next eight days, Boris could not stop crying—he could feel the Holy Spirit healing his mind and his spirit. “I had been so filled with hatred that I was like a crazy person..I had no perspective in my life and it had warped my mind.”

At the end of the eight days, Boris began arguing with Jesus.  “Why didn’t you  completely heal my body?  Now my mind is healed but my body is still crippled! Who will accept me?  I am the least of any person on earth! Who can I serve?”

Boris felt Jesus promise him he would show him those who were in greater need than he—and five years later, when the war in Bosnia ended, Boris found himself ministering and praying for drug addicts living on the streets.

“I am not sure why God did not completely heal my body.  But I think it is because it is a more powerful expression of God’s glory.  Despite my disabilities, I am a pastor, I have a beautiful wife and three kids, and now I can walk.”

Christ’s power perfected in weakness—a stumbling block for those hoping and looking  for a different kind of power. But for others, as they see God’s glory gleaming through the cracks of a broken vessel, they are able to understand God with more clarity.  The way of the kingdom  can be baffling and mysterious—it is both hidden and not hidden, true power is revealed in weakness, and the meek shall inherit the earth.  For some, this is the way of freedom and life,  but others turn away in disappointed confusion, wondering why God seems absent.

*Name has been changed.