Thursday, February 20, 2020 -
So here we are, back in Katerini (see February 19, 2020’s journal entry), having just spent a week with indigenous missionaries effectively planting churches among the Turkish Muslims of Southern Bulgaria. The Greek people and the Turkish people hate each other with vitriol perhaps only rivaled by the Turks and Armenians. Yet today there is a great move of God among the Turkish people. Where once there were only a handful of believers, now there are thousands, and new leaders are being trained and raised up to shepherd the many new churches being planted among former Muslims.
We were only staying for one evening and a day in Katerini, at the home of our friends George and Ermioni. Now Katerini is home of the largest evangelical community in Greece, and the largest evangelical church in the nation, which my Uncle Argos pastored for many years after World War II before he was forcibly exiled on false charges of being a spy (that is another story). Katerini was also settled by ethnic Greeks who fled their homes in the Pontos region of Turkey because of the horrendous ethnic persecution at the hands of the Turks.
We happened to arrive in Katerini on a Wednesday, a church night, and so we accompanied George and Ermioni to church that evening. That night, perchance or providence, an entire busload of Bible school/seminary students from the very same region from where the people of Katerini are from visited the Katerini evangelical church. Many of the old-timers in Katerini still speak Turkish, so there were translators among the church fellowship. But here was an entire busload of former Muslims, whose ancestors were responsible for driving these “Turkish” Greeks from their homes and country, repenting for their past sins and those of their ancestors, seeking forgiveness, in the unifying name of Christ.
This was a very similar experience to that which we had experienced between the Serbs and Croatians five years prior, except this time there was no English translation from the podium, although George translated from Greek to English just for us. It was truly amazing to witness the transforming power of Christ in the hearts of those who were bitter enemies. That is what happens when one accepts Christ. Just as He forgave us of our sin, so we are to forgive one another!
In the book, I am reading (Of Whom the World Is Not Worthy by Marie Chapman), about Christians in wartime Yugoslavia, a young Slavonic convert just released from prison was asked by a Serbian woman to come to pray for her. The woman seeking prayer told her story, “I am a Serb. My husband is Slovene. Recently I received the news that my six brothers were killed…” She stopped and sobbed vigorously. “My six brothers – living in Kordum in Serbia – were murdered in cold blood – by Ustase soldiers!
“But that is not all.” She paused to blow her nose. “After the Killers had murdered my brothers, they pushed out their eyeballs with spoons…and when my mother came home, these killers met her at the door and presented her with a bread basket covered with a handkerchief. She removed the handkerchief and found the eyes of her sons…Then they took my mother away -- those Ustase. Oh, how they hate the Serbs!
“They carried my mother off in a wagon, God knows what they intended to do with her – but the Partizani captured them. My poor old mother was insane with grief. The Partizani executed the Ustase for what they did and my mother threw herself at those Ustase screaming – and O, God, she beat them and clawed their faces. After they were dead and the bullets were rammed through their bodies, she lifted her skirts and danced in their blood.
“What am I to do? She was released by the Partazani and they knew she was insane. Now I have her on my hands to take care of. An old aunt who was there saw what happened. They brought her here to me.
“Please, Gospa, you are a woman of prayer. I know you are. I have heard. I beg you, pray for my mother. Pray for me. We need your help.” I quote the author, “The Jozeca rose to her feet and raised her hands to the ceiling. ‘Jesus!’ she shouted. The sound of her own voice startled her. ‘I am praying for these women now, Lord! Do you hear me, dear Jesus? Look down on me here! These women need you! Hear me!’ She prayed for a full twenty minutes. Then she ordered the women on their knees. Josip (her son) got on his knees also and so did the four little boys, who had been cowering against the wall. ‘I command peace and beauty here in the name of Jesus!’ She had never prayed with such authority and power; it was overwhelming. The presence of the Lord was so near in the room that they could hardly keep their balance. Jozeca felt herself toppling to one side, but she held on and prayed even louder. ‘Lord! Lord Jesus! Help us! Restore this old woman’s senses!’
“Ah, the Serbs and Croats – would they ever stop killing each other? It was so terrible, so disgusting. God alone could help these people whose hatred spread across generations and God alone could heal this mad woman’s mind.
“She prayed through the night for the two women. When they heard the shuffle of feet outside on the pavement, they knew it was morning and the workers were going to the factories. Jozeca stroked the face of the old woman who closed her eyes and seemed to be at peace. Franciska cried in a very small voice that she had not seen her mother with such an expression of peace since the beginning of the borba. She lifted her hands to the ceiling and exclaimed, ‘God of all, you are God! I believe you and I worship you!’
“Every night Jozeca visited the two women and the four little boys. They read the Bible together, prayed together, and Jozeca taught them some little songs. Then a miracle happened that was to change Jozeca so drastically that she would never be the same again.
“The old woman, her face so deeply furrowed and so thin that her bones rubbed against each other, called Jozeca to her side. ‘I am going to lie down soon,’ she said. ‘I am going to lie down and when I do, I will never rise up again. And they will lay me in the earth.’
“Jozeca murmured and took her hand. ‘Now listen to me, child,’ the old woman continued in a deep, throaty voice, ‘I will die with a heart that is not blackened with bitterness. God is the avenger. I forgive the Ustase for killing my sons.’
“Jozeca gasped and then wept uncontrollably. She held the old woman in her arms and knew without a doubt that God is a great God and that nothing, utterly nothing, in this world is impossible to Him…
“But now (the woman) appeared at the market with her basket under her arm and she seemed peaceful. She now walked with calmness about her and her eyes were no longer crazy. The people were amazed. God performed a miracle and restored her mind.”
This is the transforming power of Jesus Christ when men and women confess their sin and surrender their lives to Christ, accepting His forgiveness through His shed blood. It transforms hatred and bitterness into love and forgiveness. It is what Kathie and I witnessed firsthand in Leptokaria and Katerini when we saw such bitter hatred that has been passed on for generations confessed and forgiven in the name of Jesus Christ. This is the power of the cross. This is what I pray my enemies will see in me!