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2007 Vision Tour - Experiencing God

This is Vision's first visit to Central Europe with a focus on ministering to the Serbs, the Roma Gypsies, and the Chinese merchants. The main location is Leskovic in Southern Serbia and several other cities and towns in Serbia including Lebane, Hiska Banja, and Belgrade.


Saturday, July 7

Praise God! We all arrived safely in Leskovic last night, but it wasn't easy. First of all, Valerie's paternal grandmother passed away and she felt she needed to stay back in LA so she didn't come with us, so the team consists of 21 singers, Pastor Darwin, Nena, Meiring and myself. We have 7 sopranos, 6 altos, 4 tenors and 4 basses. Then after the main team left, I got a phone call from Eugene saying Valerie would like to join us later, so we are going to try to get her to travel with the second Cerritos short term team coming next week, so her coming depends on her ability to get an airline ticket on the same flight as the Cerritos team. Pray that God's perfect plan will be done in this matter.

For some reason, the main team of 21 travelers did not all get boarding passes at LAX for their connecting flights through Dulles and Munich. So when the team got to Washington DC, about half the team was told the airplane was overbooked and they are unlikely to make the flight. On top of that, Lufthansa booked Echo Lau and Esther Lau in the same seat, and worse, Ellison Cheng and Jessica Cheng in the same seat also. There was also another group loudly demanding an additional 16 seats. We just quietly left it to God, and Victoria just made the plane as the last of our team while the other group that was making all the loud complaints just disappeared. When we got to Munich, Pastor Darwin hurried to catch his flight and made it, but we found out that 8 of our team members were on standby since Lufthansa had also overbooked this flight (all this stemming from all of us not getting boarding passes at LAX). The ticket agent said it was very unlikely we could all catch this plane, the last flight for the day from Munich to Belgrade. He said our only chance was for connecting flight passengers to be late so we could take their seats. Gloria led the group to pray for this matter since we had a bus waiting in Belgrade to take us to Leskovic. We even made contingency plans for Nena to lead the remaining members to catch a public bus to Leskovic in case they had to come in the next day. Esther and Czrilla were then given two business class seats, and then Amanda was given one seat leaving 5 of us waiting at the boarding area. The rest of us boarded the airport bus to the airplane and as we waited for the remaining passengers. The airport bus pulled up a second time, and to our delight, the remaining 5 team members including Nena came off the bus onto the airplane. God had answered our prayers (and yours) again! When we arrived in Belgrade, all that was missing was one of Nena's suitcase, and the airline said they would track it down and deliver it to her in Leskovic. We drove without incident arriving about 11 PM local time (3 PM LA time) and were warmly greeted at the church by Pastor Stefan, some of his church members, and our Cerritos team headed by Pastor Joseph Lao.

Since the Cerritos team is already here and taking up some of the rooms, our living arrangement here for the next week is quite crowded. All the girls are staying in the basement in two small connecting rooms. The guys including Pastor Darwin are in one big room, and Meiring and Marshall are staying in a room with 8 bunk beds. There is one shower for the guys and one for the girls (and one for the Cerritos team upstairs). In addition, there are two extra toilet rooms for the team, so living will be quite Spartan so pray for God's grace for us to live together in these circumstances.

Sunday, July 8
Yesterday, after waking up and eating lunch, we went for the first time to the Chinese stores to invite the merchants to the Saturday night evening program. There are two buildings within half a kilometer from the church and a third a little farther away, so we spit into three teams with 3 Mandarin speakers per team to visit these stores. These stores are really little shops stacked next to each other, all housed within two floors of each building. Even though it is supposed to be air-conditioned, it is extremely hot and humid inside and only cool directly beneath the A/C vents. About half of the Chinese store owners were not very interested, saying they would come if they had time; but some of our team members did get to talk to some of the store owners and did meet some Christians there, who were only too happy to talk to us. What was interesting is to see the storeowners take our invitation pamphlet and discuss it with other storeowners. Because we were still jet lagged, we did not last very long and returned to the church to rest.

After dinner at a nearby restaurant (paying less than $4 a person), we returned to the church for our program where we sang for about 20 minutes and Jamie shared her testimony of how when she was lonely at a new school in Taiwan, she heard God speak to her and called her “precious”, and found God to be a personal savior for herself. Pastor Lao then spoke. All seemed to enjoy the program, wanting to stay and fellowship instead of hurrying to eat the delicious dinner the Cerritos team had cooked for them. There were maybe 15-16 guests there with a few newcomers.

This morning we sang at the Serbian Sunday service at our host church, the Protestant Evangelical Church of Leskovic . The congregation is fairly small (about 50 mostly older congregants but with several young adults and high schoolers), but very enthusiastic and warm. Czrilla shared about how God led her in His good time to attend the college of His choice and not her choice. Brian also shared how God rewarded his desire to come to Serbia (and thus missing his freshman orientation slot) by putting him into an earlier orientation class and thus getting into all the classes he wanted. Pastor Darwin spoke from Exodus 19. After lunch, Pastor Stefan gave us a short orientation into Serbian history and reminded us to be aware of how his culture would view our actions. Pray that we would remember this and not be loud Americans but Christ's ambassadors. We then practiced our Chinese songs and skits. Tonight we will be singing at the Roma-Gypsy service held at this church.



Monday, July 9

What an amazing service we had at the Roma-Gypsy service last night! Their worship time of about 30 minutes was loud and joyful. The Spirit of praise, certainly it was the Holy Spirit, was there with power. We couldn't sing much of their songs (except maybe a few phrases of “hallelujah”) but we could certainly sense their joy and enthusiasm when they sang, sometimes with violin, and/or trumpet adding to the guitars, drums, and electric basses. The Roma Gypsies are a nation-less people; a minority group despised by much of the civilized world but it is disenfranchised people like this that Jesus reached out to save. There were over a 120 people jammed packed into the sanctuary, it was so crowded and hot in there that Vision had to sit on the stage where we sang to make room for the worship participants. We were later told that most of the people were working elsewhere since it is summer season or they have a congregation of 700+, how they can fit in, we don't know.
But the audience listened intensely and responded with such enthusiasm both to our singing and Pastor Darwin's message, while we were blessed by their worship. Alex shared about how we already experienced God's presence, both in our travels to Serbia and at the worship. After the service, Marshall met with the church leaders to plan the program for Wednesday night (Wed. morning LA time), an outreach where we are going to rent the main theater in town (that seats about 750 with standing room for another 300 or so). Please pray for this major outreach event as we are hoping to fill the hall not only with Gypsies, but Serbians, and hopefully many non-believers who will hear the good news for the first time in their lives. Some who may have been exposed before, but never made a decision for Christ may also find Him. God is wanting to pour His blessing and Spirit on these people, so please pray for this event.

After breakfast and devotion, we prayed that Nena's lost luggage would be found since she still has not heard from the airline about it. We also found out that Valerie could not get a ticket to come with the second Cerritos team. We then spent some time practicing how to share the 4-laws and how to use our bracelet beads to present the Gospel. After lunch, the Chinese speaking members in Vision went to the Chinese market to pass out the Cerritos team program for the week while the English speakers went to pass out invitations to the Wednesday night concert in the city square. In the later afternoon, several youths from the church brought members from our group who wanted to go swimming at the public swimming pool. Dinner was provided by the Serbian wife of a Chinese businessman. She was so happy her husband just became a believer she ordered pizzas for not only the Cerritos team but for Vision too. After dinner, Vision joined the Cerritos team providing a short program including a skit and testimony from Tim. Attendance was surprisingly good, about 15, the most in these nights of meetings. Vision then left after the singing to go to the main street where crowds of Serbians, both elderly, middle aged, young adults, many with babies in strollers, and young singles cruised up and down the sidewalk walking. We had a chance to pass out hundreds of invitations to our concert Wednesday. Generally, the crowd was quite open, though few spoke English, a few even asked for the bilingual English-Serbian 4-laws which we had with us. We then returned to the church and found the Mandarin meeting was just concluding. It was heartwarming to see many of the Vision members engaging in conversations with these Chinese businessmen and women. Since many of these folks are closer in age to the older Vision members, they came away with a broader view of Christianity, that it is not only for the middle aged, but for young people too. At the same time, the dedication of the Cerritos team with their singular focus on church planting, serves as a wonderful model for the younger Vision members.

Tomorrow is a semi-rest day for us. We will be joined by some of the Serbian youths as we visit an old Roman town, some hot springs and mud baths, and view the countryside. Vision will end up at Nena's hometown for a meeting in the evening. Oh, and Nena told us that her luggage had been located and will be delivered tomorrow, another quick answer to prayer, praise God!

Wednesday July 11
Yesterday was a wonderful day of both rest and ministry. The Cerritos team welcomed their second group while the first group took their long bus ride and flights back to the US. We were joined by Pastor Stefan and 10 youths from his church as we visited Caricin Grad (Caesar's town), an archaeological site where Emperor Justin build for his mother at about 500-600 AD. As we stood in the old baptistery, we prayed for God to send revival to Serbia and praised Him with song. Meiring, Nena, Nena's brother, Daniel (who has been so much help to us in arranging buses and many meals), Stefan and Marshall represented the group to meet the mayor of Lebane, Nena's hometown. We then went to Serinjska Banja, a hot springs geyser, similar to Old Faithful at Yellowstone, where we ate lunch (at 3 PM), swam and enjoyed the warm water from the geyser.

We then went back to Lebane, about 30 km from the geyser, to have a special service at Nena's home church. Even though she couldn't walk much, Nena's aging mother came, a real honor for us to have her come. The church was packed (about 80 people) with both young and old, Gypsies and Serbians. One of the youth translated for us while Pastor Stefan interpreted for Pastor Darwin. God's spirit was sweetly felt during the service. Christine shared how she had to yield all her plans to God before God would open the doors for her to find a job after she graduated from Berkeley. Pastor Darwin preached from the Revelations passage about the church at Laodicea, and used the hot springs geyser to illustrate why being lukewarm is useless, but how useful the hot springs is when it is either hot or cold. Praise God, 4 people (and maybe a fifth who timidly half raised his hand) raised their hands to accept the Lord and the majority also responded to become more useful to the Lord. We returned to Leskovic to say good-by to the Cerritos team preparing to leave for LA and also welcome the second team who arrived a few minutes after we returned.

During the bus rides, Marshall had a chance to chat with Pastor Stefan and find out a little about our host church. The congregation, both Serbian and Gypsy, is quite poor, and their tithes are barely enough to pay for utilities and the running of the church. They do have some support from churches in Europe and the U.S. to help pay for the staff, but they have great faith and great vision for what God can do. By faith, they purchased their current building twenty some years ago, using the squabbling among the sisters who owned it to buy it for a pittance. They are now raising funds to buy a small used bus (that can seat 18) both as a for profit business and also to use in the evenings and Sundays to take children and elderly and Gypsies to church. They also have plans to buy a large property and build first a large multipurpose building which can seat almost 1000 congregation and later develop into a large church campus with many buildings and a sanctuary. We have learned so much from them what it means to walk by faith.

Tonight is our program at the rented hall. Please remember to pray now. May God prepare hearts to come and receive Him.

Thursday, July 12
Last night we held our concert in the rented hall. We spent about an hour in the afternoon specifically praying for the meeting. As we were ending our prayer meeting about 5 in the afternoon, it started to thunderstorm and rain heavily. That was refreshing as it cooled the temperature by about 20 degrees F, but we also were concerned it may prevent people from coming that night, so we prayed that the rain would stop within an hour, as we have also prayed on many past tours for the rain to stop. Our God is a prayer answering God, it stopped before 6 PM, just in time for us to walk to the concert venue without getting wet and it did not rain anymore the whole evening but it was comfortably cool for the first time since we arrived in Serbia. We also prayed for several of the Vision members who are sick. We had been reasonably healthy all trip until yesterday. Melissa had another attack of IBS and was bent over with pain, but after several in the group prayed for her and Pastor Darwin anointed her with oil, the pain went away within 10 minutes and she was able to sing that night. By yesterday, Victoria was quite ill, Esther, Echo, Glenna all had various sinus and stomach problems while Jamie had lost her voice. Because of these illnesses, we prayed for them, and all were able to sing last night.

The concert last night went well, although we did not give a calling so we have to leave the results to God. The hall was almost full by the time we started at 7:30 and people were still coming in. Two groups of youth from our host church's Gypsy service performed two choreography routines which depicted Jesus dying for us on the cross for us to very lour music. We sang and Melissa shared how God miraculously healed her two nights ago and Esther shared about how she had a troubled childhood trying to gain God's favor until she found that God's love for her was unconditional. After the concert, a man came up to her and thanked her for sharing, telling her in his broken English how he also had similar struggles and how she encouraged him. Some of our group also had a chance to talk to several Serbian youths who had never been to this church. One of them had received a flyer we passed out Monday night, and two of his cousins had come down from Belgrade the night before. Having nothing to do, they came to our concert and enjoyed it. We had a chance to share the good news beads with them, and they said they were coming to the Serbian service tonight. Indeed, God works in ways we do not expect.

After devotion and breakfast, we went to Vranje, another city about 80 km from Leskovic. There is also another small Chinese community in this city and has a three story Chinese business store owned by the Chinese businessman, Mr. Lan, who became a believer (whose wife bought us pizzas on Monday). He welcomed us to his building (which he subleases to the various store owners) and we broke into 8 teams to just chat with the Chinese business owners. Since this Chinese community is smaller than Leskovic's, we were warmly greeted by the merchants and many of us had a chance to engage in long conversations with these folks. We stood on the stairs inside the store and sang all three Chinese songs we learned, March on Forward, In His Time, and Majesty and Glory. We gave them Chinese tracts provided by the Cerritos team as well as bilingual 4-laws booklet which we had brought with us.

Mr. Lan served us drinks and snacks and then bought lunch, delicious hamburgers, about 1/3 to1/2 pound burgers, actually better than In-and-Out's. While Pastor Darwin and Meiring stayed to talk and encourage Mr. Lam on his new found life, the rest of us walked to visit a Turkish museum located in the city. We then returned to Leskovic, where Marshall has a short interview with the Gypsy pastor. Later tonight, we will sing for the Thursday night service, and Slim will be directing Vision for the whole service.

Friday July 13
This is our last day in Leskovic. Tomorrow, we will bus to Vrnjacka Banja where we will stay for two nights. From here on, we will be living out of our suitcases until we return to LA and may be unable to send email reports back as often. Continue to pray for the health of our team members as we have been here for about a week and getting tired. Gloria and Victoria seem to have most of the bug bites, but that seems to be more or less controlled, but several have stomach and sinus problems, nothing serious so far, praise God.

Slim did a wonderful job directing Vision last night at the Thursday night Serbian service. She introduced the songs and transitioned between the numbers, testimony and skit flawlessly, as if she had been doing this for years. Gloria shared from her heart about her search for God and finding His love. Pastor Darwin gave another powerful message, this time from John 5 about the healing of the paralytic at the Sheep's Gate. Everyone in the audience of 60-70 (including us) was touched.

After the service, Pastor Darwin, Nena, Marshall and Meiring then spent over an hour talking and then praying with Pastor Mio, his wife Else and Pastor Stefan. (Mio is the former Senior Pastor of this church, now officially retired but still actively involved and they are Stefan's parents.) Mio shared how a little over 30 years ago, while under Communist government and with a membership of 30, God gave him a vision for a church of 30 times 30 or 900, as well as having a multi-ethnic church with Serbs and Gypsies. The Serbian part of the church still has less than 100 people, but God brought a deaf mute Gypsy lady into the church, miraculously healed her, and then many more Gypsies started coming and getting healed. This caused them to grow to about 1000 with 4 services on Sundays. Then about 3-4 years ago, the Gypsy Pastor leader fell into sin, caused the church to split, so only 100 Gypsies were left the following Sunday. But most of the Gypsies who left with this man have since back, asking for forgiveness, some as recently as last Sunday. Pastor Mio was deeply wounded by this man, who he treats as his son, but has learned to forgive him. Soon after this split, God gave Mio a vision for a church of 7000, and they have purchased over 2-1/2 hectares of land that we (Pastor Darwin, Nena, Marshall and Meiring) saw this morning, with plans to buy another 2 hectares for their new campus. The cost for two of the remaining 3 plots of land is surprisingly inexpensive, about $50,000 in US money and the third and smallest piece is priced at about $100,000. Parts of this last three plots of land is where the new highway will pass through, so it will provide excellent access to the church by both cars, bus and train. Where all the money is coming from, they don't know, but they have seen God move and provide just as they needed so they continue to walk in faith. When we saw this land, we were immediately impressed with its potential to be a center for spiritual revival for Serbia and maybe all of central and eastern Europe.

After lunch, the team went to the Chinese markets to again invite the merchants to come to our program tonight. We then practiced our Chinese songs and routines for tonight's programs under Slim's leadership. At 6 PM, we went to the Gypsy Cultural Center to perform a short program for the Gypsies. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the church, and their new director is a member of this church. The room was quickly filled up and there were people standing everywhere, so there must have been over 100 people there (not counting us). The room is a solid rectangular room with a high ceiling so everything we sang echoed nicely. As a result, it was probably the best concert we sang. The audience responded enthusiastically to every song and our dance routines. Ellison shared how he carried bitterness inside for years while Jessica cleverly disguised the sinner's prayer into her salvation testimony.
Pastor Darwin spoke briefly about forgiveness but did not give an invitation due to the fact this was the first such program at the Cultural Center. After the concert, we were invited to drinks and snacks. We then returned to the church to join the Chinese program, which will be reported next time.



Saturday, July 14
A bit more details from yesterday is in order. First, Christine actually had the opportunity to share the bilingual 4-laws with four of the Chinese merchants in the afternoon. One was so happy talking to Christine she gave her the shirt Christine intended to buy and later all of them showed up at the meeting that evening. Second, the Gypsy Cultural Center is in the middle of the Gypsy village. The Gypsies tend to live as multi-generational families in large homes, some quite nice and some getting run down. This Gypsy village is reasonably well off as the people work seasonally in the different cities and farms around the area. The streets are unpaved and quite littered. In many ways, it resembled the better poor (squatter) areas in the Philippines and India (from which the Gypsies originally are thought to have come). We felt very comfortable singing there, since this has been a large part of Vision's ministry in the last few years, among the poor and disenfranchised. In turn, we were warmly welcomed by this community. Only God knows what spiritual strongholds between the Chinese businesses and the Gypsies were broken down (because the Chinese businesses took away a lot of what used to be traditional Gypsy business). Third, the Chinese meeting was quite well attended, with some merchants we had not seen at these meetings before (including the ladies Christine befriended). A little girl (about 6) who Esther befriended when we were visiting the marketplace) also showed up with her mother. This little girl walked around the church looking for her “big sister” until she found Esther. During the meeting, David shared (he started in Chinese but got Jamie to translate the majority of his testimony) how he experienced God on this trip so far like in living dorm style with 8 guys, sharing one bathroom, etc. Christine then led a workshop on speaking English while Jamie led one on child development for the merchants. Jamie ended up just answering questions from the parents instead of using the material she had prepared, but it was nevertheless a good experience.



We tried to leave Leskovic early this morning but the good-byes, hugs and tears took a lot longer than we expected. In only a week, we felt so bonded with the Protestant Evangelical Church . On the bus out of town, we stopped by to show everyone the land on which the new PEC will be built and prayed for this project. We then took the three hour bus ride to Vrnjacka Banja, which turned out to be a beautiful tourist resort with its own mineral spring (but no geyser), large landscaped parks, brooks, and pine trees. There is a week-long carnival being held in town and the town is crowded with tourists and visitors. We are invited to sing tonight and tomorrow night at one of these outdoor stages. The local church here, pastored by a friend of Mio's welcomed us to town and provided a keyboard and microphones for our outdoor singing. Also meeting us here is (another of) Nena's cousin who will take on the role as our guide and helper (as Nena's brother, Daniel did in Leskovic). We would be lost in Serbia without all these friends and relatives of Nena's helping us. Thank God for them.

 

Wearing our dress shirts and dresses, we sang tonight at 7 PM (actually 7:15) for 30 minutes with no explanations of the songs or interpretation. There were several hundred in the crowd gathered around the stage area. Even before we started to sing, several Vision members and Pastor Darwin handed out the bilingual 4-laws. After we sang, most of us changed and returned to the carnival to mingle and share with people. Being Chinese in this predominantly European society would certainly make us stand out. Pastor Darwin and Nena visited two Chinese merchants here and had a chance to share in some detail with one of them.

Sunday, July 15
After breakfast, we walked to the PEC, a sister church of the Leskovic church in this city. We sang a little, but could not communicate well so we had the rest of our program preempted. Pastor Darwin as a consequence had time to give a long sermon on Luke 11 about prayer. We walked back to the hotel (we have a special rate of about $30 a person a day at the hotel including all the meals) for lunch and group devotion. Most of us are tired because there was loud music playing all night until 6 AM so we will rest before going to the new church building of the PEC this evening at 6 PM and the carnival at 8:30 PM.

Monday, July 16
The church we sang yesterday morning meets in one floor of a house with space for at most 60 people. They had about 10 children for Sunday school. The 6 PM service was held in their new building, yet unfinished, but it is a much larger place and much more conducive to worship with another building in the back. They had been trying to work on refurbishing the place (formerly a restaurant), and decided to hold their inaugural service last night since we were here. The place was full with many visitors, about 100 total including Vision. Significantly, it marked the first time the Baptist and Pentecostal churches met together in worship in Vrnjacka Banja. Echo shared her testimony of how she learned to trust God for her school work and how God was able to help her not only pass her fourth exam of the semester (she had not passed the first 3) but get an “A”. Glenna also shared her testimony how God took many earthly things away from her and her family but yet met all their needs in His own way. After Pastor Darwin preached from I John 4 about God's love, about 8-9 raised their hands to indicate a desire to get more of God's love, some for the first time. We praise God for this wonderful result. We then rushed back to the carnival for our 8:30 program. This carnival is sort of like New Orleans' Mardi Gras, with costumed entertainers and parades and is actually quite a dark and wicked event. Our singing here is to provide some light in a spiritually dark event. Tonight, there was even a larger and more enthusiastic crowd there than Saturday night, and we are reminded of the time we sang in an Urban poor town in the Philippines with a cock fight going on next door. Jesus must have preached many times to crowds like this. We didn't preach but prayed that many hearts were touched by the songs and will start to seek the truth. When we finished at 9 PM, there were many requests for us to sing more and the Mayor had not yet shown up so we sang “Lord, Have Mercy” and “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”, our prayer for this place. Then Dillon and Jamie did the “give your heart to the Lord pantomime” which was well received. Since we sang later tonight than last night, when we sang, the air was thick with moths and other bugs making it difficult to sing with the bugs swarming about our mouths.. At the beginning of tour, many of us would have freaked out, but tonight, we kept singing ignoring the bugs. Two other notable event happened yesterday. Earlier that afternoon, Darwin, Meiring, and Nena went to visit one of the Chinese merchant, Gina Yeh, a 32 year old lady with two young children in China. They shared with her how to pray to Jesus and she said she is not quite ready to receive the Lord so remember her in prayer. Also, when she woke up from her nap in the afternoon, Czrilla felt chills so stayed home and slept the rest of the afternoon. After we returned from the carnival singing, Czrilla was fine already.

This morning, the Pastor and his wife along with one older lady from their church and Nena's cousin came to see us off. We had just finished our devotions when they came and thanked us for blessing their church. We gave them a love offering from Vision to help with their remodeling, and sang for the hotel clerk before leaving on our rented bus. Overall, this has been the healthiest Vision tour in recent memory, with only a few minor illnesses which were generally quickly healed. However, today, Pastor Darwin is hurting. He started hurting earlier on the trip in his back from sleeping on a soft bed and the last couple of days, his left side started hurting. He could not raise his left arm above his shoulder today. When we got to Niska Banja, we tried to find a Doctor for him but were unsuccessful. He is going to stay behind and rest instead of going with us to Nis this evening to sing at a poorer Gypsy village. He is also concerned with what to do with his aging and ill mother in Toronto and may take a detour when he returns with Vision flying through Chicago. Remember Darwin in your prayers.

After dinner, we (without Pastor Darwin) took a city bus to the center of town and walked about a mile to the Gypsy village. We were greeted warmly by the pastor and after a short worship, went into our program. Dillon shared how he felt God's love when given by a Thai believer and Slim shared how she was assured of her salvation. We performed the empty heart skit and the lamb of God skit and because Pastor Darwin was not with us, Marshall preached, using the passage from John 4 about the nobleman who asked Jesus to heal his son. Pastor Mio who drove up from Leskovic to see us translated for all the testimonies and message. Even though the message was short and simple, the power of the Holy Spirit was evident. When he gave the invitation, 4 people raised their hand to accept Christ, and then two more, and at the last call, another 3-4 also prayed to receive Christ. Praise God! After the meeting, Christine and several Vision members shared the beads with the Gypsies, teaching them how to use it to share the Gospel with their friends. Tiffany saw a little Gypsy girl who was cursed and then got a high fever and became paralyzed. We prayed for this toddler. When we got back, Pastor Darwin was up and about, looking a lot better, but Melissa had a very bad pain in her stomach, and a local Doctor had to be called in to examine her. She couldn't find anything really wrong with Melissa. We prayed for her, and in less than an hour she was feeling better.

Tuesday, July 17

It was a very hot day here in Serbia. We had planned to go to the city of Nis, where we were last night, to meet the Chinese merchants in this city but instead spent the day at Niska Banja, hand-washing our clothes and just limp from the heat. Darwin was examined by Nena's cousin who is a Doctor in town and praise God, they could not find anything wrong with him. Just as we were walking to the restaurant next tot he hotel for dinner, we were surprised to see Pastor Stefan with 4 of the youths from Leskovic, Tamara, Duke, Sara and Maria, who drove up to see us. What a joyful reunion we had. This is what heaven will be like, when we see brothers and sisters in the Lord. This evening at 8:30, we sang at the park (in the open air with no amplification) next to our hotel, arranged by someone from the ministry here. We were also taped for the local Nis TV station and the “Good Friends” TV station in Serbia. Marshall was interviewed while Stefan gave a nice introduction of Vision and translated.

After we sang for about a half-hour, we spread out among the crowd to share the 4-laws, aided by our Serbian youth friends. It was good to see how focused we were in trying to share the Gospel, using both the 4 laws and the good news beads. Even in small groups, they would sing to the people to whom they were witnessing. Meiring shared with a man in a wheelchair who knows God loves him but has not yet developed a personal relationship with Jesus. Pray for him as he took the 4 laws with him and seemed to be genuinely seeking. We also met the local pastor and his wife (Nena's cousin) whose church we will be visiting in Nis tomorrow. He said there are only about 200 Evangelical Christians in Nis (don't know if this included the Gypsy Christians), the second largest city in Serbia with a population of 350,000. This is even a lower percentage than we saw in Thailand last year. Surely, this land needs much prayer and revival.

Wednesday, July 18
We took the public bus to Nis and visited some of the Chinese markets but didn’t see a whole lot of Chinese (Photo 8). It was hot walking around in the sun and we looked for shade anywhere we could. We ate a wonderful lunch with Nena’s cousin at a nearby restaurant and took the bus back to our hotel. We did not visit the church as there was nothing going on there. In the evening, we sang at the park where we sang last night and shared with some of the locals, but without the youth from Leskovic, we were less effective then the previous night. We also sang at our hotel lobby for the hotel clerk.

Thursday, July 19
After breakfast, we got on our rented air-conditioned bus for the 3-1/2 ride north to Belgrade. It is 42 C (about 106 F) so we are so grateful for the bus. It turned out that Nena's brother Daniel was able to get a very good rate on the bus rentals so we paid a lot less than we had budgeted for the buses in Leskovic and vicinity, praise God! We got into Belgrade at about 1 PM and checked into the youth hostel, an old and elegant building but unfortunately, not air-conditioned. No food is included in this hostel, so we are on our own. We ate lunch at a restaurant near the hostel, but it was so hot that we were more tired than hungry. After lunch, Pastor Darwin and Marshall finally found an internet cafe where they could send attachments, Vision's first update in three days. At about 3:30 PM, we boarded an electric bus bound for the Chinese church in New Belgrade. About 10 minutes into the ride, our bus broke down, so we had to get off, wait 15 more minutes for the next bus. Then we rode it for 5 minutes and had to get off to change to a regular bus. After 15 minutes, the bus came and finally got to New Belgrade. We walked to where the Chinese markets are located and were met by a young man from the church who hailed 7 taxis to take us to the church. This process took about 20 minutes. We finally arrived at about 5:45 PM at the church, a sanctuary after all our travels. There we found that Ellison forgot his camera on the taxi so we prayed for its recovery but by evening, there was still no sign of it. Worse, we found that 2 taxis took 8 of our members to a Chinese restaurant instead of the church. While praying for them, some church members arrived at this restaurant to make reservations for dinner and found them. We then did our daily devotions in separate groups, 18 (Daniel met us this morning at Niska Banja and came with us to be our guide) at the church and 8 at the restaurant. We then rejoined everyone at the restaurant where we were treated to our first Chinese meal on this trip, thanks to the church here. Interestingly, when we all got there, a power failure hit the area and the restaurant, which is A/C'd, got hot almost immediately. It wasn't until close to the end of the meal that power was restored, but much too late to cool down the room. We then returned to the church to join the young people (about 13-14 of them, women sitting on one side and men on the other) for their weekly Bible study led by Pastor Darwin. The rest of us met at an adjoining room to start our debriefing, sharing how we had experienced God personally this last two plus weeks. After the Bible study, their church members and leaders drove us all back to the hostel in 6 vehicles. We are so impressed and praise God for the love shown by this group of brothers who just met us for the first time today.

Friday, July 20
Today is another scorcher in Serbia. According to the locals, these few days has been the hottest days in their memory. Earlier, we prayed for relief from the heat, but it seems God especially brought this heat to us (what with the power failure and all the waiting for buses). Perhaps God wants us to experience Him through this trial, so we are praying that we will experience His grace during this heat, not to escape from it but to learn from it and appreciate God more. We ate breakfast at a nearby bakery with an outdoor sitting area. We had a choice of something like looks like Quiche filled with different things like spinach, ham, etc. and a variety of rolls. We then walked down to the subterranean railroad station. Located over a hundred feet underground, it was COOL! We rode the train to Panchevo where we were met by the local church leader, Mr. Chen. He led us through the Chinese market area where we talked to the merchants and distributed flyers announcing our concert at the Chinese (Kineski in Serbian) Church in Panchevo this evening. We sang in small groups when asked by the merchants and had a good time visiting. Some of them even bought ice cold bottled water for us, which was so refreshing! About noon, we walked to the church building, located about 15 minutes from the market.
The leaders of the church had lunch prepared for us: homemade dumplings, fried potatoes and KFC (Kineski Fried Chicken) wings. It was delicious. We are here to minister to them but we have been ministered greatly by their hospitality. It turns out that the two churches here in Belgrade were started two years or so ago by an Elder Chen from Taiwan, but the Lord took him home a few months ago. We don't know why, but the churches here have been struggling for lack of trained leaders since. This church in Panchevo used to have over 100 in attendance, but has shrunk to less than 20 since his death. We need to pray for these two churches and ask God to provide them the leadership they crave. We then debriefed the rest of the afternoon and prepared for our evening program. One pleasant surprise was to meet the wife of Mr. Chen (they were married a little over a year ago). She is a musician we met 3 years ago in Beijing at the music school . Indeed, it is a small world.


Saturday, July 21
We found out that the temperature yesterday got up to 45 C (that's 110 F) but God had mercy on us, the church in Panchevo had air conditioning so while we were not cool, we were at least not boiling. Not only did the Panchevo church cook lunch, they also cooked dinner for us while we were debriefing. Pastor Darwin also spent that time mentoring two young leaders (both also named Chen). We sat on the floor at the front to make room for the audience at our concert and the place was pretty full except for the first row of chairs so there were maybe 60 people there, some for the first time. Victoria and Jamie both shared their testimony and Pastor Darwin again spoke on love and forgiveness. Praise God, 2 people prayed to receive Christ at the end of his message. Remember the young lady Christine was talking to for two nights at Leskovic? She originally lived in Panchevo and has friends here and we heard today that she accepted the Lord and was going to be baptized by Pastor Joseph Lao! What an encouragement, this young lady was sitting by herself in the lobby of the Leskovic church while her husband (a believer) was going for training by the Cerritos team. No one could talk to her, but somehow, she and Christine connected and now she has also joined her husband in believing the Lord. Hallelujah! After the meeting, the brothers from the New Belgrade church again caravaned us back to the hostel in 6 cars and mini-vans. We are so blessed to be so loved and well treated everywhere we go.

After breakfast today, we rented a mini-bus to take us to the New Belgrade church. On the way, we stopped to see a newest and largest Serbian Orthodox church still under construction. We passed the parliament building, the Chinese embassy and walked through the most popular tourist spot in Belgrade which constituted our sightseeing tour of Belgrade. We then were met by several leaders of the New Belgrade Chinese church at the Chinese market, divided up into teams and walked through the two buildings housing over 700 stores to pass out flyers for our evangelistic concert Sunday night..

Our reception was similar to Leskovic, some welcomed us, some rejected our invitation to the concert, and some gave polite non-committal answers. We then walked upstairs to a small Chinese restaurant owned by a brother and ate a delicious Chinese meal. We then had about 45 minutes of free time and most of us spent it improving the economy of the merchants by buying different souvenirs. We were then driven to the church building where we rested for a few minutes before beginning our group devotions and continue our debriefing where we are sharing how we can bring these experiences of God back to LA. After dinner (all our meals here except breakfast have been freely given us by the local Chinese church in Panchevo and New Belgrade), our mini-bus took some of us back to the hostel where we started to pack up and get ready to leave early Monday morning, while the majority of the team were led by Nena and her brother downtown to do a little more souvenir shopping before returning.

Our plan for tomorrow is to be bused to the New Belgrade church where we will have our own worship service. We will finish our debriefing, and prepare for the joint (Panchevo and New Belgrade) evangelistic concert at 6 PM. We plan to be up around 4 AM the next morning to finish packing and catch our rented bus to the airport to catch our return flight back to the States, so this will be the last update from Serbia and a concluding update will be sent after we return. Remember to pray our Sunday night program and for our return. Although we all leave Belgrade on the same flight, we are arriving on 4 different flights and times back to LA. Some like Pastor Darwin will have to change his ticket so he can spend a few days in Toronto to visit his ailing mother and make some decisions how to proceed with medical treatment for her care. Tour may be over, but the work of God continues. May the Lord take the little we have done and multiply it for His glory.

Monday, July 23
Well, we have returned to LA, some as late as 10 PM. We thank God we had a fabulous trip and did experience God in many ways. But first, here are some details of the last couple of days. On Sunday morning, we took our minibus to the Chinese church in New Belgrade, where we had our Sunday service. Sunday is the busiest business day for these Chinese merchants as they handle not only retail business but do the wholesale business as all the Chinese merchants all over Serbia descend to New Belgrade to pick up their wares for the week. That is why church service is in the evening on Sunday (Tuesday is their Sabbath but they do not worship on Tuesdays). We ended the service with communion, breaking a loaf of bread and dipping it into blueberry juice, It was a meaningful conclusion to our trip, except our mission isn’t over yet. We spent the afternoon finishing our debriefing and practiced our skits for the evening program. The skit practice is because there will be some of the same people coming from Panchevo so we modified one of our skits and came up with a new skit which we could do in Mandarin. Last night, over a hundred came for the meeting, including several newcomers. Jaspher shared, we did our skits, and after Pastor Darwin preached, Gloria gave her salvation testimony. When the invitation was given, 9 people responded to accept Jesus for the first time in their lives. At 4 AM this morning, we got up to check out and headed for the airport on two minibuses. We all got on the flight to Frankfurt (was actually on the same flight as the USA basketball team – they were all so tall!) and left from Frankfurt on different flights back to the US. Some of us were again waitlisted and some in fact got upgraded to first class on the return flight!

During the debriefing, several significant and potentially life changing decisions were made. One young man was quite distraught over where God was leading him for the future, having seemingly closed some doors on career options. A word was shared about praying for him to serve the Lord full time, and that seemed to resonate well with this young man. A second young man said he too felt called to become a Pastor and made a pact with this first man that “if you go into the ministry, so would I”. A third young man also felt God was closing some doors on his future career but was more than willing to go into full time if God calls him. A young lady felt challenged to come back to Serbia and conduct training for the Serbian youth to do VBS for the Gypsy children. These and other decisions would likely change the majors of several of the members in Vision. Indeed, God has met our theme for this year’s tour of experiencing Him and we praise Him for it. Thank you so much for your faithful prayer.

Looking back on the trip, we have seen so many answers to prayer. We had the healthiest trip in memory, with only a few problems with colds and coughs, stomach issues, and allergies, most of them lasted for only a day or two and did not spread to the whole team as in past years. Unity was excellent among the team members – there was much caring and support for each other throughout the trip. Although we had standby problems with the airplanes, we all got there and back together and only Nena’s luggage going and Amanda’s luggage was lost coming back. Ellison lost his camera but no one lost anything. Most of all, in my (Marshall) spirit. I sensed several significant breakthroughs in the spiritual realm, some that we might never know its significance until we get to the other side. These include:
• Participating with the Cerritos Chinese church planting team in Leskovic
• Encouraging the Protestant Evangelical churches in Serbia to be bolder in evangelizing and their young people to step out in faith
• Singing at the Roma Gypsy Cultural Center and opening relations with the Chinese
• Participating at the inaugural service at their new building in Vrnjacka Banja and seeing the Baptist and Pentecostal churches worshiping together
• Singing praises to God at Vrnjacka Banja’s carnival and to bring light in darkness
• Feeling the darkness in the Muslim Gypsy village in Nis, yet bringing salvation to more than a handful of Gypsies; then seeing Tiff loving a paralyzed 4-year old, kissing her and praying for her healing blessed many of the Gypsies who were watching her after the meeting
• Singing in the park in Niska Banja two nights in a row and sharing the gospel openly with the passer-by
• Encouraging the Chinese churches in New Belgrade and Panchevo after they lost their leader and sensing their great need for trained leaders

One last item, it appears we will meet all our financial needs for this trip. Expenses have been significantly less than we budgeted while we were in Serbia and although we have not completed tallying all our expenses, it seems we will end up with a slight surplus. God indeed is faithful!