This is Part 2 of our Spring Update focused on our personal ministry and ForMission. We have done a lot of travel during this season and God has answered your prayers in amazing ways!
MACEDONIA: STUDENT VISIT
Missio Dei: We are active participants in the mission of God. It is his mission and we are invited and called to participate by his Spirit, through Jesus, and the grace of the Father. This idea underlines much of what we teach in our ForMission curriculum. One way we help students to experience this is through work-based learning. Students get actual course credit for serving in their local church or a local ministry for about 12-15 hours each week. This concept provides students with a vision for seeing what God is already doing and then joining him.
Nikol embodies this. Nikol is a student in year two from the Czech Republic, but is serving as a missionary in Skopje, Macedonia, where we got to visit her a few weeks ago. Our hope in visiting her was to encourage her, see her within her ministry, connect with her pastor and others involved in her ministry, and talk to potential students for ForMission College. It was so fun to watch her come alive with the people in Macedonia on our visit, even inviting two young girls she had just met on the street to the youth event that evening!
While we were in Skopje, Nikol kept saying, “You guys, I just can’t believe you are actually here.” We went site-seeing, learned about Macedonian Orthodoxy and about the large population of Muslims who also live in the city, and even saw the original birthplace of Mother Theresa (now a museum on a very busy pedestrian street). We participated in a relaxed youth night to promote the group in the community through having pancakes and talking with one another. Several people in Nikol’s youth group are very excited about theology, with which we talked for nearly an hour! We also had the chance to visit Nikol’s church that she serves in. It is one of the only evangelical churches in all of Skopje (which we were told had a population of around 1 million). However, the church leadership is very focused on becoming more missional, and talks a lot about mission and participation.
In part, this is because of Nikol. Last year, Nikol talked in my cluster group with ForMission about nobody understanding what she was saying about God’s mission and going into the community. But, she often shouts with a large smile, “Missio Dei!”, because she is passionate about what she sees God doing and she wants to join him and help others to do the same thing. This is one of the most amazing aspects of teaching with ForMission. We witnessed the change in Nikol’s church, where I was asked to preach, during my sermon. One of Nikol’s friends in the church, whom she talks to often about God’s mission, seemed just as passionate about Missio Dei as Nikol is. I preached on the mission of God using aspects of Mark 6. I was talking about the missional presence of Jesus at the beginning of the sermon, and Nikol’s friend was obviously getting Nikol’s attention across the room to share her excitement for what I was talking about. But, one year ago, Nikol told us she would not have done this. This is the fruit of the labor of theological education. It was so sweet to witness a friend of a student becoming part of God’s mission – because Nikol came to ForMission. With ForMission and Josiah Venture, we are about equipping leaders to be disciple-making disciples. It was an honor to see God working in this very way before our eyes! Praise God for what God is doing in Skopje and for the way ForMission is making an impact in Skopje!
By the way, thank you for praying for our kids to do well in the car during our trip. It was 14 hours each way in the car and the kids did amazing!
BUDAPEST: MISSIONAL RETREAT
We had our first ForMission Missional Retreat in March in Budapest. Three of our students live in Hungary, and it was a great experience for everyone to learn about their classmates’ local contexts, and even to participate in their ministries! The purpose of our missional retreats, beyond retaining the relational element of our campus that is lost with the move to online teaching, is to think biblically, reflect theologically, and act missionally. One key aspect of Jesus’ ministry was rest. He had a regular cycle of rest, and even protected his disciples’ rest (see Mark 6). Stopping and slowing down is the only way to reflect on what God is doing, to grow, and to join where He is working. We hope to model this with students during these missional retreats.
According to our students, our first missional retreat was a big success! We visited the local cathedral and, afterwards, stopped for several moments to reflect on what we saw while in there by asking “What does this place communicate to society around us in this city?” This was a rhythm that we established after each activity….action of some kind, followed by reflection and directly inviting God into it. By the end of the weekend, students were reflecting on the church service they saw by asking reflective questions themselves, with very minimal prompting from us. Similarly, in the question time after our guest speaker from Hungary one evening, we were surprised at the depth of the questions students were asking, and we could tell exactly why (and point to one of our classes where they learned it) they were asking these types of questions. We had immense fun, but were able to start instilling thoughtful reflection as a lifecycle of ministry, only because of missionally retreating together.
Some further highlights:
- Our Hungarian students, after doing a cultural field research exercise, said, “I was shocked. I thought because we were in Hungary, that I wouldn’t learn anything. But, I learned even about my own people!”
- We had space to talk in depth with students about ways they have grown, and were able to encourage them. Many often think nothing is happening in their ministries so, when we point out things, it is a huge breath of life for them.
- Anna, one of our teammates, invited Lucian, someone she met in our hotel, out to dinner with us and our smaller group of students. While at dinner, we had spiritual conversation with him. On the walk back to the hotel, we were able to share the Gospel with this gentleman in great depth. Pray for Lucian to come to know Jesus!
- Some students said that it was really refreshing to see God working in a different culture. One student said, “I do the same ministry in my country, but the way God works through this ministry here is so different. It’s amazing to see God working in different ways!
When we were not traveling, we focused our efforts as intentionally as we could by meeting individually with people.
Sarah and Jana have been meeting to study the book of Ephesians together and to pray together. They have been using a method for bible study that we “created” for use in middle school ministry in Illinois, called SOAR. Jana has recently been accepted into a bible school in Switzerland when she graduates, which is connected with a ministry she hopes to join in the future related to the persecuted church. Sarah will continue to meet with her until she leaves for school. Please pray for Jana as she finishes her final high school exams and prepares for college. In the Czech Republic, high school exams are very difficult and comprehensive, and difficult to pass. Please also pray for Jana to have truths from Ephesians planted deeply within her, and that she would be able to encourage others with the way she has been encouraged.
I have gone for a walk with Matěj each week for about a year now. Each time, we practice Czech and discuss difficult and thoughtful questions he has about the Bible. He helps lead a local group of house churches in our region of Czech. He has difficult personal circumstances that make normal life activities sometimes very difficult. Recently, I told him, “The Bible says we are to bear one another’s burdens, and I want to lessen your load and help carry this with you in whatever way I can.” He responded, “I think you already are.” Since that time, he has been increasingly honest about struggles and how he can grow in God’s word personally and how his local church can do the same. Please pray for Matěj as he helps lead these house churches, and for God to walk with him in these difficult circumstances.
Andy is a ForMission student, who I regularly meet with because of his studies. But, I also meet with him because I see his potential. I’ve told him since September this year, “Andy, you won’t believe me, but you are going to reach a point where you just take off and things are going to finally click and fall into place.” He is nearly there, in my estimation. Also, just recently, he invited me to speak at his youth group. It was a great time teaching “together” while he translated for me! In seeing him “in action” at the youth group that he is a leader in, I was able to reflect with him on ministry. He had not seen the “Five Challenges of Christ” material before that Josiah Venture often uses for personal discipleship. I walked him through the five steps, and he bursted out “This gives me so much hope!” His desire is to take the youth to reach others in his city, and I pray this tool will help him to see where he can lean into personal discipleship relationships where he is. Join with us in prayer for this!
Hezekiah and Eliana are growing and maturing a lot these days. A few weeks ago, Hezekiah’s školka (kindergarten/preschool) spent an entire week at ski school. Each day, Kiah’s class took a bus to a ski school in the mountains nearby. By the end of the week, his school had a program for parents, where we got to watch Hezekiah ski down a small slope! We were amazed by his bravery, and had so much fun hearing him talk about skiing every day! About a week ago, Eliana took her first steps, and just a couple of days ago, she began walking across the room! Eliana has also been very attached to her doll, calling all day for “baby, baby, bay-bee-bee-bee-bee.” She is very affectionate, and has been a joy to watch grow. Both Hezekiah and Eliana have enjoyed having Alona and Lika living with us (see Spring Update Part 1), and Alona and Lika have enjoyed playing with them. We have truly felt like a “family on mission” over the past couple of months, and have had several people tell us that it is inspiring to see us all together as we serve in various places. Even so, we have tried to take intentional time as a family to reconnect – especially before and after our travels.
JOIN US IN PRAYER
- For Nikol as she continues to serve in Skopje, and for her church to be on mission to reach the city for Christ!
- For continued progress in learning the Czech language.
- For the young leaders we are meeting with and discipling: Jana, Matěj, and Andy. Pray that they would grow in their love for Jesus and that it would in turn cause them to be witnesses to those around them.
- For Sean’s doctoral application to be accepted.
- For the Praxologie Podcast that it would be helpful for leaders in the local church all over Central and Eastern Europe.
- For Lucian to come to know Jesus from our conversation with him in Budapest.
- For our ForMission students as they are now in the final two months of the academic year. Pray for faithfulness in their studies, and that God would use the curriculum to affect their minds, hearts, and ministries for His glory.
- For God to provide for the increases in our monthly support budget.
- For Alona and Lika to come to know Jesus, and for continued conversations with them about the gospel.