I began praying about where God wanted me to go for a short-term mission trip in late 2016. Charis Bible College (where I currently attend) presented many opportunities, but God made it clear that He wanted me on the European Initiative trip to Hungary, Serbia and Ukraine. As I listened to the description of the trip and all it would demand, I had to ask God, “Are you sure?” I also reminded God that I was not really a young fellow anymore. However, He said “go” so I signed up.
I am desperate for Jesus.
The word “desperate” means to suffer from extreme need. It is the point one reaches when he or she has little or no hope left. It is the realization that your survival and success is completely dependent upon something or someone else. It wasn’t until I left the western world and stepped into Romania, that I truly began to understand my own and the world’s desperation. Yet desperation leads to humility and humility to grace…and grace will always lead to Jesus.
Before coming to Europe, I didn’t even know the Roma (the politically correct term for Gypsies) still existed. Unfortunately, most of the world wishes they didn’t. Because of the less-then-sterling reputation they have gained for frequently resorting to beggary and thievery, the Roma have been branded as untrustworthy; they are often treated with great contempt. For centuries, poverty has ruled their lives like a cruel dictator. Poverty has forced the youth to abandon their education, with many of them entering into early marriages. It robs individuals of their potential, and opens the door for depression, sickness, disease, and suicide.
A shepherd. A woman. A father.
While these three might seem completely unrelated, in Luke 17 Jesus uses each of these individuals to reveal His heart for the lost. The shepherd left all within his fold to search for his one sheep that had wandered away...
“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” – Saint Augustine
Empty eyes within spiritually darkened Europe reflect unrealized identity. Faces jump into my head and I see mirrors of the minds that are clouded by hurt, pain and lost identity… mouths that aren’t speaking, but with eyes that are yelling the confessions of a broken heart.
This is the question that Jeff Serio, Director of European Initiative asked a group of eager students one cloudy Wednesday morning in Berlin, Germany. I was fortunate to intern this summer with EI, and Jeff's question was just one of many questions he posed to us this summer.
I subconsciously began to set expectations as I prepared to leave for an eight-day mission trip to Berlin, Germany. While I reflected on my previous time in Germany with European Initiative, I mentally prepared myself for a similar experience. But I couldn't have been more wrong.
I had put God into my little box: I expected Him to move only in the ways I had seen Him move in the past. Based upon my previous experiences, I was limiting God and my expectations of how He works.
When I first heard I would be going to Croatia, I really had no idea what to think. I had heard that Croatia was a popular vacation destination for Europeans, but like most other Americans, I didn’t have much information to work with.
On our first day, we loaded up our rental cars and headed for a small Roma village outside the town of Varaždin. I realized on this road trip that Croatia is the most beautiful country I have ever visited! Around every curve in the road, I became more overwhelmed at the glory of God’s creation.
When we finally arrived in the village, we were greeted by a swarm of children. We felt like celebrities. But even beyond their curiosity about foreigners, these precious children were drawn to us because they could feel the love of Jesus in us. They just wanted to be loved. Even though we didn’t speak the same language, it was easy to communicate love.
We sat in a small church room crammed with people, elbow to elbow. Some old, some young—bound, free, lost, found. As the leader of our trip walked to the front of the room to bring a message, we all held our breath in anticipation. I actually held my breath in fear. What was the message going to be?
Sitnice, Croatia had been visited by others with the message of hope before. They came, they preached, they left, just like we were going to do; and the mark left by previous missionaries to this place was not good at all. Sadly, this can happen when fulfilling the Great Commission. In Matthew 13, the parable of the sower describes how some people receive the truth with a joyful heart, only to have it choked out due to the hardships of life, the promise of riches, lack of understanding, and lack of discipleship. We honor the missionaries that tilled the ground before us, but we realized it was our responsibility to water and till some more.