All posts by Don Stephens

I'm a musician, teacher, and sheepdog with a passion for the Kingdom of God. Currently I work with Youth With a Mission, traveling and teaching on Worldview and the Kingdom of God.

A Go At Simplicity

Been sick since returning from my travels to Romania and England last week. I was so anxious to be back in my own bed again, only now to be confined to my apartment around the clock. (It’s just a bad chest cold, and I think it’s finally turned a corner today).

It’s occurred to me that one of the things that keeps me from updating my website and blog more regularly is a gnarly bent towards perfectionism. I slave away for hours over a couple of paragraphs because I want them to be profound, well constructed snapshots of my life. The obvious problem here is that is my life is neither well-constructed, nor profound. Case in point: I began my trip by missing the one and only train from Sarajevo to Budapest, and finished it by missing my flight from England. (I went to the wrong airport!) So why pretend to have it together?

Busses, trains, and airports are not my friends. I just hate to travel these days. But students and young people are always the carrot at the end of the stick. Last night as I was pouring over travel plans for my next trip, (Leaving for Macedonia and Romania again this Sunday), I asked the Lord, “Is all this really worth it?” Really, it’s expensive, hazardous, and inconvenient. Why can’t I just spend my time loving people right here in Sarajevo? I didn’t hear any audible voice, but He reminded me of Leah, who came up to me after class in Romania. After completing a missions degree at a respected Christian college and serving for more than a year on the Romanian mission field, she said, “I just wanted to thank you for teaching us about the kingdom today. I’ve been thinking there must be more to all this than what I knew.” Or even my good buddy, Larry, back home. He says, “Well Don, if the kingdom is all that, then how come you seem to be the only person I know who’s preaching it?”

The Romanians captured my heart again with their warmth and affection. They have a gift of making everyone feel like a part of the family.


England, on the other hand, takes your breath away with it’s beauty and style. Both countries reflect a unique aspect of God’s glory.


The English school was my first chance to teach for a whole week on the kingdom. Typically I do three days on Biblical Worldview, and then spend two days developing the worldview of the Kingdom. It’s a good study in contrast between the death and destruction of (for instance) Communism, Postmodernism, and Islam, and the beauty and life of the Kingdom. But this time I had a whole week to develop the glories of the kingdom. Wasn’t sure, at first, if I’d have enough material. But by the week’s end I was wishing for more time.

So… today the sun is shining in Sarajevo, my cold is beginning to break, and I plan on getting out of this stinking apartment and meeting some friends in town for coffee.

Cynicism and Angels

Lately I’ve been looking for angels, the humanoid kind who sometimes pass by unnoticed on the street. It keeps me from becoming cynical after being serially ignored by store clerks, or walking the entire distance into town without so much as making eye-contact with a single person. So I look for angels. Yesterday they showed up in the form of ten-year old neighbors Adis and Amir, who raced down the street to practice their English on me. Just now it was the waiter at the Bill Gates Cafe who looked me in the eye, greeted me, and asked if I wanted “an Orangina like yesterday?” You probably have to live here to truely value these small angel-sightings.

Cynicism can be a temptation for me and a particularly un-Jesus-like trait. From my reading of the gospels, our Servant-King / Savior had a wonderful gift for optimism, hope and promise. His kingdom-eyes didn’t deny the darkness, but saw through it.

But there’s no denying I’m a product of brooding, pessimistic American Evangelicalism. Awhile back I had a conversation with an American friend who wanted to discredit the present / future kingdom of God on the grounds that the world was destined to become “more and more evil” until eventually Jesus would be oblidged to rapture us all out of the mess. We American Evangelicals have become practiced at gleefully asserting, “See there!? Wars! Earthquakes! Famine!! Surely it’s time for Jesus to return!!” But therein we miss the kingdom.

“Jesus told them another parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man sowed good seed in his field. One night, when everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the plants grew and the heads of grain began to form, then the weeds showed up. The man’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, it was good seed you sowed in your field; where did the weeds come from?’ ‘It was some enemy who did this,’ he answered. ‘Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?’ they asked him. ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because as you gather the weeds you might pull up some of the wheat along with them. Let the wheat and the weeds both grow together until harvest. Then I will tell the harvest workers to pull up the weeds first,tie them in bundles and burn them, and then to gather in the wheat and put it in my barn.’ ” (Matthew 13:24-30)

Did you catch that? The rich, golden wheat of the Kingdom grows ALONGSIDE the tares. Of course there will be death, destruction and evil. Yet the promise remains that “the light will shine in the darkness”, ” nations will come to the glory”, “the tares will be removed from the WHEAT”, and “the kingdom will be established.”

First Post from Sarajevo

I returned to Sarajevo on February 7th after a humming three months in the States. It’s always amazing to me, when I’m in America, the opportunities God opens up for concerts, programs, and ministry. And this trip was no exception. It made me wonder if perhaps I ought to be taking my musical gifts more seriously. It certainly meant little rest at home, and a pace that kept me in constant motion.

But now I’m back in Bosnia, and the time for talking about these things has passed. My return was surprisingly smooth, with none of the despair and hopelessness that typically clobbers me before I’ve unpacked my suitcases. But this time was different. It’s not an external thing, as if Sarajevo has suddenly been hit with a surge of hope, but rather an internal posture of my own heart which seems to have found a deeper place of rest. There’s a new confidence in my spirit that God really can use me here. And it feels wonderfully good.

Recently I came across this quote that sums up something of what I’m seeing:

“The … work of the non-professional missionary is essentially to live his daily life in Christ, and therefore with a difference, and to be able to explain, or at least to state, the reason and cause of the difference to men who see it… His preaching is essentially private conversation, and has at the back of it facts, facts of a life which explain and illustrate and enforce his words… It is such missionary work, done consciously and deliberately, that the world needs today. Everybody, Christian and pagan alike, respects such work; and, when it is so done, men wonder, and inquire into the secret of a life which they instinctively admire and covet for themselves… The spirit which inspires love of others and efforts after their well-being, both in body and soul, they cannot but admire and covet–unless, indeed, seeing that it would reform their own lives, they dread and hate it, because they do not desire to be reformed. In either case, it works. (Roland Allen 1869-1947)

Bosnian friends appear to be doing well. Though most are still afraid of dreaming, I see them inching forward with provisional plans and trial hopes. My call, as I see it, is to resume my post of pointing out the realities of God’s kingdom and the unlimited potential of His dream .

In Pursuit of the Future

“Neither a wise man, nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history and waits for the train of the future to run over him.” – Dwight Eisenhower

Last night I bravely attended the D-O-C, an “emerging generation” Bible study of Attention Deficit teens and early “twenty-somethings” jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink with breakneck speed, stunning creativity, and dizzy musings. Trying to keep pace with the discussion felt like I had a bowling ally in my brain.

We boomers sometimes find it difficult to balance tippy-toe on the edge of forward time. Comfort and safety don’t live in the future any more than childhood memories and Leave it to Beaver. But faith by nature looks at the future and walks boldly into tomorrow. This is why I choose to learn from the Gen-X-Y-Zers.

OK, they might have issues with orthodoxy and the accumulated wisdom of human history, but they do have something to say to us:

Honor creativity. Ask questions. Don’t close the book. And don’t accept it because someone said it was so. Move beyond opinions and sterile doctrine. Participate. Value art and subtlety. While we boomers get stuck with conspicuous images of our Sunday-School Jesus, the young are telling us He might also look like Superman, a circus king, or a “wrecking ball with a heart of gold.”

I’m keenly aware that the young are able to blow the dust off my faith and oil the gears of my convictions like few others. And they remind me that the ancient ways kingdom never stop pioneering fearlessly into the future. “Watch for the new thing I am going to do. It is happening already—you can see it now!” – Is. 43:19

It’s to my young friends credit that I’m being wrenched away from my “old school” home page into the great frontier of the blogosphere. Young minds need stimulation and this site will offer hyperlinks and interactive opportunities to participate in the action . So whether you’re a young upstart, or a middle-aged boomer, please feel welcome to join the conversation with your thoughts, comments and prayers.


Hello World!

I haven’t figured this out yet, but I believe this site will give you and me the opportunity to actually communicate, dialogue, and learn from each other along the journey rather than simply “catching up” on what I’ve been experiencing here in Sarajevo.

I choose the title “Dispatches from the Shadowlands” because I often feel like my life here on earth is so shrouded by questions and mystery. Yet God’s kingdom is emerging from the shadows day by day as we wrestle with questions of truth, eternity, justice, and the character of God.

My “dispatches” are simply memos of things I’m learning and experiencing along the way, or (maybe more often), observations I only suspect. Hopefully together we’ll find our way into a brighter understanding of the real world, the true world of the Kingdom which has been the dream of God since eternity past.