Only God is that Jealous – Ben Bradford

Hello friends,

My friend Nikola, whom I met on the basketball court several weeks ago, has turned out to be a truly divine appointment and an amazing testimony. Firstly, his pastor and close friend in Novi Sad, Aca Mitrovic is good friends with Tommie Naumann, the pastor of the Network Community here in Greece. I have even personally heard Aca speak in Virginia when he visited Dwelling Place for a Missions Conference in 2009.

God’s relentless, unyielding pursuit of Nikola amazes me. He met the Lord when he was 17, but fell back into a very ‘fast’ life in the world. Let me just say that most Americans, myself included, have no grid for what life was like in the former Yugoslavia. It is the sheer grace and mercy of God that Nikola is alive today. And not only that, but in the very face of a twenty-one year run of sin and rebellion, God sends an American to a basketball court in Thessaloniki because God. wanted. him. back. Only God is that jealous.

Not only did God rescue Nikola, but He is really transforming and releasing him before our eyes. Nikola testified to the ease with which some of the things that he struggled with for years have just fallen away and lost their hold. He is also a hero among the Roma (Gypsy) children, leading them in group games and exercises during our weekly visits. It’s so awesome to see a guy, whose life was on a completely different course just a few weeks ago, now running around a Roma village loving on a bunch of little kids. What privilege and honor He has given us to work alongside Him.

A few brief prayer requests:

Jen, Kim, Amy, and I continue to press the university campus twice weekly through our coffee outreach. Continue to pray that the Lord would really move on the hearts of young people through us and the He would break in on that campus. We really desire to see Greek young people added to our body.

I joined the leadership team for the Thursday night home group in the city. I lead it for the first time this week and I think it went well, though it definitely stretches me. Pray that the group and the leadership would be of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose, and that we would know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.

I will be traveling to Beirut, Lebanon April 5-11 for a Conference themed ‘Breakthrough.’ Tommie helps orchestrate this annual conference together with friends from churches in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Prayer for protection is especially appreciated given the present situation among many Middle Eastern nations. Pray for peace in southern Syria. We are believing it will be a really powerful time in the Spirit!

God bless you all – love you so much,

Ben

Attached are a few photos from the Roma village. As you can see, some of the children do not have shoes and are exposed to an extremely hazardous environment. If you would like to donate specifically to help provide the children with shoes, you can donate via Paypal at my blog: beninthebalkans.blogspot.com – just indicate, ‘Roma Shoes.’ Thanks!

Karen’s South African Journey – 7 days in…

Well – this is day 7 of the trip. I have just been blown away. Here’s a little update.

Thursday Night – went to the mall in Pretoria and ate dinner with Peter and Leslie Watt. They pastor a local church we partner with and Peter heads an oversight board for a network of 2000 + churches here in South Africa.

Friday we had a chance to catch our breath a bit and prepare for what was a very busy weekend. Ron and I did some shopping and ate lunch at the News Café. (Let me say right here, that all the food has been surprisingly good.)

Friday Night– we went to an outreach on campus at the University of Pretoria. There were around 300 students in attendance – it was just incredible. The worship, dance, poetry reading, special singing, etc. ministered to me in a way I really can’t possibly communicate. During worship the Chi Alpha worship team did a song in their African language and the whole auditorium broke out in an African dance – it was unbelievable. Ron ended the night by speaking on “Redemption’s Story”. Several students came forward to make decisions for Christ. We had lots of opportunities to pray and talk with students after the service.

Saturday – Ron held a Reach the University Conference all day Saturday for students from different campuses to help equip and resource them to start student ministry on their campuses. Church leaders from several different areas also attended to learn how to be a covering for campus ministry groups.

Saturday Night – Ron took me out on a date. We went to a steak house and I had the best steak I’ve ever eaten and it wasn’t expensive – which really made it the best I’ve ever had. ☺

Sunday Morning – Ron spoke at Cornerstone AOG in Pretoria for their 8:30 & 10:30 services. He did a very good job. I loved the worship.

Sunday Afternoon/Night – OK – we drove from Pretoria to Vanderbijlpark and drove through a torrential downpour, got lost, had to deal with flooded streets – it was very STRESSFUL… BUT THANK GOD – WE MADE IT IN TIME FOR THE EVENING SERVICE.

We were there to speak at Oneway church in Vanderbijl and to chat about church planting and student ministry. It’s an amazing church in a tough but special place with special people. We stayed with Ralph and Kirstin and their two boys, Joel and Tim. They are the pastors at Oneway. I was very impressed with the heart they have for South Africa. They’re really sharp!

Monday– Got to hang out with Ralph and Kirstin and their family. We spent time chatting about how they can launch a Chi Alpha on the campus at Northwest University in Vanderbijlpark. We had lots of great conversations, met their staff, and ate some great food.

Tuesday – W got up and had some great coffee with Ralph and Kirsten and then hit the road to drive back to Johannesburg to catch our flight to Pietermaritzburg. We flew on a very small plane (max capacity was 29 passengers). Can I tell you we landed with a bang. We almost used up all the runway. It was a bit scary.

Dennis Solomon, a good friend of Ron’s and our original Chi Alpha partner here in South Africa, picked us up from the airport. We went out for a quick cup of coffee and then got settled at our hotel. We then walked over to the mall (just right across the parking lot) and had some spicy chicken and rice for dinner. We will be here in Pietermaritzburg until Thursday. This is the location of the very first chi alpha plant.

It has just been so incredible to finally meet all the people I have heard so many stories about and to see first hand how God has blessed the efforts that Ron as well as many others have made to invest in students and churches here.

Thanks to all of you who have invested in the Southern Africa project over the years, and thanks to all of you who made it possible for me to finally be able to make the trip.

We are less than half way through our time here, so please continue to pray that we live out each God appointment in His Grace and for His Glory…

Much love – Karen

Karen’s Journey to South Africa – Departures and Arrivals…

When Isaac first started Kindergarten, he and I were both afraid. Afraid of change, afraid of not being in control, afraid of the unknown. If  saying we/I/you shouldn’t be afraid would make it go away, we would have had no issue. Since that strategy never seemed to work, we memorized a Psalm to encourage us. “What time I am afraid, I will trust in you.” David recorded this truth in a time when his tendency was to fear, but somehow that statement of faith reminded him, reminded Isaac as a 5 year old, and reminds me now of the love of our Father. And I know you know, perfect love cast out all fear.

God grant us the grace to live an unforced trust, based on truth.

So, here we go – I am just going to share straight out of my journal…

We left the house this (Tuesday) morning at 4:15 a.m. to head to the airport. We have a long travel day ahead of us. I am about to get on the 1st of about 9 total flights I will have to make on this trip (round trip of course ☺).

For those of you that know me – I have only probably ever flown a total of 10 times my entire life, and can I tell you, I really don’t like flying…. ☺ We flew from Roanoke to Washington DC and then from Washington DC to New York to catch our international flight into Johannsburg, South Africa. We are now on the really big plane that will take us over the ocean. Our stewardess is a very sweet South African named Karen. Isn’t God good….

I just finished my first real meal ever on an airplane. I was so surprised – it was good. We had beef tips, green beans, potato wedges, really good potato salad, and a yummy desert. I have been so nauseated the last week that I have not been able to eat much. I’ve lost about 10 pounds. I prayed that God would help me to be able to eat something and I was able to eat most of the meal and thankfully, did not have to throw up.

Here’s another little bit of info – the toilets on the plane are not near as bad as I thought they would be – you see I have never used the bathroom on a plane before. Sorry if that is too much information. ☺ Believe it or not that has been one of the obstacles to me wanting to go on a long plane ride. I got plenty of opportunity to get real familiar with the airplane lavatories.

Ron and I have visited, slept, listened to music, saw a beautiful sunset, saw a lightening storm, and watched a couple of movies, Tangled and Blind Side. I absolutely LOVED Tangled. God really spoke to me through a cartoon!

We’re here! We landed about 8:30 South African time. We are 6 hours ahead of you all on the east coast. We took care of some logistics at the airport, got a phone, cash, and rented a car. We drove about 30 minutes to Pretoria – where we are staying at a very quaint bed and breakfast that Ron has stayed in many times. We both got a hot bath and a nap. Ron is still napping as I write.

Can I tell you – I am so impressed with my prince. He has taken such good care of me this whole trip. It was interesting when we got in the rental car – you see they drive on the opposite side of the road from the opposite side of the car. So – I sat in what would be the driver’s side of our cars and just enjoyed the ride. I sure do love Ron Barnard and I’m so looking forward to this season of helping him do what he does – Love and Invest in Others.

Well, I’m going to close for now. Need to get ready to meet some friends for dinner. Love, Karen