by Pastor Keith Cowart, Southern Europe Regional Area Director
What comes to mind when you think of Europe? Magnificent, thousand-year-old cathedrals? Ultra-modern cities with all the conveniences and comforts of a wealthy society? Countries with church membership in the 90-percent range?
Not exactly the picture most people have of world missions.
And yet, behind that façade lies one of the toughest mission fields in the world:
- A land filled with people who are all too familiar with the church and thoroughly convinced it is irrelevant in today’s world.
- A land intimately tied to the blight of human trafficking.
- Rising unemployment. Crashing economies. Political and social upheaval.
- Immigrants flooding in from surrounding nations and war-torn regions, desperately looking for a safe haven … relief … hope.
Into this dark and desperate world, Free Methodist missionaries and pastors are bringing the light and life of Jesus Christ.
One of those pastors is a Bulgarian named Stanimir. Born in 1971, Stanimir grew up under the oppressive rule of the Communists. Public worship and Bibles were illegal, but no power on earth could keep his grandmother from testifying to the miraculous, healing power of Jesus Christ. Inspired by her life and faith, Stanimir accepted Christ as a young man, but like the biblical Demas, soon drifted away because he “loved this world” (2 Timothy 4:10).
Years later, Stanimir came under deep conviction of his sin. He cried out for mercy and immediately experienced forgiveness and the lifting of his guilt. Stanimir was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to grow in faith, but he was not sure how he was to serve the Lord.
One night, as he lay in a hospital bed fighting a serious illness, he was led to Ezekiel 16:49, “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” A vision followed which led Stanimir to this life-changing conclusion: “Then I knew there are two types of Christians. The first kind are careless and inactive. The second are the ones who realize the huge responsibility they have.”
Stanimir determined in that moment he would become one of the latter. As he surrendered his life to Jesus, God did three things: He gave Stanimir eyes to see the despair and hopelessness of his people; He gave him a deep love for the despised Roma people; and He gave him a vision for a farm that would provide work and food for the needy.
Today that farm is one of the few places where Roma and Bulgarians work side-by-side, united in love for God and one another. But there’s more than just food growing on this farm. Men and women are being discipled. Leaders are being trained. And churches are being planted.
The need in Europe is great, but so is the opportunity. May Stanimir’s own words become our challenge as he beautifully captures both: “For years we have been like a car engine that has been seized and unable to start. It needs a little help to start so it can drive the whole vehicle. At the moment, the urgent need is this: people who are willing to help start the engine, sacrificing their time, energy, strength and finances. In the future, once we start all the projects of spiritual and agricultural betterment, we’ll be the ones sharing God’s blessings with others. We’ll be the givers.”