Saving the Girls

Part Two

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Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, and poverty means vulnerability.  Sometimes, as noted in yesterday’s post, a family will either abort or abandon children that they can’t afford to keep.  So Moldova’s orphanages are filled with children who are not truly orphans, but are simply abandoned.  Being the poorest country in Europe, and having the responsibility for so many orphans means that the orphanages cannot do more than simply keep their little charges alive.  When an orphan reaches the age of eighteen, they are given a small amount of money and a bus ticket to the nearest city.  Traffickers know this and often cruise the bus stops by the orphanages looking for young girls to whisk away into a life of prostitution.  And, having no other life skills, they really have no other alternative.

Sometimes, in exchange for money, the orphanage directors will cooperate with the traffickers by letting them know when girls will be released.  And sometimes, the orphanage directors, themselves, become traffickers, opening the orphanage as a child brothel, and selling the girls into a life of prostitution when they are released.

Rescuing these girls from prostitution is the focus of several ministries here in Moldova.  In Trans Istria we saw the construction site of a church that wants to house girls, teach them life skills and job skills, and help get them started into a better life.  The church doesn’t currently have enough money to finish the building project, so they are using the help of missionaries who come as volunteer help.  Even if you are not skilled in construction, but you want to help, any extra pair of hands is very gratefully put to work in various ways, and for whatever length of time you can come.  You can contact us through the GoMissions website for more information.

Our visit yesterday to Irena and Olga, the mother and daughter team that works in the Pregnancy Crisis Center in Chisinau is another organization that helps these at-risk girls.  Orphans and the rescue of prostitutes is not the primary focus.

Stella’s Voice is a ministry based in the UK that also rescues at-risk girls.  You can contact them on their website for ways that you can help their ministry help these girls.

Traditionally, law enforcement (worldwide) has jailed and prosecuted the prostitutes, themselves.  But the fact is that few prostitutes choose that lifestyle.  The ones who do choose to go into prostitution have all been molested as children, so that they have come to believe that it is only through sex that they have value.  Therefore, it is not only wrong to jail prostitutes, but also a waste of resources, since it only effects the supply in a very small way without diminishing the demand at all.

The only country in the world that has been able to drastically reduce prostitution (by 80 percent) is Sweden.  Instead of prosecuting the prostitutes, Sweden prosecutes the johns—and does so publicly.  In fact, anyone traveling to, from, or through Sweden for the purpose of buying the services of prostitutes (sex tourism) is jailed and denounced in the Swedish media.

Unfortunately, Moldova is far too poor to address the problem of prostitution at all.  But the western countries to which these girls are trafficked do have the resources.  Any country that really wants to help these girls, or at the very least to stop prostitution within their borders, should follow the Swedish model.  I suspect that the problem is that most politicians don’t care about prostitutes and/or the police are in some way involved (financially or by receiving favors).  My criticism is not limited to the countries of Western Europe, but worldwide, including my own.  It is within the power of our government to stop prostitution.  But do they want to.  America, do you want to stop prostitution?

Saving the Girls

Part One

This morning we went to visit a mother and daughter team (Olga and Irena) who help girls with “problem pregnancies.”  In other words, they help girls who find themselves unhappily pregnant to make the right decision about their babies and their lives.  Irena pointed out how unusual their partnership is in Moldova, where mothers and daughters are frequently at odds with each other.  The generation gap in Moldova is wider than the Grand Canyon.  But through Jesus Christ, they are as much sisters as they are mother and daughter.

Besides helping young girls, they also help married women who find themselves pregnant with a baby they can’t afford to keep (most Moldovan families who cannot afford to care for their children either abort or abandon them).  They also help fathers and at-risk families, and do post-abortion counseling.  And they help the children born as a result of their efforts with a daycare program.

Irena, the daughter, translated for her mother, who told us about how she became involved with this ministry.  Olga had been working in an important, high-paying job when God called her to this work.  She was able to do both for a while and then the director of the ministry left, and she was asked to take over the directorship.  Olga thought and prayed long and hard about it because it would mean giving up her apartment (owned by her company), and taking a dramatic cut in pay.  She asked four people to pray about it, and all four came back with the same answer as she had gotten: that she must take the directorship.  Then Olga asked God for four very specific signs, and she got all four signs.  So she made a deal with God: “If I do my part, then You’ve got to do Your part and help me out.”  I laughed at that point and told her what my pastor in Texas says: “If your ministry doesn’t scare you, then it’s not from God.”  She laughed and said, “Then it was definitely from God.”

So Olga took over the directorship, and the money came in as needed.  Of course, the most important thing that they do is to introduce each person that enters the center to Jesus.  Only Jesus can help them to have a better life.

Now they have bigger needs.  Olga has big dreams: to open a house for unwed mothers, with a training center in which they can teach job skills as well as baby care.  In addition there would be a day care center and counseling center.  They would also like to open a school for the children, the first of whom are now almost school aged.  I love the faith to dream big like that, and I pray that they will find the funding to make their dream a reality.

If you have it in your heart to help this ministry, please make a donation.  Any amount would be so greatly appreciated!  You can make a tax-deductible donation on the European Faith Missions website.  At the same time, please send me an e-mail ( to let me know that you want your donation to go to the Pregnancy Crisis Center of Chisinau in Moldova.  Do good because God is good!

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Our Trip into No-Man’s Land


Today we are going to Tiraspol in Trans Istria (also called Transnistria or Transdniestria because of the river Dniester that divides it from the rest of Moldova), an autonomous region of Moldova.  Trans Istria is Communist and doesn’t want to be part of Moldova.  In fact, they have sent a request to President Putin of Russia to become part of Russia.  His response was that he would consider their request in due time (presumably to give him time to conquer the region of Odessa in Ukraine).  This is wonderful for us because if he had said yes right away, then we would not be able to go there without a visa and an invitation.  As it is, we were invited, and are going to visit Natasha, one of the teachers who had come to the conference, and to sit in on her English class.

We have to be very careful about how we travel.  Although we have a van, we will be taking a bus there.  On the bus we will need to be careful to blend in as much as possible, which means no loud talking among ourselves, no laughing or smiling, no conversation with the people around us, and not volunteering any information about ourselves or our reason for entering the region.  At the checkpoint, we will be asked to show our passports and to fill out a form about ourselves and our reason for entering.  We were instructed to give as little detail as possible, and to refuse to fill in the entire form.  Our reason for entering is tourism, and since we will be exiting the region tonight, they can’t force us to fill in the entire form.

For me, keeping a low profile is not a problem except that my bright red hair, cut in a strange style, and my brightly-colored wardrobe tend to draw attention.  Had I known about this when packing for the trip, I would have packed appropriate clothing.  But I came up with a plan: I will wear my gray T-shirt inside-out.  At least that much will be plain as plain can be.  I can’t do anything about my lime green jacket or multi-colored scarf and hat.  But perhaps it will be warm enough that I won’t need them . . . at least that’s what I hope.

So with this rather scary prospect in mind, we sat over supper and without planning to do so, we got all the silliness out of our systems.  Sally started it with a hilarious translation of a Polish phrase for “dinner is served.”  From there the evening progressed into more and more laughter and giggles, howling and chuckling.  We frequently asked ourselves what we’ll do at the checkpoint if a fit of laughter overtakes us.  But I don’t think it will.  We really laughed so hard that our sides were aching.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mission house’s landline to God–we laughed until we cried!

The Next Day

Our trip to Tiraspol went very smoothly.  We took very little with us, besides our cameras, some money, passports (of course), and umbrellas in case it rains.  We were given the checkpoint form to fill out at the bus station in Chisinau.  The bottom half of the form was exactly like the top half, so I filled in only the top.  But we were told to fill in both halves.

About half an hour later, at the checkpoint, the guard took a look at my form and passport.  He shoved the form back at me immediately, saying something in Russian.  Jurek translated, “You need to fill in your father’s name.”  And what they wanted was my father’s first name.  Then the guard took a very long time, perhaps checking me out on the internet.  Finally, he handed my passport back with only the lower half of the form, which he had stamped.  Eventually, we all got through the checkpoint without any problem.

The most obvious difference between Trans Istria and Moldova was that the roads were noticeably better in Trans Istria.  Also, the signs in Moldova are in either Moldovan (essentially Romanian) or Russian or both.  In Trans Istria, the signs were exclusively in Russian.  I remembered what I had learned of the Cyrillic alphabet in Bulgaria, and was able to figure out some of the signs we saw: аптека (pharmacy), фото (photo), телефон (telephone), and кофе (coffee).

Natasha met us at the bus stop and led us two blocks away to the church.  The church has rented space in an enormous ex-Soviet exhibition center.  Natasha took us upstairs to meet her English club, and there the five of us split up and joined in the groups.  In my group I met Jessie, an American girl from San Francisco—where I grew up.  Talk about a small world.  Jessie was there with the World Racers, a group of young adults who sign on to do missions in eleven countries in eleven months.  What an adventure!

Over lunch Natasha told us some easy and fun ways to remember simple Russian phrases.

Natasha’s Crash Course in Russian:

  • Godzilla? (Как дела?) – How are you?
  • Space Bob (спасибо) – Thank you
  • Yellow blue bus (Я тебя люблю) – I love you

I think that if Natasha’s English classes are as fun as her little Russian lesson, then she must be a really fun teacher.

On the bus home the woman across from me had a rabbit in her lap.  We laughed about how scared we had been about the checkpoint and the KGB, and instead we rode home with a fluffy bunny.  God is good!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe fluffy bunny on the bus ride home

Teaching Teachers to Teach

Doug and Janet organized the conference just like they knew what they were doing: making signs and handouts, organizing books to give away, advertising over the internet to the Moldovan Christian community, setting up speakers and their topics, and finding local volunteers (including Kostanza) to keep us supplied with coffee and tea, and to cook for us.  Doug also facilitated the roundtable discussions.  I was shocked to learn that they had never organized a conference before.  Everything ran so smoothly that I had been convinced that they had done it many times.

The first of the attendees arrived the night before.  She was uncertain about being able to get to the conference on time, so she had contacted Doug about coming early.  So Bobbie, an English missionary, spent the night with me and Sally in the female bedroom, also known as the conference room.  In the morning we moved the mattresses to an unfinished back room, and rounded up all the available tables in the house.  Jurek set up the projector, screen, and laptop with Sally’s flash drive.

Meanwhile, Kostanza and the other local women arrived to help out with coffee and meals.  They didn’t speak English, but they worked hard all day long, singing and talking together in Romanian, which is what they speak in Moldova.  Soon after they got started, the other attendees started arriving in twos and fours.  I served as greeter, giving each person a name badge and information packet with the day’s schedule, a brochure about GoMissions, my and Sally’s card (a two-sided business card), and a GoMissions rubber bracelet bearing the phrase “I love,” and I checked their name off on the master list.

Some people knew each other, and some also knew Jurek, who has now come to Moldova so often that it has become like a second home to him.  Others dove right into that all-important secondary motivation for attending a conference: networking.  As is often the case among Christian missionaries, even if we don’t know each other, we know many of the same people.  For missionaries in Europe, it really is a very small world.

The program started late, due to the late arrival of people who had trouble finding Jurek’s mission house.  However, they phoned and got directions and soon found the house.  Meanwhile Yuri, one of the young men that lives in Jurek’s house picked up his guitar and started playing worship songs.  Doug had asked him to prepare songs to sing in Romanian and Russian, but that are well-known in English.  Yuri did a great job picking out songs, and everyone joined right in singing.

Once the last arrivals was in the door and settled, Doug opened the program with a brief welcome, a prayer, and invited Yuri to play some more.  He didn’t realize that Yuri had already played his entire repertoire, but never mind.  They were all songs that everyone knows and loves.  A funny moment came when we had gone through one song in Romanian and a second time in Russian, then Yuri said, “English!” and nothing but silence and then laughter followed because we all knew the chorus, but not the rest of the song.  Then, because Yuri was about to leave to go on a mission trip to India, we gathered around him and prayed for him.

Next, we each briefly introduced ourselves and our interest in attending the conference.  The last one was Sally, who introduced herself in her PowerPoint presentation on Assessing Student’s Needs and Designing Lessons.  Again I found myself marveling at how gifted Sally is at putting together an interesting and engaging talk.  She has been an independent businesswoman for many years, so Sally is very clever and creative.

Then there was a brief coffee/bathroom break before the next session, which was taught by Johnny, a recently retired teacher from the UK.  Johnny now teaches English at a church in a town not far from here.  He taught a session on Classroom Management.  As he spoke about maintaining order in the classroom, Johnny spoke about the importance of treating each student with love and respect—especially when it comes to maintaining discipline.  In fact, he spoke so passionately about loving your students, that I could easily imagine that Johnny’s students must all love him, too.  It would be hard not to love a teacher who smiles so warmly and laughs so easily.

After lunch Jurek showed some slides of his mission house in action, filled with Polish and Moldovan teenaged believers, playing games and singing songs, getting ready to go into the nearby villages on outreach.

Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, and on the streets and in the shops, it is rare to see anyone smile.  The Orthodox Church stands in gaudy golden contrast with the disheveled gray surroundings—it seems a mockery.  Most Moldovans still identify themselves as Orthodox, though church attendance is very low.  The poverty of Moldova is so bad that the orphanages are filled with children who are not really orphans, but simply abandoned by parents who can no longer feed them.  And the plight of the Moldovan orphans is very bad indeed.  Most orphanages release their young adults into the world without the necessary life skills.  So equipped with only a bus ticket to the city where they are expected to somehow find an apartment and a job and begin to fend for themselves.  The traffickers know this and cruise the bus stops near the orphanages, looking for newly-released girls (and boys) to whisk away into a life of prostitution in Western Europe.  Some orphanage directors even get kickbacks from the traffickers by handing over young girls.

So it is against this backdrop that Jurek enters the villages each summer with his teenaged missionaries.  The children see his van coming and they run to greet it.  They entertain the children with games and stories and songs, all on the theme of God’s great love for them.  Jurek has recorded it all in pictures and video.  In fact, he has been taking pictures of the conference since we first arrived to set things up.

Next it was time for Sally’s next workshop: Communicating with students.  Sally is highly creative and innovative, so she showed us some wonderful ways to incorporate Jesus into any English lesson in a way that feels very natural and normal.  She said that she always tells the language school in the first interview that she is a Christian missionary and an English teacher.  That way, if someone finds out about her talking about Jesus, the school can’t say that they didn’t know about it.  In her lessons, illustrating the past tense using a person or a story from the Bible is easy to do, and she gave us some examples.  She also uses the Bible to illustrate other parts of speech, as well.

Sally also showed the class her latest genius idea: black clothing labels machine embroidered in gold, which she had gotten in bulk from China.  They say: “Jesus – Light of the World.”  She has sewn them onto her clothes in odd places: on a sleeve, on a pocket, at a seam, or at a hem.  They are small and tasteful, maintaining the professional look of her wardrobe.  And because they are in odd places, they catch the eye and evoke comment, which becomes conversation—either with her students, her co-workers, or strangers on the bus or in the coffee shop.  She gave away several of the labels, and encouraged the attendees to use them.

Sally also periodically holds an English lunch outside the language school with her students.  Since the venue is outside the language school, she is freer to share her faith.  She has had students come to the English lunch, wanting only to talk about Jesus, which of course, she is only too happy to do.

After the afternoon tea break, there was the final workshop, which focused on the books and other materials that Doug and Jane had brought with them from Poland.  Since the books had been sitting out on shelves all day, the attendees were practically salivating at the thought of getting their hands on these materials.  They had had the opportunity to browse the selections, but now Doug spoke about how to choose the right materials for their needs.  He had told me the day before that often the teachers will choose materials that fail to sufficiently challenge their students.  So he encouraged the teachers to think about choosing the higher level books in order to draw their students into a more advanced level of English—and possibly themselves, too.

Then after a lovely dinner the conference concluded.  Doug read us the parable of the talents, and instructed us to write on a piece of paper three talents that we have.  Then he said that with these talents comes the responsibility to use them for the Kingdom of God.

This morning we went to a little church in a village nearby.  The church didn’t have a sign outside, but there was a cross-shaped window on the front that made it obvious that it was a church.  Jurek told us that the church had been meeting in a very badly dilapidated house built with asbestos.  So some German believers helped by building a church building for them.  Many people refused to go to the bright, shiny new church building.  This is likely for a number of reasons:

  • The new building smacks of the Orthodox Church’s ostentation
  • The Orthodox Church collaborated with the Communists, so because the new building reminds people of the Orthodox Church, it also reminds them of Communism
  • Most Moldovan Christians are plain people, playing no music in church, wearing a headscarf to church, no makeup or jewelry.  It feels wrong to them to go to such a fancy church
  • The new building is so clean and bright that it is a bit intimidating for Moldovans, who are used to things that are dingy and gray
  • Because of all this, the new building doesn’t feel Moldovan, but foreign

All of this is a real shame because the people of the church were very sweet and welcoming.  The songs were sung loudly by all, with only the pastor at the front.  He sang with eyes closed, as in prayer.  We were assigned interpreters who didn’t interpret much.  One was seventeen, and the other in his early twenties, neither had very strong English language skills.  We understood that they had been put on the spot.  It’s one thing to understand a second language, but it’s another to interpret from your native language into a second language, even if you’re conversational in that language.

One woman went to the front and sang a song that God had given her.  Of course I didn’t understand a word of it, but the heartfelt emotion came through.  Another woman told about a dream God had given her, and concluded with a song.

The pastor preached about the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and since I couldn’t understand and the translator couldn’t translate, I began to think about what our guide told us in Jerusalem just a month ago.  He said that when you think of the people waving palms, you picture something like a king whose slaves continuously fan him with palm leaves.  But he said that more likely the people had pieces of the date palm leaves, which are long and pointed, and they were waving them like swords because they expected Jesus to raise an insurrection against the Romans.  And from that thought, my mind meandered to how Italians use olive branches instead of palms.  Olive branches symbolize peace, the opposite of how our guide interpreted the Triumphal Entry.  Hmm . . .

Sally had bought Italian chocolates (Baci!) to give to the churches we visit.  So she approached the pastor’s wife after the service.  She received them graciously, but as soon as she got them, the pastor’s wife gave away all the chocolates.  I don’t know if she kept one for herself.

The pastor and his wife asked us how we felt there.  I was unsure whether they meant Moldova or in the church, but in either case, the answer was the same: welcome.  That answer brought smiles.  We’ll see if we feel welcome tomorrow . . . stay tuned!  God is good!

Welcome to Moldova!


Sally and I arrived in Moldova yesterday, not knowing what to expect, so I came prepared for anything.  (Sally is my ministry partner, and so, unlike all the other names in my blog, hers is unchanged.)  We were met at the airport by Doug and Jurek.  Doug and his wife, Jane, are British, but they live in Poland, Jurek’s homeland.  They had invited us here to help them host a conference to train English teachers in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ while with their students.  At the same time, we will be training them to be better teachers of English. Jurek has been coming frequently to Moldova over the past 20 years or so, working with children and sharing the love of Jesus with them and their parents.  So Doug and Jane came with Jurek and we are using his mission house both as a place to sleep and to hold the conference. The conference was Doug’s idea.  Several years ago Doug met a representative of a large publishing house that specializes in textbooks.  He asked the publisher what they do with the old editions when new ones are published.  The answer is that they had been throwing away all the old editions.  They certainly can’t sell them.  So Doug said, “Please don’t throw them out!  Send me the old editions of English texts when the new ones are published.”  So now their garage is filled with boxes full of English textbooks.  Doug gives the books to missionaries so that they can teach English as a way of sharing Jesus. So he organized with Jurek and Sally to have this conference in Moldova to train English teachers.  Sally teaches English as a living in Italy, but calls herself a missionary thinly disguised as an English teacher. At first, I didn’t think to come to Moldova because my ministry is not so much about reaching the lost as it is a ministry to missionaries to help them reach the lost.  I have occasionally taught English over the years, and shared Jesus through that experience.  But it is not my main call or focus.  However, just before going to Israel last month, I spoke with Sally again about the conference, and I felt that familiar nudge of the Holy Spirit.  I saw that my calendar was open for the seven days that Sally would be in Moldova.  I also saw that God can use me to encourage these teacher/missionaries, too.  And that is my calling and focus.  So I booked tickets on the same flights and came along to help. Today has been spent getting Jurek’s house ready for the conference.  After breakfast we put our heads together to come up with a plan of action for today’s tasks and preparing for tomorrow’s conference.  Since Jurek lives in Poland, he has a couple of young men stay in his house while he’s away.  They have gone elsewhere for the duration of the conference.  So we started with the basics: grocery shopping, cleaning the bathroom, sweeping away the cobwebs, dusting the furniture, sweeping the floors, and clearing away the toys and games.  Kostanza came to help, but since she speaks only Moldovan and Russian, her tasks were limited to preparing lunch, kitchen cleanup, and ironing the tablecloths.  Being the only person who could communicate with Kostanza, Jurek’s job was to instruct her in her tasks, and make sure that she understands.  Then we began unpacking and organizing Doug and Jane’s treasure trove of books to give to the teachers, hanging posters, making photocopies of handout materials, and making name badges and signs.  There was lots of laughter and good feelings in coming together to make this conference happen.  Every so often, Jurek would come into the designated conference room to take pictures of our activities—which generated even more laughter. It has been a full day, and tomorrow will be equally full from the conference’s 9:30AM arrival to its 8:00PM close.  Then we get to do it all over again for a Messianic community in another city on Sunday.  As we were hanging posters, Sally and I were talking about our lives.  Think about it, just the day before yesterday, I was laughing over a coffee with teenaged believers in Albania, and today we’re hanging posters in Moldova for a conference.  We agreed that we wouldn’t trade lives with anyone else—what an adventure!  What fun!  What a life!  God is good!


Doug’s Treasure Trove!

Back to Tirana

Just like in Sofia last year (see Our Last Night in Sofia), Angie and I were the two remaining teammates after prayer walking in the capitals.  And just like last year, we returned to fly out of the city that we had flown into.  So once again, we enjoyed an evening together.  Angie is the teammate that I have nicknamed Snoopy (see Puppies and Clowns and Rainbows and Joybringers in Kosovo) because of the joyful dance she does that reminds me of how Snoopy dances in the Charlie Brown specials.  Angie has the most beautiful smile—one that really overflows with joy, and she laughs easily and often.  So she is a pleasant person and a lots of fun to be with.

We had a lovely dinner together, and early this morning I had a beautiful worship session, enjoying the closeness of my Father.

Our time in Kosovo had not been without its difficulties.  I haven’t written about these because they are not for the public, but also because I don’t know the whole story from both sides.  All I can say is that there was a teammate who became offended with another teammate, and because of this, we lost our unity.  Both sides are convinced that they are right—and I can’t say that either side is completely right or completely wrong.  But I have seen this kind of subtle attack of the enemy, causing division and disunity.  The loss of unity was felt by all of us, with the most sensitive spilling over in tears.  The rift has been the central focus of my prayers ever since I became aware of it.

I have been on both sides of this issue, so I know how each party feels.  As the offended person, you feel betrayed, and even righteously angry because of the damage done to your ministry.  As the offender, you need to understand how you have hurt the other person without meaning to hurt.  Whenever this kind of thing happens, whether we are the offender or the offended party, we need to be willing to love the other person enough to really try and see things through their eyes.  Both parties need to love enough to extend grace (unmerited favor!) to the other person because Jesus extended grace to you.  Situations like this can easily turn ugly without real, sacrificial love and grace.

The two parties took the same transportation from Pristina, so I hope and pray that they were able to talk it out and restore the relationship.

So with this sad situation in our last days, Angie and I bolstered ourselves and each other in love, compassion, and laughter.  And in the end, I felt encouraged, though I will continue to pray until I hear how things were resolved.  No matter how things turn out, I know that God is bigger than our egos, our hurt feelings, our insensitivity, and our big mouths.  His will will prevail, and His purposes will be accomplished, even despite ourselves.  God is good!

Puppies and Clowns and Rainbows and Joybringers in Kosovo


So this morning I wrote about the Rainbows on the way to Pristina, but there were some things that I left out:

  • I was sitting in the van next to a guy who does clown ministry
  • The clown was making everyone balloon animals
  • Behind me in the van was Snoopy—at least that’s what I call her—she does a joyful dance that reminds me of how Snoopy dances
  • In the other car was another friend who I have dubbed the Joybringer because when she’s around, people get happy

Kosovo is a place where some of the most horrible things have happened, and to friends, people I love.  War and ethnic cleansing (which is just a dressed-up way to say mass-murders), have happened here, and not so long ago.  And the very ones who were entrusted to protect the people have perpetrated some of the most horrific things on the most vulnerable people (rapes, families torn apart, and children sold to traffickers).  How do you deal with these things?  This land is so soaked in blood and tears, and its wounds are so fresh it’s almost overwhelming.

But God has ways of dealing with the horror.  He instructs us to laugh and be joyful—at least that’s what He is telling me.  Most people think of God as serious and unsmiling.  But God has the best sense of humor of all.  Who else would have made puppies with wagging tails and licky kisses?  Or snapdragons—flowers that make great little puppets?  Or grasses that you can use to make whistles, held between your thumbs?  God is playful and fun and funny.  Sometimes the best therapy is to laugh.  He made us to laugh.

One of my favorite quotes on laughter (and one that I often quote) is from “The Screwtape Letters” by C. S. Lewis.  The book is written as a collection of letters from a demon named Screwtape to his nephew and protégé, Wormwood, who is trying to torment a new Christian. About Christian laughter, the demon mentor says:

Something like it [laughter] is expressed in much of that detestable art which the humans call Music, and something like it occurs in Heaven—a meaningless acceleration in the rhythm of celestial experience, quite opaque to us. Laughter of this kind does us no good and should always be discouraged.  Besides, the phenomenon is of itself disgusting and a direct insult to the realism, dignity, and austerity of Hell.

I say, yes, let’s insult and mock hell by laughing.  The enemy thought to bring hell to earth here in Kosovo, so by our laughter, let’s bring Heaven here instead!  God is good!

Tunisia, Italy, and the Dark Waters

Malta sits in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  From this vantage point, we have been appointed to pray for the nations surrounding the Mediterranean.  I was drawn to pray for Tunisia, and was surprised to read on the prayer sheet that Tunisia had served as the launching point for taking Islam into Northern Africa.

While praying for Tunisia, specifically among other things that it would serve as a launching point for taking Christ into Northern Africa and beyond, into all the Islamic world.  Then as I prayed I looked at the floor map and noticed that Tunisia is shaped like a keyhole.  So I prayed for Tunisia to open the door to bring Christ into the Islamic world.

As I prayed more, I noticed also that Tunisia looks like the blade of a knife, cutting between Algeria and Libya.  So I prayed that Tunisia would cut, dividing Islamic Northern Africa, breaking the Islamic hold in that region of the world.

Then as I heard the worship music, I began to dance on the floor map of Tunisia.  In dancing, I finally felt that familiar shift in the spirit that tells me that my prayers have been heard.  And looking at Tunisia again, I noticed that from the southern point of Tunisia (the knife blade); it looks like a big crack running between Algeria and Libya.  Yes, a big crack!  Hallelujah!  Crack the hard nut of Islamic North Africa!

Our host, Dave, shared this morning the vision he had had of a lighthouse on Malta, but instead of a light bulb, there was a flame.  And as it shined, it sent sparks that set little fires blazing all around the Mediterranean.  I had a similar vision of a lighthouse, setting off sparks as it shined its light.  In both cases, we understood the vision to mean revival.

Malta is a strategic place, sitting as it does, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.  Another vision that Dave had was of a great light entering the Mediterranean Sea at the Straits of Gibraltar, and crossing the sea (moving west), via the island stepping stones of Malta and Cyprus; finally arriving in Israel.  So again on the floor map we prayed and danced on the stepping stones: Gibraltar to Malta to Cyprus to Israel.

On a personal note, Dave shared a health concern about his newborn daughter.  He and Sharon (our hosts) were told that she has a rare disorder in which 2 facial nerves are missing, which makes her unable to nurse, show facial expression, or control her eyes.  Dave researched the condition and found that worldwide there are only about 3000 cases, none of which has ever been cured.  We prayed for little Bonnie, that God would do a creative miracle, putting the missing nerves in the place where they should be.  We also declared that this creative miracle would show the doctors who the Great Physician is, and turn their heart to the only One who can truly heal body, soul, and spirit.

As the night approached, I decided to go outside my comfort zone.  I signed up to do the first overnight shift of our 2 weeks of continuous prayer and worship in the MRPC (Mediterranean Regional Prayer Center).  I am not a night person, and when my pillow calls, I have a very hard time resisting its siren song.  But I had a cup of coffee at 10PM and went for it.  Since the last bus back to the house leaves at 10, I was committed at that point.

Three of us stayed all night: Karl, the team leader; Molly, and me.  A guitar player and a few local Maltese worshipers stayed for a while to help us get properly launched.  We started in joyous worship, singing, dancing, and playing tambourines and bongos.  Then we moved to more meditative worship and prayer.  The Maltese had mostly gone by midnight, but the guitar player, Herbie, stayed.  At 2AM we decided to go prayer walking.  We locked up the Prayer Center and headed into the cool, still night.  Lights twinkled off the water as we sought an open gate to the park overlooking the harbor.  All the gates were locked, so we walked around the park and down to the harbor.  On the way we passed a sleepy guard outside the Italian Embassy, and greeting him warmly.  Of course, he looked at us as if we were crazy.

At the harbor we found the gate to the passenger ferry open, so we went in to sit on the bench there and pray while looking at the black night water as it played with the full moon’s reflection.  The Transform teams from all the other countries had sent us prayer requests, so as Karl read each team’s prayer requests we took turns leading the prayer for them.  It made me feel a real partnership with each team as they seek to take the Good News of Jesus into each of their countries in a variety of ways: Bible giveaways, puppetry, dance, street evangelism, etc.

When he came to Italy, Karl gave me the task of leading prayer for my chosen home country.  The leader of this Italian team (there are 3 Italian teams in all) is a friend I’ve known and prayed for since practically the beginning of my time as a missionary in 2010.  Giuseppe does clowning as a way of sharing Jesus.  As I began to pray for him and his team, I could picture Giuseppe’s bright smile and imagine the laughter he brings with both his clown act and his message of real hope.

For those who are not intercessors or who have never tried praying for people in ministry, it can start out feeling like a burden, but soon becomes a pleasure, and a sweet burden.  The best part is when you get reports back of how God has answered your prayers on behalf of the person you’re praying for.  For me, praying for Giuseppe was the highlight of the night, although those prayers for the country of Tunisia were also pretty amazing.

Then as we finished up the requests for prayer, we decided to move on.  Herbie said good night to us there and made his way back to where he had parked his car.  We went to the top of a hill overlooking the harbor and watched a pilot boat and tug boat assist a big ferry through the harbor entrance and into port.  It was surprising the speed that the big ferry was moving as it entered the harbor.  The ferry made big waves that noisily splashed the rocks below us in a rhythm that reminded me of hands clapping.  Karl had taught us back in Rome about the power of rhythmic handclapping and drumming as a prayer tool (see Bingo Bango Bongo!).  I couldn’t stop smiling.

We continued our prayer walk into the center of Valletta and up to the Parliament Building.  As we passed in front of St. John’s cathedral, it chimed the half hour: 3:30AM.  The bell was very loud and startled us.  At the Parliament Building, I felt the urge to go put my hand on the door as we prayed.  I knew that there were probably security cameras trained on the door, but decided to go for it anyway.  I was not chased away, but almost as soon as I had returned to the others, a jeep drove up and let out a guard who entered the building through the door that I had just touched.  It was probably the night shift taking over.  They saw us, but took no particular notice, since we were just sitting on a bench.

As we passed in front of the cathedral again, it chimed the hour: 4AM.  Even though Karl warned us that it was coming, the loudness of the bell still startled us because it chimed exactly at the moment that we were passing in front of the bell tower.

When we returned to the Prayer Center Karl put on worship music.  He chose wonderful songs, but not very lively.  I grabbed a tambourine to keep myself awake, but found that my sleepy hands just couldn’t keep a rhythm.  So I switched to the bongos, which felt better for a while.  But while thumping them I felt myself slipping off into sleep.  Molly later commented about how I had drummed in my sleep.  Finally, I settled on an egg-shaker.  I stood on the map of Malta, singing and shaking.

Finally it was 6AM, and the buses would be starting soon.  Karl dismissed us, telling us that he would wait for the morning team and probably catch a nap upstairs when they arrived to take over.

On the way home, my sleep-deprived brain was terrified of missing our stop, so when I saw an area that looked familiar I ringed and we got off—probably 5 stops too soon.  Molly was a very good sport about it.  We both knew that the enemy would try to use that mistake to set us against each other, so we remained determined to stay united in love—and really, Molly gets all the credit for that, since it was my mistake.

God is good!  Even when we blunder and cause problems for each other, God is always good!