Vision Tour 2008: Serbia/Macedonia

 
Group in Leskovac

Thursday, July 17 – What a send-off we got at the airport at L.A.!  There were about 25 family and friends sending 22 of us off, the most of any past Vision tour.  Their love is greatly appreciated.  Pastor Dan Harmon prayed for the team after we all got checked in and sent our luggage through security. 

Praise God all of us got boarding passes including our connecting flight from Munich to Belgrade.  Czrilla was the only one who had a problem initially getting her connecting flight boarding pass, but Eugene Cheng on the third try was able to secure her connecting flight boarding pass.  Thanks for praying; we could tell it made a difference already.  When we got in line to go through final security check, someone noticed that Brian Chioy’s boarding pass had his brother’s name, Brandon, on it.  Furthermore, they were both given the same seats on the airplane, but a quick trip to the ticket counter corrected the problem and Brian was able to get his own boarding passes.

We left LA about 30 minutes late but with the help of a strong tail wind, actually arrived in Munich 15 minutes early, We also left Munich about 30 minutes late and arrived in Belgrade a little late.  Nena, Betty, Wahpui and Ellen had left LA a day earlier so they greeted us at the Belgrade airport.  We are so thankful – to be sent off from LA and greeted in Belgrade!  They bought snacks which we ate on the bus, arriving in Leskovac at about 1:35 AM.

Friday, July 18 – We finally went to bed about 3 AM after settling in, hoping to sleep in.  Meiring forgot to reset her alarm clock so woke up when the sun rose and said it is almost 10 AM (but it was really 10 PM LA time and 7 AM Serbia time!)  We ate a light breakfast and had hamburgers for lunch.  We will be going to Vrnjacka Banja, the place where they have the carnival, after lunch to sing at the church at 6 PM and at the carnival at 8 PM.  Praise God for a good night (although short) rest.  Most of us are quite refreshed.

Saturday, July 19 – Last night, we went to Vrnjacka Banja to sing at the Evangelical Holy Trinity Church.  Last year, they had just bought a new church building, a former restaurant, and we sang at their inaugural service at this new venue.  This year, we noticed now much they have improved their building, adding a new portico with a cross at the front while doing considerable modification to their meeting room.  Pastor Radovan apologized for the slow progress but noted that he only had two hands to do these building modifications, meaning he had been doing most of the work himself!  We started the service at 6 PM, but many had come by 5:30 and were waiting expectantly for us.  Brian and Stephanie shared their testimonies and Mike preached a message from Matthew 5 in between our singing.  We could sense the Spirit of God with us as we sang.  (Betty said she saw angels singing with us.)  After the meeting, we went to the park.  We sang on the same platform we sang last year but it was quite windy this night and started to drizzle as we were walking there and as we sang.  Because of the drizzle, there were a lot less people there than last year.  Curiously, as we started to sing, we noticed there were many young children there making a lot of noise, but we sang anyway.  There were also several elderly there, many of them Christians, because we could see them mouthing the words, especially when we sang Isus me lubje (Jesus loves me).  Betty Anderson later told us that what some of the children were doing was witchcraft and mocking Jesus, but that we were there to take authority over the land, but God had sent His saints (those elderly folks) to help us as we sang.  Praise God He is sovereign.

Since it was getting late, we left after singing, talking to only a few people and got back to the church a little after 11 PM.  We were starved, but were reminded we gave up our “rights” to 3 meals a day and to be grateful to God that while in the world only eat one meal a day, we usually have more than enough to eat 3 tines a day.  Meiring cooked an omelet that we then gratefully ate. 

We slept in a bit and had breakfast at 9 AM, still a little jet-lagged.  We did our group devotions and talked about last night.  Some of us went to buy lunch, some to the market, others to buy a jacket for the colder evenings and some of the guys practiced. We started our music camp, joined by 5 Serbian and a Gypsy youth.  Most of them knew their music so we spent most of the afternoon singing, with Josh teaching them about proper posture and breathing.  They had already learned some of the songs in Choral Praise that we had given Pastor Stefan when he visited last November.  We also did some sectional practices to go over notes and closed our first afternoon of joint practices by singing together the older and new songs they just learned.

In the evening, we sang for the Chinese congregation followed by communion led by Betty Anderson.  There were a total of 11 Chinese businessmen and women attending with 7 joining in the communion service.  Keiko shared her testimony of how she became a Christian.  The non-Mandarin speakers among us then left while they sang heartily and enthusiastically.  Wahpui Sam then spoke and continued to counsel several of the members who had both marital as well as business problems late into the night.

Sunday, July 20 – Since today is Sunday, it is good to pause and thank God for all His answers to prayer.  Here are a few:

1.      We all got boarding passes and made all the flights to Serbia.

2.      All our luggage got here with us.

3.      The weather has been remarkably comfortable here, nothing like last year.  The daytime temperature is mostly in the eighties and the nights are cool, cool enough to even need a sweater.

4.      No one is sick and Jaspher, who had a cold coming, is getting better.

On the other hand, God has chosen not to answer our prayer about the number of Serbian youths joining the music camp.  So far, we only have 6, 4 girls who in fact sing quite well and have been learning the music before we even came, and two guys, one a Roma Gypsy who unfortunately cannot get a passport in time to go to Macedonia with us.  But God knows what is best for us and will bring to the team those who are best able to minister. 


Betty Anderson preaching, Nena Hovsepian translating in Leskovac

This morning we attended and sang at the Serbian church service at 10 AM.  There were about 60 or 70 attending (not counting us).  Alex shared about his experience worshiping God.  Betty Anderson then preached with Nena translating.  She spoke from John 11 about Jesus calling Lazarus from the dead.  At the end of the message she asked for those wanting prayer to come forward.  Most of the elderly came forward immediately and soon was joined by the young people so that almost all the Serbs at the service came forward to be prayed and anointed.

 

       
Betty prays for the Serbian youths and anoints them

Betty spoke words of prophecy and encouragement to each person and ended with charging the dozen or so young people left to be filled with the Holy Spirit and be bold in proclaiming Christ in Serbia.  The meeting, which should have ended at 11:30, did not end until well past noon.  It was a time of release and breakthrough so we look forward to what God will do in the days to come.

After lunch, we continued with our music camp, with one more young man joining us (he had been among those prayed for in the morning), so now we have 7 Serbian youths.  Tonight is the Roma Gypsy service which starts at 6 PM. 

The only real problem we have had so far is getting the ATM machine to give us money from the Vision account so pray for Robert Lo as he works this problem.  So far we are surviving with Joseph and Fiona Hsiung getting money from their ATM personal account, so even when we have problems, God has provided us with at least a temporary solution.

At the Roma Gypsy service Sunday night, the place was quite full (maybe over 200 people) when the service started.  During the awesome praise time which was very energetic and heartfelt, more people came in so some of us in Vision had to stand.  We sang some songs alone and some with the Serbian youths and performed a skit with the VBS song “Come to Jesus” (we sang this song arranged for SATB by Marshall instead of using the VBS CD and performed the skit with a mix of Vision and Serbian youths, who turned out to be quite good actors).  Janine gave a wonderful testimony of how she was touched by Christ’s love during her sixth grade retreat that led to her joining Vision so she could share this love with others.

Michael then brought a powerful message from I Corinthians 1 (translated by Nena) about how God uses the weak and foolish things of the world to do great things for Him.  He used Vision as an example of how God brought a group of ordinary folks to sing for Him (instead of the world’s way of using only the most professional and talented “dream team” to do His work).  At the end, he said he feels God is calling some in the audience to give their lives for cross-cultural missions so Mike boldly and in faith gave an invitation.  Two men stepped forward so Mike began to pray for each of them.  During his prayer, 4 more ladies came forward to dedicate themselves.  The Holy Spirit moved very powerfully during this time as the entire congregation stood to pray for these 6 as Mike and Pastor Mio prayed.  (Pastor Mio is Stefan’s father and “retired” from being Senior Pastor.)  A couple of the Gypsy youth expressed interest in joining the music camp and we welcomed their participation.

After the meeting, about half of the Vision team with a few Serbian youths did a prayer walk around the church, preparing the soil for the work ahead.  The area around the church was quite “dark” both physically and spiritually.

 

 

Monday, July 21 – Yesterday was a wonderful day where we experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit and the release of God’s anointing through Betty and Mike in two different and yet marvelous way.  We are so grateful that God is so good to us and for all of you for your prayers.  It is making a huge difference.

After breakfast at 7:30 and group devotion, we debriefed (as we do each day) about the past day’s activities and what we see God doing.  Many of us felt that even if tour ended today and we returned to LA, we would feel this has already been a good tour and we would be quite happy with what God has done.  But in fact, tour is really just starting with a full day of music camp today and tomorrow followed by all the concerts planned and the trip to Macedonia and Belgrade.  We look forward to see what blessings God is going to bestow on us.  He is so good!

This morning, we were joined by three more Gypsy youths bringing the total of Serbian youths to ten, a number we are more than happy with since it gives us one translator for every two Vision members.  Not only that, we ended up with 3 sopranos, 2 altos, 2 tenors, and 3 basses among the Serbs, a very nice core choir for any singing they might want to do in the future.  Their names are Tania, Tamara, Maria, Sarah, Traci, Misha, Boyan, Alex, Ducha, and Ivan.  God is so good! 

When Vision was practicing, Betty was simultaneously conducting a session from 10 AM with the Serbian and Gypsy church leaders.  About 60 showed up and it turned out to be a wonderful time of deliverance ministry for many in the group.  They finally ended about 1:30 PM and scheduled another session with Betty for Tuesday morning.

The music camp is turning out to be a great time between Vision and the Serbs and Gypsies.  Besides reviewing basic music theory and a lot of practicing and singing, we played a lot of games together.  Four of the Serbian girls (Tania, Tamara, Maria, and Sarah) are staying over at the church so we have a lot of time together with them. 

 


Four Serbian girls that stayed over with us for music training

 

While they are also helping us with our Serbian songs and pronunciation, we are teaching them to sing the chorus of “Jesus Loves Me” in Mandarin so we can at least sing part of one song in Chinese for the Chinese church.

Tuesday, July 22 – Betty had her second session today with the local church leaders, a meeting that started at 10 AM and ended after 2 PM.  For Vision, we continued to practice with the ten local youths.  After lunch today, we went to pass out a few invitations to the Chinese service meetings scheduled for Thursday and Saturday.  Our general impression was that the merchants are less open and welcoming than they were last year so remember them in prayer that God will open their hearts.

We also visited the Leskovac historical museum, only 7 minutes walk from the church.  This visit was arranged by Pastor Mio’s friend, Mille who Nena said is “president” (not mayor) of Leskovac.  Anyway, Mille is a man who has been good to the church even though he is Orthodox.  Betty and Marshall with Mio and Nena altogether spent several hours talking to him Saturday and Sunday, but as yet, he is not open to developing a personal relationship with Jesus.  The museum visit is interesting but also tiring.  We came back the church about 3:15 PM and rested until 4 PM and practiced some more.  During practice, it began to pour and get cool.  We had planned to go to the park nearby and sing and pass out tracts, but were not able to do that with the rain.  God in His wisdom had other plans for us.  The leaders in Vision along with Betty and Nena had time to process and we realized that several in the group had been having nightmares.  Betty also pointed out that there were children coming to the gates of the church and placing curses on us.  Joe sensed that this is all leading up to our going to Macedonia next week.  Later, Marshall also realized that the problems we have been encountering with the ATM and our not being able to get money out is also a spiritual hindrance, so tomorrow, we are going to spend some serious time praying as a group and binding strongholds of the enemy as we get ready to start doing more ministry.

While all this was happening, Wahpui and Ellen were cooking dinner and leading a Bible study for the Chinese church.  Over a dozen came for dinner and stayed for the Bible study. Instead of just expository teaching, Wahpui and Ellen taught them how to ask the right questions from the study and search out the answers themselves, something that will be invaluable for their own growth in the future.  Some drove here from as far as an hour away to attend after a full day of work. Praise God for their hunger to learn God’s word.

 


Chinese Fellowship

Wednesday, July 23 – Praise God we finally can get money from the ATM!  Vision, together with the Serbian youths, spent the morning listening to Betty talk about spiritual warfare from Ephesians 6.  She then spent a couple of hours praying for each person on the team, giving prophetic prayers as she listened to God.  By 1 PM, only about 8 people were prayed for as we broke for lunch.  After lunch and a short rest, we resumed praying and prayed for another 8 or so members.  We then had to leave to go to Lebane for our evening meeting.  We praise God for sending Betty with us, as everyone who was prayed for felt blessed and touched by the Lord.  A couple of us also had some familial oppressive spirits cut off and we could see how much happier they were after the prayer.

We were going to go to Caricin Grad on the way to Lebane, but since it had been raining much of the day (it is quite cool and comfortable here), we went directly to Lebane, Nena’s hometown.  After dinner there, we went to the church where we again met Nena’s mother, who although cannot walk well, came to listen to us again (as she did last year).  We also again met Pastor Mio’s older sister.  These two elderly saints were the ones God used to bring the Gospel to south Serbia about 40 years ago.  Mike preached after our combined team sang and Justin gave his testimony.  Betty then brought a few words of greeting to the church.  She and Nena are both staying over in Lebane while the rest of the team returned to Leskovac

Thursday, July 24 – We continued our music camp this morning and also after lunch.  Four girls sleep over at the church while the rest of the youths stay at home and walk to church for our music camp.

 

 

Bass section practice using roll-up Piano Guys in their dorm room at the church

 

Since we have been here about a week, we have also been taking the time to get some clothes washed.  As a group, we sing quite well together now.  The Serbs sing all of the Vision songs which are in Choral Praise I and II, and a couple of other songs that we brought with us, about 2/3 of our repertoire.  It has been raining quite often and we are praying that it will not rain tonight (so we can go evangelize) and Friday night as we are singing at the Gypsy village.  That is going to held out of doors at an area which is rented by the Gypsy leaders and the event has been publicized on radio for a couple of days.  Wahpui and Ellen have been visiting and inviting the Chinese merchants to come to our meetings during the time we practice.  What a blessing it is for us to have them (and of course Betty and Nena) on the team this year.

In the evening, we sang at the Serbian Thursday night service at 6 PM, then joined the Chinese meeting which started at 8 by playing some group games with the Chinese folks.  We sang a couple of men’s quartet songs to them (Day by Day and Standing in the Need of Prayer).  There were only around 30 at the mid-week Serbian service (Mike preached from the Parable of the Sower and the Seed, emphasizing having "listening ears"), and over a dozen at the Chinese service.  After that, the Lord answered our prayer and it was not raining so we went to the nearby park to sing and evangelize.

 


Vision passing out tracts on Leskovac street

Because of the rain, there were not too many people on the streets, but Long got a chance to invite a Serbian street vendor (selling hot french-fries) who agreed to come visit the church on Sunday.  We got to meet the mother and sister of one of our Serbian youths (a new believer) and also prayed for healing for the father who had hurt his back and was home.  More importantly, Meiring, with Tania, shared the Gospel with a 13-year-old.  She was so ready and eager that even though her friends tried to dissuade her and get her to leave, she kept insisting that she wanted to stay.  Mike was praying that her friends would go away and after about the third attempt, they left, so when Meiring asked if she wanted to receive Christ, said “yes” and prayed the sinner’s prayer.  There was such a smile on her face!  Praise God!  Pray that she will come to church on Sunday and be followed up.  Tania was so excited she didn’t want to come back to the church but to keep evangelizing.


View of
Gypsy Village from stage

Friday July 25 – After a day of practice, we went to the Roma Gypsy village in Leskovac to sing.  The main group walked there to interact with the Gypsies and play chess with them (we were badly beaten) while the elderly group (Marshall, Meiring, Wahpui, Ellen, Betty and Nena) went to Pastor Mio and his wife Else’s home for dinner.  They were then driven to the Gypsy village for the meeting that started at 7:30.  At about 7, it started to rain heavily and we prayed for the rain to stop.  Turning the corner to the Gypsy village is like walking into a different country, but we felt so welcomed by everyone we met on the street. We later found out that this village is maybe 10% believers which explained why we did not feel a lot of oppression although we did feel some spiritual warfare going on.  Instead of singing at the social hall (where we sang last year), the Gypsies had built a stage in front of the porch of a believing Gypsy’s home that extended out about 15 feet from the porch (the porch is about 15 feet wide and 7 feet deep.  Just as we started to sing, it started to rain heavier so we just moved back and sang from the porch area.  The audience of well over 250 plus maybe 50 children, all stayed through the whole program, although we had to cut the program short since with the dark rain clouds and rain, it started to get dark about 8:30.  Since this area was provided to the Gypsies by the Serbian government, they asked us not to preach but just sing and give testimonies and skits.  We complied, but Long, Tania (a local Serbian college student who had been with us the whole music camp and Pastor Mio’s grand-niece), and Keiko gave their testimony which contained the essence of the 4-Laws (God has a plan for you, but sin separated us from God, Jesus is the only way and we must receive Him by faith).  After the singing, we were treated to a wonderful dinner served by the Gypsies in the social hall.  We also sang some more after dinner and then the Gypsies sang to us a couple of rousing choruses.  It was now raining heavily again (the Lord did hold off the heavy rain until after we sang) so we had to wait for the church van to transport us back the church in small groups.  While waiting, we saw a lame man and felt led by the Lord to pray for him.  So in faith, we (Mike with Tamara translating) prayed for his healing, both in his lame leg and for a heart problem he had.  It was our responsibility to pray when the Lord leads us and healing is the Lord’s work.  Mike also prayed for an older lady who was one of the first Christian and started the work there.  They were both blessed while all of us felt most blessed to have gone there.  After we came back (actually during the singing), Janine felt ill (probably from something she ate) but felt somewhat better after throwing up.  Remember her in prayer.

Saturday, July 26 – Janine is better this morning and ate a banana for breakfast without feeling ill.  We had our daily devotion and debriefing time where we shared what a great experience we all had last night.  We were told that of the 5000 people in this village, only 10 had jobs while another 10% had some government assistance for living.  In the midst of such abject poverty, we marveled how they could afford to cook such a wonderful meal for us last night.  They are like the poor widow with two mites who gave it all to God (in this case, we were the fortunate recipient) while we are like the Pharisee who had so much and gave a token.  Nevertheless, we collected an offering among us to give to the Gypsies through the church here.

After devotions, Betty Anderson had some time to pray for us.  These prophetic prayers are what she hears from God as His best for our lives, but it is also something we can choose to walk into or turn to a different path and thus miss out on God’s best for our lives.  Because each person is unique, so each prayer was specific and we were exhausted after the prayers because of the toll it took.  Without being specific, some were prophesized to become mighty men and women of valor, to be musicians and dancers for the Lord, to be in high places to influence governments for good, to be evangelists, etc. 

In the afternoon, the rest of the Serbian youths joined us for some polishing up of our music.  We then spent some time to get their feedback on our music camp.  They expressed their appreciation, including the time they had spent with us during devotions and prayer.  They also suggested we have more fun times, group games, and physical activities together.  After practice, we walked over to the Serbian Orthodox Church in Leskovac to see what it looked like but the sanctuary was locked, so we walked back to church to play some group games.


Serbian Orthodox Church in Leskovac

The evening service was a blessing for all of us.  There were 16 Chinese merchants at the meeting last night, a good number.  Joseph led the entire meeting for the Vision program, which featured Josh’s powerful testimony about how he learned to walk in faith.  We were blessed two testimonies from the Chinese merchants and they also sang a song for us.  One sister eloquently shared how she changed her attitude about making a lot of money to making enough and serving the Lord instead as her goal in life and also how her marriage has improved after she became a believer.  A brother shared how his difficulty with getting his visa to come back to Serbia led him to return to his faith in Christ.  Praise God for this fledging group of believers.  They really need a shepherd so keep praying for the right leader to come.  Maybe God is calling you.

Sunday, July 27 – Pastor Mio explained one of our questions, how the Roma Gypsies could afford to feed us such a fabulous meal Friday night.  The money for the burgers came from the Serbian government (probably the city), but the snacks and cookies were all offered by the villagers themselves.  Even that must have been a large part of their annual income.  We re humbled by such generosity.

We sang for their Sunday Serbian service this morning and Betty preached.  After a quick lunch, we (5 Serbian youths are joining us, Tania, Tamara, Maria, Sarah, and Alex) left about 1:20 PM for Macedonia.  About an hour later, near Vranje, we had to wait almost 45 minutes while a minor (no one seriously injured) car accident was cleared up.  We got to the Macedonian border about 4 PM and it seemed it took forever for us to clear the Serbian border and then the Macedonian border, so it was almost 5 PM by the time we left.  We finally made it to Stip a few minutes after 6 (Meeting started at 6), getting a little lost along the way.  Betty had reminded us that we were going to a new enemy stronghold and should expect opposition and it seemed the delays were to keep from making our meeting. We rushed out of the bus and did not even bother to change to our Vision outfit but just showed up to sing.  Tania gave her testimony in Serbian (Macedonians understand quite a bit of Serbian) on her first witnessing experience the other night and Mike followed up with a strong message from Matthew 5 about being salt and light o encourage the church.  This church is a very nice church with a good mix of old and young.  The place was quite packed with maybe 80 people.  They have a Youth Pastor, Philip, who translated for us.  He is only 19, married for a year, planning to attend seminary and serving in two churches.  We finally walked to town, cashed some money from the ATM, and ate dinner at about 10.  All the young people stayed to pass out invitations for our performance at the center of town tomorrow night.  They stayed at the church while the old people and Fiona and Joseph were hosted by different families.

Stip is a beautiful town built on several hills.  One local told us you couldn’t take 10 steps without going uphill or downhill.  The streets are cobblestone and curvy, very picturesque.  The people are much more prosperous than Leskovac.  For example, the couple Marshall and Meiring are staying with are grandparents in their 50’s.  Their son lives in a separate house built on top of their house and they take care of their grandchildren as both parents work, so it seems there is a lot more opportunities here than in Serbia.  Their house has a high speed internet and computer.

Monday, July 28 – Pastor Philip plans to attend seminary in the fall on a scholarship from some European organization, but he is concerned about what will happen to the two churches he is volunteering o serve the youth.  When asked how he survives, he said only by faith and God’s grace.  The Pastor here (Peter) and his wife both work full time and serve the church with no pay.

We met at 11 AM to have devotions and debrief.  The church all 22 youths (including Michael) are staying has three toilets and one shower powered by a small electric heater, which warms the water between showers, and then the shower hose sprang a leak.  Needless to say, only a few got to shower.  During debriefing time, both Nena and Betty reminded us that God always tries us at our weakness in order to strengthen us.  For most of us, the comfort of a daily shower is a luxury most people in the world cannot have and we are just experiencing only small discomforts.  After lunch, we passed out more invitations for the evening program and then took the bus to a small village of 500-600 about 15 km from Stip where a small mission church had been meeting.  This church, although established for 10 years, only has an attendance of 5 adults.  Pastor Peter said it is because the villagers are too concerned with peer pressure for them to become Christians, thinking themselves Christians already as Orthodox believers.  We crowded into the small room and started singing to the 5.  All of a sudden, children started to come in, about 18 of them, along with one or two adults.  Cynthia shared her testimony and Betty brought a message.  Before Betty preached and after Vision sang, about 6 of the children left.  After her message Betty then prayed for each of the remaining children.  Meanwhile, since the room was so small, most of the Vision kids were outside and had intercepted the children who went out.  Keiko and the Serbian girls were talking to them and telling them the story of David and Goliath.  While Betty was praying, these six kids were bought back in as the Serbian girls led them all to Christ.  Sarah was so excited she was ready to return to Leskovac to share Christ at home.  God is doing a new thing in this small village; new wine skins for the new wine, as well as empowering these Serbs!

We returned to town and ate dinner about 8:15 PM.  We then walked to where we were to have our outreach concert in front of a dinner restaurant where they usually had a band playing.  At 10 PM  (the appointed time for the concert), the place was quite filled, maybe 400 people.  Two of the Macedonian young people, Helena and Pastor Philip and our own Long gave their salvation testimonies between our songs.  Betty then gave a short message and an invitation.  Initially, 3 men stepped forward.  They were joined by some children and about 10 more adults.  As Betty started to pray, a whole bunch of teenagers came, but some of them seemed to be doing it in jest.  Betty would say one phase of the sinner’s prayer, Philip would translate and then the group would repeat after Philip.  Some of the teens were mimicking Betty in English.  But they could not continue after a while (probably the Holy Spirit was getting to them) so the stepped back.  Only God knows how many truly became believers tonight, but we praise Him for He is moving a doing a new thing here in Stip.  After we sang, many of the girls were harassed by the local teen boys and Eric was pushed around in the men’s room, but praise God, we all left safely as a group.  God is moving and so is the opposition as expected.  Betty had been warning us for several days to “put on the whole armor of God”.  Keep praying!

Tuesday, July 29 – The restaurant where we had our meeting last night is basically a nightclub.  That could explain why there was so much spiritual oppression when we were singing and when Betty was preaching and praying.  Today, we met at 11 AM again, did our group devotion and talked about what we learned yesterday and thanked God for all His blessings to us.  Betty had told an example during one of her messages about a little boy with a small snow shovel following his father shoveling snow off the driveway.  When done, the boy told his mother that he had shoveled all the snow off the driveway.  His father, who did all the work, would just smile and say “good job, son.”  We are like the little boy.  We are just mopping up after the Father does all the work and He says, “good job, children.”

After our group time, we packed up and drove a half hour to Kocani and were met by the local pastor and his wife.  They took us to a restaurant where we ate lunch and then passed out invitations to our program that night.  We then bused to the church where we rested and several people finally got to shower.  The church is located in a nice part of town and the pastor lives on the floor above the church.  As in all the places we have sung in Macedonia, we have to pay ourselves to rent the venue and also the sound system as these churches are really too poor to pay.  So we have been giving them some money from Vision as we leave, partly to bless them and partly to help their own ministry.  We returned to the town center, ate dinner, and started our program at 8:30.  Alex, one of our Serbian youth gave his testimony and Stephanie shared how she has grown closer to God, especially during the time her mother has going through breast cancer treatments.  Mike then preached a powerful salvation message and gave a call.

 


Mike preaching at
Kocani Cultural Center

At least a dozen adults stepped forward up on the stage.  A little girl also came from the other side of the stage, dragging her friend with her.  After her example, a whole bunch of children also came up and it is not clear if they knew what they were doing, but this first girl was serious about accepting Christ.  The local church pastor and several of their members tried to take down names and phone numbers, but they were just not prepared for this kind of response (as was true the night before).  We thank God for what He is doing, but also realize these small churches in Macedonia needed a lot of training in discipleship and disciple making.  After the meeting, we then got on the bus to drive to Negotino, a two hour trip that took almost 3 hours because we had to stop for restrooms so many times.  At Negotino, most of us slept at the church (Betty and Nena have their own room) while Wahpui/Ellen, Marshall/Meiring, and Mike were taken to different host’s home.  Since we arrived after midnight, our first surprise is that in Negotino, the city water supply is turned off at night, so we did not have water to wash up.  This was another faith stretching point for us to learn, but we are happy to share, even a little bit, in Christ’s suffering.

Wednesday, July 30 - One other wonderful news, on the long bus ride last night, Nena talked to the bus driver and then Betty got in on the conversation.  The bottom line is that the bus driver said he accepted Christ Monday night at the outreach meeting in front of the restaurant.  Betty was going over the 4-laws with him again and got to Law 3 when we arrived, but it seems this man has indeed become a family member.  He will not be driving us to Greece Thursday since he does not have the right visa so he will be replaced by a different driver, but this driver said he hoped to join us again later, as he felt really a part of our group.  He is married and has two children, so pray for this new believer and for his family.

We got together fairly early today to go to a nursing home and sing for the residents there.

 


Joseph talking to Elderly resident

One of their residents is a French widow of 5 years who has been a missionary to Macedonia for 50 years, Asteria (she and her husband started most of the churches in this area).  Betty encouraged her greatly and she, as well as the 30 or so residents, were very happy to hear us.  Ellen shared her testimony of being delivered from her childhood fears after she accepted Christ.  We then returned to the church to have our devotions.  Since Tania, Tamara, and Alex are leaving us when we return to Serbia, we also took this time to debrief them.  Tania shared that she enjoyed our group devotion time and wanted to use a similar method when she leads them.  All said they enjoyed singing with us.  We gave them our feedback and prayed for them, something we will do for everyone later in Belgrade.  After lunch, we took the afternoon off, caught up on our sleep and washed some clothes.

At 6 PM, we had a special time to play with the children who came to church.  There must have been 60-70 kids at the church along with some parents.  We had brought pencils, balloons and other knick-knacks with us left over from VBS to give to these kids and we also bought candy.  After the fun and games, we sang a couple of songs to them, “The Orchestra Song” and “Isus Me Ljubi (Jesus Loves Me)”.  We then walked over to the village center where the church had set up a sound system for our 5 PM outreach program.  This is the third night (in 3 different cities) in a row we had an outreach.   The first two nights had crowds of several hundred and quite a good response when the invitation was given.  Tonight, the crowd was much thinner and the response was only a handful of people, but we praise Him and thank Him for these who did respond to Mike’s message (and Ellen’s testimony).  We did not mention this before but we have added several men’s songs to our repertoire, including “Standing in the Need of Prayer” and “Rise Up O Men of God” and have been singing them at the outdoors events.

Some of you may know that Keiko had felt called to go on the mission field in some medical capacity.  Yesterday, she found out (through email from her family) that she had been accepted to the medical program at Drexel University in the East Coast.  After much prayer, it seemed clear to her (thanks to discernment from Betty) that although Keiko was willing to give up Drexel to follow God, He wanted her to accept this opportunity, step out of her comfort California zone, and attend this school.  But this means she has to leave Serbia early to get back and pack for school and attend orientation on Aug. 5.  Pray that she can exchange her ticket (for minimum fee) and get back either Saturday or Sunday.  This has been a long journey for her and we praise God for His guiding her.  God is good!

Tomorrow, we leave early for Strumica, another Macedonian city close to the Greek border.  We are gong to leave the Serbian youth in a church close to the border (since they have no visa) and we will go to Greece and swim in the Aegean Sea and visit Thessalonica.  Then we will rejoin the Serbian team and sing at a church in Strumica and then return to Negotino to sleep before leaving Friday for Serbia. 

Thursday, July 31 – We tried to leave early for our outing to Greece, but it took an hour and a half to get to the border where we dropped off the Serbian youths with a local pastor.  After another half hour spent at the border, we entered Greece and drove another two hours to east Olympus where we could see Mt. Olympus on one side and the Aegean Sea on the other side.  We spent about an hour there with some swimming and others eating lunch and left to head back to Thessalonica a little after 2 PM.  However we realized that there was no time to spend in Thessalonica so we went directly back to Macedonia.  There was a line of trucks one kilometer long at the border but thankfully there was only four buses in front of us.  But still it took almost an hour to cross the border where we picked up the Serbian youths at 5 o’clock.  We were told that it would be about an hour drive to Strumica.  But we missed the exit and had to take a circuitous route through the mountains.  Although beautiful, we did not get to the church until 7:45 PM, 15 minutes before the program started.  Although we were hungry, we postponed dinner. 

The church in Strumica meets 10 km from town in a farm village.  They meet in a very nice building with a piano and their worship team lead an enthusiastic time of worship with guitars, drums, and piano.  There were about 80 people there with a lot of youth in attendance.  This church was started 10 years ago and has experienced rapid growth.  Seeing this church gives us great hope for the future of Macedonia.  We sang a short program, Dillon gave his testimony about how God healed his back from a basketball injury a year ago, and Betty gave the Word.  One person responded but he was already a Christian who had back-slidden.  We were able to pray with him.   We then went to dinner at about 10 PM and drove back to Negotino arriving at about 1 am.  We thank God for a very fruitful trip to Macedonia as we are leaving Friday to return to Serbia.

 

 

Friday, August 1 - We tried to leave at 9 but didn't get out until half past 10 since Betty had many things to say to the local pastor, Goran and his wife Daniella.  It took about an hour to cross the border and we finally got back to Leskovac about 2 PM.  We ate lunch, had a joyful reunion with Pastor Mio, Else and the rest of the church staff, dropped off Tania, Tamara and Alex and picked up Misha and Boyan, two Roma youths.  The bus company treated us to ice cream and then we headed to Nis, getting here at about 5 PM.  We got to the Gypsy village about a half hour late.  Because our bus took us there, we did not have to walk through the Muslim part of the village like last year.  There were much fewer people (maybe 30) there this time, perhaps because we were late, but we had a good meeting with them.  Marshall shared his testimony and Betty brought a powerful word.  Several fell over during her prayer for them (just about everyone responded).   We gave Boyan money to take the bus back to Leskovac, but Misha, Maria and Sarah will stay with us in Nis.


Waiting to leave church in Negotino

We ate a fast-food dinner and started our debriefing time at our hotel with Keiko, who is leaving us early Saturday morning to go back to LA.  She had to purchase an expensive ticket to return to LA and Danielo, Nenas brother, is driving her to Belgrade.  We also debriefed Sarah and Maria, who have been with us through music camp and Macedonia.  We were able to pray for each of them.  Misha, who is also with us, but did not go to Macedonia and is rooming with our bus driver, did not join in the debriefing.

Saturday, August 2 - When we visit a church, we usually give them a small offering from Vision to help and encourage them in their ministries.  We have so much that even a little from us helps them a lot.  However, we sometimes collect a special offering from our team to help people we meet.  Yesterday, we collected two such offerings.  One is for Philip, the young man we met at Stip who translated for us.  He and his wife of one year “live by faith” (also with his grandparents) but is a strategic link to the youth of Macedonia.  We collected almost $500 for him.  We also collected money for Asteria, the widow missionary who is in need of a knee surgery.  We are told she needs $500 for this operation and the local churches have been collecting for months for this but have not gotten much.  We collected about $365 for her, which should help tremendously toward her needs.  Nena knew this lady years ago.  Almost every believer knows of this faithful lady servant of the Lord and we are happy to have been able to help.

Last night, Misha shared a room with the bus driver and was able to go over the Gospel clearly with this man.  It is very significant that a middle-aged Serbian man would share a room with a Gypsy youth, and even more, to listen to him share the Good News!  This morning, we had a great buffet breakfast as part of our hotel room.  We debriefed until noon and drove to Panchevo where we had a meeting with the Chinese church there. We got there about 4 PM and shortly after, Sarah, Maria and Misha were picked up a brother from the English camp.  It was hard to say good bye to these friends. The Chinese church in Panchevo cooked a great home cooked meal for us, many vegetable dishes, mostly grown in their backyard.  After dinner, we started the program about 7.  Joseph led the meeting and shared his testimony about how God took different hardships in his life to prepare him for more ministry.  Ellen preached an evangelistic message and 2 people accepted Christ while one rededicated himself to follow Christ after having backslidden.  Praise God.

Sunday, August 3 – Early this morning, Danielo took Stephanie to the airport so she could catch her flight to LA.  After breakfast, we took the bus to go to the Chinese church in New Belgrade.  On the way, we stopped at St. Mark Cathedral and later at St. Sebastian Cathedral, both large Orthodox churches.  There was a mass going on at St. Marks, and a child dedication in a small section of St. Sebastians (the rest of the church is still being remodeled).  We then completed our journey to the Chinese church where we held our own worship service with Mike preaching and sharing about how he learned to listen to God and be obedient.  We then continued our debriefing, ate lunch, and debriefed some more.  The Chinese church here is cooking dinner for us.  We also met Ellen Wu, on a short term (1 year) missions here.  She is from Canaan Church in Irvine (David Fans church) and a friend of Lucy and Victor Chen.  We started our program at 7 with Joe leading the service again and Josh and Wahpui gave their testimonies and Ellen preached.  This meeting had been advertised as a musical outreach evangelistic meeting.  There were about 60 at the service and praise God, one soul accepted Christ when Ellen gave the invitation after her message.

 


Ellen Sam preaching in
Belgrade Chinese Church

After the service, the bus took us back to our hostel and left us to go back to Leskovac.  This bus and the driver has been with us almost the whole time since we left for Macedonia (except the day we went to Greece).  He is also a new brother in Christ.  We took a love offering for him, raising $86.  He gave a speech thanking us and inviting us back to Serbia.  It was hard saying good bye to him too as we sang Tebe Poem (To Thee We Sing).  Joseph, Fiona is leaving early Monday for their vacation in Rome.  Marshall, Meiring, Michael is leaving an hour after to return to LA and Betty is leaving a couple of hours after that to return to LA.  The rest of the team except Nena is returning early Tuesday and will be back in LA at various times, depending on their connecting flights.

In closing out our trip reports, we thank you all for your potent prayer support.  God was working so powerfully and we just followed on His coattails, picking up blessing after blessing.  We all got back to LA safely although the main group had some problems getting boarding passes and almost missing the connecting flight in Dulles Airport.

This has been one of the most memorable Vision tours.  God was so good to us and blessed us so much.  The team felt like a family, with everyone contributing from the youngest to the eldest.  There were almost no complaints and grumbling when meals were missed or delayed several hours, or there was not enough showers or water for showering.  Each of us were stretched beyond our comfort zone, and found His grace sufficient for us in our weakness.  Fiona sang and eventually memorized all the songs adding to the soprano section, especially after Keiko and Stephanie left.  Wahpui was a wonderful role model for us in his enthusiasm to witness – to Serbs, Gypsies, Chinese, kids, adults, everyone.  During our debriefing time, we found out how God had instantaneously and miraculously healed one of our members of his headache and dizziness after prayer.  One spoke about how a couple of people irritated him during tour and how he was able to pray blessings on them instead.  A couple of the Vision members feel called to the mission field and one girl wants to come back to Serbia and work with the children. 

From an objective basis, we have so much to praise God and these stand out:

God is good.  Thank you all for praying.  We each have our little stories of how we saw God work in our lives.  If you can make it, come to our Home Concert in Glendale on August 23 so we can share more about what God is doing in Serbia and Macedonia.