Questions from Readers
How do you know that God is Just Love?
Ken, how did this become heart instead of just head knowledge?
(What follows is the ninth of an eleven-part series that is one answer to these questions.)
If not for the fact that God is the owner and distributor of spiritual gifts I never would have been able to fulfill the request from Titi Bulzan to serve his church in Arad, Romania as an evangelist. It was a critical turning point in the life of the Golgatha Baptist Church. How would I, with zero practiced skills in evangelism, meet the congregation’s need?
I believe in spiritual gifts, which includes believing that there is a vast difference between natural talents and supernatural capacities. God is the source of both, but talents can be used for ungodly or Godly purpose. A talent for writing, for example, can be adapted to serve an evil cause, like the propaganda of a dictator. Talents can be improved by effort and training and they belong solely to the person who utilizes them, unless one, like a football player, sells one’s abilities for a price.
A spiritual gift is always the property of God and its purpose is always the manifestation of God’s purpose. Spiritual gifts can come and go according to the plan of God and the willingness of the one who receives and exercises the gift. No one possesses a spiritual gift. We cannot arrogantly declare, “I have the gift of leadership.” I am convinced that it is always inappropriate to ask, “What are your spiritual gifts?” though this question is often posed. A more useful question would be, “What is your experience with spiritual gifts?” Again, spiritual gifts are always God’s assets. They are given according to God’s plan and need. Spiritual gifts remain with a person as long, and only as long, as God declares they will.
To that view of spiritual gifts I add, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” From God may flow, at any time to anyone, a surprising capacity to accomplish God’s work. Maybe I should have been scared to death when I was called to be an evangelist in Titi’s church, but when it came to ministry in Romania, I knew that everything was possible, not effortless nor uncomplicated, but promising beyond imagination.
The year between Titi’s invitation and my departure for Eastern Europe flew by, filled with exciting preparations. Joan Bence, an older woman in my church with a distinguished talent for writing, would be my mission partner. Mountview Baptist Church contributed generously and purposefully to the mission venture. I carried $1,200 in cash in my money belt as a contribution to the building fund of the Golgatha Baptist Church. Titi had told my church that during the communist era the government confiscated the church building and turned it in to a bottle factory and storage facility. My church was truly proud to be part of the re-transformation of Titi’s church. Joan and I each had a back pack and two large suitcases stuffed with gifts for Romania, including Bibles, cigarettes to bribe border guards, salamis, over the counter medications, candy, gifts for the children of Romania from the children of Mountview Baptist Church, and much more.
We got to Europe the usual way and then took a taxi to the train station in Vienna, Austria. We prayed that connections would be made on schedule. We purchased tickets for the first train headed East, in the middle of the night, towards the Romanian Home World, for me a place of spiritual rebirth and power. Joan slept for awhile as I kept an eye on everything, including the countryside. I stared out the window as we passed through Hungary letting the implausible reality sink in. I was back in Eastern Europe, about to renew and build extraordinary friendships, and about to be an evangelist for the first time in my life. How was God going to create this makeover?
Joan woke up at about 3:30 A.M. She was beginning to get cantankerous. She did that when she was hungry. Just then the train slowed and came to a stop. We were at the Romanian border. Dozens of soldiers were waiting for us on the station platform. They quickly boarded the train and two entered our compartment. As they figured out that we were Americans, they became very friendly and then indicated that they needed to inspect our baggage. They started by inspecting our Bibles. They each wanted a Bible because, they somehow communicated to us, their grandmothers were Christians and they would love a Bible. I gave them each a Romanian New Testament. That was the end of the inspection! However, one guard returned in a few minutes. His grandmother would prefer both the Old and New Testaments. Did we have one of those? “Yes, of course, and we would love to share one with your grandmother.” Before we departed the border station three more guards visited our physical and spiritual space and we gave each one a Bible, the entire Bible. I thought to myself, “So, this is how God begins to use us as evangelists.” By the way, no one wanted the American cigarettes. I pointed at them a couple of times. There was no interest. They wanted Bibles.
We were due to arrive in Arad, the next stop, at 4:50 A.M. Joan suggested that I take a nap and she would wake me up as we approached the station. I woke up at 5:15 as the train sped across the countryside. After checking my watch I sat up with horrified shock and shouted at Joan, “We were supposed to arrive at Arad 25 minutes ago!” Joan responded calmly, “Not to worry, there was only one stop since we left the border, the station was in total darkness, and there was no time for anyone to get off the train. I got up and stared out the window desperately hoping to see a sign announcing, “Arad,” but instead feeling more and more anxiety.
One of the few preparations that helped at this point was that I had a large map of Romania folded up in my backpack. I pulled it out and began to memorize the cities that surrounded Arad. Finally, I saw a sign up ahead that read, “Deva.” “God help us!” I proclaimed to Joan, “We are coming into Deva, 90 miles to the east of Arad. We are getting off here!” Immediately we began closing up our bags to disembark. As soon as the train stopped we hurriedly carried the backpacks and one suitcase each to the door and began hustling back for the second bags. Clickety-clack. The train began to move out of the station! I yelled to Joan, “Let’s get the other bags. We are going to sit on them by the door. When we get to the next stop we will throw everything off the train and jump on top.” The small village of Samaria was just a few miles away.
We landed on the platform of the Samaria railroad station. After a few minutes to catch my breath I asked Joan to guard our bags. I shouldered my backpack and headed into the station to buy return tickets to Arad. “We’ll get out of this,” I said to myself somewhat stubbornly. “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” Sometimes willpower gets you nowhere.