I’ve just returned from a fruitful time of ministry to pastors and leaders in the Georgian Republic. Where in the world is the Georgian Republic? Georgia is a former republic of the Soviet Union that now borders Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Dagestan, and the Black Sea. The capital city, Tbilisi, where our conference was held, is only about 75 miles from Chechnya, currently engaged in a brutal war to gain independence from Russia. Georgia is also north of Iraq by about 270 miles. (Don’t worry, I kept a low profile!)
The conference, jointly sponsored by Every Home for Christ and Global Advance, was attended by 600 pastors and leaders from all over the country. I was privileged to touch an entire nation along with a team of five other Americans. The pastors and home-cell leaders were very receptive and the Holy Spirit really helped us. There are only about 200 evangelical churches and 15,000 believers in Georgia, with a population of about five million people. Leadership training is what the bishop of the Pentecostal Union said is needed more than anything else.
I found the Georgian Republic to be like so many other post-communist countries. Everything seems to be crumbling and few people are smiling. But I found the Pentecostal Church in Tbilisi to be full of young people and very alive. There may be no harvest field on earth that is presently as fertile as the former republics of the Soviet Union, now known as the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.). Paul Ilyin, director of the C.I.S. for Every Home for Christ, told me astounding success stories of receptive populations, church planting and growth all over that region. Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, for example, had only 4 evangelical churches ten years ago. Now it has 200. Every movie theater in the city is rented out to churches on Sundays. Unlike the people of western Europe and the U.S. who have it all (or think so), those who have come out from under the lies of atheistic communism are searching for a reality to fill the void in their empty lives. Paul Ilyin estimates that the window of opportunity in the C.I.S. may be open for another ten years at most, until materialism gains the upper hand, as is already happening in the Eastern European countries.
I was blessed to give away 60 books to English-reading pastors and leaders, and because of some special gifts received before the trip, we were able to help a number of elderly and handicapped street beggars, a pastor’s wife who needed surgery, and a Christian family with twelve children whose house had recently burned down. Thanks to those who made this possible.
Shepherd Serve is off to a great start! During the first four months of our new ministry, I will be privileged to minister on-site to pastors in Nigeria, the Georgian Republic, Cambodia, Nicaragua and Myanmar (former Burma). Praise God for all these wonderful opportunities. Although I do not enjoy being away from my family, sitting in airplanes and airports for days, suffering jet lag, and eating strange food, the small price I must pay to follow Jesus is nothing compared to the price others have been willing to pay. Paul Ilyin told me about an elderly woman whom he interviewed in Siberia. As a young girl, she had watched her father be shot by Russian secret police because he refused to deny his faith in Jesus. Then her entire family was split up and sent to different labor camps throughout Russia. She, along with other women, dragged logs every day through the forest in a logging operation. She was not reunited with her mother and two brothers until 4O years later. My sacrifice is very small.
I do wonder if the church in America will ever wake up to the fact that self-denial is the very essence of being a true Christian. How few seem to realize that if one is not willing to deny himself, he is not a follower of Christ. Jesus said:
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds” (Matt. 16:24-27).
Christians who are not willing to inconvenience themselves or make any sacrifice to follow Jesus are fooling only themselves. They are not Christians at all. But to those who love Jesus, it is a joy to suffer for his sake. Only in self-denial can we prove our love for Him. And if we love our families more than we love Him, we are not His disciples (see Luke 14:26). Neither are we worthy of Him (see Matt. 10:37). Jesus’ words make it unmistakably clear that so much of what is passed off as Christianity in the U.S. is not really Christianity at all. When will we wake up?
I’m home now for two weeks before leaving for Cambodia near the end of the month. God continues to supply our needs as we continue walking on the water. Jesus promised that if we will seek first His kingdom, He will supply all our needs! The job is enormous. But there is still time to get in on this ground floor opportunity and lay up treasures in heaven! Don’t be like the people in the South who clung to their Confederate currency until it was completely worthless. The time is soon coming when every earthly treasure will be worth even less than Confederate currency is now worth.