Some news from the Augsburgers recent travels!
CROATIA , TEACHING AND ART CONFRENCE
Osijec , Croatia , October 1-16, 2007
We both were invited to teach and then help to convene and lecture in a small art conference in the Evangelical Baptist Seminary. This was the fourth time we have taught in this seminary in the past years. Several Mennonite professors are regularly invited to teach there. In fact, they have a “Mennonite Room”, with four of Tom Shenk's painting prints on the wall. We are always so welcomed and have enjoyed this privilege. We are hosted, by meals and a lovely apartment on campus while there, but InterChurch has needed to pay our travel.
Myron taught a course for senior students on “Anabaptist Perspectives in Theology” gave chapel lectures and preached in a church which is located on campus. He taught a full semester course, so classes needed to meet each day for three hours a day. Of course Myron had many papers to read and grade, even weeks following our return home. It was a full schedule, but enjoyable.
Esther was asked by the seminary to, instead of teaching as she had done earlier, to help them convene a conference and lecture for artists from different parts of Croatian and Serbia. This was held during the first week of our time there. The second week, Esther was invited to visit most of the participant's homes each day, to see their studios and their work and eat a meal with some of them. This was a wonderful opportunity to build relationships and to witness her faith to some whom were not “Believers”. She had not known many of them before and this gave an opportunity to build a bonding relationship with them. Eight of them came to the subsequent Bulgarian Art Conference. Two became “believers” there. (In Eastern Europe the name of “Christian” is not commonly used, as it is seen as Western. They use the name “believer”. We like that!)
Again, we were reminded of how God orchestrates His people to carry on the work to which He needs done. Each using gifts of speaking, preaching, giving of finances and, above all, prayer.
MAR THOMA CONVENTION
Karala, South India,Feb. 10 -17, 2008
Sharing in this convention was an awesome experience to say the least. It is the largest such gathering of Christians in a conference anywhere in the world. For this to happen in India is a remarkable witness of God’s work. This has been meeting every year for 113 years.
We met in Maramon, Karala on an alluvial plain which was a river-bed. The water was cut off, long enough ahead by a dam far to the north, for the large river to dry; except for a stream flowing gently along side of the meeting place. The community worked for weeks to erect a large shelter of thatched coconut palms overhead, seating 100,000 persons on the ground. Small temporary buildings scattered on the ground were facilities for water, toilets, food stalls and exhibits and a large temporary building for food, which was prepared outside on the ground. They built two temporary very long bridges from the high bank across the small remaining river to the dry bed for those coming from the Maramon side, It was a most beautiful sight to see the thousands of people, dressed in white and colorful clothes, streaming in each day, staying for three sessions a day for the whole week. The last two days it was thought that there were 150,000 people attending, with 50,000 seated outside the shelter and along the river banks.
We were invited by the Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan (archbishop), through his emissary, C. V. Samuel. The Metropolitan, with the ten Bishops and hundreds of priests were very gracious and supportive. While I, Myron, was invited as main speaker, Esther was invited to lead Bible studies with the women each morning at 7:30 o'clock. Another speaker was Prof. Maake J. Masango of Pretoria University of So. Africa, a wonderfully effective brother. In addition, Dr. Charles Price and wife Hillary, of People's Church, Toronto, were present for several addresses near the end of the week. A few other speakers from the Mar Thoma community were not translated so we failed to enter in to those. They had a large choir each session, singing Malayalam songs of typical Indian tunes.
We were treated with royal hospitality. Every meal was Indian, which was no problem with us, (except for the rice three times a day). Esther's brother Paul came from North India by a three-day, two nights train trip to spend the last half week with us. He was duly also treated with high respect and care. After the convention closing, the Metropolitan gifted the three us with three days in the beautiful inland water-ways on an air-conditioned house boat with royal treatment and one day and a night in the Nilgiri Mountains among the tea plantations and wild goats.
The Mar Thoma Church believes that they date back to AD 62 when the disciple St. Thomas came to India with the Gospel of Christ. They report that Thomas founded eight churches which have extended the kingdom of Christ through the years. The actual Mar Thoma Church, as it is currently organized, was born in 1868 when they broke from the Syrian Orthodox Church, known by many through the Jacobites, The lead visionary was Abraham Malpan, with a small group of priests, concerned that the Sunday liturgy was not in the language of the people. After they met in prayer along the river, a revival broke lose and they began nine small fellowship groups. This has grown to over 900 congregations, primarily in Kerala, S. India, but is found quite widely in Asia, Europe and N. America ( New York, Chicago, Huston, etc.) The Mar Thoma Church is of Reformed tradition, with a strong emphasis on the sacraments, liturgy, high respect for the authority of the leaders and a great sense of identity. The people attending have, for the most part, a good biblical orientation and background, as many are fairly well educated.
The Theme for the convention was: “O God by Your Grace Transform the World”. The messages were expected to be clear on salvation but with a strong relation to social concerns and social justice. I was well able to speak to issues in justice, nonviolence and peace. The emphasis on spirituality was to address the social ills in society. There was deep concern for basic human rights and for ministries to the poor and the homeless. While personal repentance and renewal were emphasized, the call to revival meant both spiritual edification and ministries to the suffering. They built some 2,500 houses for the homeless and poor in recent years. This emphasis on kingdom priorities and Christian ethics had long been emphasized by Dr. E. Stanley Jones as he spoke at the convention. each year for some 40 years. At this Convention they celebrated the 100 th anniversary of Jones coming to India as a missionary.
The Martoma church believes that, as Jesus identified himself completely with the poor, the suffering and the lonely, he was not ashamed to interact with the indigent and the untouchables. They surely live this belief.
Kerala, is estimated to be 37 % Christian, while across India in general this is a bit above 3%. This makes Kerala a unique district. Their compassion for the poor and needy has stimulated action on the part of Hindus who did not have this as a part of their doctrine. The Metropolitan told us that perhaps as many as 3% attendees were Muslim and Hindus; attending in friendship.
This experience for us was likely a “once in a life-time” privilege, something we did not deserve but enjoyed immensely. We shared the Gospel with joy and with Paul, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.”
INTERNATIONAL GATHERING OF CHRISTIAN ARTISTS
Sofia/Bankia, Bulgaria, June 22-29, 2008
The international Christian Artist’s Gathering was a remarkable happening with eighty artists gathered from 22 countries, crossing racial, gender and generational lines to share in fellowship and professional critique and encouragement. Participating were mostly visual artists with a few musicians, and dancers.
The conference was organized by Esther, who has, for 18 years, been convening such gatherings, and was felt that this was one of the finer. She was assisted by Barbara Gautcher of EMHS, Harrisonburg, Va. In the Bulgarian context she worked with Hari and Penka Atanasav, professional artists and pastor, who have been vital participants in most of the Eastern European conferences in the past. She worked in special cooperation with Steve Scott of California who works primarily with conferences in the Far East under Christian Arts Networking Association. Esther had been asked by the International Christian Media Commission of the Luzanne Congress, in 1991 to convene these conferences in Eastern Europe. She has since been working under the auspices of InterChurch Inc.. However, with her regularly assisting in the Far East conferences, she built many relationships with Asian artists, many of whom came to Bulgaria from India, Philippines, several African countries, S. Korea, Malasia, Malawi, United Arab Republic and Israel. From Eastern Europe artists came from Hungary, Lithuania, Armenia, Croatia, Romania, Serbia and Bulgaria and from the West; Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, England and USA.
The conference began with the privilege of including in the program the first two evenings, the touring choir from Eastern Mennonite High School. The daily program consisted of Bible studies led by Steve Scott, presentations by outstanding artists, lectures by Myron as well as several Eastern European participants, such as an Orthodox Priest and art historians. One special presenter, and friend of Esther's, was the Internationally known sculptor, Livu Mocan of Cluj, Romania, who brought, not only quality art expertise, but a deep spiritual focus. Esther and her associates had outlined a program focusing on the artist expressing truth in one’s faith, art and culture, on grace in art, love as the art of peacemaking and bridge-building between peoples. Each evening was a time of worship conducted artists of different cultures in their own cultural form. Each brought a number of their works of art for an exhibition in the conference hall and also in a professional gallery in the city of Sofia. The group was taken the 17 miles by buses into the heart of the city for seeing art museums, two cathedrals and to be present for the opening of the our exhibition which was well attended by people from the city. That evening, after returning from the city, all were privileged with a special dinner at the hotel where we held the conference, with a special Bulgarian folk musician playing their typical shepherd's bag-pipe. During this meal, Esther was honored and given a piece of art especially crafted for her by a sculptor.
During the afternoons there were informal workshops in print-making, on art therapy and daily times when artists would show their work through power-point with comments and critiques. The variety of styles and expressions was invigorating. It was impressive to view the art work of each artist in different cultures and hear their stories, which gave us far more exposure to their work and thinking than the limited exhibit provided. For many, this was a stimulus which made their work complementary rather than competitive, and that opened windows on how to do art of quality and of Christian integrity. During these afternoon sessions, a number of artists told of their need to commit their lives to Jesus, as they had not been “Believers” before. Many commented that they felt a deeply spiritual atmosphere throughout the conference.
Clearly art is a language of its own, a visual language and a universal language. There were three language translation booths with hearing devices provided for each person and several additional translators in small groups translating the lectures and afternoon sharing, but there was no need for a translator of the art. It is so remarkable the art makes a special communication to the world.
Emphasizing that this should be the last such a Conference which she would organize, Esther challenged them with a vision for a committee from Eastern Europe to continue the work, offering counsel with the willingness to participate in their ‘Gatherings’ in the future. The conference concluded with a most meaningful sharing together in the Lord’s Supper in which a number of artists who made a commitment to Christ during the conference participating. We give God the honor of His special gift of a good fellowship together in Bulgaria.