by Dr. Paul Shotsberger
“The children born during your bereavement
will yet say in your hearing,
‘This place is too small for us;
give us more space to live in.” Isaiah 49:20
I was just reading the above verse this morning, thinking about everything God is doing though MTEE around the world. I had the privilege of visiting Ukraine at the end of May, to participate in a doctoral dissertation defense and graduation, as well sign new cooperation agreements with pastors from Bulgaria and Kazakhstan. As you know, the conflict in eastern Ukraine continues to rage, and there are daily threats of escalation from Russia. Despite this, spiritual children are being born from this “bereavement,” and they are literally saying, “This place is too small for us, give us more space to live in.” I have been astounded at the growth of MTEE’s ministry in the midst of this conflict!
As some of you know, MTEE had Bible schools in Bulgaria for many years, but in more recent times, the focus of the ministry has shifted away from Bible school programs. Now, it appears, the pendulum is swinging back in the other direction, and surprisingly, it is at the request of gypsy churches in Bulgaria. Gypsies, historically, have been marginalized by society, and the Church unfortunately has been no different in the way this people group has been treated. But praise God, there are leaders in the Body of Christ who are able to think and act differently! Pastor Dimitry Laptev, a Ukrainian, has been a faithful friend of MTEE for many years. He serves on the board of advisors for the Institute in Ukraine, and recently graduated from the Institute’s doctor of divinity program. Pastor Laptev agreed to visit Bulgaria and meet with the gypsy pastors, to talk about the possibility of cooperation. We saw the fruit of those discussions when I visited in May and we were able to sign a cooperation agreement to begin a pre-Bible school program similar to an Alpha course, as well as an undergraduate and eventually a masters program in the Bulgarian language. Further, these Bulgarian churches already have church plants in Italy and Austria, and it’s likely that those churches will want the same programs. This is truly God’s miracle!
The other miracle that occurred, again thanks to Pastor Laptev’s tireless work, was signing a cooperation agreement with a pastor from Kazakhstan who desires to bring leadership and ministry training programs to the Russian-speaking churches he oversees in that country. As you are probably aware, Kazakhstan is considered a closed country for westerners, and visas are difficult to come by. This is not true, however, for Ukrainians, who can freely enter the country. Nonetheless, the geography of Kazakhstan is problematic – it is the largest landlocked country by land area in the world, with a territory roughly the size of all of western Europe! Unlike Bulgaria, which is a relatively small country, the idea of sending an instructor to teach in far-flung Bible school locations in Kazakhstan is not practical. Therefore, for the undergraduate and graduate programs, we will be using distance versions of the teaching, both online and on CD. God spoke to the leadership in Ukraine some years ago to begin recording lectures by instructors for the various courses in the undergraduate and graduate programs, made possible by generous gifts given to MTEE for sophisticated equipment needed to produce high quality recordings. As a result, we now we have an extensive library available for countries and situations like Kazakhstan. These programs have already proven successful in regions and countries such as Crimea and Russia, where instructor access has been progressively more limited over the years, and we are confident that the needs of the Kazakh churches also will be met through these recordings. Praise God for His leading and provision!
We can always decry the injustices of the world and complain when political systems fail us, but through these experiences I have realized anew that these limitations are small matters to our very great God! And in fact, because He is our Redeemer, it brings Him great joy to take the worst our world can throw at us and turn it into the offer of salvation for all people, and fulfillment and joy for His chosen ones. That is the gracious God we serve!