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.

Summertime

Sarajevo Summers are hot and lazy. Bosnian friends, if they’re able, escape to the coast, and routines that worked for the rest of the year are interrupted by the come-and-go of the community. Every day has to be reinvented from the bottom up. Some days are full and rich while others limp along like a three-legged dog.

I’m trying to fill my time with people, study, and creativity. A typical Summer afternoon usually means rich coffee bar conversation with friends exploring such topics as “Are our lives determined by fate, or by choice?”, or yesterday’s topic, “How do we hear the voice of God?” When friends go home I settle into a good book, answer Email, or work on that Christmas CD I’ve determined to finish before the year’s end. Gotta admit, though, it feels hugely out of context to be recording “In the Bleak Midwinter” from what feels like the inside of a pizza oven.

Here’s a short list of my summer reading so far. (I’m always open for suggestions).

  • Escape from Reason: An Analysis of Trends in Modern Thought, by Francis Schaeffer
  • Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot and Cold Cultures, by Sarah Lanier
  • Iron John: A Book about Manhood, by Robert Bly
  • My Year Inside Radical Islam: A Memoir, by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross
  • Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance by Os Guiness
  • The Book that Transforms Nations: The Power of the Bible to Change any Nation, by Loren Cunningham

The Kingdom is a Team

Jet lag is still nipping at my heals, but since I mentioned getting some “good news” out, I figure I’d better deliver.

As it turns out, God sometimes does use even cheese sandwiches. When Ahmed came to talk several weeks ago he was distressed and questioning the whole purpose of his life. And during the course of the conversation, (which involved a TV special where someone’s life was “changed by seeing Jesus in a cheese sandwich”), we spoke about how God really does change people’s lives when they encounter the living Christ.

We prayed together, but then I had to leave for Hawaii. So I introduced him to Tom, Kristie, and the Romanian outreach team who loved him, shared their stories with him, and showed him Jesus in everyday community. But they had to leave as well, and so they passed the ball off to Clay, who sat up talking and praying with him until the wee hours of the morning.

So to make a long story short, we met for coffee on Monday, and Ahmed told me he’s trusted Jesus and experienced first hand a change in his heart. (He said he even had to restrain himself from hugging a group of nuns who passed him on the street last week, which is quite a thing for a young Bosnian!)

Yesterday another friend, (a recent convert), told me his story of having to defend his faith with a group of five Wahabbis, (the radical Islamic sect). He said, “A year ago my life was so boring. But since becoming a Christian, I wouldn’t trade all those years of boredom for my one day of talking with the Wahabbis.”

The two things I want to highlight here are the “hallelujah” of seeing God at work in people’s lives, and the team aspect of the Kingdom. Paul said:

” I planted the seeds, Apollos watered them, but God made them sprout and grow. What matters isn’t those who planted or watered, but God who made the plants grow. The one who plants is just as important as the one who waters. And each one will be paid for what they do. Apollos and I work together for God, and you are God’s garden and God’s building. .” (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)

All my life I’ve wanted to be a part of an adventure, and part of a winning team. And the Kingdom offers both.

Jet Lagging

After forty three hours of travel across twelve time zones, I arrived back in Sarajevo on Wednesday night. My body is still in rebellion against the complete reversal night and day, fidgeting into the wee hours of the morning, and bolting awake to the sun high in the sky.

Soon as my mind catches up, (I keep saying “in a day or so”), I’ll try to write something inspiring.

This is the front entrance of the University of the Nations in Kona,
where I spent the past month.

The Dream of God

One of the things that’s been firing my rockets here in Kona is the atmosphere of hope. Youth With a Mission has always attracted dreamers, and after spending these weeks among so many YWAM friends I’ve realized that my ability to dream has been severely effected by living in a post-Communist nation. Obviously that’s a problem, and I’ve already repented. But the reality is – the hopeless spirit of Communism never stops assaulting the human spirit, even when the person happens to be a Christian missionary.

To carry the Kingdom in one’s heart is to dream with God. The difference here in Kona is that people actually talk about their dreams. They tell stories of how their God-dreams are being fulfilled. Whether its providing drinkable water to African communities or beginning pre-schools in Albania, rescuing the young from sexual traffickers, or preaching the gospel to multitudes, God’s dreams are being fulfilled all around.

It turns out my nervousness about teaching long-term missionaries about the Kingdom was really unfounded. These people are just as hungry to experience the story of God as every other person I’ve met. We’ve had lively class discussions and lots of encouragement to keep on.

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Praying for God’s dream: “Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done in Earth as it is in heaven.”

Aloha

Just a note to say I’ve been in Kona (Hawaii), at the University of the Nations for a full week now, and experiencing a seismic shift in the foundations of my heart. I promise to do a more thorough update later, but for the moment I choose to spend this stunning Saturday morning experiencing God in the beauty of the Island rather than sitting over my computer writing about Him.

Over the next two weeks I’ll be teaching four two-day seminars on Biblical Worldview and the Kingdom. Already, after spending this past week as a student, I’ve had to go back and rethink, (in a very good, and positive way), some of the foundational ideas in my presentations. When it comes to the Character of God and the expansiveness of the Kingdom, there seems to be no end in sight.

Constanza Outreach Team

Our little outreach team from YWAM Constanza arrived this past Monday to serve the city, pray, share their faith, and preach the Kingdom. They’re a sweet bunch, (two Bulgarians, a Brit, and an American), and my biggest regret is that I won’t be able to spend much time with them. I leave tomorrow for Portland for a five days of counseling, followed by three weeks in Kona (Hawaii) as both a student and teacher. I’ll be attending a seminar of the Character of God, and then teaching two weeks on Biblical Worldview and the Kingdom. Naturally I’m excited about the opportunity in Kona, but sad to be leaving my Sarajevo friends again so soon. Prayers for the time would be greatly appreciated.

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The Constanza team, Veska (white shirt), Lorraine (baby blue shirt), Mario (light yellow shirt with the big smile), and Leah (black shirt), with Bosnian friends Alen (stripes), Aldin (“stop” shirt), and Ahmed (beige sweater).

Jesus in a Cheese Sandwich

Last night my friend Ahmed came by for a guitar lesson. He’s one of the guys I met through the Boy’s Home, a tall, lanky twenty year old who speaks fluent English. “So”, he says, “You told me that God touched your life, and last night I was watching something on Bosnian TV about how God touches people’s lives.” It’s doubtful I used the term God “touched” me with my Muslim friend, but I wasn’t about to protest. It was too much of a welcome opening for talking about spiritual things.

As it turns out, the program featured a woman who saw the face of Jesus in a cheese sandwich, and was subsequently “changed.” At least that was Ahmed’s take on it. (And now she owns a prosperous cheese sandwich franchise. I’m not making this up.) I tried so hard not to laugh, but just couldn’t control it. Why, O God, do we Christians insist on flakiness and shooting ourselves in the foot every chance we get? The tragedy here is that apart from the few Bosnians who happen to know a missionary, almost the entire repertoire of what these people know of Protestant Christianity has been gleaned from TBN and their happy-clappy troop of televangelists. (Yes… Bosnia does have both TBN and MTV!)

In the end we had a wonderful conversation about the reality of Jesus, and the difference between Christianity’s God of love and relationship, and Allah, who’s great concern is that everyone will submit to his “religion.” I’m glad Ahmed brought the whole thing up. But my concern is for all those Bosnians who went to bed Saturday night thinking we Christians take this cheese-sandwich stuff seriously. It makes my job just a little more difficult than it already is.

On another more cheerful note, one of my dear Muslim friends blessed me the other day when I invited him to pray for our lunch. I’ve been sharing Christ with this young man for about eight years while patiently watching for signs that something may be getting through. But his prayer on Saturday went something like this: “Thank you Jesus for this food…. and for Don and for our friendship and all of your blessings. Please use this food to strengthen us in Your name, Amen.” Those words, for a Muslim, are huge. And my heart is encouraged.