Sunday, 11 April 2021

Leaving footprints…

7 Aug 2007: At our first farewell from EET
I am so grateful to God for people I have met, people who have left ‘footprints’ by inviting me into their lives and sharing their life-stories.

Today, I want to pay tribute to Major Andrei Cojucari, who was promoted to glory last Wednesday night. When we met him and his wife, Lilia for the first time in 2004, they were newly commissioned officers. The first question we asked, was: 

“How did you come to faith?”.

It was so moving to hear their testimonies. Their children, Andrei Jnr. and Elena, had been invited to children-activities and had found Jesus, and shared their stories with their parents. When the parents saw the change in the children, they started to go to meetings, and soon after they received Christ, became soldiers and a new chapter of their life had started.

Through the years, Andrei and I have had many conversations. If you had witnessed one of these, you would have been puzzled if you didn’t know a little bit about Moldova; Andrei spoke Romanian and I Russian. Simply because he understood Russian, but preferred not to speak it, whilst I understood enough Romanian to be able to answer back in my broken Russian. We could speak about practical matters (– like building-matters – see picture), spiritual matters as well as personal matters.

Andrei also informed me about his serious illness when we met on officers’ retreat by Lacul Rosu in September 2017. I laid my hands on him and we prayed together. Since then we were able to visit him and Lilia in Iasi when he underwent treatment. The visits included talks and prayers, with the emotional mix of despair and hope.

In the last visit we made, Andrei had finished his treatment, and was hopeful, but also thankful, because he had been able to lead one of the other patients to Christ. This was an elderly man from a nearby village, a man who had been receiving palliative care for four years, and the doctors couldn’t understand that he was still alive. After Andrei had prayed with him, the old man said: “This is the first time in my life, someone has prayed for me!” – one week later, the old man died in peace.

This says something about God’s kingdom, God’s timing, and a lot about Andrei’s heart for others, also when he was fighting for his own life. Andrei left a ‘footprint’ in many, including me, now he also can rest in peace. And I pray for comfort for Lilia, Andrei Jnr and Elena and her family!

Sunday, 4 April 2021

A transforming proclamation!

After a week walking through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ (Psalm 23:4)*, 
it is good for the three of us to celebrate and proclaim that: 

"Christ is risen! – Yes, He is truly risen!"


* Se: ...so full of life - A tribute



Thursday, 1 April 2021

So full of life… - a tribute!


This morning we received the news that our dear brother in Christ and colleague in The Salvation Army, Major Slava Kotruta, is promoted to glory. From a human point of view, it was not the outcome of the crisis Slava has been in, that we had hoped and prayed for. However, I have lived long enough not to argue with God about life and death. He is Lord, he knows what he is doing.
 
We met Slava for the first time when we arrived in Chisinau on 31 Aug 2004, and from the very start this young man in his early 30s, so full of life and always ready to serve, found a way into my heart. There was something about him, so human, so present, so transparent and with this inner desire to love and serve the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength.
 
Oh, yes, we have had discussions. Two men with strong meanings but with mutual respect and love. Both close and from a distance, I have observed Slava's spiritual development and how this has influenced his thinking and how the grace which he received from God, not only stayed with him but was shared with those to whom he had to show grace. Slava sought God in his desire to become the best version of himself. For me he was always good enough; because he was who he was in Christ. He was fully and truly man, and fully and truly a new creature in Christ.
 
We hoped to spend time with him and his family in the future, but God had other plans.
His son sits next to me when I write these words, and our thoughts and prayers are with him and his mother Elena.
 
I don't know before I come to heaven if Jesus’ promise about his Father’s house with many rooms is to be taken literally. However, if there are rooms, I will go to the door from which I can hear joyful laughter – I know I will find Slava there.
 
What will bring Slava even more joy, is to see that all the seeds of faith he has sawn into other people’s lives will bring fruit for eternity. I am sure we will see that too!
 
Rest in peace dear friend!
_____________________________________
Response: 


Monday, 18 January 2021

A dream coming true

For more pictures see article in PDF
The Salvation Army opening mission in Bulgaria started as a dream, literally.


Text: Stine Frimann                               NORSK

In 2015, Colonel Jostein Nielsen had an unusual dream. In the dream, he saw a vivid celebration even including a Brass Band together with other ways of witness, because the Salvation Army had started mission in Bulgaria. Could it be that the Salvation Army was meant to open there?

- I have experienced many times that God has spoken to and through me, but never in a dream, says Jostein Nielsen.

However, that was before a night in April 2015. Earlier the same day, it had been announced that he and his wife, Colonel Magna Våje Nielsen, had received a new appointment. They were soon to travel to Moldova as part of the leadership-team in the Eastern Europe territory, which consists of Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Romania and the breakaway region Transnistria. That night the dream about Bulgaria came completely ‘out of the blue’ and was repeated several times. Was this something more than a regular dream? He told Magna about the dream, and both interpreted that the dream had to be from God. Some months later they found themselves in Moldova, where they the first months lived among boxes in a small apartment, and the demanding job captured all attention.

- It took a long time before we started thinking about Bulgaria again, says Magna.

But strange things began to happen, which brought back Bulgaria on the horizon. For example, by chance they got in touch with a man who had taken a quick trip to Moldova simply because he got hold of a cheap ticket and could tick off one more country on his list. It turned out that he had properties and contacts in Bulgaria and wanted to help. He ended up introducing Jostein and Magna to his lawyer in the country, who became the one who gave the assistance with completion of the registration The Salvation Army needed to be able to operate legally in Bulgaria.

They also received many confirmations that the Salvation Army was welcome and necessary in the country.

- Together with the TCs, Colonels Wendy and Rodney Walters, we were invited to a conference for leaders in Europe in Athens. We decided to go by car, so that we could have a stop-over in Sofia in Bulgaria, says Magna.

- In advance we manage to contact some leaders of the Evangelical Alliance in Bulgaria and arranged a meeting with them. When we met them, they were very excited and said: "For 20 years we have been waiting for The Salvation Army to come to Bulgaria!". They were so happy that we had finally started thinking about it, she smiles.

The pieces fall into place

The meeting took place in the first evangelical church established in Bulgaria. The church leaders they met there asked if there was anything they could do to help, and Jostein said that they would probably need a legal address to get a registration in Bulgaria, because they did not intend to open work in the country before proper legal statutes were in place.

- They responded by giving us permission to use the address of the first evangelical church, says Jostein.

The next time Jostein was in Bulgaria, he checked into a hotel he had been recommended. He had agreed to meet someone there and sat in the lobby waiting in full uniform.

- A middle-aged man worked as a piccolo there. He came over and commented : "Your uniform is nicer than mine!" and wondered what kind of uniform it was.

Jostein explained a little bit about The Salvation Army in English, and asked if the man had heard about The Salvation Army before, but he hadn’t.

- I tried to explain a little more, but he struggled to understand. Therefore, I asked if he knew Russian, and it turned out that he spoke it fluently. I also know Russian, so then I managed to explain more about the Salvation Army and what our mission is. The man responded: "When you come to Bulgaria, I will show up as your first volunteer!", says Jostein.

Jostein left for the meeting he had scheduled, and when he returned, the piccolo was still there.

- He came over to me, gave me a note and said “I meant what I said this morning. To show that I mean it, I have written down my name and phone number here". These are just some of the experiences we have had that made us sure that things were going to work out. You do not always foresee how it will work out, and you wonder how it will happen. But it happens. That's what's so exciting! says Jostein with a smile.

Local ownership 

The ministry of The Salvation Army in Bulgaria is in its very beginning. The first step is to establish an office in Sofia, the capital. When the work is up running there and people get involved, it can expand further to other cities. The hope is to have three viable corps (local churches) and three outposts within five years. But where these corps and outposts will be, what profile they will have and how they will be run, Jostein and Magna have no strong opinions about.

- It does not necessarily bring fruit if you come from the outside and create something that may not fit the culture in that country. We must see what the needs are and what people are interested participating in, everything must be locally based, Magna explains.

Most Salvation Army corps carry out various types of humanitarian and social work, and Bulgaria is unlikely to be an exception. But Jostein and Magna want the corps – the body of disciples to be established first, then the humanitarian work is built on the right foundation.

- We very often become the first project we release. If we come in solely with a humanitarian approach, we will be perceived as a kind of Red Cross, and people will associate the Salvation Army as something similar. Therefore, the goal is to establish the corps as a local church first. And then social work comes more as a fruit of who we are, based on the needs we see over time, Jostein explains.

Conversations over a cup of coffee

The recipe for starting a ministry in a new country where many may never have heard about the Salvation Army before, is quite simple: You pray and then you talk with people.

- They who will lead the work in Bulgaria will start by talking to people they meet in various contexts, invite them to a cup of coffee and a chat about the Bible around a table, says Magna.

And fortunately, the work will be led by a couple who are good at just that: Eduard and Inna Lebedev.

- Eduard has an incredible ability to get in touch with people and tell them about faith, Jostein smiles.

He and Magna had enrolled Inna as a soldier and had known her for a couple of years when they met Eduard for the first time in 2007. There was nothing in the first meeting that suggested that Eduard would become an officer and lead a new venture in the Salvation Army.

They were visiting a corps in Dubbosary in Transnistria. The corps leader there asked if they could pray for his son, who had come out of prison the same day. It was Eduard. At that time, he had drifted away from faith and had lived a tough life. There is a sub-culture in Eastern Europe where ending up in prison is seen as a being a ‘real man’. Eduard ended up in juvenile prison when he was 14 years old, and served a sentence for 4.5 years.

It was this sentence Eduard had served to the end when Jostein and Magna stopped by. After a chat, Eduard allowed them to pray for him. Later Inna and Eduard fell in love and got married. They served first as soldiers and later together in ministry after having become officers. And now the relay continues, in that they are to lead Jostein's "dream project" in Bulgaria. It is a mission they will do together with an officer couple from Sweden, Erik and Kathleen Johansson, who will be part of the pioneer team of four.

That is also an remarkable story, Jostein can tell. He and Magna attended the Salvation Army's congress in Oslo in 2019. While there, the news came that the registration of The Salvation Army was finally approved and filed in the Bulgarian state registry, and they could seriously start planning the opening.

The next day they attended a meeting, and Jostein went to greet a couple he had never seen before. He and Erik quickly found out that they both shared a special passion for Eastern Europe.

- Erik had spent much time in several countries in Eastern Europe. We prayed together in the meeting and during the prayer I suddenly broke of the prayer and asked: “Are you going to be involved in the opening the work in Bulgaria? Of course, it's not for me to deside this, but is it you?”. The answer came without hesitation: "Yes, it's probably us", he says.

It took a year before they were approved for service in the country, but last autumn they were in place in Bulgaria to start up work. Currently alone, because Eduard and Inna could not go there at the scheduled time due to coronary restrictions.

Seeking partners

Now that Jostein's dream has come true, he and Magna hope that many will want to join and support it further, and that is why they announce a call to people to become a "Pioneer-partner for Bulgaria".

- We think that potential partners are people who want to support the new mission in Bulgaria, by committing to pray for the work and give a fixed monthly amount. We see the next five years as the pioneer-period. However, that does not mean that everyone has to commit to support the work financially for five years, maybe they can commit for one year at a time. Those who join, decide for themselves how much their monthly contribution will be, says Jostein.

- Those who join in this partnership are likely to be people who have some interest in new openings and what is happening in Bulgaria, they will follow the news and follow up in prayer. In this way it will be something else than just a random monetary gift, you gain more ownership to the mission, Magna adds.

And precisely the personal ownership is the main reason why the two want to gather individuals as supporters for the work in Bulgaria.

- It would probably be possible to get a territory in the Salvation Army to take responsibility for running Bulgaria for five years. But when the five years are gone, there is no personal relationship with anyone. We are convinced that there are some faithful souls who think that this is important to support, and that they are likely to pray for Bulgaria for the rest of their lives, Jostein believes.

The Salvation Army has already made sure that there are funds for the basics we must have in place, such as rent and salaries for those who will lead the work.

- But the more we get in from private donors, the more we will be able to do to extend the mission. We take a step forward with every single person who signs up as a pioneer partner, Jostein and Magna conclude.

Do you want to become a pioneer-partner for Bulgaria?

Get in touch/register on email: bulgaria@eet.salvationarmy.org
Link to The Salvation Army, Bulgaria FB-page
__________________________

Published in the Norwegian 'War Cry' # 3 2021 
Link to the article in Norwegian as a PDF

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Bewildering, Backbreaking, Blessed

Strong impressions, constant challenges and many encounters with people who have had their lives changed through the ministry of The Salvation Army. Jostein and Magna Nielsen experienced a lot during their five years as leaders of The Salvation Army in Eastern Europe.

For more pictures see: pdf of the Article in Norwegian

- I thrive in the eye of the storm! And I do not know exactly what could top the experiences we had in Eastern Europe in terms of excitement and challenges, says Colonel Jostein Nielsen.

He and his wife, Colonel Magna Våje Nielsen, are back in Norway after five years as leaders of the Salvation Army in Ukraine, Georgia, Romania, Moldova and the breakaway region Transnistria. There has been no shortage of challenges. Like dealing with a dozen different currencies and several languages ​​through a normal working day, and complicated regulations that differ from country to country. It is also demanding to do ministry in areas with great poverty and extensive emigration, and also several areas with occupation and war, in addition there is widespread corruption. Things often happen fast in these countries and the two officers and other employees of the Salvation Army constantly had to take on new and unexpected challenges head on.

You sometimes need good nerves to handle these situations! - Jostein smiles.

But none of them doubt that it was worth it. They regard it as a calling to be part of The Salvation Army’s mission in this very area, and they enjoyed their ministry and the people there. And not least, they bring back so many strong stories that it is difficult to choose someone to highlight.

It may seem like a small matter, but a testimony from a person in a corps in Georgia moved us. He did not have a permanent residence and took whatever small job he could find to live from hand to mouth, says Magna. The Salvation Army has an annual, international self-denial appeal, and although he had little, the man decided to set aside some money and contribute.

The incredible thing was that every time he had set aside a small amount he wanted to give, something happened that made him get the same amount back. For example, he could be offered a job the next day, which meant that he earned the same amount over again. He was so proud! He testified during the offering and said: “I thought I always was going to be the person who needed to accept help from others, I never imagined that I could be part of helping poor people in other countries!”

Prison ministry

The Salvation Army in Eastern Europe conducts prison ministry in all the countries in the territory. The conditions are often very harsh. After serving a sentence it is often a challenge for many to be able to resettle in society. However, some have life-changing experiences as convicts in prison.

In a women's prison in Moldova, The Salvation Army has a ministry that has become very much like a church. One of the inmates who was part of that, was recently released. She immediately linked up with a corps and has become a soldier and actively engaged in the ministry, Magna smiles.

Now she is one of the leaders in children’s ministry and in ‘See me!’, which is a project where children come after school and get a meal, food and help with school work, Magna smiles.

The Salvation Army also has ministry in a prison where life-sentenced convicts serve their sentence . The inmates there know that they probably never will be released to freedom. But even though they live under very harsh conditions and with little hope of ever having another life, Vlad, one of the inmates, found Christ and chose to belong to the Salvation Army. Actually, he went through the soldiers-classes and made the soldier's covenant, but it is not so easy to wear a uniform in prison, so officially is an adherent. He was very proud, says Jostein.

When Jostein came to the prison to attend the service where Vlad was to be admitted as a member, Vlad greeted him as he arrived. He said that he very much liked an article Jostein had written in the Russian War Cry. Jostein's first thought was that Vlad was trying to impress a little by telling that he had read the War Cry and his article.

The article he mentioned was about a Norwegian Christmas song: ‘I crossed both land and sea’. It is perhaps the shallowest Christmas song there is. But the song asks a very important question: ‘Where is your home?’ My point in the article is that it does not matter where you are, as you are at home in God. It's Magna’s and my testimony too, we're always at home in Him, no matter where in the world we live. Vlad said that he liked what I wrote and continued: “I hope they change the laws so I can get out of here one day. But whatever happens, I know where I live, I am at home in God and I am God's representative here in this prison.” It was so moving, and I felt small and ashamed because I had thought that he was just talking about the article to impress me!

This man was far from the only one becoming a Christian in the prison where he is. There are many strong testimonies around all of Eastern Europe coming from the great variety of ministries in The Salvation Army, the two can tell. Not least among those who have chosen to become a soldier or an officer, usually as the first in their family.

- Here in Norway, many officers and soldiers come from Christian families, many are also from families who have been in the Salvation Army for several generations. This is not the case in Eastern Europe, here the Salvation Army is a young movement. The Orthodox Church is strong, and many have some knowledge about Christianity, but often they do not have a personal faith or experience because of this knowledge. Some may have a grandmother who was an Orthodox Christian, but they themselves have not had a Christian upbringing. Therefore, it is transforming for many to experience answers to prayer and come into a personal relationship with Jesus, says Jostein.

Challenges in Transnistria

Sometimes they were in situations that looked quite hopeless, it was difficult to see how it could be solved. But they experienced repeatedly that things were resolved or settled in a rather miraculous way, something they both experienced this as clear answers to prayers. Like when the Salvation Army was about to be expelled from Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova, which has its own government and currency. The Salvation Army has been present here for 25 years, but suddenly it turned out that the regulations had changed and that the Salvation Army had not been registered correctly. In a short time, they had to meet many requirements in order not to be thrown out of the area.

Until then, the Salvation Army had, among other things, been registered on a private address in Transnistria. This was no longer allowed, so it was very urgent to buy a building registered for public use to be able to meet the conditions of the law.

Jostein and Magna had not even received their new appointment back to EET at that time; but started an appeal on FB among their Norwegian friends. In just a few weeks they received 700.000 NOK to buy a house in Transnistria. During those weeks, they had received the phone-call and their appointment, and after returning to EET they looked at several properties; however, every time they found something interesting, the seller withdrew. Eventually, the broker they used did not want anything more to do with The Salvation Army either. It turned out that they had all received threats and did not want to sell to The Salvation Army.

- There was very hectic activity and a lot of prayer during this period. And suddenly a man appeared who owned a building he could sell to us, and he also had a contact with legal expertise who could help us with the registration.

However, this time it was the international regulations of The Salvation Army that became an obstacle. They could not buy the house they were offered with the registration they received in Transnistria, because this is a breakaway republic that is not approved by the UN.

Finally, we asked whether the Transnistrian authorities would allow us to buy the property with the registration held by The Salvation Army's headquarters for Eastern Europe, instead of buying it with the registration we had received in Transnistria. Bearing in mind the unsolved political situation between Moldova and Transnistria, there was nothing in the information we had collected indicating that they would accept our head office is in Moldova as a buyer. But it was approved! We really experienced that as an answer to prayer. One of our officers said that if he ever in the future should doubt his faith in God, he could only think about what about what happened in Transnistria, it was really an amazing miracle. Now everything is in order, and we have a nice property on the corner of Lenin-street and Karl Marx-street, Jostein laughs.

Countries drained for people

One of the biggest challenges the Salvation Army is struggling with in all the countries of Eastern Europe is the large-scale emigration. Most people who have the opportunity try to get to other countries to seek a better future. Many also leave their children at home while traveling to work in other countries. It creates great challenges. The children often have a relative or neighbour who looks after them, but many do not receive adequate care, and some are more or less overlooked by the people who have promised to look after them. The Salvation Army therefore works hard to help children and young people with food, schooling and activities. This work has yielded good results, and many of the children receive an education. As these children grow up, they could be important resources for The Salvation Army and their country. But even they use the first opportunity to emigrate and seek a better future elsewhere in Europe, the United States or Canada. It creates great challenges for the countries they travel from, something which also influences the ministry of The Salvation Army.

Many new people come into the corps, but because the emigration is so extensive, there are always just as many who disappear because they leave the countries. We are barely able to keep up with people moving away. Moldova, for example, had a population of around 5 million in 2004, now the official figure is 3.8 million. They who leave have not necessarily left the country permanently. Many of them invest in real estate in their home country and plan to return, but only when they retire. There is going to be a very aging of the population. We already experience that it is the young, strong and healthy who travel. Children, disabled and elderly remain.

Financing the work is also demanding, in the poorest countries in Europe. Many soldiers in these countries give tithe to their corps. But very many of them are on basic and insufficient pension, unemployed or low-paid, and thus it amounts to marginal sums, and the work remains dependent on external financing. Romania is the most economically prosperous country, it is the 10th poorest country in Europe. They have greater access to natural resources than the other countries and a larger middle class. But here, too, the poverty is great and very visible.

In a way we see two worlds, one for those who live in the official economy and another for those who live outside. In Moldova, for example, unemployment is officially at 70 percent. But that number is far from correct, because most farmers do not register. They do not pay taxes, there is a lot of corruption in the country so there are few who want to pay taxes. Thus, they also do not have access to social services or health care. They cultivate their soil and manage to survive. But since they do not pay taxes, municipalities with many farmers have little income. Then it is not exactly the dream job to be a teacher there. The municipalities are responsible for salaries, but do not have the means to do it, Magna explains.

Grateful

Although Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, there were clear signs of development in the country. More people received a salary that is higher than the minimum wage for survival, and new shops and companies were opened and went well. And then came corona.

- At the beginning of the epidemic, everything was shut down, like schools and all shops except grocery stores and pharmacies. After a month without income, many shop owners were unable to pay the rent, and very many went bankrupt. It had dramatic effects on the economy, because there are no public crisis packages to help business owners and others affected by the corona in Moldova, says Magna.

After a while, the government had to reopen, otherwise people would make a riot and the government would be ousted, the consequences were very bad for most people.

The Salvation Army continues its work in all the countries of the territory during the epidemic, although things has to be done differently due to infection regulations.

- Many corps have, among other things, held services on Facebook, since people could not gather physically. It has worked well, says Jostein.

This was the officer-couple's second period in Eastern Europe. After the end of their first three year term in 2007, they had to return home due to health challenges. When they were asked to return in 2015, it felt just right. And they knew exactly how long they were meant to stay.

When we arrived, we were one of six married couples applying for a residence permit to work for the Salvation Army in Eastern Europe. The other couples all received a residence permit for one year. We were given five years permits. So, then we knew how long we would be there, and just as we felt that it right for us to go, we know that it is right that we are back in Norway now. We are very grateful to God and The Salvation Army for the opportunity we have to serve for five more years in Eastern Europe, says Magna.
________________
Published in the Norwegian 'War Cry' = Krigsropet # 1-2 2021

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
--------------------------
(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!
-------------------------------------
Published in Vestnic Spasenya #3 2020
The Article in Russian