I have often commented that my work as a missionary doesn’t feel like work. I mean, every job I’ve ever had, even if it started out pleasantly enough, has turned into a chore sooner or later. But working for God started as very pleasant and agreeable, and grown to become fun and a passion. Yesterday was no exception.
I met Jasmin after lunch, and she showed me around her town. We saw shops and markets, ruins and churches, cafes and parks—and all that was very nice, and even fun to see. But it was the other things that she showed me that really grabbed my heart: her friends. First we met Rossa, a young woman who was on her way to work, but she told us that she needed to go to the park to get her head together first. Jasmin confided to me (in love for her friend, and without any hint of judgment in her voice or manner) that she was probably stoned and needed to come down before she starts work. Then she took me to meet Ana, but her shop was busy, so we didn’t stop. As we walked on, we met Nico, who told us that he had just had coffee with Jasmin’s son, Kyle (who is in his twenties). Then we said hi to Vlad, who sells jewelry and beads. Jasmin laughingly calls Vlad a fellow hippie (despite his traditional clothing) because of his homemade jewelry stand on the corner. Finally, we met Zoltan, the local philosopher (he calls philosophy a science!—Sorry, but having been married to a real scientist, I can just imagine how well that would be taken! J). We sat and had a coffee with Zoltan and met others who came by to say hi.
On our walk through town, we met some people who had stayed on after the Prayer Conference. They had told Jasmin a few days ago that they were staying an extra day to do ministry here. Immediately Jasmin was on the alert. She asked if she could meet with them first, and they agreed. She confided to me that she wanted to be sure that they weren’t going to go out and pass out tracts. Tracts didn’t work well, even in their day, but now, and especially in the hard soil of the Balkans, it could undo everything that Jasmin has been working toward: friendship evangelism, which must begin with genuine friendship. And friendship takes time. But when we met them in the town square, they told us that they were prayer walking, and wanted to go to the top of the hill to pray over the town. This news put Jasmin at ease. Prayers are always welcome because prayer moves the hand of God. So she showed them on the map how to get to the top of the hill, and we went our separate ways.
On and on through the town Jasmin and I walked, meeting people that she has been put here to love. And love them she does! As with Rossa, each person’s situation was explained to me without judgment, but rather full of love. In fact, her whole family: Jasmin, her husband Rich, and Kyle, are all very kind, loving, relational people. Most people respond to that love, with genuine affection for each of them.
And yet, despite their friendliness, they are not universally loved. Their house is situated between the houses of two brothers on what used to be their little private harbor on the lake. Many years ago someone came in and bought that tiny sliver of land between their houses and built over the harbor. The brothers’ anger and hatred for that person has also transferred to each of that person’s renters, including Jasmin and her family. As we approached her house, Jasmin went over to a car idling outside of a tiny garage. She offered to close the garage door, so that the driver wouldn’t have to get out. But it turns out that he was actually about to park the car. Jasmine smiled and explained to me that he was one of the brothers, and that even if he had been heading out, he has never accepted even the smallest kindness or favor from them. Nevertheless, she always has cookies baked to share with them, continues to offer to help, like with the garage door, and continues to love and pray for them.
Inside the house, I prayed with Jasmin and Rich for their family and for their ministry, and when I came to the situation with the brothers, I felt such compassion for them. Imagine spending decades with hatred and bitterness flowing through your veins like a poison! But as I prayed, God showed me that like a stalagmite that is built drip-by-drip-by-drip, a good relationship with the brothers will also build—and a good deal faster than a stalagmite.
Jasmin and Rich want to start an AA (alcohol and drug abuse) program here, and it is very much needed. There are many cultural and legal barriers to be overcome, but I know that God can indeed overcome all barriers. Through relationship building, they will also soon be accepted for this important work.
Jasmin, Rich, and Kyle were brought to Macedonia, to this little town, for exactly such a time as this. They are the right people in the right place, even if they may seem (in fact, are) extremely different from the rest of the townspeople. Their differentness will be used by God to great advantage in reaching people here with God’s love.
Jasmin said to me: “So this is what I do: I go around, have a coffee with this friend, go visit that friend, and then do it all again the next day.” Jasmin (indeed Rich and Kyle, too) understands that relationships take time, and time is an investment. I quoted that saying: “People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” And Jasmin agreed. Here are people who are living that out day-by-day. And once the barriers of language and culture and religion have been finally overcome, then people will be open to receive the wonderful hope that is found only in the Good News of Salvation in Jesus Christ. God is good!