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Some people see things as they are and ask, "Why?"
I dream of things that never were and say, "Why not!"
You will be encouraged as you read each of the enclosed items. They illustrate how we try to be salt and light globally. I wrote the above quote on a slip of paper the day we left on our trip to the Balkans, but then lost it. At a banquet in Sofia three weeks later, the former Bulgarian Ambassador to France wanted to share his favorite quote with me - St. Augustine's! I shared this bit of His-Story many times on our trip as evidence of God's gracious hand on this ministry.
Incredible events occurred on the four-week visit to the Balkans. In Albania, Bulgaria and Romania - among the harshest regimes during the 45-year tyranny of communism - we have seen great progress. Our approach is building relationships with those in authority, serving them professionally by asking, "How can we serve you?" and integrating spiritual realities at every opportunity. The Good Samaritan parable provides our method - encouraging and enabling national "innkeepers" to do the work.
Our large Advocates Europe sign announcing the June 6-9 conference in Sofia, Bulgaria on "Justice, Ethics and Moral Values in Modern Europe" hung over the entrance to the huge Palace of Culture convention center built by the communists in the 1970's. Next to our sign was a much smaller one - "Bulgarian Communist Party." The communists had their party congress in the same building. The stark contrast between the failed policies of Marxism and the hope we have in Christ could not have been clearer. Other highlights from the trip include:
- Addressing 120 leaders and ambassadors in Albania's "White House" at the dedication of a statue of Mother Teresa that Bobby and I commissioned as a personal gift to Albania - a nation that is nominally 65% Muslim. The dedication was the lead story on the evening news. My speech, A Pencil in the Hand of God, was an opportunity to challenge leaders to do justice. An Albanian choir sang several hymns a cappella, including the old spiritual, Steal Away Jesus, in the Grand Ballroom where the mere mention of Jesus 20 years ago could trigger a prison term.
- Receiving a commendation from Albania's President Meidani. He has been in our home several times, along with the current Prime Minister and Chief Justice. All of them were our house-guests long before any of them held high office! One never knows the fruits of hospitality.
- Visiting the most remarkable ministry and school for the disabled we have ever seen. It is the only program for the disabled in Albania and is run by one of our innkeepers, a Dutch "Joni" living in Albania, named Gezina. We want to help her find building funds. Nobody cares for the disabled in Albania like Gezina. (See Matt. 25: 31-46.)
- Seeing Albania's former dictator's house converted to church use under a long-term lease negotiated by several of our innkeepers. Enver Hojha was the cruel dictator from 1946-84 who imposed atheism as the official religion in 1967. The possession of a Bible or cross often meant a ten-year prison term. Today Hojha is dead, but the Church is very much alive!
- Speaking on Finding the Balance in an Open Society to 120 Bulgarian lawyers, judges and clergy at a two-day national conference on a proposed Law on Religion, organized by our 200 lawyer-member Rule of Law Institute. The leading lawyer for the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, a Presidential candidate in 2001, embraced all of our major suggestions.
- Convening the 2nd Advocates Europe Conference with 250 participants from 22 nations including 21 Armenians who took a 50-hour bus-ride to participate. Last year we had 70 from 14 nations attend. The 2002 conference was the largest gathering ever of Christian lawyers on Europe's continent.
- Launching Rule of Law Institutes in several former communist nations, including Ukraine and Macedonia, and strengthening Christian law groups in 20 European nations.
- Showing our two videos, Africa's Headwaters of Hope and Latin America's The Call to Justice to lawyers at the conference and in Romania.
- Presenting a 1,200-volume American law library to Bulgaria's largest private law school and receiving their "Keys to Southwest University." They will establish a Center for Church-State Studies directed by Latcho Popov, our director of the Rule of Law Institute, with the title, "Extraordinary Associate Professor of Church-State Studies."
- Meeting with the new Director of Religious Affairs of Bulgaria who wrote his doctoral thesis on the unity of the Body of Christ as seen in John 17.
- Speaking at two Bulgarian churches with 400 and 700 in attendance. The title of my message was Let Us Rebuild! from Nehemiah 2:11-20. One of the pastors had spent seven years in prison.
- Challenging the new Romanian Rule of Law Institute in Bucharest to mobilize the 300-500 Romanian Christian law professionals. I am their "Honorary Chairman." We are looking for suitable office space in downtown Bucharest. They are very excited!!!
- Discussing plans for the first-ever law school in Europe on an evangelical campus at Europe's only fully accredited conservative evangelical university, Emmanuel University, which just opened with 600 first-year students in Oradea, Romania.
- Meeting with key political and government leaders on a Romanian Law on Religion, as well as the Chief Justice of Romania's Supreme Court, who wants to work with us. In a meeting with Romania's Minister of Interior, General Abraham - who oversees all police - I asked if he had ever heard of Bob Vernon (former Deputy Police Chief in L.A. and a strong witness) who has a ministry to police globally. The 65-year old general said, "Bob Vernon is my best American friend." The general invited our help in drafting laws. His-Story!
- Meeting the remarkable Mayor Doru Popa of Arad, Romania, a city of 250,000. Mayor Popa serves as the pastor of the 1,000-member Marantha Baptist Church. When communism fell in Romania in 1989, he proposed Via, Veritas, Vite as the city's new motto to replace the old communist slogans. The Latin motto means "The Way, The Truth, The Life" and is now on the front of City Hall and on the official seal. Behind Mayor Popa's desk is a sign stating, "Godly Leadership Makes a Difference."
It is simply mind-boggling to relate these events. Although there has been great progress after the fall of communism, the battle for religious freedom remains intense. The media in most European nations is often vicious. Many government officials, politicians and judges still cater to the old mindset of seeing religion as "dangerous" and create roadblocks for believers who simply want to live their faith. We have never been better positioned to meet the challenges facing believers in Europe. Along with St. Augustine, we say "Why not!"
Living in His-Story,
Samuel E. Ericsson
Founder & President
"A Pencil in the Hand of God"
by Samuel E. Ericsson
Presented at the Dedication of a Statue Honoring Mother Teresa
in the Presidency of the Republic of Albania
Tirana, Albania - May 28, 2002
President Meidani and the First Lady, Prime Minister Majko, Chief Justice Kondi, Speaker Pellumbi, honored guests and friends: My wife Bobby and I thank you for joining us at this dedication to honor Albania's gift to the world - Agnes Gonxik Bojaxhi - known affectionately around the world as "Mother Teresa."
Mother Teresa often said that she was only "a pencil in the hand of God." But this pencil traced a beautiful life for the world to learn from. And our good friend, Armida Lacej, created a beautiful statue of Mother Teresa for the world to admire.
"I am a pencil in the hand of God." This pencil was a very small woman with a very big heart. She came from the people of a small nation, Albania, that demonstrated its big heart a few years ago when it opened its borders and homes to over half a million refugees.
This pencil was a woman who lived in a place and time when women were usually allowed to be seen, but not heard. This pencil was a woman who spent most of her adult life as part of a religious minority in India, where fewer than 3% of the population profess to be followers of Christ. But being a small woman in a minority did not stop Mother Teresa. She said, "God does not ask you to be successful. He asks you to be faithful." Mother Teresa was faithful to her God - and her God made her successful.
"I am a pencil in the hand of God." Mother Teresa had big hands. They were caring hands. She said that her husband was Jesus and everything she did was to honor Jesus with her hands and her life.
Jesus told many stories. There were two that were very important to Mother Teresa. The first was the parable of the Good Samaritan. I recall that President Meidani read this parable from the New Testament to 1000 diplomats at a luncheon in Washington DC in 1997, which ends with Jesus' command, "Go, and do likewise!"
It is a story about a man on a journey who fell among thieves. He was beaten and robbed and left to die. A priest came along, but passed on by. An official also saw the man but he too refused to stop. But a Samaritan, a member of a class hated by society, felt compassion when he saw the beaten man. He stopped and bandaged up the wounds of the man left to die and took him to an inn for additional care.
Mother Teresa was one of the greatest examples of the Good Samaritan in the 20th century. On her life's journey, she stopped thousands of times to help those left to die.
The other story that Mother Teresa lived to the fullest was a parable in which Jesus shared the qualities that he expects to see in those who call themselves his followers. If you are a follower of Jesus, you will feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, take in the stranger, visit those in prison and care for the sick.
Mother Teresa fed the hungry, gave cool water to the thirsty, clothed the naked, took in the stranger, visited those in prison and cared for the sick and dying.
"I am a pencil in the hand of God."
We must never forget that it was God whom Mother Teresa was serving, not men. Her acts of mercy were done out of service to her God. Albania embraced atheism for over twenty years, but a strong believer in God brought Albania its greatest honor. The names of evil dictators will be forgotten. But Mother Teresa's name will live on.
But this is the past. What about the future?
The purpose of this gift is not only to honor this wonderful woman, but to challenge Albania and all nations not to forget her legacy. Would the laws and public policies in Albania - or any nation - today enable Mother Teresa to do her work or would they try to stop her with red tape and bureaucratic roadblocks?
Mother Teresa was free to do what she felt God wanted her to do. Government did not block her work. The challenge for lawmakers in Albania and in all nations is to work diligently for societies that will free future Mother Teresas to help the poor, care for the disabled, and watch over the sick.
Mother Teresa also said: "To keep a lamp burning we have to keep putting oil in it." Albania can be a beacon of light in the Balkans for all of Europe and the world. But for the lamp of compassion to give a bright light, Albania must put oil in it by making sure that its laws and policies will encourage, not discourage, future Mother Teresas.
Mr. President, Advocates International stands ready to continue to work with you and Albania with the hope that Albania will produce more Mother Teresas. She was Albania's gift to the world.
The world needs many more pencils in the hand of God.