March 2019

March Update

The “shrinking” church

As I walked into service on a Sunday in January, attendance was at an all time low. Most of those missing had children who were sick because of various viruses that were cycling through school. First it was chicken pox, then a stomach virus, then the flu. It was a crazy month! We also had two brothers who we had been mentoring for the past year and a half drift away. The spiritual warfare is ongoing as the enemy continues to seek to eliminate any momentum we gain. Also, in January, we lost a dear church member Béla who was in his 70s. Soon afterwards, Pulyka, one of the first to put their faith in Jesus in the town of Bogács also passed away unexpectedly. January had the feeling of a shrinking church!

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Above: Béla (pictured top) passed away in January and Pulyka (below) passed away soon after.

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The second week visiting Bogács after Pujka’s death, I sat with his wife Katyus, her daughter, son in law, and her daughter in law and listened. Story after story spoke about fear and various experiences right after Pujka passed away that were rooted in their strong belief in superstitions. The majority of this Romani community believe that after a person dies, they continue to roam the earth for 40 days and ‘haunt’ various family members. People are told to cover up mirrors in their house in this time. Kids and adults share stories of seeing the spirits of the dead. They recall various accidents, noises, moving objects that they all relate back to their belief in these superstitions. It is all the enemy's work to keep them in a cycle of fear and anxiety.

After listening to these various stories and hearing from each person the fear they were experiencing throughout the day and into the night, God gave me an opportunity to share how Christ can change all of that. I shared, “Imagine a life where you could have peace. Not for just a moment, but continual peace everyday. Where do you think that life is?” They answered, “In heaven.” I answered, “No, it is here. I have that peace today because I have Jesus Christ.” This interaction reminded me of the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. For so long, she experienced a life void of satisfaction, she could not comprehend that there was a life in Christ where finally she could be full. These precious people who are lost in this community have been so controlled by fear that they find it hard to believe a life of peace even exists.

I was able to talk more about the dominion of Jesus Christ, His power and His love for us. I brought a handout with various Scripture to talk about with the family. As we were close to finishing, Katyus’ son Krisztian came in and was excited to share something with me. He began to tell me about a dream/vision he had after his father Pujka had passed away. He said he was so overcome with grief and couldn’t think straight and was crying out wondering where his father was and if life after death was real. Krisztian has known me for years. In the past, he would be in and out at various times when we study the word in his dad’s house, but Krisztian never really stayed the entire time. He is also still lost and believes in many superstitions. So, when he said he had a dream, I was gearing up for another wild one that I would have to say at the end, “We need to examine dreams in light of God’s word”.

He began to share, “I saw a gate and my father was there, he was dressed in robes of white. He called out and said come closer. He grabbed my hand and wanted to bring me in but I couldn’t go all the way. I saw Jesus and I saw my dad kneeling down before him and worshipping Him. And in the background I saw kids playing and there was a lion and there was a child petting the lion.” As Krisztian was explaining this dream/vision, I said, "What did you say about a lion?" Krisztian is not at all proficient in Bible knowledge. The Spirit brought to my mind Isaiah 11:6:

“In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.”

Krisztian said that ever since he had that dream he has gone from being hysterical in grief to having peace about His dad. I do believe God gave him that dream as an encouragement and as a means of comfort by grace. After I shared some of my thoughts about the dream and shared the Scripture I believe relates to it, Krisztian said to his cousin who was in the room, “Get me that bible in the back, I’m going to start reading it!” It was his dad’s Bible. I recommended where Kriszitian could begin reading and look forward to seeing how God will use all of these events in Bogács to bring Christ more glory.

The door remains open

A few weeks after that I was going through John 14 with Pulyka’s wife Katyus. The scripture that was in the study only went up to verse 4 where Jesus says, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Katyus stopped me and said, “Wait, what is the way that Jesus is talking about?” I thought to myself, that is exactly what Thomas asked Jesus. I was able to back track and go over some verses that explained Jesus is the way and that through faith in Him and His finished work we are offered a forgiven, reconciled life as adopted children of God.

At the end of our time, Katyus repeated what she shared with me the previous week, “Allen, you are always welcome to come. I want to know more about what Pujka believed.” Praise God for keeping this door open to this household where Pujka and his daughter Izabella (who lives in a different house) were the only believers. Please pray for Izabella to continue to grow in her faith, and to help her family know the realities of God’s kingdom in this difficult time loosing their father Puljka. Pray for Katyus (pictured below) to come to understand the Gospel and to be freed from a life of fear and separation from God.

The reality of growth

Even though January felt like a season of shrinking, growth was actually happening. As a church body, our attentiveness to Jesus grew as we dedicated ourselves to fast and pray together in February. This is the second year we have done this as a church body and it has been a blessing to begin the new year seeking His will in this way.

Our resilience and perseverance is also growing as disciples of Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us in James, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4) As our church, team and our marriage has gone through various trials, we recognize that God has been at work building perseverance in our lives. These trials have also bound us together in a deeper unity, led us to stronger commitment and truly produced steadfastness in our lives.

Our expectancy and hope of good things to come has also grown. Before we saw the amazing miracle of the majority of those who left in the church split return to be reconciled, God gave a word to Sharon from the book of Isaiah:

“This year you will eat what grows by itself, and the second year what springs from that. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit.” (Isa 37:30).

This would mark the third year after much turmoil and we are expectant for opportunities to sow and reap and look forward to seeing an abundance of fruit by God’s grace.

Marriage His Way

Toward the end of February, the two young men who had drifted away have now returned. I’m meeting with one of them with his wife for marriage counseling and discipleship as well as some other couples from our church. Strengthening marriages and family in our church has been a common theme and I am thankful for being able to share much of what Sharon and I have been learning and applying over the past few years that has led to healing and strength in our marriage. I have a strong conviction that we as leaders need to show the power of the Gospel in our marriages before focusing our efforts in proclaiming the Gospel outside of marriage in other ministries.

“For if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?” (1 Tim 3:5)

As I meet with more couples, I hear the common experience of Hungarians. There has been no one that has given them a good example to follow. They come from homes where parents were divorced before they could comprehend what was happening. Much of the way they do marriage needs to be torn down and built back up on the foundation of Christ. Please pray for these marriages to be transformed by God’s grace and for the Gospel to be proclaimed through their marriage relationship.

Old Team New Team

In March, our core church planting team had a series of extended meetings discussing the past, the present and future. Even though we’ve known each other for so many years, it is as if we’re once again re-building relationships after each of us have gone through various challenges and changes in life and ministry. God has truly given this team the blessing of loyalty toward one another when we found ourselves struggling, in need of help, correction and time to reflect. It is the power of God’s gospel and the grace He continues to extend toward us that leads us to restoration, healing and rebuilding. I believe there is still much to learn together and because of the intensity of trials over the past few years, we are learning to love in ways that truly reflect our Risen King. As you think of us, continue to pray for God to work out His grand plans for each of us to be fruitful members of His united body. We appreciate your continued partnership with us and are grateful to have such a faithful family of saints encouraging us!