Spain: Encuentro Con Dios

After a good night's rest, we drove over to spend Sunday morning with the "Iglesia Evangelica, Encuentro con Dios", Evangelical Church,Encounter with God.  Unai Arretxe is the pastor of the church and we have worked with him since 2007. It has been so exciting to see the church grow into a thriving church here in San Sebastian over the years. They happened to be celebrating their 10 year anniversary on this Sunday with  music and dances, a beautiful beach baptism of seven new believers and a delicious Spanish meal. Great is his faithfulness!

Celebrating 10 year Anniversary - Encuentro con Dios

Celebrating 10 year Anniversary - Encuentro con Dios

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beach baptism

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 After we had lunch, the time had come to set up for our first festival. The morning and early afternoon had been sunny and warm but as we were setting up for our first festival, we could see gray clouds starting to form. We set up our tents and started the festival with a huge crowd. People of all ages joined in our dances and participated in the crafts and games we brought. Manny and Unai shared the gospel several times over the evening. The gospel was also shared one on one 216 times and 42 people made the decision to trust in Jesus! We were amazed and overjoyed at the response tonight. And the rain held off until it was time to tear down!  

Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit ,says the Lord Almighty. Zechariah 4:6

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Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee!

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Bottle Rockets are always a big hit!

San Sebastian, Spain: The Grateful Eight

We finally made it to our hotel in San Sebastian, Spain! Our smallish group, smaller than in years past had a relatively smooth trip but we are nonetheless grateful to finally arrive at our hotel. This year we are meeting up with a group from Shelter Cove Community Church in California to minister with Manny Fernandez Jr. a longtime Johnson Ferry Missionary partner of World Link Ministries, to share Jesus through Western line dancing festivals.

After meeting the group at the airport in Madrid, we board a bus to drive 5 hours to San Sebastian. Although we were admonished to not fall asleep on the bus so we could get our body clocks on local time as soon as possible, I noticed several nodding heads and I didn't hear much talking. We'll try again after we stop for lunch. 

At lunch we are able to get to know the Shelter Cove people a little and already we can feel a unity with our California brothers and sisters in Christ. This is their first trip to minister with Manny and they are excited to see what it's like.

In our evening wrap up meeting, we pray together for the upcoming festivals, especially for good weather. The forecast is calling for rain most of the week, but we are praying in faith for the festivals to bring glory to God this week in San Sebastian. 

 

Evening wrap up to plan our first day of ministry tomorrow! 

Evening wrap up to plan our first day of ministry tomorrow! 

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Lunch break on our bus ride to San Sebastián  

Rwanda Day 2

After breakfast and devotion, we headed to the venue for the second day of the conference. As we approached the school, the kids saw our van approaching and started yelling and jumping for joy.

While Mark showed the Jesus film to the older kids (likely 4th and 5th graders), Kathleen and the girls did the salvation bracelets with the preschool kids. They loved using each different color beads and needing our help. They also enjoyed having their pictures taken. Once the bracelets were finished, we took them outside to play games.

Mark watched the entire Jesus film with the older kids (about 60 minutes) who had the bracelets from the day before. The kids were very attentive and looked interested throughout. After the resurrection scene when Jesus appears, Mark paused the movie and gave an invitation. He had a big show of hands in response with nearly 80 decisions to follow Christ. Praise the Lord!

At the pastor’s conference in the morning, Ron taught for 3 hours about Biblical counseling, specifically using the skill of active listening. It was an overview of how to help people who are hurting, using Scripture. He also talked about having a vision for counseling: pastors as shepherds. They need to not just teach in public, but one on one through counseling. He also had a Q&A section and gave advice specifically for the African culture.

Next, the women went outside to hear from Judy and the men stayed inside to hear from Matt. Judy talked about 4 main women figures in the Bible: Eve, Sarah, Ruth, and Mary and the lessons we can learn from them, providing encouragement to the women. She ended by passing out gifts of scarves to all the ladies. Matt talked about personal sanctification with 3 steps: Prayer, Obedience in the word, and waiting on the Lord. Then we all said our goodbyes and took pictures, while the team headed to the Genocide Memorial with James and the Burundian pastors. The memorial was very difficult for some to walk through, but also a good reminder of God’s forgiveness.

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Rwanda: Training Pastors in Stephen Ministry

After 7.5 hours on a flight from Atlanta, GA to Amsterdam, we were able to explore some of the Dutch shopping centers in the airport. We sampled Dutch gouda cheese and saw eel for sale! Our flight from Amsterdam to Kigali was 8.5 hours and we finally arrived at 7pm local time. We were greeted by Greg and Bev and taken to our motel. We’re sleeping with mosquito nets which is new, but exciting. We all headed to bed with exhaustion.

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We gathered together for breakfast and devotions with Greg, Bev, Isaac, and Ezekiel joining us. Isaac led the devotionon the unity and love of Christ. Then we headed to the venue where the BTCP pastor’s conference was being held. We worshipped together and introduced everybody and then Kathleen and her girls headed off to work with the youth.

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Their first group of kids were elementary ages. We were welcomed by the principal and then taken to a room where they were currently learning English. We introduced ourselves and taught the salvation bracelets. The kids really seemed to enjoy making them and individually wanted our help. It was a blast. We also gave them shiny gold plastic coins with Bible verses on them that they loved! We also took many photos and showed the kids the photos we took on our cameras. They pointed and giggled and bashfully looked away. Then we headed outside where Anna played some soccer with the kids while Kathleen and Jessica let the kids feel and play with their hair. We touched their hair in return.

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Afterwards, we went to a high school and each shared their testimonies with the group. We then played a short game with Frisbees and a scoreboard to teach the importance of God in every decision we make. Then we talked with some of the kids and took pictures with them.

At the conference, Ron taught in the morning on forgiveness and provided a 6 step process to help with forgiveness. He used his shark hook visual aid where people would place the names of people they couldn’t forgive on pieces of paper that they placed on the hook. At first, not many people responded, but after Greg put the first piece of paper on, many others followed suit, but in tears. It was very moving.

Everyone gathered together for lunch at The Aroma buffet where we enjoyed tasting some of Rwanda’s local foods. Some ordered mango or pineapple juice as well! In the afternoon, Prudy taught the salvation bracelets to the women and Matt talked on the problem of self-sufficiency to the men. Kathleen and her girls went back to the elementary school and presented the Jesus story through coloring books. The teacher read the whole story aloud and many of the students seemed very interested. Then the group split into a those that wanted to color and those that wanted to play a game. Anna took the kids to play Duck Duck Goose while Kathleen and Jessica interacted with the kids. The conference ended at 5:30 and we came back to the hotel for dinner.

Mark, John, and Matt were joined by Michael and David to an impoverished place in the evening and showed the Jesus film. There were about 35-45 people. They got through about 30% of the movie when John and David came and said they had to stop because the authorities came and said we were keeping the people up too late.They paused the movie and John wrapped up the message with an invitation and 16 people came to Christ. Then fully shut down and came back.

Romania: Overwhelmed and amazed

We had a very busy but very blessed day, on this Tuesday. I began this morning by accompanying a group to the mayor's office of Alba Iulia. One of the great things about this trip has just been the warm reception we've received everywhere we've gone. It's also been great to have a rich history with the local leadership of this town. They've been very supportive of our teams coming and have contributed to make our concerts happen, especially the one that happened at the fortress. As a result, today some from our team met with the vice mayor just as a way to show our gratitude and get to know him and his leadership better. He was a more than gracious host, and was very excited to come to our concert tonight. 

All around Alba and even outside Alba we had groups doing all kinds of mission work, varying from VBS, to construction projects, to hospital and home visits. I got to drop by our construction team before heading to the fortress to prepare for the concert. It's always so cool no matter what your giftedness is, you can be used by God to serve in some capacity. We are definitely blessed on this trip to have such a musically gifted team, but also people using their secondary set of skills with huge servant hearts. 

This evening, we were able to have our rescheduled concert from Saturday, up at the fortress. All eyes were watching the weather radar today to make sure we weren't going to have any issues. We had a couple of showers pop up around us in the mid afternoon, and even got a light sprinkle for a minute or two, but that was it. By the time 8 o'clock rolled around and it was time for the concert to begin, all the rain clouds had rolled away and we were left with a gorgeous sunset. Our choir and orchestra performed and worshipped their hearts out, and the joy on their faces once again radiated to the audience. We had a fantastic turnout tonight, with hundreds of people in chairs, many standing around, and people coming and going. It's hard to gauge a number, but it was a lot. We were thankful that we had such a platform to tell people about Christ. During the response time, Bryant asked folks who made a first time decision to go public about it and raise there hands... I must have seen close to 40 or 50 people say they had put their faith in Christ. I was overwhelmed and amazed, as I know everyone else was, and just had to pause and thank God for what He was doing in those people's hearts. After the concert, I could tell people were having wonderful conversations all over the place, many were praying in circles, just having a great time of fellowship. We don't know why God chose to have us do this concert tonight instead of our originally scheduled date of last Saturday, but we do know that He is faithful and can be trusted, so therefore there was a great reason why we had the concert at the fortress tonight. Time will tell, and I'm excited to hear about conversations our team members were able to have with our concert attendees. 

It's hard to believe tomorrow is our last day of scheduled ministry, and also our last concert. Once again, during the morning and afternoon our folks will be out and about serving in all sorts of capacities, then we have a dinner/concert with the lovely folks of Harmony Baptist Church, our ministry partner Marcel's home church. Please pray that our team will have fruitful ministry again tomorrow, and stamina to make it through another very busy, but what I know will be, blessed day. 

Romania: Road trip to Cluj

Today was unique for us... we got to do something special that we weren't able to do a few years ago on the previous trip, and man was it awesome. Today, we got to partner with a local church and friend of our mission partner here in Romania. This church is a young, thriving body in the city of Cluj, the second most populated city in Romania, and a few hours north of Alba Iulia. This church was pretty excited to have us come, and they worked hard to land the opera house in the center of town for the location for one of our concerts. This picturesque theater is absolutely stunning; and with it being over 100 years old, it has that perfect charm you'd expect for an early twentieth century theater. We were blown away by how beautiful it was and very much enjoyed having one of our concerts there.

Because of how long we had to drive to get to Cluj, the concert tonight was really the only opportunity at scheduled ministry we had today. Still though, God was working in the hearts of the people that attended our concert. When you get the privilege of having the senior pastor on a mission trip, you give him a microphone and let him preach of course. Between what God said through Bryant, and the gospel being so clearly presented in our music and programming, once again we got to witness a few people make professions of faith for the first time. It was a very meaningful concert.

In addition to sharing Christ for those who wouldn't call themselves believers, these concerts have also been a great opportunity to simply encourage our local mission partners and the people they're doing ministry with on a regular basis. Tonight after the concert, our choir and orchestra folks got a chance to fellowship with our concert attendees. It was a wonderful sight to see... a sea of red, yellow, and blue shirts having meaningful conversations all over the lobby, hallways, and outside, getting the opportunity and love on the people of the local church and community. One of our team members got the privilege to meet a Romanian girl name Christina, after the concert. Christina would call herself a believer, but struggles with a warped view of God. In her heart, God is always disappointed in her and looks down on her from heaven in constant judgement. She struggles in multiple areas in her life... broken relationships, depression, some serious spiritual warfare. Well, thankfully in God's great timing, she was able to meet our team member who dealt with almost the exact same situation in his younger years. He was able to minister to her and challenge her distorted view of God and explain that, yes, God is a God of judgment but he's also a God of grace who wants to know us personally. Christina said the concert definitely served as a challenge in how she viewed her relationship with God and was so grateful for us being there. We are so thankful for the opportunity minister to girls like Christina, and thankful for the chance to hopefully have impact on the hearts of the people of Cluj. 

Tomorrow, we get the opportunity to be the tangible hands and feet of Jesus in all sorts of ways. Our team will be scattered across town doing various things from construction to hospital visits, to vacation bible school. In addition to that, the concert that got rained out on Saturday will be happening after all, on Tuesday. We're excited for both of these things, and as always, we appreciate the prayers of our friends and loved ones back home. 

Romania: The harvest is ready...

It's Sunday night, and we've just had another incredible day of ministry. Everyone will (hopefully) sleep well tonight after a jammed pack day, for most an 18+ hour day. Today we got to do not one, but two concerts in different towns. It was a lot of travel and logistics, and we are all definitely exhausted, but we are thankful for all God did today.

This morning, we returned to our friends at Holy Trinity Baptist Church in Deva, just about an hour's drive from Alba Iulia. It was great to see some familiar faces, and some new, but mostly we were excited to once again worship with the congregation there. They essentially let us "take over" their normally scheduled worship service for today, and it was a moving service. Despite the early morning and the jet lag, our team led with joy in their hearts and it was evident on their faces. Bryant spoke as well, and his message was on Nicodemus meeting Jesus in the night in John 3. It was a powerful sermon, followed by more powerful worship. We are thrilled that during a response time, we had several people make first-time decisions to follow Christ. Needless to say, this fueled our enthusiasm and excitement for our outreach concert tonight in Sebes, just a few miles from where we are staying in Alba Iulia. 

Nestled in the town of Sebes is a cathedral that was originally built in the 1200's. For those who went with us two years ago, we sang at this church, but we were once again very excited to be back. Tonight's concert was an outreach concert that was publicized to the community. Every seat in the place was taken and it was standing room only by the time the concert started. The choir and orchestra once again knocked it out of the park, and Bryant was able to share the gospel yet again. The Holy Spirit moved and once again, several people tonight made public professions of faith for the first time. It was even sweeter to see a familiar face raise his hand to publicly profess his new found faith. 

Some of our team have known a gentleman who works in the Sebes mayor's office for a couple of years. He works with coordinating events that take place in Sebes, and even went to our concert two years ago. If you struck up a conversation with him, specifically about matters of faith, you'd know that he had no interest in anything pertaining to religion whatsoever, and his life reflected that. Well tonight, he decided he wanted to come to the concert again. And when Bryant asked for those who decided to follow Christ to raise their hands, he was one of them. It was an emotional time for sure... for some, they've been praying for this man ever since they met him two years ago, and to be able to be a part of his salvation story was absolutely remarkable. For him, tonight it finally clicked that God wanted to have a relationship with Him, and that he could personally know Him because of what Christ did on the cross. His words on the concert tonight were: "Tonight felt like my birthday, Christmas, Easter, and the first time riding my bike... rolled into one evening." He also talked about joy, and how anytime he'd look up at the choir, all he saw were faces of absolute joy... nothing contrived or manufactured, but pure joy in worship to this personal God who loves us more than we will ever know. He knew in those moments that the God we came here to proclaim is truly great and worthy of our praise, and is the cause for the joy in our faces.

We don't know why, for this man, that tonight was the night for him. If he was here two years ago, he would have certainly also heard a clear gospel presentation then as well. All we know is that we did our best to be obedient in sharing the love of Christ, and the Holy Spirit did the rest. We got to be part of the harvest, and for that I know we are all grateful. It makes us excited and ready to experience what God has in store in the next 3 days of ministry. As always, we covet your prayers as we continue on!