August 28, 2007
I recently returned from my sixth ministry trip to the Eastern European country of Moldova. I’ve had the opportunity to travel there on an every-other-year basis for the last dozen years to minister in an incredible summer camp for teens. In the last ten years this camp has hosted over 30,000 young people from every corner of this communist country. Each visit has had its unique moments from the time I was arrested and held at gunpoint for several hours (for bringing Christian materials into the country), to the experience—in the dead of winter—in an outhouse with no roof! This trip, however, was possibly the most blessed by God.
Most of my other ministry opportunities have been of an evangelistic nature. The kids in the camp were, for the most part, non-Christians. This summer was totally different in that only Christian teens were invited for a “Teen Leadership Camp.” From the first service I knew this was going to be a special week. What I didn’t know is that God would be teaching me profound things through cell phones and bread. Before I get to cell phones and bread, however, a little history lesson would be helpful.
Moldova is part of the former Soviet Union. It’s bordered on one side by Ukraine and the other by Romania. As with most of the Soviet Republics, when the Iron Curtain fell and the USSR crumbled, Moldova embraced her new found freedom ecstatically. The ecstasy, however, soon turned to despair as the country struggled with freedom and self-rule. Elements of the Russian mafia and others rushed in to fill the leadership void. The already fragile economy continued to collapse and in desperation the people of Moldova freely elected a communist government to rule over them again.
Now, what about cell phones and bread?
Just two years ago on my last excursion into Moldova you would be hard-pressed to find any of the teenagers at the camp with a cell phone. After all, this is one of the poorest countries in Eastern Europe with a pitiful average annual family income. For example, it is not at all uncommon to drive through the thousands of villages throughout the country and notice that the common mode of transportation is a horse drawn cart. To this day, oxen are commonly used for plowing.
With this in mind, I was shocked to discover that one of the biggest problems at this particular camp was the use of cell phones among the youth. Cell phone use was so pervasive that it became necessary to round up all those little plastic communicators the very first day of camp. Otherwise, the kids would spend their time in the chapel services text messaging their friend across the aisle. Astonished, I asked the camp director how in the world these kids could afford cell phones. He simply shrugged his shoulders and sighed. He could not explain the phenomenon.
While I cannot fully explain the phenomenon either, I have learned this: people will find a way to obtain what they feel is important. That’s a principle provable anywhere in the world. This helps us understand why we are warned in Scripture to make sure that our treasures are laid up in Heaven. We are driven to obtain what is important to us. So while in Moldova, my prayers included petitioning God to take the intense desire the campers had for cell phones and redirect it toward His Word and will for their lives. Praise God, for He did this! As the kids were departing the camp after the last service many had experienced “blessed forgetfulness”—they had to be reminded to drop by the camp office and pick up their phones.
God not only taught me through cell phones, but bread as well.
The camp I work with is run with military precision. You can set your watch to the call for meals. Breakfast is at exactly 8:00 a.m. Lunch is at exactly 1:00 p.m. In all these years I have never seen the time deviate more than a minute or two—until Thursday.
The teens began to gather in front of the dining hall just before 1:00 p.m. awaiting the call to lunch that blares over the loud speakers. 1:00 became 1:05; 1:05 became 1:10. I was standing beside the camp director as he excused himself to discover what was wrong. He was told by the chief cook (a large imposing Russian woman) that the bread truck had not yet arrived.
Unfazed, the camp director said to the cook, “Well, okay, let’s just go ahead and eat. We’ll have extra bread for supper.” He explained that an extremely busy afternoon had been planned and we needed to eat ASAP. To this he received a very emphatic “Nyet!” (Russian for “No”). The cook then said in broken English, “No bread, no eat.”
It’s a deeply held custom in Moldova that there must be bread at every meal. In other words, it is not a meal without at least some form of bread. To eat, without bread, was unthinkable. In spite of various pleading and prodding, the cook stood her ground. No bread, no eat!
Lunch that day was delayed by two hours. The soup was cold, the rice was cold, but there was bread!
Later that evening I retired to my room in the camp dormitory and thought on the events of the day. I could not get lunch off of my heart. “No bread, no eat.” I wondered what would happen if all Christians were that emphatic about their “daily bread.” What if we absolutely refused to do anything until we had partaken of God’s bread for our soul? Regardless of how pressing the demands of the day or how filled our schedule, what if we would say “Nyet” to everything until we had heard from God through His Word?
It’s amazing what you can learn in a communist country through cell phones and bread.
Bob Burney is Salem Communications’ award-winning host of Bob Burney Live, heard weekday afternoons on WRFD-AM 880 in Columbus, Ohio. Contact Bob at [email protected]