Remember the Poor
In Jesus’ first public address, He opened the book of Isaiah and delivered a profound message astounding the ears of the Jews who were present.
“The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon Me, because He has anointed Me [the Anointed One, the Messiah] to preach the good news (the Gospel) to the poor; He has sent Me to announce release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send forth as delivered those who are oppressed [who are downtrodden, bruised, crushed, and broken down by calamity.]” (Luke 4:18, Amplified Bible)
Wow! Without wasting any words, Jesus clearly defined the chief object of His divine mission. It was the fulfillment of the prophecy spoken by the prophet Isaiah.
Right from the mouth of Jesus the River had begun to flow, and the initial manifestation of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was to be ministering salvation to the poor, to the blind and the destitute.
The Lord, who is otherwise no respecter of persons, obviously has his own favorites here! Moreover, if we continue to follow His ministry, we begin to realize who the darlings of His attention are: the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the blind, the sick, the rejected, especially those who know that they are.
I was born in Eastern Europe during the communist regime, and I know more than I should about human poverty and degrading treatment. I was raised up brain washed by the government system with godless ideology and humanism which reduced me to mere property of the state. I grew up lost, depressed and even suicidal. When rock and roll hit Western Europe in the mid 60’s, three boys and I responded forming the first officially recognized rock band in Bulgaria. Rock music became the vehicle through which we could vent our frustration and rebellion, but eventually the Communists shut us down.
Then one day, before I realized what was happening to me, I found myself being smuggled out of the country. It happened so fast that I had to pinch myself as I was crossing the iron curtain.
Looking back I know that God’s hand plucked me right out of the hands of the enemy. The next thing I knew, I was on board an American airplane over the Atlantic Ocean landing in New York City in the land of the free.
Less then one year after my arrival, I made my way to California and ran into the “Jesus people” who were witnessing on the streets of Los Angeles. I didn’t speak English well, and I couldn’t understand their talk about Jesus, so they wisely used food as an evangelistic tool. It worked. At the time I was jobless and always very, very hungry. Eventually, after two months of free dinners and lots of love, I prayed a short, simple prayer. “God, do you exist?” And He showed up!
I was born again immediately and began spending ten hours a day reading His Word and reveling in His presence. He ravished my heart with love. I yielded to His possession and became useless for anything but Jesus. I joined the full-time ministry and after years of service I became an ordained minister.
In the early days of my Christian life, I was involved mainly with Christian contemporary music as a songwriter for children tapes like the “Music Machine” and “Bullfrogs and Butterflies.” I met Winnie, now my wife, and later as a young couple, we became the leaders of the band, “Silverwind,” doing Christian concerts in churches and stadiums throughout North America. We even traveled to places like Europe, Australia and New Zealand. But although we were busy and successful, I felt that something was missing.
The Third World
Suddenly one day, the Lord placed a burning desire in our hearts to go off the beaten path and do a crusade in Africa. And what a time we had as we ministered to people in Kenya and especially in Uganda, a nation that had been recently devastated by war. We were completely unprepared for the shock of experiencing the levels of poverty and despair in the lives of these African people. We came away with our hearts being torn apart and overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy, as though the God we knew was too small to help this radically needy situation. Our faith and personal experience of Him seemed so limited compared to the vastness of the world’s needs. We became even more aware that something major was lacking in our ministry. We needed a bigger God, one who not only did great things in the Bible, but a present God who performed His miracles in us and used us to change impossible situations.
Then He Showed Me A River (Revelation 22: 1)
In 1994 He showed us the River, and everything in our personal lives and our ministries dramatically changed. It was as though huge, invisible jets were attached to us propelling our lives with new power of the Holy Ghost. Everything about us, both as a married couple and as ministers changed. We began to see the Word of God and everyone, including ourselves, in a whole new way. We were not only renewed, but we found ourselves ministering under a whole new anointing. We began to immerse ourselves in the depths of the Father’s love and began experiencing His pleasures in almost unbearable degrees. The joy of Jesus, the joy unspeakable and full of glory we’ve read about in the Bible, became our daily portion, altering the way we used to preach and lead praise and worship. We became more radical and free as the glory of God intensified.
Remember The Poor
One night as we were rolling on the floor together at the Party Conference in Toronto, a Nicaraguan couple said, “Come to Nicaragua. We’re very poor, but Christ is rich in our hearts.”
I suddenly remembered once again the words of the Apostle Paul, “Remember the poor.”
“We’d love to,” I said, “but we’re booked solid with daily meetings all the way up to the end of the year, with only one week off for the Christmas holidays.
“Oh, that will be perfect”, said the Nicaraguan pastor with a silly, drunk grin on his face, “a New Wine Christmas party in Nicaragua.” I couldn’t believe his response. We were expecting a Christmas break to rest from ministry.
As the date drew near and we began to prepare, I called Arturo. I remembered how God had used free food to draw me to Jesus.
“What do you like to eat down there?” I yelled on the phone as we fought through poor cell phone reception?
“Pig”, shouted Arturo, “roasted pig!”
“Good,” I said, “let’s have a roasted pig feast with all your orphans and other poor kids from your neighborhood. Oh and let’s have many piñatas full of candies!”
The Lord provided all the money for the entire feast through the generous River churches in North America. One couple even donated boxes full of toys for the orphans.
It was the best Christmas Day we’ve ever had. So many were touched and came to Jesus as a result. We’re going to Nicaragua again this year during Christmas, this time we’re blocking off the street in front of the church, and doing a three-day feast of roasted pig, a New Wine Party with praise and worship music all day long. I can already smell the barbeque smoke!
The Fried Chicken Miracle
Then early this year our dear friends Rolland and Heidi Baker invited us to a “Jesus Celebration Conference” in Africa. This radical missionary couple and their staff take care of the daily needs of over 800 orphans right on their main base in Maputo, Mozambique. Once again we asked about the orphans’ favorite meal.
“Fried chicken,” Heidi said, “but they get to eat it only twice a year, on Christmas and Easter.”
“Well”, I told her, “let’s have a chicken dinner at the end of the Conference for everybody. You organize it, and we’ll cover the expenses.”
The odor of frying chicken permeated the air over Zimpeto, Mozambique as the cooks spent all night cooking 1200 pieces of chicken.
But the next day the crowd doubled with 2400 for the Sunday morning service. None of us knew what to do other than pray, “Lord, help us!”
As we were serving the chicken dinner to the people, the pile of chicken never quite went all the way down until the last unexpected visitor ate their portion! The Lord doubled the chicken and interestingly enough the chicken He was multiplying was just as greasy as what we fried!
Fat Sheep Stew
This summer we’re doing an outreach in my native Bulgaria. For the past six years since the Holy Spirit has touched our lives, we’ve been going there twice a year ministering to a group of 25 pastors who have opened their hearts and their churches to the move of the Holy Spirit. What we enjoy doing for them and their spouses every time we go there is a 3- to 4-day River Retreat in a hotel, something most of them could not afford themselves. All we do is feed them and soak them in the River of God’s presence just to let them know that our Daddy loves them.
This year after the retreat about 40 people who are coming on the mission trip to help us are going to visit different gypsy neighborhoods where we already have our own churches and hold outdoor meetings.
At one location where the poverty is at its highest, we’re going to feed over 5000 gypsies with their favorite meal, a fat sheep stew. It will be just like in the story of the “prodigal son.” As we’re cooking the food right in the midst of the neighborhood, we will be singing and dancing on a stage all day long, making loud, joyful noise. We will praise the Lord Jesus for the cross and thank our Heavenly Father publicly for His goodness and mercy for giving us His Son. It’s going to be a great Jesus party, and I know his presence will be thick. At the end of the long feast, we’ll draw the salvation net, and we’ll lead the lost to Jesus.
The sounds, flavors and spices of these international “fatted calf” feasts and Jesus Celebrations may vary from nation to nation. However, the River of God’s extravagant love is always the same – deep, passionate, all consuming and irresistible. I want to always be among those who are poor and painfully aware of their need for more of You, Lord!