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What a Thanksgiving season!
I cannot recall a Thanksgiving when God's amazing grace has been more evident than this year. God's grace on our family includes the birth of our first grandchild, Benjamin, on September 24. I had no idea what joy it is to be a granddad! WOW!
Another joy was the successful Global Convocation. The theme, Doing the Impossible with Jesus: Overcoming Evil with Good Throughout the World, energized delegates from 80 nations. Lord David Alton from England said that a small pebble can start a landslide. Local, national and regional "landslides" are already evident from the messages we have received from delegates after their return home. The following message from Zambia echoed many others:
Dear Sam and Bobby, I just wanted you to know what a great privilege it was for me to attend the Convocation of 2004. It was a time of spiritual reawakening for me and I suddenly realized how little I had done for my God, in spite of his love for me and the abundant blessings that he has continually bestowed on me.
God has constantly prodded me to do the ‘impossible' and it was not until the Convocation that I realized what direction my life should take. Thank you for listening to God and sending me the invitation for the Convocation.
My journey home was incident free and the Good Lord continues to preserve my family and me. We shall remember you in our prayers and believe God for divine healing for you. Greetings from all of us here. May the Lord continue to strengthen you and shine his countenance upon you. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you always. In HIS Service, Clement
You will see a few of the Convocation highlights and specific thanksgivings on the back. Your prayers and investments are bearing fruit. A Remarkable Thanksgiving Story from the Republic of Georgia is from an invitee who was unable to come because of a trial where he was the key witness. I have no doubt that the story will encourage you.
We thank you for your enabling role in this work, as we continue...
Living in His-Story,
Samuel E. Ericsson
Founder & President
A Remarkable Thanksgiving Story from the Republic of Georgia
[Baptist Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of Tbilisi, Georgia was invited to attend Advocates International's 2004 Global Convocation. He was unable to participate because he had been called to be a witness at a criminal trial of an Orthodox priest who had led the persecution of Baptists and other religious minorities in Georgia. The Bishop's November 16, 2004 email shares the story of the power of forgiveness. It is evidence of Doing the Impossible with Jesus: Overcoming Evil with Good Throughout the World - the Convocation theme.]
Last Sunday the Cathedral of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia in Tbilisi celebrated the 10th anniversary of my ministry. I was ordained exactly 10 years ago by a colleague of ministers led by the Rev. Dr. Karl Heinz Walter of the European Baptist Federation.
A lot of people came for the celebration: colleagues, ecumenical guests, government members, leaders of non-governmental organizations, university professors and international guests. They spoke about our cooperation and the difficulties we have experienced together during these 10 years. Everybody thought that the Baptist Church of Georgia has made great progress during these years and become a bridge builder between Georgian and Western cultures.
I also received many excellent gifts: a Eucharist set, icons, pictures, lovely cards and letters. But I had to say openly in Church that the most precious gifts I received that day were two small icons (of Christ and the Incarnation) and a huge anniversary Cake, beautifully decorated. All of you will be surprised to hear that those gifts were sent to the Cathedral by the renegade Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili who had been an outspoken enemy of us and our church for several years.
[The story of the gifts was] televised on national TV and confused thousands and thousands of people. What has happened people ask everywhere? It can't be true! This is impossible! I received calls from Orthodox bishops and priests and ordinary people asking the same question: what does all this mean?
Before telling you what it means I should remind you that this particular priest whose name is well known everywhere was responsible for burning Bibles and Christian books (including books I have written), for organizing raids on religious minorities in the country, for beating up pastors and priests of non-Orthodox denominations. He was the one who attacked the Cathedral Baptist Church in the year 2003 after which President Shevardnadze came to the Baptist Cathedral to apologize for the religious violence in the country.
Now let me tell you what has really happened: last week I was called to the court in order to testify against Basil Makalavishvili, an Old Calendarist Orthodox priest, and nine of his followers who have been in jail since March. The courtroom was full of Mkalavishvili's supporters. I came to the court building along with the Rev. Merab Gaprindashvili, the General Secretary of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia. I spoke for three hours about the real values of Christianity, about the ecumenical movement and the importance of religious liberty for everybody.
All the people, the judge, the prosecutor, lawyers were most attentive, asking questions about differences among Christians, about distinctive features of the Georgian Baptist Church.
Everybody was very nervous. They did not know what would be my concluding words. At the end of my speech the judge asked me what I was demanding. "What do you wish for them?" the judge asked me. "I demand that these people be pardoned and released from prison" was my answer. Everybody was shocked. Mkalavishvili's lawyers could not believe their ears. "Do you really say that you want to forgive them, everything, including the material loss?" asked one of the Makalavishvili's defenders. My answer was "yes." We were giving him absolution without conditions. I explained that was the nature of Christian love and forgiveness. Since the defender was not sure whether I understood his question correctly I added: "I do not demand anything from them except the red wine which we will drink together when they are set free." The room burst in laughter.
Then, ignoring the court rules, I rushed to the cage where the prisoners were and shacked [sic] the hands with all nine prisoners including Fr. Basil Mkalavishvili. That was one of the most moving experiences in my life. People were crying, clapping hands, weeping... When I was leaving the crowded room a small boy made his way to me through the group of adults. He grabbed a sleeve of my frock and told me with a grateful voice: "Thank you Bishop!" I turned to the child and blessed him by laying my hand on him. I was told later that he was Basil Mkalavishvili's grandson. The same evening I received a message from the prisoners saying: "even if we are not released from here we will be ever grateful to you." That was the miracle of reconciliation.
A few days later I wrote a letter to the President of Georgia explaining some religious and political reasons why I think they should be set free. (If you are interested in my arguments I can send you a copy of my letter to the President) That was why I received the cake and icons on behalf of the former enemy last Sunday. After the service all of us went to the old capital of Georgia together with the parishioners from Basil Mkalavishvili's church. All of us enjoyed the traditional Georgian table and the cake at the end of reception. I wish all of you had been there with us.
I hope you agree that the cake was the best gift I received that day. I do thank the Lord for all the wonders of the life. I also thank you all for all your support and prayers in those days when we were persecuted by the renegade priest who has become our friend. In the past we were praying that Mkalavishvili would be arrested. Now we are praying that he would be released from jail.
Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili TSSF
Evangelical Baptist Church of Georgia
Note: email edited in part by Sam Ericsson at the request of Bishop Malkhaz without losing its "flavor".
A Global Thanksgiving Report
§ Thank God for the growing global network "bearing witness of Jesus Christ through the legal profession by encouraging and enabling advocates to meet locally, organize nationally, cooperate regionally and link globally." (Acts 1:8)
§ Thank God for His protection on the journeys of the 240 delegates from 80 nations that participated in the Convocation.
§ Thank God that the six regional networks for Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America (including the Caribbean) and Oceania developed plans for 2005 and beyond and returned home organized and energized.
§ Thank God for the new website, www.advocatesinternational.org, that is on pace for 100,000 visits in its first month. Each continent has its own website and as many as 120 nations can also customize websites for their national groups. We're expecting over 3,000,000 visits in 2005.
§ Thank God that Advocates Latin America with links to 19 Latin nations and over 5,000 lawyers plans to hold their 5th Regional Conference in Uruguay in August 2005.
§ Thank God that Advocates Africa hopes to link 40 African nations for their 5th Regional Conference to be held in South Africa in October 2005.
§ Thank God that the 20 nations from Advocates Asia had a productive time strategizing on how to bear witness of Jesus Christ through the legal profession in Asia.
§ Thank God that the 16 nations from Advocates Europe were energized to address the issues facing the church on that secularized continent. They plan to hold a regional conference in Prague, Czech Republic in April 2005.
§ Thank God that the delegates from several Caribbean nations caught the vision to organize their region as part of Advocates North America.
§ Thank God for the energy and enthusiasm He gave our full-time staff, Romi Kobayashi and Lourdes Pisciotti. They worked many 18-hour days and six day-weeks, ably assisted by Pete Bellett, Helen Hogye and Bayo Akinlade from Nigeria (who put in many 20-hour days!)
§ Thank God for the small army of volunteers that helped as greeters at the airports, drivers everywhere and carried out a million other details. Special thanks to volunteers from Fellowship Bible Church in Harpers Ferry, WV, Cherrydale Baptist in Arlington and Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA.
§ Thank God for the diligent work by Rosie Popov and Monica Welch, assisted by Curran Tiffany, in producing the 136-page book Go and Do Likewise: A Global Report on the Activities of Followers of Christ in the Legal Profession Worldwide. The 90 country profiles can be read on our website at www.advocatesinternational.org.
§ Thank God for the work by Monica Welch and Helen Hogye in producing the When Things Go Wrong card in 24 languages. We have printed over 600,000 cards with the website address on each card enabling lawyers, pastors and others to locate "innkeepers" to help them within their nation.
§ Thank Godand thank you for your financial and prayer support this year. We have no doubt that the Convocation bills will be paid by year's end!
§ We wish all of you a very special and fulfilling Thanksgiving season!