Balkan Adventures image

Balkan Adventures

I heard recently of a discussion in the eldership of a Newfrontiers church in one member of the team argued against any direct involvement of his church in international mission on the basis that it would sap resources and energy away from the building of the local church. He couldn’t have been more wrong!

In an excellent article in the “Vision and Values” magazine published last year headed “Building churches that are evangelistically relevant” Lex Loxides makes the following comments:

‘Every local church should be “plugged in” to the global mission. We are part of each other in Christ and each church is a contributing member of Christ’s mission in the earth. As a family of churches we eagerly pray for and support each other in church planting efforts wherever they happen. We cheer and pray not only for those who gain early successes but also for those who are planting in settings that are more resistant. We are united for the good of the nations through the preaching of the gospel.’

New Testament churches were committed lock stock and barrel to proclaiming the good news that Jesus was the Messiah and that He had been raised from the dead both in their local community and, through apostolic mission, to the ends of the earth. Wasn’t this exactly what Jesus has both commanded and prophesied (Acts 1:8)? Consequently, the apostle Paul was anxious to engage the Roman church in his commitment to reach Spain with the Gospel (Romans 15:24). As far as Paul was concerned Spain was, quite literally, the ends of the earth!
I have just returned for a thrilling 9 day visit to some of our Newfrontiers churches in Bulgaria. I took a team of 23 people and have been visiting Bulgaria on a regular basis for the last five years. As well as 15 or so churches in Bulgaria we are also working in a team led by Martyn Dunsford into a number of other Balkan nations including Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, Kosovo and Greece.
For me, this is one of the best examples of building “one new man” churches (Ephesians 2:15) that I can think of in the world today! Many Bulgarians look down on gypsies, but our churches are planting churches in gypsy villages and are engaged in ministry to the poor in such contexts. On a wider front, a rudimentary knowledge of European history makes us all too aware of the ethnic tensions that exist between Balkan nations. It was the Balkan “powder keg”, after all, that ignited Europe into war in 1914 and the Balkans (in particular the former Yugoslavia) is the only part of European soil to experience warfare since 1945. Put very simply, the different Balkan ethnic groups and nationalities do not get on! Yet we are seeing Serbian, Bulgarian and Albanian pastors working together, trusting each other and serving one another. If this is not a “one new man” church then I don’t know what is!
When I was at University in the 1980s I studied a course entitled “The Balkans: from Islam to Communism, 1815-1945.” At that time I never imagined for a moment that I would end up visiting the Balkans. I could only read about the exploits of people like Brother Andrew in God’s Smuggler. However, as we help to build and strengthen churches across the Balkans, the local church of which I am a part is caught up in the greater purposes of God. It becomes “plugged in” to global mission as Lex Lozides puts it. Half of my small group came with me on my recent trip and, watching them praying for healing on the streets, leading people to Christ and moved with compassion as they reached out in love and friendship to teenagers living in an orphanage, I became even more convinced of the importance of global mission in the life of the local church. Eyes were being opened to what God is doing on the grand scale. God is deeply committed to the core of His being to have a people for Himself from every tribe, language, people and nation (Revelation 5:9). The amazing thing is that I and my local church can play a part in making what is on God’s heart a concrete reality!

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