Thursday, August 16, 2012

Examining controversial issues in our culture today

I've been living in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the last 2 years now with my awesome wife Laura and my great son Riley who recently turned 1. The 2 things that Grand Rapids is probably best known for are office furniture and conservative Christianity.  Grand Rapids is one of the most conservative areas in the nation. I have overall positive feelings about this aspect of where I live.

My goal is to try to help Christians to have a different perspective of certain controversial issues, hopefully seeing eye to eye better with non-Christians. I believe that one of the main reasons that people are turned off to Christianity is that Christians are in general judgmental and naive. It pains me to admit that these claims have a fair bit of truth to them. I think that this can be remedied by having an open-minded critical mind that really strives to find Truth.

"Seek objective Truth subjectively" is the title of my blog and it's what I want to do in my life. Objective Truth dictates how we live our lives and seeking it subjectively makes sure that we find out Truth for ourselves and not merely inherit someone else's idea of what Truth is. I personally believe that faith in Christ coincidences directly with objective Truth. Nonetheless, it's always just as important to continue seeking.

By tackling difficult, controversial issues head on, I hope to bring Christians a refined perspective on Biblical Truth.

Monday, February 8, 2010


We've been in Serbia almost 2 weeks now. It's what I would consider a very unique place to do ministry in. Back in Bosnia, it was a Muslim country so we had to be careful about what songs we played, what we said and quoting Bible verses. Now that we are in Serbia, an orthodox country, one would think it would be much more relaxed about how much we can share. Unfortunately, that's not the way it is.

It's important to understand some of the history of Serbia to understand what it thinks of evangelical or protestant Christianity. Protestant Christianity is in general, a way of the West. When Serbia attacked Bosnia in 1992, surrounded Sarajevo and bombed it for 4 years, as well as sought to ethnically cleanse the Muslims from most everywhere in the Balkans, that kind of thing can get the rest of the world a little upset. NATO fought against Serbia, which many of the Western countries were apart of. USA is especially well known for its part. This creates some animosity towards the USA and the Western ways in general. For this reason, protestant Christianity is not very well received. To speak of many of the ideas from the New Testament will get you labeled as someone from a ‘sect’, and would pretty much mean you lose all credibility.

The most significant observation I've made is what in general the Serbian people think of Milosevic's reign during the late 90's. While to the outside world, it's an example of classic ethnic cleansing. To most of the Serbian people (this is based on first and second-hand observations, not based on a scientific study), the war of the 90's was a justified war about keeping the Balkan nations together. They think of Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo as part of their country. So in their minds they were merely fighting to keep their nation strong and together. From that perspective, although highly ignorant, it makes sense that they have resentment toward the Western people and Western ways. The scary thing is that without the proper acknowledgement of the ethnical cleansing and mass killings, it seems in that sense, that Serbia could be ripe for starting another war. The general people, at least the youth, don't want another war, which is very good. It just scares me when a nation doesn't take responsibility for evil they've done and chose to live in ignorance.

So that's my preface into why we have to be careful about talking about "Western" Christianity. The Serbian Orthodox Church has some interesting views. They don't pray to God, they pray through the saints. And although it's in general well-known through the Serbian people that to be good orthodox Christians you should follow Biblical principles, the lack of follow-through with these principles and the complacency in their lives towards spiritual things is overwhelming.

Because of these reasons, one of the main things we are doing in Serbia is building up relationships. There are 3 permanent people in the city where we are located, Uzice (pronounced 'Oo-zeetz-jay'). These people have only been there for a little more than a year though, so the ministry here is still very much in the pioneering stage. So we meet with the 3 permanent people and various groups of other people, to try to establish meaningful relationships and share with them. The leaders of the Uzice base have setup several means of reaching out to the people here. One of the main things they do is English club. These are groups that meet about once a week and practice English with each other. Sometimes they are very informal, meeting at a cafe and sometimes they meet in a building and we have more of a program.

My team does an English club at this big dorm for high school students. It mainly houses students who want to go to high school in Uzice but live too far away to commute to school every day. It houses about 250 students. In this building is also a small orphanage that houses about 30 orphans. The English club that my team did was with the high school students. The theme that we did the 1st week was about dreams, having small group discussions, talking about dreams, playing games that were related. The 2nd week the theme was decisions. We had some great conversations with our group, they opened up very easily. The goal of this is that the leaders continue on with this ministry and eventually get to share more intimate and even more meaningful things with them.

It's important to understand that a in culture like this, relationships are everything. Open evangelism will only get you labeled as someone in a 'sect' and cause you to lose all credibility. So it's so important for the leaders of the Uzice base to build relationships, gain respect and trust and eventually reach to them. So far it's encouraging to see the results.
We also have ministries with the orphanage kids. We do a sports program with them each Sunday. The goal of this ministry is the same as English club: Relationship building. We also do a creative club for the orphan kids during the week with a similar goal. Besides these ministries we do a lot of prayer walking around the city. The city is still a very un-reached place. Besides the 3 people at the base here they literally only know of 1 other evangelical Christian. The loose definition of an evangelical Christian I'm using is someone who prays to God and understands that God wants to know us personally and intimately.

One of the main groups that the leaders are trying to reach here are called hooligans. These are youth that form groups or gangs (not quite gangs, but for lack of a better word) that are centered around sports. Each group of hooligans has a specific sports team they endorse and in theory they can get pretty violent. Just imagine the mobs of people watching European football, it's that kind of group. From people we've talked with, in general they're not that violent, just somewhat rude, but some of them are ok. The main hooligan group in Uzice is called the 'Freedom Fighters'. One of the members from this group actually meets frequently with the leaders from our base and wants to help us. He has made it known that he wants to know God better and you can see it in his face that he's very caring and he wants to make a difference in the world. This member used to be more violent but had an accident where he got hit very hard in the head. Ever since then, he's a strong supporter of non-violence.

Out time in Serbia is coming to a close very rapidly. On Tuesday the 9th we leave to Timisoara for another 10 days or so. Laura then will be leaving the outreach early, going back to the USA for a friend's wedding! She leaves our team on the 10th, leaves Romania on the 11th and her planes flies out the 12th. It's sad that she's going but I will be back in Michigan with her on March 4th!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

First Impressions from Bosnia

Well this year, I've been blessed to do another mission trip with YWAM. This year we are in Bosnia and Serbia. We spent the first day in Sarajevo, trying to get a feel for the Bosnian people. It was very interesting learning about the strife of the region. Sarajevo went through the longest siege of any city, it happened in 1992-1996. The city is in a valley so it was literally surrounded by artillery, tanks, machine guns, snipers etc. Over 10 years later, there are still many buildings with bullet holes in them. The city (and country of Bosnia) is predominantly Muslim, of which many are relatively complacent Muslims.. It was the first time I'd seen such a high concentration of non-Arabic Muslims.

After walking around the city and observing the mosques and the people, someone on our team made an interesting observation. Paraphrased: "It's amazing to see all these half-hearted Muslims go to the mosque several times a day. I've seen so many Christians in America put way less effort than this. And the thing is, that these Muslims are putting more effort when what they believe is a lie. How hypocritical is it that American Christians (in general) put in so little effort when we have the truth with us?" That statement really resonated with me. I don't think this in a condemning way, but in a hopefully motivation way. If you take a step back and try to look at the situation, it's ridiculous how believers trusting in a lie put out more effort than people who know the truth. It's a perplexing situation.

We've spent this week in a city about an hour away from Sarajevo called Zenica (pronounced Zenitza). Our living accommodations are very nice here. We're staying in the house of a missionary who are on furlough. It's really nice to have a place where we can relax outside of the ministry site. The city is very accessible too. Everywhere we need to go is at most a 15 minute walk away. This makes traveling around on a daily basis pretty easy.

We spent each morning in an orphanage that is mostly Muslim. It's been interesting because one of our staff members had been there 2 years ago and she could instantly tell a huge difference in the atmosphere. The living conditions were better, the kids seemed better taken care of and the director of the orphanage was more open to visitors. When a team had been there 2 years ago they weren't allowed to do a kid's program, they were just allowed to paint the inside of the building. So it's great to see the change firsthand.

One interesting thing about the orphanage is that we're not allowed to directly speak about God. The leadership of the orphanage is primarily Muslim, they even give the children who enter the orphanage a Muslim name. It makes it a little complicated when we're doing some of our skits and programs, we have to make it more about Christian moral principles rather than being explicitly Christian. This presents a new of complexity to the ministry programs we're doing.

We do children's programs for several hours each day, of which, a large quantity of the time is spent, playing with and loving children. The groups are normally split up into a small kid's group, ages about 4-9 and an older kid's group, maybe 9-14. The small kid's have about 12 in the group. The older kids have about 20-30 in the group.

The little kids are very affectionate. They each have someone in our group that they run to at the beginning of their time, someone they spend a majority of their time with, in their arms mostly. Their need for affection is so great, it's great just to be able to hold them and love them. When another of the children try to get someone from our team's attention, they can often get very jealous and sometimes violent.

The older kids are quite affectionate too. There's one child that you can tell yearns so much for a family. He calls me his 'papa' and he loves to see Laura and I together. Although we can only say a few phrases to each other that we understand, he asks me often if Laura and I are together with hand gestures. He herds us to try to sit next to each other and then snuggles up next to us. He's constantly tugging on my arm and hugging me, gives kisses when I have to leave. His pleading urgency for family screams obviously from his actions.

The food here is good. A typical meal here is something called 'cevapi', which is a beef sausage, very tasty, served in pita bread, onion (which I ignore) and a little container of yogurt in a liquid form. Normally, I really don't like plain yogurt, it's normally sour and tasteless. But the yogurt here is a little bit sweeter or richer, I can't quite put it into words. But for whatever reason, it tastes really good, especially with the cevapi and pita bread. The Bosnian contact here tells us that the yogurt helps digestion and stomach issues.
Our time here has been very fruitful and fulfilling. We leave for Serbia on Sunday. So far traveling hasn't been too bad, the train rides were enjoyable. Thanks for praying and your support!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

What God's been doing in Romania

I've been back in Romania for just over 2 months now. It's been great so far. Thanks for everyone who is supporting me especially in prayer, it means a lot! Since I've been back, I've been doing a variety of things: Fixing computers, making websites, making various media / documents needed for ministry and administration. I'm really enjoying using my gifts for God's work.

Another thing that I've been involved with are helping out with the short term teams that visit and do ministry in Cluj. We had a really exciting time with our most recent team. Last week a team called "Crossover", a group of mostly collegiate level basketball players who are very talented. They put on a 3 day basketball camp for the youth of Cluj, Romania with the help of the YWAM (Youth With a Mission) staff.

The camp was broken up into parts, where they learned a lot about basketball as well as various other bonding activities. During the day there was a bible hour where a bible lesson was explained and then discussed in small groups. There was a very good turnout for these camps, around 100 kids each day. In the evening, a semi-pro teams were scheduled to come in and have exhibition matches against the Crossover staff.

It was interesting observing and hearing stories about the progression of relationships throughout the 3 days. The first day during bible hour, you could tell that the kids were interested, but there were barriers which prevented them from talking deeply and personally about their lives. During the second day of bible hour there was more questions about the material and more opening up. During the third day of bible hour, it was amazing to hear about the openness and joy that the kids had. Many kids said that bible hour was their favorite time at the end! It's amazing how God works through relationships. Through the love shown to these kids, so many of them opened up their harts, became vulnerable and learned about God.

On the last day of camp, they had an alter call and 70 kids raised their hands to accept Christ!! It is amazing to see such genuine life change in such a short time. A lady from a radio station interviewed some of the kids. Amidst a noisy gym and lots of cheering, one of the kids responded to the lady from the radio station that there was just so much peace where they were. The lady, confused, asked "Peace? How can things be peaceful with all that noise?" And the kid calmly replied with "Oh, it's the peace on the inside." Wow! This is just one of the many amazing stories of individual life change observed at this camp.

What's even better about 70 kids getting saved is that due to registering for this camp, we have the contact information for about 100 local kids, including 70 of them being recently saved! Pray that the follow-up meetings we have with these kids is fruitful. Pray that this isn't an experience that is easily forgotten. We've seen these kids lives' changed and now we have a foot in the door to discipling these youths. God is faithful, it was amazing to experience so many lives changed in such a short period of time! Praise the Lord!

For me personally, this experience has revitalized my mind about how important relationships are and how much power there is in loving people. When the kids from the camp first got to know the Crossover basketball team, they were tentative and shy. But the Crossover team was persistent and dedicated on loving these kids. And over the process of just a few days, the love they showed broke down barriers and made huge changes in these kid's lives.

Another thought that his experience has spurred is thinking about the fruit produced by ministering to people. Matthew 5:17 says "You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? I guess I always thought of the fruit from this passage as direct results from ministry done. The way I see it now is that the fruit of the spirit is "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" from Galatians 5:22-34. The fruit of the spirit isn't necessarily the results that come out of it. We can't control other people's actions, all we can do is control what we do. So it's our responsibility to live in the Spirit and make sure we are producing fruit, the fruit from Galatians and leave the results up to God. It's impossible for a mere man to understand the intricacies of all the eternal repercussions of his fruit. So it's our job to just trust God will use us without worrying about manipulating the outcome to one that we feel is more favorable for us.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Some Romanian Culture - The Romanian Wedding

I've really enjoyed observing things from subtle, to the extreme cultural differences between America and Romania. Lately, I've had some Romanian friends that have been talking about what a wedding in Romania is like. I found it quite interesting.

When you get a wedding invitation in Romania, some people view it more as an open act of war. Well, that's an overstatement, but there often is anxiety associated with a wedding invitation. The reason for this bane is that Romanian weddings require you to pay at least $100 per person, not couple or family, but more likely upwards of $200. And this is from a country much poorer than America where making this much money a month in wages isn't uncommon. If you're American you're probably thinking that they don't really expecteveryone to pay that. Well on the contrary. If you don't come to the wedding, the insult to your family done would be much worse than to ditch a wedding in America.

There are 3 main reasons that I can see for having the weddings be so expensive. In no particular order:
  1. It helps the newly-married couple out tremendously. Often this extra money means the different for a down payment on a car, or even a house. It's great for the newly-married couple. It's a good tradition that really stresses a close and loving community.
  2. By going to someone's wedding you, you are making an implicit contract with the newly married couple saying that they will have to come to your wedding. And maybe by the time you get married and invite them to your wedding, they might have kids and then you'll get even more money! Right after the wedding, the married couple will take note of every guest who attended and how much they paid so they can have a record of it, if/when they attend the wedding of the current attendee.
  3. This reason is fairly straightforward. At a Romanian wedding, the meal often takes 6+ hours with an exuberant amount of courses served. With little, exaggeration, just imagine platters of found being thrown at you for 6 hours. Different friends have different feelings about the amount of food. Some say even if they don't eat the whole day before, they get stuffed way too early and feel engorged after each successive course was served. Others say it's a lot of food but ok if you pace yourself. I think I would probably feel more like the former group of friends. And of course you can't take any of it home, so an exorbatant amount of food inevitably gets wasted.
Overall, I think it's kind of silly to have such an exuberant feast and an exuberant cost. I like reasons 1 and 2 but 3 just seems wasteful to me. The Christian (protestant) weddings are traditionally very mundane. There's never alchohol or dancing. The non-Christian weddings usually quite the opposte. With a lot of drinking and dancing.

They also have some funny traditions at weddings. Normally, the groomsmen "steal" the bride away during the wedding for an extended time, maybe 3 hours. It's the groom's job to find his bride. From people I've talked to who have actually gone through this process, it's pretty annoying. I mean maybe for 3 minutes it would be fun, but I'm guessing for 3 hours it gets kind of old to be seperated from your wife on the wedding day.

About me, however, I don't forsee a Romanian wedding ever in my future. I'm really enjoying my time here now. There's a team from Pennsylvania right now. I've been helping out with the team, fixing computers, making documents, learning Romanian etc. I love being in Romania and eagerly await Laura coming in less than 40 days! Noapte Buna! (good night)