Potholes, pastors and playgrounds

OM International | Finland

Bus4Life ministers in Central and Eastern Europe, bringing hope and Christian literature to the region's widespread towns and villages. During the spring and early summer of 2018, Bus4Life visited Hungary, Moldova, and Ukraine.

School and street visits

In April, Bus4Life visited 16 schools around the Hungarian cities of Budapest and Sopron. Approximately 2,000 young people attended the events and heard the message of hope and restoration. The school visits were organised together with a local Pro-life organisation.

Bus4Life was an integral part of the visits, offering a change from the students’ usual class room environment. They climbed on board the bus in small groups of 10-15 individuals and spent about 20 minutes inside. Inside the bus, students learnt about prenatal development from posters and life-size models. They were told about the benefits of abstinence before marriage, and what it means to have an abortion. Conversation was encouraged, and some students stayed longer to continue the conversation outside the bus.

Feedback from the schools was positive, and the team was invited to come back for another visit. One school director was particularly enthusiastic about the visit, and told the team that two girls in his school had had abortions during the previous month alone.

Bus4Life also took part in an outreach to prostitutes in Budapest. The bus went out on two different nights visiting women who work on the streets. They were given bowls of goulash soup and invited into the bus to hear the Easter message. In one of the locations, five women entered the bus along with their pimp. To the team’s surprise, the man acting as the pimp was very open to conversation and explained how he had been released from prison just three months earlier. He was now looking for his life purpose. The conversation was encouraging as most pimps have a very negative attitude toward Christians.

The atmosphere was quite different on the second night, and this time the pimps didn’t allow the women to enter the bus. Conversations still took place on the street. The Easter outreach was organised with the Salvation Army. The team spoke with 20 women.

Bus4Life opens the door

In May, Bus4Life visited two villages in Northern Moldova, a region with only two evangelical churches. One of them is a small church plant that was started by OM about six months ago, when a church planting team moved into the village. The team holds weekly prayer nights in their living room and invites their neighbours to join them. They also give out seeds and food parcels, and give guitar and piano lessons to children. This summer, a children’s camp will be organised in the village.

In the same village, a 46-year-old man named Veorel came to the bus to take a look at the selection of books. While having coffee with the team, he spoke warmly of his wife and three children. He also said that he had a New Testament at home, but really wanted to have the entire Bible. While looking at the books, he noticed The Five Love Languages. He picked it up and said he needed to read it because he wanted to become a better husband for his wife. The team was quite touched by this 'rough-around-the-edges' man, who went home with a Bible and a famous Christian book about marriage.

Another village called Chusmirka welcomed Bus4Life with open arms. About 140 children, along with some parents, attended the children’s programme on two days – 140 on both days! A few children climbed on board the bus with money in their hand, saying: “my parents gave me this money so I can buy a Children’s Bible.” One mother also came to buy a Children’s Bible, but – surprised to hear how low the price was – ended up buying not only the Children’s Bible but also a Bible for herself.

Northern Moldova is mostly Orthodox Christian. The church does not encourage people to read the Bible; instead, it is thought that it’s enough for the priest to have a Bible. If someone still wants a Bible, it would be very expensive to buy one. Bus4Life’s vision is to sell Bibles at the lowest possible price, so that everyone can afford to buy one.

OM’s Ion Manoli plays an active part in the Bus4Life ministry in Moldova. He calls the bus ‘a big blessing for Moldova’. “I would like to have it here, year-round”, he says. “It opens a door for people to come to us. They see the bus, and they wonder what it is. Then they come and see it, and they go home with a Bible in one hand.”

Eye glasses and playgrounds

After a week-long visit to Moldova, Bus4Life continued its journey to Ukraine. First time visitor to the country Teemu Laitinen, Bus4Life’s new driver, was a bit surprised by the road conditions. “Please pray for strength and wisdom as I’m driving in these potholes. I don’t want to break the bus,” he texted his home office.

Bus4Life began its one month visit to Ukraine by visiting four villages in the outskirts of Odessa. Working with two local pastors, this was the first outreach of its kind in the area. Because the concept of using a bright coloured bus for evangelism was utterly new to the pastors, they were a bit sceptical at first, fearing the outreach would only increase people’s negative attitudes toward believers.

The outreach team was joined by an eye doctor, who performed about 50 vision tests during the week. Glasses were given to individuals who needed them and the team cleaned and painted two children’s playgrounds. According to OM Ukraine’s outreach coordinator, these practical acts of kindness were the biggest witness in the villages. “Christians outside of the Orthodox church are often met with great scepticism, and considered a sect. The fact that we helped the community in a practical way was a great witness, and helped change attitudes. The two local pastors were overwhelmed by people’s positive reaction.”   

OM has just recently started working with the two pastors and their churches. One of the churches has about 15 members, all seniors. The other congregation consists mostly of orphanage graduates. About 40 people go to this church, many of them young adults. Generally, in the past pastors in Ukraine have received little training for their ministry. OM offers training for village pastors, as well as practical help to grow their ministries.

Supporting the bigger picture

Bus4Life’s visit was part of a larger framework of ministry in the Odessa region. The benefit of the bus is that it will not go unnoticed. “We did school visits in this area during the Christmas season, and they served their purpose well. However, no one outside of the school ever knew that we were there. It is impossible to miss the bus. It just needs to show up, and people will come.”

The week ended with a big children’s event that took place at the OM base. All children attending summer camps were invited to participate, and everyone was encouraged to bring their family, friends and neighbours. About 60 children came to the event with their parents. At the end of the day, it was time to take a group photo in front of the bus – only the bus was nowhere to be found! Due to some miscommunication, Bus4Life was already onto its next mission, happily parked in front of another church. But no harm was done, and the event was a success, despite the missing bus.

Known as OM’s ‘ship on wheels’, Bus4Life is a mobile ministry centre that seeks to support local, long-term OM ministries in their efforts to see vibrant communities of Jesus-followers in Central and Eastern Europe. Bus4Life is looking for new individuals and fields to partner with financially. Please pray for the ministry, asking for safety and guidance as the bus travels in Hungary, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania this year.

Published: Tuesday, 10 July 2018
Credit: OM International
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