Blessed to Bless!

14 January 2016

Multifaceted, transformative, redemptive work in the Balkans

Perhaps every generation witnesses a location becoming a verb. In the first century ad, Corinth was the place. Perhaps because of its unique geography as a double port, the city became synonymous with licentiousness so that the Greek verb ‘to corinthianize’ meant to live a promiscuous life.

In our era, a whole region has given rise to an even more tragic verb: ‘to balkanize’ meaning to subdivide into small warring states or factions. The experiences of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s are horrific by any measure. The historical and political complexities are intractable and bitter. So woe betide any outsider who arrives presuming to offer a panacea. But the region has greatly occupied my thinking and reading in recent years, because strangely, the Balkans is the corner of Europe in which Langham Preaching has worked longest (we are the baby of the Langham Preaching global family!).

And despite its many challenges, there have been some astonishing encouragements.

For example, at a small Langham Preaching event in Croatia back in Nov 2008, most of the delegates were Croatian, but a few people also joined us from Serbia and Bosnia. All of them had been affected by the war in the 90s. Several had actually found themselves fighting on different sides, whether through membership in the former Yugoslav military at the country’s break up or because they were forcibly conscripted. There was added poignancy because the event coincided with the anniversary of the 1991 Vukovar massacre. Over 250 people were killed in what was later officially recognized as a war crime. Two delegates had actually been at Vukovar that day.

2008 Balkan peace prayer

2008 Balkan peace prayer

On the event’s last night, representatives from Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia each stood up and prayed publicly for one of the other countries. I did not understand a word of what they were saying. But it was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. Such is the reconciling power of grace.

Then in November 2015, I returned to Skopje, (FYR) Macedonia for my fourth visit, following the 2013 reboot of Langham Preaching seminars. Then it was a joy to rejoin fellow facilitators Slavko Hadzic (from Sarajevo, Bosnia) and Dr Kosta Milkov (ex-Langham Scholar, now back in Skopje). But a real highlight was the chance to get to know Toni Popov a little better than on previous occasions since I first met him back in 2013. He is a real trophy of divine grace, because his life before coming to Christ perhaps reflected the darkness of the region’s history. He was an orphan who never knew his parents and ended up (in his own words) as a despairing and suicidal junkie. But everything is different now and he has many strings to his bow. He has a family. He is a preacher. He is a poet. He is a painter. Above all, he has hope, purpose and love. What God has done, and is doing, for Toni, he can do for a whole community and society. And he is playing his part in bringing that about.

What we do in Langham Preaching perhaps seems mild and rather pale in comparison to Toni’s transformative journey. After all, at one level, we’re simply helping people around the world to understand how to cross the bridge between the world of the scriptures and the world of their congregations. And yet the effect can be profound. So here is Toni in his own words from a recent email to me.

First time I have heard about Langham few years ago, when a friend of mine went to Sarajevo for the seminar there. He was very encouraged by it and he shared that with us. When Kosta invited me to the first event in Skopje, I was interested to be a part of it, but I didn’t have a clue what is it about. I thought that it will be one of those ‘five steps to good preaching’ or something and honestly, I thought it will be a little boring. 

So far, I’ve attended 1st and 2nd levels of Langham Preaching and I am so glad I was invited because I am really blessed by it.

  1. It is a great study tool for me personally. I went there with expectation to hear how to preach, but I’ve realized that it is a great tool for me to go deeper in the Bible. I’ve been to Bible school so I knew a little bit about exegesis, hermeneutics and context of the text, but Langham offers very simple and effective tools. It has completely changed the way I am reading the Bible and helps me to see texts in the Bible much deeper.

  2. It gives me secure frame when I prepare to preach. Many times before, I would speak the way I was used to: take a text, speak what I think and support it with other verses, so sometimes even I was not sure that was the point of the text! With Langham, basically the text speaks about itself, so I don’t have to be scared that I’ve missed the point and tell to people something that the text doesn’t say.

  3. Working in groups. This was wonderful experience also. It was a chance to hear how others approach to the text. Also, when later the groups would share what they have done, I could see that even all of us had different view, in the core it was basically what the text would say. No one had something totally different. As I said in point 2 – it give me security that I shared the text as I should.

  4. Faithful, clear and relevant. This is also helpful for me, because I can now measure the sermons I preach. There are also other things I like in Langham preaching, but I think this e-mail is long enough. It has been such a blessing for me and is truly a blessing for others in our church.

Kingdom ministry is a multifaceted enterprise – for which God has raised up all sorts of people with a myriad giftings and talents. All have their parts to play. But whatever our focus, if God is at work, it will be transformative and redemptive. The Langham family of ministries focuses on a small, if strategic, segment of that enterprise. But how thrilling to be involved in a tiny way in God’s transformative work even in a place as scarred as the Balkans.

by Mark Meynell, Associate Director – Europe, Langham Preaching

Meet Toni Here:

At his Blog: http://tonipopovart.com

On Twitter: @farbanius   On Instagram: @farbanius

On Youtube:

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