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When was the last time you witnessed a miracle? Perhaps it's been a while. Perhaps your perspective is too narrow. Perhaps you focus only on the dramatic "quick fix" type of miracles but fail to see that miracles can also unfold over time - miracles in slow motion. A miracle is an event best understood as an act of divine providence. Our focus this month is on miracles in slow motion from conception and birth to relationships and religious freedom. Each took time but God's engagement is clear:
- In 1980 there were less than 200 public school campuses in the United States with Bible study groups. The activity was considered illegal. If someone had suggested that by 2004 there would be 29,000 student-initiated and student-led Bible study groups on middle, junior and senior high school campuses, most people would have met the idea with, "Only by an act of God!" You'll see how we got there in the enclosed "Miracles in Slow Motion."
- In 1984 Albania's dictator Enver Hoxja threw people in prison who possessed a Bible, cross or crucifix. Atheism was the state religion. Today Grace Community Church in Tirana, Albania has "converted" Hoxja's former official residence into a place where believers meet for worship and Bible study daily!
- Before communism's collapse in Eastern Europe in 1989 and in the Soviet Union two years later, followers of Christ were barred from the legal profession. Fifteen years later there are active groups of Christian lawyers and judges in many former communist nations. Some national networks link 100 or more law professionals. We have contacts in 30 former or present communist nations. Unthinkable in 1984. A reality in 2004.
The following snapshots of 20 European nations share a few miracles in slow motion. Many of the stories would have met with "It could never happen!" a few years ago.
One miracle we experience every morning is often overlooked. We wake up. Moving from sleepy unconsciousness to consciousness is a "God moment." We do nothing. Except wake up! There are thousands of comatose people who would love to wake up but cannot do so. Life is a miraculous gift from the Giver of all good gifts. Let's view it as a miracle, as we continue...
Living in His-Story,
Samuel E. Ericsson
Founder & President
Miracles in Slow Motion in Europe: Recently a friend in Europe expressed frustration with the progress he saw getting Christian lawyers engaged in religious freedom and related issues in Europe. It has been 15 years since the Berlin Wall fell and 13 years since the Soviet Union collapsed. Religious freedom rarely advances in big steps but in small ones. The following is evidence of miracles in slow motion we have witnessed among Christian lawyers in Europe in recent years. All believers in Europe face tremendous challenges in the years ahead as the continent wrestles with secularism and materialism among a host of issues. But followers of Christ in the legal profession have never been better positioned to be salt and light for the glory of God.
Albania: The former "North Korea of Europe" has made greater progress in religious freedom than perhaps any former communist nation anywhere. For example, the official residence of the former dictator Enver Hoja (who in 1967 declared Atheism as Albania's official religion) now serves as Grace Community Church of Tirana. This would have been impossible if Christian lawyers had not provided input to Albania's new Constitution and allowed to practice law. Twenty years ago the mere possession of a Bible guaranteed ten years in prison. Today the Chancellor of Tirana's District Courts is Toni Gogu, a lawyer serving as President of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance. In communist days, the Courts railroaded people to prison. Today's motto for Albania's judiciary is, "Justice is truth in action," penned by Benjamin Disraeli, Britain's 19th Century Prime Minister, a committed follower of Christ. Judges have a paperweight on their desk with this motto. Albania is proof of God's miracles in slow motion.
Armenia: This former Soviet Republic is very proud of its role in church history. In 2002, AI's Board Chairman, Lynn Buzzard, and the Director of Advocates Europe, Latcho Popov, conducted a judicial seminar on religion issues hosted by the Constitutional and Supreme Courts of Armenia. Justice Alvina Gyulumyan who has participated in three Advocates' conferences organized the seminar. Under Alan Gogbashian's leadership, twenty-four Armenian lawyers took a two-day bus ride each way from Armenia to the Advocates Europe conference in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2002. This would have been unthinkable and impossible a few years ago.
Azerbaijan: This former Soviet Republic straddles Europe and Asia. Azerbaijan has a high percentage of Muslims, as well as many from the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Asif Huseynov, a lawyer who is mentoring other followers of Christ in the region, has ably represented the minority Christian traditions. When communism reigned, these activities were impossible for Christian lawyers to engage in since Christians were forbidden from practicing law. An organization protecting religious freedom was organized a few years ago.
Bulgaria: During communism, Bulgaria was referred to as the 16th Soviet Republic because of its allegiance to the Soviet Union party line. In the 1980's the police hauled pastors to prison giving the church buildings over to the state's stooges. Today Bulgaria's Rule of Law Institute has 250 lawyer members, perhaps the largest active network of Christian lawyers on continental Europe. Latcho Popov, the Director of the Institute, co-authored the handbook used nationally for training police in human rights. He also co-authored the handbook explaining the religious freedom law. Latcho was the only outsider present during the closed-door debate in the Parliament on the new Law on Religion. After its passage, 77 Members of Parliament (all Bulgarian Orthodox) who felt several provisions of the new law violated their Constitution, asked Latcho - an evangelical - to take their case to the Supreme Court. Bulgaria serves as Advocates' Global Prayer Coordination Center. Each week, Diana Daskalova writes and sends out the Global Prayer Calendar which is the glue keeping the network together. She does the same ministry for Advocates Europe - from the former 16th Soviet Republic! Miracles, indeed!
Croatia: This breakaway nation from former Yugoslavia was ravaged by wars during the 1990's. Today it is building one of the best programs in Europe for training and mentoring Christian young people interested in serving in the public square, as well as working as professionals in the private sector. Tihomir Kukolja is a seasoned journalist who knows how to get things moving in the right direction and committed to getting it done.
Denmark: A highly respected Danish physician and leaders in the Danish Evangelical Alliance are bridges helping us link with leading Danish lawyers with a deep commitment to following Christ. As in every nation in Europe and elsewhere, Denmark is a work in progress.
England: The 1,800-member Lawyers Christian Fellowship recently enabled its former Executive Director, Christine John, to take a new portfolio focusing internationally She is linking law students and young lawyers with national Christian lawyer groups around the globe. LCF continues to be engaged in several national and European projects.
Finland: A small group of Christian lawyers and judges meet regularly for fellowship in the land of Nokia. There are several followers of Christ serving as salt and light in Finland's Parliament. The executive director of the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance is Finnish Pastor, Johan Candelin, who also serves on Advocates' Board.
France: Bernard Biro has worked five years to knit together a small group of lawyers seeking to follow Christ in a thoroughly secularized society. The enthusiasm of Bernard and his two main co-workers - Nicolas Duval and Samuel Bonte - plus their diligence and trust in God is a source of encouragement to all of us. Advocates France was launched in February 2004. They will expand their network based in Paris to include all of France. Miracles in slow motion!
Germany: Norbert Kirsch is a gifted German follower of Christ in the legal profession who is actively engaged in religious liberty advocacy in Germany. He is working with Advocates Europe to strengthen the bonds with the German network of Christian lawyers.
Greece: One of the most important recent religious liberty trial victories in Europe was won in December 2001 by Vassilios Tsirbis. Working with Greek co-counsel, Vassilios got acquittals of all charges of proselytizing filed against 15 Pentecostals who had given away Bibles and Christian literature. Vassilios serves as the representative of the European Evangelical Alliance in Brussels.
Macedonia: Formerly a part of Yugoslavia, Macedonia recently suffered the loss of its President, an evangelical, in a plane crash during bad weather. Latcho Popov in Bulgaria, Macedonia's neighbor, has a close working relationship with Laste Spasovski and other followers of Christ in the legal profession in Macedonia.
Norway: This small but significant Scandinavian nation is the home for several Christian human rights and religious freedom efforts. Although Advocates Europe and AI have some good contacts, there is no current link to a strong working group of Christian lawyers.
Portugal: Under the very able leadership of Fernando Loja, Advocates Portugal hosted Advocates Europe's first conference in 2001. Prior to that conference, several Christian lawyers took an active role in helping draft the new Law on Religion in Portugal. The law is considered by many as one of the best models for other European nations. Recently Fernando was appointed to represent Portugal's evangelicals on the national Committee of Religious Freedom. This is an independent body that advises the Parliament and the government and also monitors religious communities in Portugal. Advocates Portugal meets regularly in Lisbon.
Romania: This former communist nation suffered severely under communism until its collapse in December 1989. Today Romania has the largest evangelical church in Europe with over 4,000 in attendance every Sunday at the Second Baptist Church in Oradea. Emmanuel University in Oradea was launched by this dynamic church and is the largest evangelical university in Europe today. There are also six Christian radio stations in this nation of 24 million. Salonica Talos, the founder of Romania's Rule of Law Institute, has played a leading role in securing the legal rights so that Christian ministries, such as radio stations, orphanages and the university can flourish in Romania. Fifteen years ago these activities were hopes and dreams. Miracles in slow motion over recent years have brought decades of hopes to blessed reality.
Russia: Christian lawyers must remain faithfully engaged on all fronts in this great land. In 1991 Natalya Vyssotskaya launched the Faith, Hope and Love Foundation to minister to the needs of Russian prison inmates. Since then, her small staff has helped over 3,000 inmates with legal appeals, provided truckloads of medicines and clothing, along with thousands of Bibles, and was part of a team getting a moratorium on all executions. In 2000 Katya Smyslova's Esther Information Center produced and distributed 3,000 CD's enabling hundreds of churches and other ministries to register and avoid closure. Slavic Center for Law and Justice has handled many major cases in Russia's courts and taken several key cases successfully to the Supreme Court. Reports indicate that here are now hundreds of Christian lawyers within the SCLJ and other networks serving as salt and light. Miracles in slow motion certainly exist in Russia.
Serbia: In the past year, Advocates Europe's President, Latcho Popov, has established contacts with several leading Christian lawyers in this nation that faced much turmoil under President Milosovic. Working together with Bulgarian lawyers, Serbia now has the opportunity to engage in ways that were impossible until recently.
Spain: Under the leadership of Eliseo Gomez-Lor Perez, Spanish lawyers launched a national Christian lawyer group in 2002 in a meeting attended by colleagues from Portugal.
Sweden: A few years ago there was only a handful of Christian lawyers linked together in Sweden. Under Per Karlsson's leadership, the group has grown to over 50. Advocates Sweden are engaged defending family values and religious freedom in both the Parliament and the courts. Recently Per made a presentation on some of these issues at the United Nations in New York City.
Turkey: In December 2003, Atila Tanman, a young Christian lawyer in Istanbul, visited the Rule of Law Institute in Bulgaria in order to strengthen the networking in this crucial region bridging Asia and Europe. The Christian community in Turkey is very small and needs assistance from other European advocacy groups.