Tuesday, 30 June 2020

From dream to reality – The Salvation Army in Bulgaria

I believe that God speaks to us through his word such as we find it in the Bible. I also believe that his Word became flesh and that He speaks to us in and through the life of Jesus Christ. Further, I believe that Jesus did not leave us as orphans when he ascended to heaven, because he promised to send us the Spirit of truth (1). He fulfilled that promise on the Day of Pentecost. Therefore, I also believe that God speaks to us through The Holy Spirit. By using the prophecy from Joel, Peter described what was happening before the eyes of a large and amazed audience. Men and women, young and old should share prophecies, visions and dreams…

Even though I had experienced God speaking to, in and through me in different ways, I had served him for many years without having dreamt any dream that I believed God had given me. In fact, I hardly remember any dream, and if I remembered a sequence, it was definitely not something worth remembering. On occasions, God has woken me up when I was sleeping reminding me about a person who needed prayers.

However, I was not so worried about the lack of dreams, because Peter said that it is old men who will dream dreams (2). Well, if this is to be taken literally, I became old at the age of 58.

Our appointment back to Eastern Europe Territory (EET) was announced on the 1st of April 2015. This was the day when Magna and I arrived at the venue for our divisional Easter Camp for youth in beautiful snowy ‘Easter-mountains’. Of course, we had quite a few conversation about the ‘news’ during the afternoon and evening. Naturally, we went to sleep with many thoughts and emotions – excited about the new challenges and sad about leaving wonderful people - like all the young people we had come to give spiritual encouragement and counselling.

That night I dreamt. It was a dream about Bulgaria, I saw The Salvation Army coming there to open work. To my surprise I even saw a visiting Brass Band. It was so vivid, and the dream seemed to go on for a long time – almost on repeat. When I woke up in the morning, I was puzzled and confused. I had never been to Bulgaria and my knowledge about the country was next to nothing. At the same time, I felt that this was not a coincident. I had dreamt, and I remembered the dream. The country was neighbouring Romania, which is one of the existing countries in EET, and I knew that God sometimes speaks to people in a dream even though I had not experienced it before.

I shared it with Magna, and I shared it with some of the people at the camp, and I asked myself the question: "Does God want us to open The Salvation Army’s mission in Bulgaria?" 

When we arrived in EET few months later, the challenges of the ministry and the establishing of a new THQ in Chisinau (Moldova) after the move from Moscow took all our attention. There was no time to think about new openings and the dream faded into the background.

So, I believe God needed to give me a reminder. On 17th of November 2015 I received a phone-call from a man who presented himself a colleague of my brother. He had spoken to my brother the night before and my brother had told him to call me, since he was in Chisinau on a short visit: “Could we meet?”

I did not feel that I had the time, but something urged me to accept. One hour later, we were having a deep conversation in a restaurant where we shared a small part of our life-stories. When I told about him about TSA’s work, he asked:

- “Do you have any plans of extending the work to other countries in the area?”.
- “There are several options, but the most likely one is probably Bulgaria”, I replied.
- “Well, if you want to open there, I have properties in the country and I am registered living there. If ever you want to open work, I am ready to assist with knowledge and contacts!” (3)

God had pulled me back on the Bulgaria-track, and when I shared the dream and the conversation with the territorial leaders at the time, Colonels Rodney and Wendy Walters, they straight away said that we should investigate the possibilities further.

From that moment, we started to make plans and pray about this, and repeatedly God has confirmed that he is behind this. Of course, there has been obstacles and setbacks. The process has also taken a long time because we wanted to have a proper legal registration for The Salvation Army in Bulgaria before we start up the work. When we received the registration one year ago, we could put all the other pieces together.

We are now ready to go in with a team of four great officers who share the dream and vision of God’s presence in Bulgaria through the ministry of The Salvation Army. Captains Inna and Eduard Lebedev and Captains Kathleen and Erik Johansson have their own testimonies about their faith-journeys that will bring them to Bulgaria, hopefully in near future.

This is just a brief account of the journey from dream to reality. Much more could and should be written about God’s finger in the preparation-phase, however, that will happen later.

Thank you for your support in prayers for this new step in faith!
“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain.”
Psalm 127:1a
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(1) John 14:15-18
(2) Acts 2:17-18
(3) He e.g. assisted us with the contact with an excellent lawyer in Sofia, who helped with the registration.

Friday, 12 June 2020

Why Eastern Europe, Lord?

 - Was it because I read the novel: “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” when I was 14?
 - Was it because I two years later always ended up in discussions with radical people when I was evangelizing in the streets, and therefore had to learn more about Marx and Lenin to be able to meet their arguments? 

 - Was it because I was so fascinated when I read the book about “God’s smuggler” who in the 70s smuggled so many Bibles ‘under’ the iron curtain? 

 - Was it because this ‘smuggler’ – brother Andrew, was the main preacher in the last meeting I attended before I left Tromsø and went into training to become an officer at the age of 18? 

 - Was it because one of his associates, ‘John’, a Salvationist from UK, came to speak about the importance of spreading the Bible in Eastern Europe? Or was it John’s testimony that made such an impact? “I am prepared to go to jail, and if so happens, they will take my Bible”, John said. “However, to be prepared I am constantly learning important passages from the Scripture by heart.” Then he read the first two chapters from Ephesians by heart. 

 - Was it because of Gorbachev and glasnost that really made me hopeful that there would be a new opening for the gospel and the Army? 

Well, from that moment, Lord, you know that I started to get involved, because you were with us when I in 1989 took a group of young people to Leningrad. We had Bibles for children with us, which we distributed outside one of the Cathedrals, after some time we gave the rest of the Bibles to the church which was one of the very few that were open at the time. 
Two years later, I drove a minivan from Norway with another group of students. We brought minimum of luggage to be able transport as much food as possible to the newly opened Salvation Army. We drove into Leningrad and a couple of days later out of St. Petersburg. It was an inspiring weekend. You know Lord, that I would have loved to be part of it, but you also know why we couldn’t.

However, when the first call came from IHQ in March 2004, we were ready. You had prepared us, and we had three hectic and eventful years with many challenges – first in MUR-division, and when Ukraine became a division, in MR-division, and the last year in Moldova division. We thank you, Lord, for the challenges and give you honour for many people saved and baptised in The holy spirit.

You also know, Lord, that I had always wanted to take Magna to the place where we distributed the Bibles in 1989, however, I could not remember where it was, nor the name of the church. When EET in 2006 celebrated 15 years ministry in St. Pete, the Army made a contract with a conference centre for the event. As the time of the congress drew closer, the conference centre wanted more information. When they understood that it was a religious event, they cancelled the contract. The Army tried two more centres without success. Just a week or so before the event, they finally manged to get a nice centre for the purpose. When Magna and I arrived at congress-venue, I stood in awe and felt tears coming to my eyes. The venue was across the street of the cathedral where we had given out the Bibles. I was reminded about the verse: 
“Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days.” Ecclesiastes 11:1 
Since we returned to Eastern Europe in the summer of 2015, we have seen this verse fulfilled again and again. So Lord, we know that you are always faithful to your word. Of course, the challenges have been many: Unstable political situations, even situations with war in Ukraine and war-like situations in Georgia; travels involving risks like the suicide-bombing we experienced in Istanbul in 2016; projects that did not work out in accordance with the desired plans, and this year the corona-situation that has influenced the whole world. But there are so many good things happening as well, so we know you are with your people Lord.

People are still getting saved, renewed and filled with the Spirit and follow the call to fulfil God’s mission in The Salvation Army. We see new initiatives, opening of outposts and corps, and now after five years of prayers and planning you are opening the way for The Salvation Army in Bulgaria. Nothing can stop your life in us, Lord, because it is a life that never dies!

I know that as long as our people in Easter Europe and Russia will continue to seek you, Lord, and not put their faith in the human structure we build to support the mission, you will continue to work in and through your people. 

Then we will see the unseen come true and your Kingdom come with healing to our nations and lands. You will hear more prayers for Eastern Europe and Russia coming from Magna and me, Lord, because the people will always be in our hearts!
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Published in Vestnic Spasenya #3 2020
The Article in Russian

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

A good hug!

A good hug!
I shared these thoughts with the officers in Eastern Europe earlier this week - I pray for you who read this, that they may also give comfort and hope to you!

Some of you, we are used to meet physically quite frequently. Others we may only see in person twice or three times a year because of the geographical size of our territory. Therefore, it is hard for Magna and me not to be able to do all the trips we had planned from March to June.

Even when we these days meet some of you because we live in the same city, the principle of “Social distancing” makes it impossible to act as we normally do. So I asked myself, is there something that can overcome “social distancing”? – The answer came quickly:

“Spiritual embrace!” 

Nothing can stop me, or you, from embracing one another in prayer. We always pray for you, however, in these days even more as we try to embrace you with God’s love.

In the last part of chapter 8 in the letters to the Romans, Paul wrote a list of many of the difficult things we struggle with in our lives, and he concluded that he was convinced that nothing in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:39 
That is a great spiritual hug.
I know that some of you also feel anxiety and distress in these days, and you may even feel guilty about it because you feel that you should not feel this way when you are a believer, and in addition a spiritual leader. God knows that we are human. Even the disciples were scared even though Jesus was in the same boat. However, if we deny our feelings, we are not true to our own humanity. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus also faced his own feelings and fear, so if Jesus ever was in the same boat with humankind, it is now!

Paul also faced his fears, I am sure that is why he also placed anxiety and distress on his list of the things that could not separate us from God’s love, and His love remains forever (1 Corinthians 13:13).
A warm spiritual embrace from your brother in Christ

Jostein

Monday, 27 April 2020

Let's stay on the right track!

In 2018 Eastern Europe Territory chose the verse:
“Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.”                                      Philippians 3:16 THE MESSAGE
to encourage people to keep the momentum and move in the right direction. Through the year, I posted a weekly blog in six languages related to this call. 
I have selected 26 of the blogs and made them available in this booklet. The purpose is to make them available for personal reflection, or even better, for reflection in small groups for half a year. To share thoughts, faith and prayers in fellowship with others, is vital for your growth as a disciple of Jesus.

After each reflection, you will find questions for stimulation of the conversation. Please also listen to The holy spirit. Very often, the Spirit will reveal something that is worth sharing with the other members of the group.

To be a disciple, means to live like Christ in the world. It is important with fellowship with believers, but Jesus is every day sending us out to represent him also among those who do not believe.

Therefore, stay on the track and keep on moving!

ISBN 978-82-93720-10-2

Let's stay on the right track!

In 2018 Eastern Europe Territory chose the verse:
“Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.”
Philippians 3:16 THE MESSAGE
to encourage people to keep the momentum and move in the right direction. Through the year, I posted a weekly blog in six languages related to this call.
I have selected 26 of the blogs and made them available in this booklet. The purpose is to make them available for personal reflection, or even better, for reflection in small groups for half a year. To share thoughts, faith and prayers in fellowship with others, is vital for your growth as a disciple of Jesus.

After each reflection, you will find questions for stimulation of the conversation. Please also listen to The holy spirit. Very often, the Spirit will reveal something that is worth sharing with the other members of the group.

To be a disciple, means to live like Christ in the world. It is important with fellowship with believers, but Jesus is every day sending us out to represent him also among those who do not believe.

Therefore, stay on the track and keep on moving!

Friday, 24 April 2020

New horizons!

Captains Eduard and Inna Lebedev
We believe in future and hope for the present countries in Eastern Europe – and for Bulgaria!
For five years, we have prayed and planned for the opening of The Salvation Army’s ministry in Bulgaria. Piece by piece important components have fallen into place. In June 2019, the legal registration of The Salvation Army in Bulgaria was approved, and we believe for a start of our mission in the autumn of 2020. Captains Inna and Eduard Lebedev have been appointed as leaders of the work and we pray that we soon will have the full team ready.

The present situation with ‘lock-down’ and restrictions presents a challenge with regard to a date for an official opening. However, the purpose for choosing to present the information is the need for prayer-support for this big step of faith.

Please pray for Captains Lebedev and their children and the other members of the team, and for God’s guidance for the next steps because 
‘Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain’
Psalm 127:1a.
Watch out for new updates on Bulgaria on our web-page in the weeks and months to come.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Everyone is included

The message: Jesus is risen
and the communication of it, 
applies to all… 

Last Sunday, we read the resurrection message once again. It is interesting that it was the women who were entrusted with the marvelous mission to convey that Jesus is risen. The angel said to them:

“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.
There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”Matthew 28:6-7
I have never understood those who dare to challenge God's commissioning of women as messengers of the gospel’s most important confirmation that life has triumphed over death. Therefore, I have been very clear when I address people in cultures where old gender roles affect women's rights to equal ministry with men inside the church. Even in The Salvation Army, I frequently have to remind people about this fundamental truth.

However, it is not just women, rich (like Joseph, who was a ‘rich man’ from Arimathea) and poor that are included in the Easter gospel. When Jesus came to Jerusalem, he went directly to the temple and I read that the children shouted in the sanctuary: “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The scribes were indignant and asked if Jesus heard what they were saying, and Jesus replied:

“Yes, but have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infant you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”Matthew 21:15-16
The children were included, so were the sick, the robber, the roman soldiers who crucified Jesus, Mary and the disciples.
In reality, it means that 
All are included! 
However, it is every person’s choice whether or not he/she want to be included.

I have made a very good choice: 
I am included in the new life! 
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* In Eastern Europe we greet one another 'Christ is risen!' during the 40 days between the Resurrection day and the Ascension day!