Saturday, December 11, 2010

Baba Lile and Monika

Even though riding on the train in the Balkans can be a very frustrating experience, I am also discovering it can be a source of unexpected encouragement and divine encounters.

Last Thursday my friends from America were visiting and I was having a very difficult morning, feeling very discouraged. John, Jenn, Ben and I were in the train going from Skopje to Veles, and I was sitting there feeling rather overwhelmed. There was an older woman, probably seventy years old, sitting in the compartment with us, and we struck up a conversation. She asked us what we were all doing here living in the Balkans, and I told her that we are working with different churches in Skopje, Belgrade and Thessaloniki. I expected the normal response from an older orthodox Macedonian, the suspicion that we are part of a cult. Imagine my astonishment when she began telling me about her relationship with God, and for the next thirty minutes or so proceeded to speak words of encouragement, life and wisdom over us. She told us, "You are all blessed, peaceful children of God. Everywhere that you go you will carry peace and freedom. You will fly with God. The presence of God that is in you will change your surroundings everywhere that you go. You have no reason to be afraid of anything, or to be discouraged." She went on in this fashion for a long while and as I translated for my friends I was laughing and looking over at them in astonishment, wondering where this woman came from. She is probably one in a thousand 70 year old Macedonian woman who has a personal relationship with God. The woman's name was Lile, and she said to me, "Please be praying for Baba (grandma) Lile." I assured her we would be praying for her.

The following week, I was once again in the train going from Skopje to Veles, this time with Sonja. It was Thursday, three days before at the prayer meeting I had asked God to give us divine appointments with people in Macedonia who need to hear about Him We were sitting in a compartment in the train with another young woman. When she asked us to tell her the time, Sonja took the opportunity to start a conversation with her. Having noticed that she had been crying Sonja asked her if something was wrong. She informed us that her mother had died unexpectedly three weeks before at a young age. She proceeded to tell us some of what had happened, and how she was feeling. I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as I realized he had strategically placed us there at that moment in time, and had answered my prayer very directly. Sonja shared with Monika some about how God is not the one who took her mother, and then I was able to share my testimony of having experienced much death and seeing how God brings comfort. I told her that God's desire is to give her beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning, that he will bring the comfort that she needs. She cried as we spoke, and was very open to the things that we shared. We told her we would be praying for her, for which she was very grateful, and we parted ways, with the hope, at least on my part, of seeing one another again.

As I ponder these things a certain revelation sinks more deeply into my heart. My God is not a God who I have to fight with to give me blessing, or who reluctantly releases it if I pray hard enough. On the contrary, He looks for every possible opportunity to bless me. My God is for me, not against me, He longs to be gracious to me, He waits on high to have compassion on me. He brought me Baba Lile to remind me of this, and then Monika to remind me that through me He can extend this blessing to every single person whose path I cross, even sitting in the train.

Thanksgiving in Thessaloniki

This year for Thanksgiving my friend Sonja and I travelled down to Thessaloniki, Greece to spend a few days with our friends Amy and Jenn from America who live in Thessaloniki. We took the train, which almost without fail provides some kind of interesting experience. This time we had interesting conversations with two different women who sat in the same compartment as us. Then at the border when it came time to check passports I was reminded of how conspicuous I am as an American. The police come and collect all the passports, but then you must go to the station to retrieve them. They call out names, and people step forward to get the passport back. They were calling out Greek names and Macedonian names, then they got to mine and just yelled, "The American passport!". I had to laugh at how much I stick out.

We had a wonderful time in Thessaloniki hanging out with Jenn and Amy, relaxing and preparing for Thanksgiving meal. Their balcony overlooks the Aegean Sea, and you can see Mount Olympus (that's the mountain in the picture) when the air is clear. I enjoyed the peaceful surroundings

and company very much. The shepherd and his flock of sheep in the neighboring field, the forest in front of the kitchen window, the horse that lives nearby and loves it when you give him an apple.

Thanksgiving day we gathered at

Tommie's place, which is just around the corner from Jenn and Amy. It was certainly the most unique Thanksgiving celebration I have ever been a part of. There we were Americans, Greeks, Swedes and Macedonians all gathered in Greece in a Swedish home celebrating an American holiday. After the meal Tommie's neighbor who is a musician provided us with live entertainment, which was a wonderful way to end the evening.

The trip home on the train provided further intrigue. A young policeman who was working at the border noted where we were sitting on the train, and when he got on to ride for about half an hour he chose to sit with us. Come to find out he is single and looking for a wife. He proceeded to question us about our occupations, ages and other pertinent information. I think Sonja may have scared him off for us when she mentioned Jesus and he completely shied away from the topic. So we said goodbye to him at Miravci, and made the rest of the journey by ourselves.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Watch out Balkans! Here comes WIMM +2!

Who but God is capable of bringing a group of people from Virginia, Michigan, Florida and Tennessee, from a wide range of backgrounds together in the Balkan region of Europe with a united vision to see Him bring transformation to this region of the world? I have been marveling over this the past few days and my awe at God's works knows no bounds. It is so true that the steps of a man are established by the Lord, and the places that He takes us are amazing.

We are all from the same church in Christiansburg, Virginia, having graduated from the same internship program, each separately led by the Lord to the country that we are now living in. Amy, Jenn, Ben and Kim are in Thessaloniki, Greece, Danielle and John in Belgrade, Serbia, and myself in Skopje Macedonia. Our current name WIMM + 2 stands for Womens International Missions Movement since at the start we were just women. Now that two men have joined the ranks we temporarily added plus 2 on the end until we come up with a new name. So, we decided to meet together, to share vision of what God is doing in this region of the world, to encourage one another and enjoy the presence of Jesus. So for the past few days we were all here together in Skopje.

The first night as we were praying together, my heart just overflowed with gratefulness to God. For years I have dreamed of the day that I would be living and ministering overseas. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be sharing this calling with such a team of people as this to back me up. God is such a good father, and gives such good gifts. And He does not call a person without giving them everything that is necessary to walk out that calling.

These past few days we have spent hanging out and laughing, playing cards, cooking, eating, worshiping, praying, and just being together. God showed up in the way that He loves to do, speaking words of encouragement to each of us, through one another, blessing us with the sweetness of His presence. At the beginning I was feeling so empty and discouraged from the demands of ministry but by the end I was refilled with Jesus, encouraged to continue, with a sense that I am part of a team, that I am not alone, that we are in this together. I cannot express the comfort of knowing I have brothers like Ben and John nearby who remind me of how much God values me and of His protective presence over me, and of having sisters like Amy, Jenn, Kim and Danielle to listen to my struggles, to share the joys with and to encourage me and walk alongside me. I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of a family such as this.

With the presence of God in us, the resurrection power of Jesus at our disposal we are a group of people who I am confident are called to bring radical change and healing to the Balkan region. Watch out, here we come! Jesus is on the move!