CBF Field Personnel / Field Personnel Columns

Stop, Ask, Listen

By Mary Van Rheenen

Have you ever thought you were really doing a good deed only to discover that the intended beneficiaries did not appreciate your efforts at all?

I can visualize parents all shaking their heads “yes.” The daughter did NOT want that sweater washed. At least not like THAT! I can visualize children shaking their heads “yes,” too. The aging parent did NOT want you to paint the garden shed. They were planning to knock it down. It happens all too often in ministry, too. Here’s a classic example.

Vasilita and Catea started a children’s Bible club in the Romany village of Vulcanesti, Moldova. Two Romanian friends of mine offered to help, long-distance, with suggestions. Vasilita and Catea accepted the offer, gratefully. They are going through the Bible and had gotten to Abraham and Sarah. One of the Romanians had seen a video of Abraham and Isaac which really touched her. It was made in English, but someone had posted it on YouTube with Romanian subtitles. We discussed it with her. Yes, if she found someone to read and record the subtitles, Keith could put the recording in the video. 

She did. Keith did. And then, since we knew that Vasilita and Catea were not technically inclined, we even arranged to have the Moldovan pastor show the video to the children’s club. The pastor sent photos. A record number of children attended. Wonderful! We were rejoicing!

The next day Catea and Vasilita talked with the other Romanian friend on the phone. They were not rejoicing. They were not even grateful. Next time, they said, could we dub videos into Russian rather than Romanian? The kids speak their own language (Ursari Romani) at home. The village school is in Romanian, but most of the kids spend a lot of time in Russia. Their families go there to work. 

Obviously, this was NOT the reaction we had anticipated. We thought we’d found something fantastic for this children’s club. But we hadn’t asked the leaders what they thought of the video. We hadn’t asked them whether they would want it dubbed into Romanian or if they wanted the pastor to show it to the children’s club. We thought it was a great idea and just did it.

Contrast this with another video project Keith was involved with. Some Romany believers in Germany wanted to dub a video of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress into their language. Keith and I watched the 70’s-era video and, well, how shall I put this? It didn’t speak to us.

But the Romany brothers and sisters persisted. This would be a great discipleship tool, they claimed. We acknowledge that they know their own people best, so Keith recorded. More than ten years later people from this group of Romany are still asking for this video. It really speaks to them in a way they can use.

It amazes me how often I have to learn and relearn this lesson. Unlike God, we do not know what is best for the people we meet. Even Jesus stopped and asked.

When Bartimaus asked for help, Jesus did not take over and automatically do something for Bartimaus. We might have thought that what the blind man needed was obvious. Jesus took the time and trouble to ask. He did not treat Bartimaus like a beggar, who would take whatever Jesus chose to give him. Instead, Jesus respected Bartiamus as a person of worth, a person who knew their own needs. Like Jesus did with blind Bartimaeus, we can stop and ask and listen.

Mary Van Rheenen is a CBF field personnel serving alongside her husband, Keith Holmes, among Romany communities across Europe. Learn more about and support their ministries at www.cbf.net/holmes.

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