I want hope

Through his work among the impoverished Jewish community of Bulgaria, Stanislav Alexiev seeks out opportunities to share the gospel. Here he reports on his encounters with Berta, an elderly widow who has shown an interest in his faith, and Simon a synagogue worker who hasn’t taken kindly to his visits.

When I first met Berta, she was a poor widow who had lost her husband more than forty years previously. Following his death she had to be a mother but also a father and a friend to her son. Despite her hardships, or more likely because of them, she had developed a very strong character.

Initially, she accepted the humanitarian aid I offered with some suspicion. I explained that I was an evangelical minister who was delivering aid on the behalf of the church. Jesus cared for people and, as his followers, we ought to do the same. Berta smiled: ‘I know you evangelicals. In my home town we used to have evangelical believers living next door to us. When the Germans came, I would listen to them every night praying for our salvation. It is very nice to meet you!’ She offered me her gnarled hand to shake.

That was ten years ago and since then I’ve visited her at least once a week. She loves to read so, after our conversations, I leave her with Christian literature. At the moment she is reading C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and although Berta won’t admit it, I am seeing her interest in the Christian faith growing and there has been a greater depth to our discussions.

Recently her niece’s husband died in Israel. They were both Jewish evangelical believers. Berta had been amazed by the faith and hope her niece expressed when she told her aunt about her husband’s death. ‘Auntie Berta, my husband is not dead. I will see him again because he is still alive.’

I explained that the faith her niece had demonstrated wasn’t just empty words but was based on the Bible, which says that everyone who believes in Jesus will inherit eternal life. As she looked at me I noticed tears in her eyes. ‘I want such hope,’ she said, ‘but I am not ready for it. I have an ongoing struggle within myself about whether or not God exists.’

I warned her that at this late stage in her life she needed to think about the meaning of life and what she will face on the other side. Berta admitted that she needed to know more about what the Bible teaches. This was the deepest conversation Berta and I have had about spiritual things. Although it has taken us many years to get her to this point, the Lord knows what he is doing.

Simon, do you hate me?
Simon works at the Shalom Cultural Centre in Sofia. He has a handsome face, although there isn’t always a friendly look on it... especially when I’m at the centre! He knows I am a Christian minister and knows the church I serve. Every time he sees me his eyes follow me around the room.

Recently, Simon decided to confront me. ‘I often see you here. I know you are not Jewish and that you are a Christian minister. So tell me, what business does a Gentile minister have in a Jewish centre every week?’

His abrupt interrogation caught me by surprise and I froze momentarily, unsure of what to say. ‘Well,’ I mumbled, ‘I thought the centre was open to the public?’ My answer made him furious: ‘Don’t play with me, boy! I know you are here to tell people about your religion. Right?’

I confirmed that if anyone asked me what I do, I would be honest with them and speak to them about God and the Bible. I asked if he would prefer me to tell them there is no God and that I carry out my duties as a minister simply in order to make a living.

My answer took him by surprise but he made it clear that there was no place for my religion at the centre and that he would be keeping a close eye on me. Then, turning his back on me, Simon stormed off. Please pray that the Lord will soften his heart toward me but, more importantly, to the gospel. Despite his belligerence, I believe that, by God’s grace, there is hope even for Simon.

This article was first published in the Spring Herald 2015

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