Just as in the days of Esther, a type of Haman has risen up and is destroying all those who will not bow down and denounce God – and especially His Christ. In Esther’s time, the Persian kingdom had become a dangerous place for Jews. But God put her where He did to accomplish His purpose and bring glory to Himself. Esther’s uncle Mordecai had communicated this to her: “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
In the same way, secularism, atheism, and religious extremism have made Europe an increasingly perilous place for the Christian faith. But God is clearly at work there and something is happening that can only be explained as God’s intervention.
In our time, we are witnessing this very thing. This spring, I had the privilege of seeing it up close as I made two trips into Europe. These trips included 15 countries, with stops at 14 Bible Societies, and visits to the field work of 3 partners. Instead of the prior ambivalence toward the digital world, Bible Societies are now embracing the ideas and technologies that will take God’s Word to the very ends of the earth.
The Orient Express . . . well almost
The first trip began in Istanbul, with a visit to our partner Yeni Yaşam Yayınları. I met with Ali Simsek and we talked about the progress of the dramatized New Testament recording being done there in Istanbul. We went on to talk about recording the Old Testament and how Virtual Recording could be used to make it a reality. He was very adamant about the importance of having the Old Testament in audio form to serve as a bridge for reaching non-Christians with the Gospel.
From Turkey, I went to Sofia, Bulgaria, to meet with Radoslav Apostolov, the General Secretary of the Bulgarian Bible Society (he’s the one on the left, FYI). This was my first meeting with him, so we talked about the full range of activities of Faith Comes By Hearing (FCBH). Out of all the possibilities, Radoslav wants to start with a Virtual Recording of their Protestant Bible. He is also interested in starting listening programs with Middle Eastern refugees in Bulgaria and wants to find a way to provide the Bulgarian armed forces with Military BibleSticks.
The next day, I flew to Bucharest, Romania, and met with the General Secretary of the Interconfessional Bible Society in Romania, Emilia Lorgandopol. She is very happy to have a smartphone partner app provided by FCBH and is making progress in the further customization of the app. We recorded the New Testament portion of their Interconfessional Bible back in 2009 and now they would like us to do a Virtual Recording of their Old Testament. Several years ago, the Bible Society provided 7,000 special pocket New Testaments to Romanian soldiers. Now Emilia wants to find ways to provide Military BibleSticks to their servicemen and women.
Waltzing Through Vienna
From Bucharest, I flew to Bratislava, Slovakia, where I spent the weekend, waiting for Monday’s meeting with the Bible Society. Bratislava is an hour-long bus ride from Vienna, Austria, on the opposite side of the Danube River. Being so close, I was able to take a bus on Saturday morning to Vienna and meet with a Russian ministry partner, who I will call Anna.
We continued by train to the town of Traiskirchen, home to Austria’s only refugee camp. The camp is located in an old army cadet school that houses men in one wing, women in another, and families in yet another. The rooms have been converted into apartments and each unit serves either several adults or a single family. Refugees are often stuck here for a year or more, until they can learn German and find a job.
Anna introduced me to one of the “lucky” ones – we’ll call her Olga – who had learned the language, found work, and was living in a regular apartment. Olga is a Chechen who fled Russia in 1999 at the outbreak of the second Chechen war. She and her family fled to Europe and eventually ended up in Austria. Anna has been meeting with Olga for a couple of months and they listen together to the Chechen New Testament on a Mini Proclaimer. While Olga has not become a believer, she is starting to ask a lot of questions.
That night, I was able to stay at an International Teams refugee ministry center called the Oasis. There were no events that weekend, so I had the place to myself. As I looked around, I found evidence of a lot of ministry activity. They even had a library with Bibles, New Testaments, and tracts in many languages. We have since sent them BibleSticks with those languages on them, so visiting refugees can have access to God’s Word. I returned to Bratislava on Sunday morning and began preparing for my meeting the following day with the Slovak Bible Society.
Monday morning, I arrived in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia, an hour-and-a-half train ride from Bratislava. I was met at the station by Pavol Krasnocvetov, another young Bible Society leader. Like many of the younger generation of General Secretaries, Pavol understands the impact of the digital world on Bible engagement. And like many of his colleagues, his challenge is how to transition from a print sales model to a digital engagement model. This is where Faith Comes By Hearing can be a huge help to these Bible Societies. Of course, Audio Scripture factors heavily into this.
The Slovak Bible Society has recorded half of the Old Testament, wants to get it up on the Digital Bible Platform, and would like us to help complete the recording using Virtual Recording. Pavol also expressed an interest in the Deaf Bible Society and how he could connect them to local Deaf translation work.
Then it was on to Ljubljana, Slovenia, where I was met at the airport by Randy Bell, an IMB church planter there. Randy and his wife Joan live in the city of Velenje, where they are evangelizing through personal relationships, gathering people into small groups for discipleship, and guiding them toward becoming a reproducing church.
In this photo, Randy is being driven from the Garden of Eden, along with Adam and Eve. He was very depressed by this event, so I took him to lunch to boost his spirits. As we talked, I shared with Randy about FCBH and how listening programs can be a big help in church planting. He then took me to the Bible Society of Slovenia. As it turns out, Randy knows the Bible Society well and buys lots of Bibles from them.
The West Balkan Partnership
At the Bible Society of Slovenia, I met with their General Secretary, Matjaž Črnivec. As you can see, he’s a pretty happy guy. Matjaž considers the Bible Society’s function as more missional than publishing. For the last 10 years, their priority has been getting people to engage with the Bible. As he puts it, “We want to create a Bible-reading culture.” During the course of our conversation, we broadened the scope of that statement to creating a Bible-engagement culture, by including Audio Bible listening and Deaf Bible watching. We have just begun a recording of their revised New Testament.
Following Ljubljana, there was a short flight over to Belgrade to visit Vera Mitic, the General Secretary of the Bible Society of Serbia. Vera recognizes the importance of an Audio Bible in the Serbian language and now wants FCBH to do a dramatized recording of their revised New Testament – possibly with Psalms or Proverbs.
The largest Romani church in Europe is in southern Serbia and the Bible Society does a lot of work there. FCBH has a number of New Testaments in Romanian languages; some of them can help in reaching the Romani people in Serbia. Vera also wants to begin work on a Deaf Bible project and is interested in outreach to the Serbian military through the Military BibleStick.
Leaving Belgrade, I flew to Zagreb to meet with Damir Lipovšek, General Secretary of the Croatian Bible Society. His focus is Bible advocacy and getting people to read the Bible daily. I asked if he had seen a decline in Bible reading and he said yes, but he wasn’t sure how to reverse the trend. “It seems,” he said, “that no one has time to read the Bible.” I explained how listening to the Audio Bible could help people redeem the time and increase their level of Bible engagement. Now, Damir would like us to do a recording of their recently revised Protestant New Testament. Other possibilities he wants to consider are a military outreach using Military BibleSticks and a Deaf Bible Croatian Sign Language project.
So Many Opportunities . . . So Little Time
After a few weeks at home, I flew to Bilbao, Spain – aka Basque Country. This region straddles Spain and France, but the language is unrelated to either. There are no known connections with any other European languages and most experts believe it predates any of the Indo-European languages.
I stayed with a couple who recently moved there and I was able to get a good look at the language situation. As with many minority languages, Basque is mostly spoken in the home. There has been, however, a resurgence of Basque-based coursework in the schools.
Most significant to me was the spiritual darkness there. Everyone seemed happy enough, but there was a darkness or emptiness in their eyes. As with much of Europe, the Basque are losing interest in reading. Though everyone is literate in Spanish, Basque is largely a spoken language – so reading a Basque Bible is not much of an option for addressing this emptiness. It’s pretty clear, then, that a Basque Audio Bible recording is needed.
From Bilbao I flew to Lisbon, where I had a meeting with Dr. Timóteo Cavaco and Lídia Fletcher of the Bible Society in Portugal. As we talked about the many opportunities with FCBH, Lídia proposed doing listening groups in the Cape Verde Islands. FCBH Midi Proclaimers could be a really big help.
Lídia also wants to find out more about doing a Sign Language translation project and is very interested in a military outreach with the Military BibleStick. Most of all, she wants to do a Virtual Recording of the Old Testament in their newest Bible translation, a Biblia para todos (we recorded the New Testament a few years ago). The Bible Society in Portugal is about to print 50,000 copies of this Bible in an inexpensive format, providing them to missionaries for evangelism. Wouldn’t it be great if BibleSticks with the Portuguese New Testament recording could be provided as an alternative for those who prefer not to read?
I flew to Madrid that same evening, and the following morning took the subway downtown to the Bible Society of Spain’s new offices. There I met with the General Secretary, Jose Luis Andavert. We talked about all things FCBH and first landed on recordings – four dramatized New Testament recordings to be exact: Basque, Catalan, Castilian, and Galician. Military outreach through the Military BibleStick was of great interest, but the opportunity that really caught Jose Luis’ attention was Deaf Bible. For several years the Bible Society has worked with an organization to produce a Deaf Bible using avatars. It has been very expensive and time-consuming, so he would like to bring Deaf Bible into the mix. After meeting with Jose Luis, it was off to Rome.
While there are many interesting things in Rome, the meeting with Valdo Bertalot (the General Secretary of the Bible Society in Italy) and his wife Mara was the high point of my time there. They have two Italian translations that they are interested in recording. One recording will be for a translation that is just being finished. Valdo hopes to complete this project in time for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The other recording will be of a Catholic translation. His hope is to release this recording in December 2015, in coordination with the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis.
Valdo believes this same recording could be used on Military BibleSticks for the 1.5 million Italian men and women in uniform (military and police). Valdo will be meeting soon with the new Catholic Bishop over the military and police chaplaincies to discuss a possible Military BibleStick project.
After our meeting, I had a wonderful lunch with Valdo and Mara. At the end of the meal we got to talking about coffee habits in Italy and in America. Valdo said: “In America, coffee is like a friend that you carry with you all day . . . but in Italy, coffee is like a kiss.”
The next day, I made the three-hour flight to Kiev, where I met with the Ukrainian Bible Society. They are interested in acquiring Military BibleSticks to give to war-weary Ukrainian troops.
My final stop was Paris to meet with Jonathan Boulet, the new General Secretary of Alliance Biblique Française (the French Bible Society). Jonathan is another of the new, younger generation of General Secretaries that fully embraces digital Bible engagement. We spent several hours talking about how FCBH could expand its partnership with the Bible Society. One project highlighted by Jonathan and his staff is an FCBH recording of the Nouvelle Bible Segond.
As I wrote this blog/travelogue, I realized that I mentioned over 35 (by my count) specific projects you can get involved in. See if you can find all 35 – you might even find one that I missed. Then pick out one that you feel God is telling you to do something about and contact us.
Here is a little side note: The West Balkan Partnership is a sub-group in United Bible Societies, made up of the Macedonian, Croatian, Serbian, Slovenian, and Albanian Bible Societies. Due to secularism’s drastic influence in the decline of the churches, Europe as a whole, and the Balkan region in particular, is becoming a new mission field in the classic sense of the word. The West Balkan Partnership focuses on Scripture awareness and engagement. There is a great opportunity for FCBH listening programs to be an important part of this focus.