Lessons from Cuba – The Value of a Different Perspective

 

Rick Grover, Senior Pastor of East 91st Street Christian Church, recently returned from a compelling visit to Cuba with Overseas Council. We were blessed by the thought-provoking lessons he learned and wanted to share them with you. May you be richly blessed today!

These two women were thrilled to receive their own Bibles
These two women were thrilled to receive their own Bibles

I just returned from Cuba late last night where I spent a week with some U.S. businessmen and church leaders visiting Cuban house churches and seminaries. We met with a number of pastors and their wives, students, seminary leaders and their staff. An anonymous donor made it possible for me to make the trek through one of our ministry partners, Overseas Council. Through Overseas Council, the church I serve supports one of the Cuba seminaries and leadership training centers.

Part of our visit came to me as no surprise, but other parts opened my eyes and heart to pray for our Cuban brothers and sisters in Christ. I expected to find a country oppressed by communism and the Castro regime. I expected to see poverty and a lack of infrastructure for economic growth and community development.

What I didn’t expect, however, was the mindset of so many Christians that in spite of their suffering, they will walk with joy in the leading of the Holy Spirit. In spite of the uncertainty of the future of their nation, they will walk with humble confidence that God is sovereign. In spite of a lack of resources such as the Internet and printed resources, they will find a way to overcome, believing they truly are “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37).

This past Sunday morning we worshiped in a house church that had about thirty people crammed onto a concrete porch sitting in plastic chairs that most suburban Americans would have thrown away long ago. This porch was attached to one of the innumerable houses draped in the grey drab of communism but filled with radiant colors of faith in Jesus Christ.

These resilient Christians sang with no instruments, but the songs were carried by the passionate melody of their voices. They shared testimonies with each other and welcomed a new woman who was not a believer but came through the invitation of a friend. The preacher spoke about how this small band of Christ followers is part of a movement of the Spirit of Jesus to penetrate all of Havana with His eternal love, joy and peace.

Worshiping on the porch of a house-church
Worshiping on the porch of a house-church

So what does this have to do with us? It gives us perspective. If I told that Cuban house-church pastor of the woes I’ve faced in ministry or of recent financial challenges affecting our 250,000 square foot facility, programming and personnel, I imagine he would look at me with a blank stare. I could hear him say, “So, people have more than enough food to eat, more bedrooms in their homes than people who sleep in them, and a building in which to worship God, and your complaint is what exactly?”

Our Christian brothers and sisters in Cuba are actually praying that Christians in America would not bow to the gods of materialism and consumerism. The Cuban church is growing and vibrant with little to no financial resources, church buildings, parking lots, or paid staff. With all of our resources, buildings, programs, and staff, many American churches are in decline. What are we missing? I believe the answer is reliance. When we rely on our resources, budgets and buildings rather than on the power of the Lord God Almighty, He turns us over to reap what we have sown. But when we completely rely on the God of the universe who has sent us His Son, Jesus Christ, and empowers us through His Spirit, we are unleashed in the world as the mightiest force known to mankind.

This heavenly force overthrows earthly governments, principalities and powers not through the use of physical weapons that destroy but by spiritual weapons that defeat the darkness and bring God’s marvelous light (cp. Ephesians 6:12; 1 Peter 2:9). The Cuban church is bringing light to the darkness, and it is changing the nation. We have the same opportunity if we cry out to God Almighty, place our reliance upon Him, and utilize His power to overcome our struggles and change our nation. As the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).

 

 

We Thank God For You

 

During this Thanksgiving season, we are especially grateful for your commitment to Overseas Council’s world-changing work of Called. Trained. Multiplied.

 

God has called men and women to lead churches and other ministries around the world.

We work with seminaries where these leaders are trained in God’s Word within their own culture, so they can best address the needs facing their churches and communities.

Through a leader’s lifetime of ministry, God’s Kingdom is multiplied continuously, person by person, small group by small group, community by community.

 

Just as continuous is our thanksgiving for you and your faithful partnership. Because of your prayers and support, thousands of Christian leaders in 70 countries around the world are making a difference for the Kingdom.

We pray for a joyful Thanksgiving season for you and your family. May we all stop to give thanks for the abundance of good that God has done for each of us. He truly is good all the time!

 

“Give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

                                          – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

 

 

“I Was A Man Without a Country or a Home”

 

My testimony is one of many peaks and valleys. I hope it encourages your heart and inspires you to serve God in big ways!

I was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I became a Christian during a spiritual revival in 1993 at the age of 15. Many years after my conversion, I was working as a youth counselor, but the other counselors and I came under great persecution. Because of our religious beliefs, we were falsely accused of being rebels. By God’s grace, a soldier warned us to leave the country immediately because the military had been given direct orders to kill us.

As I fled for safety, my heart broke. I was forced to leave behind my girlfriend, the love of my life, Rachel. As I left my home, Rachel and I vowed to pray and fast for each other every Friday night. Little did we know then, but we would not see each other again for five long years.

Gideon, Rachel (his wife) and their youngest child
Gideon Mashauri, Bachelor of Theology graduate from Scott Christian University in Kenya, with his wife (Rachel) and their youngest child

Initially, the Lord led me to Tanzania where I studied theology for a short time. Because I had left my country without a Congolese passport, I had to leave the school a few months into my studies and go to a refugee camp in Tanzania. Those months without adequate food or shelter were extremely challenging times. I’d eat porridge for breakfast and bread with bean water for lunch and dinner. I was a man without a country or a home, but my faith sustained me during those difficult months.

After three months in that camp, God opened the door for me to move to another refugee camp in Mozambique. It was a very long journey by foot, but I thank the Lord that I arrived safely to my new home where I would reside for the next four years. Life wasn’t easy in the camp those four years, but with God by my side, He gave me the hope I needed.

I remember slipping off into the bush for my time of meditation, prayer and communion with God. I would open my heart wide open to Him during those quiet moments. I desperately wanted to be free. I wanted to serve God. It was in one of those moments of meditation that He inspired me to start a counseling ministry right there in the middle of the refugee camp. With the help of two other Christians, we began sharing the Good News of hope with other refugees.

By taking my eyes off myself, I began seeing the immense needs of others around me. I was impressed to give part of my food rations to widows and orphans who often didn’t have enough to eat. These individuals saw God’s love in action which frequently opened their hearts for me to share the Gospel with them. During those months and years of helping others, my life became increasingly more meaningful!

Although living for years in refugee camps was grueling, God used that time to mold and prepare me for the special work He had in store for me. Through a series of miraculous, God-ordained events, He led me directly out of the refugee camp to Scott Christian University (SCU) in Kenya. What a miracle!

I was greatly blessed with a sponsorship for my four year theological program (Bachelor of Theology with an emphasis in Intercultural Studies). And five years after our tearful goodbyes, I married Rachel, the love of my life shortly before attending SCU. God really does work in mysterious ways. We don’t always understand why, but learning to trust Him implicitly has brought so much joy and purpose to my life.

Since graduating from SCU in 2011, I have been privileged to serve the Lord in Tanzania and Mozambique as an evangelist. Currently, Rachel and I are ministering to the unreached Rangi Muslims. Through friendship evangelism and teaching classes at the secondary school, we are building relationships with these precious people. We are certain God will use these ministries to multiply His Kingdom and to lead the Rangi Muslims into the truth.

 

“Thank you for your faithful prayers and support of SCU students. With God’s help, we are bringing hope to hungering souls.”

                                          – Gideon Mashauri

 

 

“My Scholarship Has Made It Possible to Fulfill God’s Calling”

 

My journey to Word of Life Seminary (WOL) in Brazil was an unexpected one. Prior to applying to WOL, I graduated from college with an Architecture and Urbanism degree I had plans for my life, and a degree in theology wasn’t on my horizon or so I thought!

WOL
Thais Baldassarre Guimarães, Master of Theology student at Word of Life Seminary in Brazil

Shortly after graduating from college, the Holy Spirit began working on my heart. I began to sense a strong call from God to study theology. It seemed impossible, so I knew God was going to have to make it happen. I started to fervently pray, and God acted in a mighty way!

He helped me overcome what had seemed like insurmountable obstacles. As God answered my prayers one by one, it confirmed to me that God was leading me to WOL. It made me even more confident I was doing the Lord’s will for my life.

I am now in my second year of studies at WOL, working toward my Master of Theology degree. My desire to work full-time as a Christian educator and leader is within reach!

Your financial investment has been a significant part of God answering my prayers. Thanks to you, I have a scholarship that has made it possible to fulfill God’s calling for my life.

 

“May God bless you all and continue to use you to bless other students. Thank you very much!”

                   - Thais Baldassarre Guimarães

 
 

A Message of Encouragement from Eastern Ukraine

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Taras Dyatlik shares a devotional thought with the Overseas Council team

 

Recently our Regional Director for Euro-Asia, Taras Dyatlik, shared this devotional with the team at our Indianapolis headquarters. While the context from which he shared is the ongoing conflict in his home of Eastern Ukraine, we pray this message encourages your heart no matter what circumstances you find yourself in.

Philippians 4:6-13 (NIV)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

As I reflect on the essence of theological education, how and why we prepare church leaders in Eastern Ukraine in the midst of conflict between two nations and the hidden conflict between Ukrainian and Russian churches…

Prayer meeting in Kherson during the revolutionary events in Ukraine
Prayer meeting in Kherson during the revolutionary events in Ukraine
  • It is impossible to assess the real taste of bread, not knowing the state of hunger.
  • It is impossible to appreciate the taste of cold spring water, not knowing the state of thirst.
  • It is impossible to appreciate the joy of dawn, not knowing what a nightmare and a sleepless night are.
  • It is impossible to assess the bliss of rest, without knowing what deadly exhausting labor is.
  • It is impossible to appreciate the joy of meeting without knowing the sadness of farewell.
  • It is impossible to know the power of forgiveness, not realizing the depth of the fall.
  • It is impossible to appreciate the joy of the peace, not realizing the horrors of war.
  • It is impossible to assess the yearn for life, without looking in the eyes of death.
  • It is impossible to know the power of unity, not knowing the tragedy of separation.
  • It is impossible to know the imputed righteousness of Christ without realizing our inability to live righteously without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  • It is impossible to live a godly life in Christ without renouncing ourselves and without allowing Christ to live in us and through us.
  • It is impossible to know the power of the Cross of Christ and the blood of Christ without taking and carrying our cross, without fighting against sin unto blood.
  • It is impossible to know the power of prayer without realizing our absolute dependence on Christ.
  • It is impossible to be the salt of Christ on Earth without realizing the depth of moral decay without Christ.
  • It is impossible to be the light of Christ in the world without knowing the doom and despair in a sinful darkness without Christ.

When my soul leaves its mortal body, I would like to say with Christ and many saints who have moved to the shores of the Heavens: I will know the joy of the resurrection, through knowing the fear and tremble in the gates of death.

 

 

The Beginning | Overseas Council

 

 

Agents of Change | Overseas Council

 

 

The Next 40 Years | Overseas Council

 

 

Giving Hope and Love to Orphans in Europe

 

Meet Sergey Konyshev, Sergey Litvinko and their families. Both are pastors and graduates from Minsk Theological Seminar in Belarus, and both are involved in Overseas Council Compassionate Care projects that reach out to orphans in need. Here are their stories:

Orphans-in-Europe-web
Sergey and Nadezhda Konyshev with the many children they have taken into their home and raised


Sergey Konyshev’s Ministry

My wife, Nadezhda, and I have seven of our own children. Our family has been ministering to orphans since 2002 when we started to visit the Children’s Social Shelter. In the beginning, we supported the children spiritually as well as materially with clothing, shoes, medicines and personal hygiene items.

In 2003 after much prayer and consideration, we accepted two orphans into our family, Maxim and Sergey. Then one year later, a girl named Katia joined our family. Our family began to grow by taking in these children, and we loved participating directly in the lives of orphans. During the time we lived in Belarus, we helped eight children to grow and find their places in life.

Today we have two orphan boys living with our family, Arseny and Evgeny. We also still help Maxim, one of the boys who grew up in our family. Now he is married to Marina, and they have a son named Artem. Marina is also an orphan; her parents passed away when she was 10 years old. Maxim’s father passed away, but his mother doesn’t lead a good life which is why her sons were taken to the children’s shelter. Right now, Maxim has changed jobs, and it is quite a difficult time for his family, so the Overseas Council Compassionate Care funds really helped us support this young family to survive a difficult period in their life.

Your funds are a great blessing from the Lord for our family. Each year, we hold a children’s camp and invite other children from orphanages to take part in it. Your funds made it possible this year.

We continue to support orphans and accept them into our family to help them find their place in life. We do everything we can so that they have opportunity to learn about Jesus Christ and have eternal life. Thank you!


Sergey Litvinko’s Ministry

Orphans-in-Europe-web2
A child being helped through the “Warm House” project that Sergey and Tania Litvinko founded

My wife, Tania, and I have four of our own children, and we also have five orphan brothers living with us. Their father died, and their mother could not care for them because of her way of life. The children are grateful to have the possibility to live within a family.

Our project is called “Warm House.” Orphans come to our house on weekends and school vacations. We spend time with them, help them with their studies, help with their psychological and social adaptation problems, teach them necessary skills for everyday life and attend church together. Once a year, we organize a children’s camp at our house for orphans and other troubled children. Every year, we have about 35 children, and we try to pass on Christian family values to them.

With the support of Overseas Council Compassionate Care funds, we can hold the children’s camp this year. Through our project, many people in our town have learned about our church and received a better understanding of evangelical Christians. We would like to continue this ministry as long as God will give us strength and possibilities.

 

 

 

Akila impacts the lives of Syrian refugee children in Lebanon

 
I treasure being able to have a ministry among Syrian children in refugee camps here in Zahle, Lebanon, as part of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary’s (ABTS) compassionate care ministry. I always heard about the devastating conditions in which the refugees lived but never experienced what it was like. I am very encouraged to see all the children so responsive to our message. My husband and I have also been carrying out home visits and Bible studies with families. Our passion to work with the underprivileged was kindled several years ago.

Akila ministers to Syrian refugee children.
Akila ministers to Syrian refugee children

In 2010, my husband and I left our home country to serve at a discipleship school that prepares individuals for ministry among their people. I was able to serve with my degree as a physiotherapist at a center next to the school. In the afternoons, my husband and I would go out for street evangelism among Muslims.

Throughout our ministry, we felt the need for more knowledge of the Word of God. People around us encouraged us to study theology, and then God led us to ABTS in Lebanon. Coming to Lebanon took a lot of courage and faith, but God has provided for us. Our Overseas Council scholarship has made it possible for both my husband and me to be full-time students. I am in the Master of Divinity program, and my husband is pursuing his Bachelor of Theology degree.

I love to study the Word of God, and the more I get involved in ministry, the more I realize how I need to grow in knowledge of the Word. Studying theology has equipped me with practical tools such as how to prepare a Bible study. I consider these tools very important, since part of my current ministry involves carrying out Bible studies with young women.

In my home country, it is forbidden to share the Gospel with Muslims. God is teaching me everyday to be a living example of His love and faithfulness. I know His light will shine through me to reach others!

Please pray for my husband and me as we seek for God’s continued leading in our ministries. Please also pray for the Syrian refugees, the Muslims and others we are ministering to. Thank you!


*Name and identifiable details have been changed for security purposes.

 

Please take a minute to leave a word of encouragement for our friends in Lebanon and those humbly serving their communities all around the world.