ROMANIA : 29 OCTOBER 2007
Today was our first day of home visits. Florin, Avram, John and I set out in the misting rain toward the furthest edge of the village, then we pulled off the road since the mud created by the nighttime rain was too thick to drive through. We trekked the rest of the way from home to home. Our first stop was a visit with Viorica, a quiet woman who has eight children, most of whom were present in the one room and many of whom are younger than school age. It was not clear to me whether the family was Christian, so I had only to tell my story and trust God with it. We left them with New Testaments and the salvation tract and simply prayed for blessing and understanding. As we were leaving, Florin mentioned that the husband was actually the non-believer but he was not home at that time. This miscommunication could be my biggest challenge. From then on I prayed for clear direction about which parts of my story to tell and how to evangelize to people who are so accustomed to the Orthodox and Pentecost faiths.
Our next visit was one house over. This is when God began to move in ways I was not expecting. The home housed an older couple, her 80-year-old mother, as well as their 19-year-old daughter Cristina and 14-year-old niece Nicoleta. The father, Nicu Ioan, was at first the focus of the conversation. He said that he did not go to church anymore because he could not stop smoking. John shared his testimony first, and I found myself uncertain about how my own story was going to be applicable here. All I felt I could do was emphasize the difference between religion and relationship and to share how our sins do not keep us from God once we accept His eternal forgiveness and do our best to live as He asks us to live. Nicu listened intently to all that John and I shared, but he was still somewhat hesitant in many ways, unsure that his sins could actually be forgiven fully. I could only offer to pray for him in this way and rest in the fact that we had planted seeds. God, of course, had a better plan. While John was speaking with Nicu I began watching the daughter and felt that something must be working in her. I am grateful to Brother Avram for asking me to share a little of my own story to Cristina. I wonder even now if Avram knows of a specific element in my story that is relatable to Cristina.
I began my story as usual, but I believe the Holy Spirit took over from there. I do not remember exactly what I said except for the elements of anger, strained relationships and aloneness. I do know that during Florin’s explanations of the plan of salvation, her face belied an intense, internal conversation. I was not certain that we had reached this point yet, but Florin asked me to lead them in the sinner’s prayer. I have to believe that God will continue to work even if these decisions were made from a feeling of obligation. I moved forward through the prayer then added further prayer for believers to surround them and encourage them in understanding the permanence of the decision they were making. It is hard to gauge responses when much of the body language and all of the verbal language is different, so I am in a trusting phase. My best indication that these professions of faith were from sincere hearts came in the tearful gratitude of the elderly grandmother. She was truly overwhelmed. My heart took this as a sign of God’s Spirit moving among this family, and I left their home with renewed hope for the week ahead.
At the next home visit, the Lord really took hold of John. The couple was of Orthodox belief, but the man had stopped attending church because he had been told that he was not allowed to attend church if he was unable to stop sinning. John was led to share a very personal story about a past sin of his own that he had previously never shared with anyone. His conversation led him to make a connection with the man, eventually resulting in a profession of faith. As Florin was completing the forms for follow-up, we discovered that the couple themselves were in a situation that was very similar to the one John had described from his own life. I believe this was the moment in which God showed us just how important are our complete stories.
We made one more visit before lunch which did not result in salvation but certainly planted seeds. Again John was able to connect immediately and I felt led to listen. We spoke with a young man named Arseni who was home caring for his infant daughter. It was evident that his love for her colored every part of his being, lighting his face and shining right through his eyes. John was able to use his own father-daughter relationship to stress the importance of the connection and how God loves us far greater than this. Although the young man made no immediate profession of faith, it was evident that the Lord will be working on him during the days to come.
We returned to the Gavriş home after 2pm, and John was full of amazement and joy. I was a little mixed in my feelings, being used to (or maybe just expecting) a breakdown of emotion while making a profession of faith and seeing none of that in the people we met today. I believe God has moved among this village, but I’m struggling with not seeing the expected emotional changes. True to form, however, God assured me of His great work: Pastor Florin mentioned (unprompted and unaware of my thoughts) that many of the people from today had been visited a year ago but had been completely closed off. They had no interest in hearing and would not pursue the conversations. Florin is so excited at the breakthrough! And I was reminded to share how God sometimes uses us to plant seeds instead of seeing the fruit. We claimed this promise for the remainder of the week, and I was humbled once again by the Spirit of the Lord. It was not for me to see the hearts of the people we are ministering to this week but to do the Lord’s work and leave the rest to Him.
There was time for only one more visit after lunch, but I was feeling a little ill so John accompanied Florin and Avram while I stayed home. I wondered later if I had denied God an opportunity to use me when I learned that their visit was an extremely timid 33-year-old single woman who suffered from issues with self-esteem. John certainly wished I had been there, although the woman did make a profession of faith and agreed to baptism despite an overwhelming fear of the act. I have to believe that John was the better tool for that moment, that God would have settled my sickness had I been needed. Up to that point I had experienced no hindrance. I wonder now if the woman needed to know that she was worthy of love from all of God’s people and John was the better person to deliver that message. I only know that there are no accidents when God is at work.
We have church services each night this week, and tonight’s service was again filled with joyous song and heartfelt prayer. Many more children attended this service, most who regularly attend the Pentecost church in the village. I was once again moved by their voices raised in song, and by the volume at which they sing. The fact that all of these children are so quick to stand in front of the congregation and sing with all of their might is a blessing I will take with me for the rest of my life. And I am certain that God’s heart is filled with love for the gifts they return to Him.
Florin kept the atmosphere casual during tonight’s service, and John was at his most comfortable yet in his sermon. Florin closed the night by showing everyone the testimonies that we have been using so that they would have an understanding of our process and tools. It was the perfect opportunity to pass out the testimonies to the church members, and thankfully, John was in tune to that prompting.
As the week progresses, I’m certain we will see these people come to understand how God can use their own stories – simple, good, sinful, varied in every way – to draw their community unto Him. They have their hearts prepared, even now.
continue reading: Day Six