Dear Friends and Partners: Happy New Year to all of you — our friends and partners around the world! For those of you who contributed to The Bridge in 2013, this report with your enclosed itemized annual Donor Statement has been sent by postal mail to your mailing address. Please contact us if you want us to send you a full Financial Report.
Occasionally, Steve and I take the world globe off the shelf and turn it while pointing to the many countries on all continents where we have had the privilege of participating in impacting the Gospel and seen the indigenous church multiply and mature. The multiplication is not linear, but rather like the continual expansion from the circular ripples of a stone thrown in the middle of a lake. We thank God both for those who serve Him abroad and those who give of their finances and intercede from the home front. According to 2. Corinthians 9:7b-11, a promise of blessing goes both for the giver and the receiver, ”…for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, that always, having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, ’He scattered abroad, He gave to the poor, His righteousness abides forever.’ Now, He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food, will sow and multiply your seed for the sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness…”
2013 Marked the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Birth of The Bridge International.
In 1983, while serving with an East European mission in Munich, Germany, I was on my way back from the Black Sea in Bulgaria after a Bible smuggling mission, when I received the marching order from the Lord to return to the States — “BE a BRIDGE, do not build one!” Shortly thereafter I returned to Florida after having served for two years among the persecuted Christian believers in the grip of atheist communism behind the Iron Curtain. The Bridge started out with few resources, but at the core of its foundation was a big vision coupled with a persistent commitment to bridging resources in the West to those in need (at that time particularly the persecuted church in Eastern Europe) organically, through relationships, rather than building an organizational structure which had been—and regretfully continues to be—the model for most standard missionary agencies. God sent us partners and co-workers with kindred hearts to serve with us under the banner Linking God’s People to Reach the Unreached!
During the eighties, our growing team focused on intercessory prayer as we hammered against the bastion of the Iron Curtain and cried out for liberty for the believers. We worked clandestinely underground to reach those who suffered—initially via the mission in Munich, later (just before marrying my husband, Steven in 1987) via the Dutch Bridge (De Brug), established in Holland by one of my former mission coworkers. It became the base through which most of our subsequent field operations were conducted. Steve brought a unique gift to our team as an entrepreneurial businessman who took charge and helped finance the printing of Bibles (a total of 6 mill. N.T.) , and providing sponsorships for Bible Training schools and pioneer church planters.
The nineties arrived with a crescendo— the entire Iron Curtain suddenly crumbled and disintegrated as the peoples rose up in nation after nation and demanded freedom and liberty! It was a youth movement which brought a largely bloodless revolution. A new generation, disillusioned by oppression and the communist ideology, wanted to partake in the freedom of expression and the prosperity of the West. A spiritual awakening swept across the nations of the Soviet Union as they began searching for a new identity and spiritual truth. We knew that this was answer to the decade-long, persistent prayers and intercession by God’s people around the world!
The Bridge was ready and willing—we were thrust into the large harvest field reaching throughout the nations of the Balkans, Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia! Individuals and church groups from the States and Western Europe formed teams and signed up with The Bridge for short term pioneer mission trips, during which they traveled to unreached regions and shared the Gospel with groups of people who often gathered in the streets out of curiosity to encounter the foreigners. The team there and then handed out New Testaments and shared the basics of the Christian faith: the Father’s love and being born-again through faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ! People responded and a pioneer church had been born! In 1992 and 1993, we facilitated each year an estimated 80 short term mission trips with 500 believers who fanned across the vast regions of the East and the Balkans with the Word in their mouth and love in their heart. The Gospel prospered through relationships!
In the wake of the huge harvesting machines—the tele-evangelists, large mission organizations and Western mega-churches with vast resources—entering these nations with Gospel outreaches, then leaving without providing Bibles or training, we realized that there were masses of new-born spiritual babies, but no one to feed them. There was a void of spiritual leadership! We felt called to focus on leadership training of the new, indigenous believers, firstly by organizing teaching conferences by renown Bible teachers, later by establishing full and part time Bible Training schools. The first was an 18 month, full time school in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Others followed, till, in 1996, we sponsored 17 schools in varies countries. The graduates became pioneer missionaries and church planters, which we initially sponsored full time, then the support was reduced as they and their churches grew in the ability of self–sustainability.
At the turn of the Century, I wrote: “The Bridge’s specific call has been to initiate and support the pioneer phase of the outreaches in helping to identify and raise up the young, indigenous leadership, then come alongside to resource, equip and encourage them without violating their God-given authority and governance. As they and their ministries grow in maturity and strength, we pull back and eventually give everything into their hands. Our principle to help raise up and give away causes The Bridge’s home base to remain small, while the fruit of our sowing into God’s Kingdom in the nations keeps expanding!”
FAST FORWARD TO 2013
The expansive, direct involvement of The Bridge in the formerly communist nations gradually scaled down as the indigenous churches we pioneered with the nationals and their outreaches became self-propagating, self-financed, and self-sustained. A few years ago, the Bridge base in Holland was closed. In 2013, our last full time Bridge missionary couple, Peter and Solvei Stohl, returned to the States, where they are now pursuing their God-given gifts and talents in visual arts. We have always followed the raise-up-and-give-it-away directive, so our home base is again small, but our vision and commission is still clear and vibrant! We continue to sponsor indigenous works, but no longer as initiators; we are support players or equal partners with friends, with kindred heart and like vision, who serve in the field.
In March, I had the distinct pleasure of visiting South Sudan and spending time with three of our partnering organizations, one of whom we have helped support for a couple of decades. The two young South Sudanese men we helped finance through Bible College in Israel have started their own indigenous outreaches in Juba, assisted with our help. Bert Cole, a friend and partner from Tennessee, traveled to South Sudan in the Fall to serve among one of the tribes there. He gave the ultimate gift to the South Sudanese people: His own life. Bert died November 10! His impact during his 23 day stay is visible among the people he served!
The Bridge has all along had a quiet ministry which has been non-public, as it involves supporting those who share the love of Jesus in parts of the Muslim world where being born-again carries a death sentence. There is a fresh wind blowing over the Muslim world! The persecution is severe. We have first hand information that today in Iran, app. 2000 Muslims per month, have supernatural, direct encounters with Jesus in dreams and visions, embrace faith in Him and boldly face the consequences. Similar reports are surfacing from within other closed countries. A new boldness is evident among these new believers; a new openness in sharing their faith and displaying God’s love and forgiveness. Social media is a powerful tool in their hands — young people throughout the world are their mission field!
Just before a heavy rain there is a sweet aroma in the air. Today, the fragrant aroma of God’s Spirit is palpable in the Muslim world, like it was across Eastern Europe in 1988-89, just before the Iron Curtain fell. Is it possible that the wall of Islam is about to fall and Isaiah 60:1-2 is to be fulfilled—that His Light and Glory will appear in darkness—also in the hearts of Ishmael’s sons?