Headlines from First Thoughts

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Meet the Mayor

The beauty of Plitschlike Lakes near Cakovec.

The most interesting relationship formed has to be with the mayor. On Wednesday, Mike Cunningham and Bill Coley met the mayor of Cakovec, a former communist adminstrator who is now overseeing free market development in his country. They exchanged greetings from both places. As a result of their meeting on Wednesday, this man who is not a believer agreed to attend the evangelistic outreach meeting at the Pastoral Center during the second week of May.

More than a Mission

Sorting Chairs for Dusting and Cleaning

How do you earn trust with the world? You do it the way Jesus did, with a towel and sacrifice. Everyone was eager to help, even if it meant dusting dirty chairs.

From a Deaf Class to Teaching the Deaf Club

Cleaning the basement.

Julie Rice also had the chance to meet with the Deaf Club, a group of believers in Puscine that meet together for worship. With very little warning, we emailed Carol Linger and Jerry Seale, who cobbled together the materials. They used handouts from the sign language class that Julie took at FBC last fall on Wednesday evenings. They emailed the materials to Toma Magda in Cakovec, and he printed them for her class. On Wednesday, she taught American sign language to Deaf Croatian Believers. Way to Go, Team!

Relationships that Matter

Having Lunch in Rijeka.

Opening a Door to Relationships

Here's Julie Rice mixing the "mud" for the tile.

Sometimes the work of laying tile leads to a new kind of work...establishing relationships with people. Who would have thought that laying tile and cleaning out a basement could open doors to other opportunities? On Monday, that's exactly what happened. Bratko Horvatic, one of the leaders of the pastoral center, invited the team to send a delegation to one of the local elementary schools in Cakovec. Bratko, who is also a Gideon, arranged to distribute 1500 New Testaments at the school and asked for the Americans from FBC to assist him. Mike Cunningham, Kennie Riffey, and Sidney Bowman went on Tuesday morning. Out of courtesy, they met with the principal first and asked her what they had permission to say to the students. She replied, "Why don't you tell them why you are a Christian and why it is so important to you."

Mike, Kennie, and Sidney willingly shared their testimonies. The principal enjoyed their presence so much that she called three other schools to meet with them the next day. This one day in the schools gave them opportunity to share Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. This morning, Brent Starling was able to go and enjoy the experience as well.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Scott Ballard lines up the tiles. The Croatians do not want us to use "spacers," so the expert tiler is able to space them evenly with the eye.

Clean Sweep

Craig Shell gives one room a clean sweep. Most of the dorm rooms were filled with supplies. After plenty of experience with moving materials, the crew was ready to clean out even more rooms.


Tiling the Croatian way is a tedious experience. We start, restart, and start again. Bill Coley and Dianne Graybeal work on one of the dorm rooms. They are "Batman and Robin."

Monday, April 24, 2006

Your Team in Croatia

The 2006 Croatian Mission Team from FBC

Please pray for the team as we continue to minister in Cakovec.

Eating Time

Greg Reed and Mitch Reed (The Reed Twins?) enjoy a light meal together.

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

The basement group moved everything but the.... We even moved the sink. What a project.

Hi-Ho Hi-Ho, It's Off to Work we....?

Amy Pickle enjoys a ride on the dolly while Link Hudson gives her a push. We have a little fun every once in awhile. Link is also our group's "videographer." Link will be producing a documentary of the trip that you will not want to miss.

Working 9 to 5

Ok, we worked a little longer than 9-5. In this picture, you see Scott Ballard and Scott Moore rushing to learn the fine art of laying tile.

We closed the evening with a devotional led by Andy Edmondson. He discussed the importance of preparing your mind to serve the Lord.

Tomorrow promises to be an exciting day. A few of the team will accompany one of the Croatian Baptists to the local school to distribute New Testaments and speak about our work here. Others will continue painting and laying tile.


Steve Bowman demonstrates his skills

How do you become an expert in laying tile? Very carefully. The tile team divided into four pairs, each taking a room. A Croatian supervisor dropped into tell them how they were doing and "advise" them if they needed to correct something. Everyone had their moments when they needed to start over.

We broke for lunch around 12:00 noon and had supper at 6:30. Lunch was sandwiches and chips. We enjoyed a fine meal of wurst and soup for supper.

Everybody's Working for the Weekend....

L to R Mike Cunningham, Rita England, Matthew Evans, Craig Shell, Mark Palmer, Andy Edmondson, Marion Graybeal, and H. L. England compliment each other on a fine job of stacking chairs.

The name of the game in Croatia is flexibility. No one expected to be clearing out a room on the first work project on Monday morning, but we are here to serve...so that's what we did. Craig Shell led this capable group of servants.

We started bright and early at 7:30 a.m. (Some early birds began moving furniture around 7:00 a.m.) The Croatian Baptists provided 4 local craftsmen to teach us how to lay tile and to supervise us as we moved the furnishings.

Working Hard

Brent Starling, Dianne Graybeal, and Julie Rice learn how to lay tile.

The group today has been working on two projects. The first group laid tile on the third floor of the pastoral center. We are finishing dorm rooms to make them ready for guests and residents in their youth facility.

The second group moved furniture out of one room to prepare the same room for painting. They scraped walls today and will be painting tomorrow.

Working for the Weekend!

We're hard at work this morning in Croatia. Good morning to you in the States. Here are a few shots of our experiences today.

Steve Bowman lays tile. What an expert!

Working for the Weekend

We're hard at work this morning in Croatia. Good morning to you in the States. Here are a few shots of our experiences today.

Steve Bowman lays tile. What an expert!

Everybody's Working For the Weekend

We're hard at work this morning in Croatia. Good morning to you in the States. Here are a few shots of our experiences today.

Steve Bowman lays tile. What an expert!

L to R Jim Moore, Steve Bowman, Kinney Riffey, and Sydney Bowman prepare to get dirty!

In the basement, Rita England, Amy Pickle, and Link Hudson load tables. Yours truly "watches," and one of our Croatian friends is supervising. We are clearing out a room this morning so that it can be painted. A hotel recently donated used furnishings to the pastoral center, and they are storing tables, chairs, and materials in the basement. We are in the process of sorting and re-stacking so that we can paint.

L to R Mike Cunningham, Rita England, Matthew Evans, Craig Shell, Mark Palmer, Andy Edmondson, Marion Graybeal, and H. L. England compliment each other on a fine job of stacking chairs.

L to R Brent Starling, Dianne Graybeal, and Julie Rice receive instructions. We have a Croatian tile expert at the center with us this morning. He trained the crew for an hour or so, and then they went to work on the dorm rooms on the third floor. We're staying on the second floor, which gives us easy access to our rooms.

Scott Ballard (L) and Scott Moore rush to be trained in tiling. We awoke at 6:30 a.m. for a 7:30 a.m. start to our day. Some "early birds" were moving furniture by 7:00 a.m. Greg Reed is our supervisor for this part of the project.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Croatia Experiences

Pitschlike Lakes

Most of the group was able to go to Pitschlike Lakes on Saturday. Bill Coley and Link Hudson pose for the camera. The lakes are in a national park in Croatia.

The Rustica

Our first trip to Rustica was Saturday evening. This is the traditional restaurant stop in Cakovec, and we enjoyed a fine meal of Pork Chops, Steak, Bratwurst, Sausage, Potatoes, and Vegetables.

New Church Site in Rijeka

Puscine and Rijeka

Our whirlwind tour of Croatia continued today. The group worshipped in two locations this morning. One group went to Ivica Horvatzic's church in Puscine, about 10 minutes from here. Another group traveled 3 hours to Rijeka, along the coast of Croatia to Rijeka. Mike Cunningham preached in Puscine, and yours truly preached in Rijeka. Mike led a seminar back at the Pastoral Center in Cakovec this evening, and I led a seminar in Rijeka. Mike focused on unity and "finishing strong." I discussed "moving beyond the walls of the church."

Worship in Rijeka

The church in Rijeka is relocating to the highway that connects Zagreb with Trieste, Italy. This prominent location will give them great visibility and an opportunity to minister better in the community. After worship on Sunday, my group saw the foundation of the new church and prayed a blessing on their work. We took some time for coffee in Opatje, and Matthew, Toma, and I returned for the seminar in Rijeka.

Stevo and Matthew

One of the members is of the church in Croatia named Stevo (pictured with Matthew) has been emailing Matthew for the past two years for us to visit them in Rijeka. Matthew and Stevo met officially for the first time this morning. After I met Stevo, however, he reminded me that we actually met once before at a conference in San Antonio two years ago. What a small world! He is very excited about their project, and he has worked with the architect to design the building.

Group photo at the new church in Rijeka

Saturday, April 22, 2006


Preaching in Vinkovci, Toma Magda is translating
One of the most important things we do in Croatia is affirm and bless the work that God is doing through these people. They work long hours and turn multitasking into an art form. While riding with Toma Magda today, I asked him about all the things he does in "ministry." He serves as the President of the Croatian Baptist Union, directs and oversees the Pastoral Center, works with the church that meets here at the center, and helps his wife direct the training institute they have for lay people. He's also a husband and father of four. And I thought I had a busy life!

Our hosts have taken the group to see a beautiful lakeside national park. Some of our group are also traveling to Rijeka to see the coastline.

Tonight, Mike Cunningham will teach two sessions on unity at the Pastoral Center in Cakovec. Tomorrow, Bill will preach in Rijeka and lead a session on how the church can "move outside the walls" for ministry. Mike will be preaching in Puscine in the morning and teaching at the Pastoral Center in Cakovec tomorrow evening.

On Monday, we begin hauling materials, painting walls, laying tile, and hanging doors.

Friday, April 21, 2006

In Croatia

We made it to Croatia. I have been enjoying the Eastern part of Croatia today while waiting for the group to arrive. The team arrived safely in ńĆakovec tonight after a long flight and drive. This morning, I visited the Baptist house at the University of Zagreb, and this evening I taught a seminar for laypeople in Vinkovci. My seminar was entitled ˝Holy Living in an Unholy World˝ from Matthew 5-6.

The Church in Vinkovci

Vinkovci is a town that has defied the odds-- like many in Croatia. Fourteen years ago, the town was being shelled by Serbian missiles. Today, a native of Serbia is the worship pastor at the church where I taught this evening. In this part of Croatia, ˝the war˝ was a living reality. Every person has a story of where they were and what they were doing from August 1991-May 1992 when the attacks on this area intensified. The war against Serbian aggression wreaked havoc over this place, and the church where I taught tonight was destroyed by a fire ignited from a blaze that started at an adjacent building. Their rebuilding efforts took over 3 years.

After the war ended, the government did not pay to rebuild the church. The church, however, assisted with humanitarian relief for refugees. One of its refugee trucks was hit by mortar fire during one of its relief operations. The govenment was unwilling to pay very little to replace the truck, and the church´s attorney advised them to wait it out. Three years later, the government was forced to settle for the amount of the truck plus interest. The amount of the settlement was $250,000, plenty of resources to build most of the church they lost years ago.

David, the Worship Leader, and his family
Lazare, a lay leader in the church, with his son David, who is attending the seminary in Osijek

Talking with a Student named Safet

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Judas is Back

Just in time for Easter, Judas has one last gasp. At least the writer of his book has. “The Gospel of Judas,” a late third-early fourth century biography of the betrayer of Christ has surfaced through the National Geographic Society. I have not read the book; but from what various reports have suggested, the Gospel fits a large swath of manuscripts that give a different account than the one in the 4 New Testament Gospels. This should come as no surprise. After the New Testament Gospels were circulated, Gnostics of all stripes wrote alternative versions of the lives of the prominent figures among the early Christians, including Peter, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Jesus, and now Judas.

Scholars of all persuasions, including yours truly, study the Gospels that were around in the early churches for various reasons. Some of us use them for better information about culture, habits, linguistics, and data. There is much to be gained by comparing the New Testament Gospels with other literature of their day. We do that with all the books of the Bible to help us understand what the ancient writers were thinking and the ancient audiences were hearing. The writings only make sense in their contexts. Just as we study the archeological findings from Ephesus to know more about the city of Ephesus, we study the data from ancient literature to know more about the most important ancient literature in the Bible.

There are good reasons the Gospel of Judas, like the other Gnostic Gospels, were rejected as authoritative by the church. One, it’s a “Johnny/Judas come lately” book, 200-300 years late. The New Testament Gospels were written much earlier in the first century. All Gnostic Gospels are later than the New Testament's. Second, the Gnostic Gospels distorted the accepted portrait of Jesus from the early church. Some scholars like Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels are determined to find a conspiracy behind this. I think it was less conspiracy and more consensus. The early Christians had four accurate accounts of the life of Jesus and his disciples. The others did not match the information. The Gnostics changed the information to fit their purposes. Some thought he was human and not divine; others, vice versa. Most of the early church leaders advised against using them as authoritative literature. We have carried on that tradition today with the 27 books we call the inspired New Testament.

I should also warn you about something else. The Gospel of Judas was purchased from an antiquities dealer. The last time we had a major archeological find from an antiquities dealer was a couple of years ago when scholars thought they found the ossuary (casket) of Jesus’ brother James. It turned out to be a forgery. Stay tuned.

Either way, don’t let your resurrection faith be worried about another Gospel written much later than the New Testament’s Gospels. The four we have to go on have sufficed us for 2,000 years of church history and will remain that way for centuries to come. The Gnostic Gospels actually give us more reasons to accept our Gospels and believe in the Christ of the resurrection.

Monday, April 03, 2006

T-Ball Time

We're a T-Ball family now. Parker told Kelly and me several times, "I'm kind of nervous about my T-Ball game." Having no frame of reference for this sport, I reassured him: "I get nervous every time I talk to the church on Sunday." No luck. Parker was still anxious. We missed our first practice because he was out of town, so we had little to go on.

His team, "The Braves," bears little resemblance to the professionals in Atlanta. They wear the logo, and the similarities end there. The only thing brave about this team is that they have the courage to go out and hear their parents tell them how cute they look.

Parker batted second in the line up last Saturday. Thankfully, his good buddy John Beam went first to show him the way. His first hit-- a hot shot to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd baseman (all the kids converged on the ball) was perhaps the best hit of the game. I'm not biased.

The highlight of the game came in the second inning. Parker played first base and actually caught the ball on one hop after one of his teammates threw it (lofted it) to him. He even got a hand from the crowd. Coach Beam was even impressed. Not bad for missing your first practice. Can you imagine what he might be capable of in game 2?

Before bedtime Saturday night, Parker was wired. Kelly came into the bedroom: "Bill, you've got to talk to your son. He's asking tons of questions, and he's not going to sleep." We reviewed the day. He told me he was "burning up" in his hat. I told him he still had to wear the ball cap. He wanted to know if I was going to miss any of the practices. I told him I would be at ALL the practices. He told me that he was still nervous about the rest of the T-Ball games. I guess I need to find more words of assurance.

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