The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;… (Isaiah 61:1)
I have to confess, a trip to Finland was not on my radar screen a year ago. It is not something either Charleen or I had anticipated. Nevertheless, after a nine hour flight to Istanbul and a three hour leg from there, Ian and Octavio met us in the airport in Helsinki. We spent the first night in a guest home run by an Aussie/New Zealand couple working with YWAM. The next day Charleen, Ian and I boarded the bus for an eight hour trip north to Kajaani, while Octavio waited another day for his mom and sister to arrive from Mexico.
The purpose of our trip, of course, was to participate in the wedding of Ian’s friend, Octavio, and his Finnish bride, Mari. What a pleasure to take part in their wedding, and what a delight so see that part of the world, including a 3 ½ hour car ride to the Arctic Circle, replete with reindeer in the road on the way.
Mari and Octavio met while both were doing missions work, he with YWAM, and she with a Finnish mission organization in Kosovo. We have known Octavio for almost ten years, as he has passed through our home many times while coming and going. He has really become like part of our family; in fact Charleen refers to him as “my other son”. We met Mari back in the spring as she had flown over from Europe on her way to meet Octavio’s family in Mexico. We found her to be quite comfortable in our home, level-headed and spiritually mature. I’m convinced she will make a wonderful wife for our “other son”.
As you might imagine, the wedding was quite an international affair; Scripture was read in English, Spanish and Finnish. I had an interpreter to translate my sermon into Finnish, and Octavio and Mari recited their vows to each other in their respective languages. Along with that there was about a dozen of Mari’s friends who made the trip from Kosovo- all first generation Christians. One of Mari’s Kosovar friends is married to a young Austrian attorney, who is seeking to practice refugee law in that part of the world as a Christian.
Speaking of refugees, we here in the US only hear and read of what is happening in Europe at present. Europe is experiencing the worst refugee crisis since WWII. Many are going to Germany, the UK, and the Scandinavian countries. We began to see that the first day we were there. Some are from Afghanistan, Somalia, and other countries, but the majority are from Syria. The governments of these European countries are really scrambling to accommodate them as they flood across their borders, Finland included. They are being placed in various cities and towns all over Finland, including the small city, Roveniemi, right on the artic circle. We saw evidence while riding the buses and also while attending worship in the small city of Kajaani on Sunday.
We here in America, as well as in many other countries, talk about protecting our borders against those who would come to our shores illegally, especially those who might be intent on doing harm. That’s certainly understandable, given 9/11. But as Christians, we need to ask how God might be calling us as the church to respond.
A generation ago, we had those in and from Grace Church who responded to Vietnamese “boat people”, yes, even here in Pittsfield. Thankfully there are many churches at the forefront of response to the refugee crisis in Europe. And there are those who have left non-Christian countries where they have witnessed the tactics of the likes of ISIS and seen the comparison of the gospel in the response of Christians. It seems like that should tell us something. We need to pray that God would help us discern the difference between protecting our way of life and being an intentionally missional church.
Pastor Tom Bridgman