Thursday, May 23, 2024
Thursday, May 23, 2024
HomeAll The NewsTwo Teams Become One

Two Teams Become One

by Hollie Meriweather, BMAA Missions

Ukraine and Romania are separated by less than 400 miles. Although Poland is closer, for those who are fleeing the war between Russia and Ukraine, many are seeking refuge in Romania, and they are being met with open arms and hearts by the Romania team based in the Braşov area. My husband, John and I had the privilege of bringing four large suitcases full of gifts for them from the States, being welcomed into their homes, eating their delicious meals and helping them with security plans should the need arise.

The Team

Bryan Risner and Cristian Martinez met in 2020 at BMA Missions housing in Conway during the Risners’ furlough, just as they were considering a new field once their ministry transitioned to Romanian ChangeMakers. At the same time, the Martinezes were preparing for Romania, their new mission field. As the two men visited and discussed ministry plans and next steps, they realized God was leading them to become a team of two families and two young women — Brian and Pam, their teenage children (Melody, Lindsey and Landon), Cristian and Vanessa Martinez, their young children (Joellyn and Ethan), Candra Barnett and Sara Filimon (Vanessa’s sister). 

Cristian’s ministry vision is to reach college students from surrounding countries who take advantage of Romania’s inexpensive, first-class universities and then return to their countries. That vision has not changed, but God has opened new doors they did not anticipate. The main one is a coffee shop where Cristian and Sara work part-time. The owners had been praying to connect with Christian employees who could use their facilities to share the gospel. Located in Old Town Braşov directly on the city’s plaza, the coffee shop is an opportunity to not only share the gospel but to use it for small group meetings.

John and I were honored to be part of their second coffee shop worship service, made up of young Romanians and families with small children. Some of them were childhood friends of Vanessa and Sara. Cristian and Bryan conducted the service, and each team member had a role, from serving coffee and pastries to taking care of children upstairs. After worshiping together and the final “amen,” people did not want to leave. It was a sweet time of fellowship and forgetting that a war raged nearby.

The Camp

The team members attend services at Hope Church (and have built friendships and ministry partnerships with the church’s staff), which includes a once-abandoned campground. Bryan has led efforts to help with refurbishing Camp Hope and Romania team members visit the camp regularly to build relationships. There are mostly women and children there, and Pam Risner has started a women’s Bible study. They have recently exchanged its bunk beds for family-sized ones and made other improvements so families fleeing the war can be comfortable long term.

One of those women, Luba graciously allowed Candra and me to ask about her experiences since the war began. She told us her husband, who can’t leave Ukraine, basically forced her to leave their war-torn city with two small children. After tearfully explaining that he was everything to her and she couldn’t imagine being separated from him, she told us they packed their bags for what ended up being a three-week journey. It was obvious the memories still haunt her — three nights of sleeping on the freezing cold floor of the train station, walking many kilometers and almost running out of food. The final leg of her journey brought her and other refugees to Camp Hope for who knows how long. (After returning to the States, we received news that Luba’s husband Deema, who is still in Ukraine, is having trouble finding food.)

The Plans

David Dose is BMA Missions’ security consultant, and one aspect of his job is creating contingency plans for missionaries in the unlikely case that they must leave the field immediately. There are obvious reasons for swift departures, one of those being if war comes to their doorstep. To monitor possible risks, he goes directly to the field in question. David casually visited with each family and individual on the Romania team. He asked questions, noted each home’s security and presented different “if/so” scenarios for them to consider. Then we prayed together.

For me, it was enlightening and incredibly helpful as one of many support staff individuals at the Global Ministry Center. Our missionaries are in good hands. 

The Gospel to Romanians

This Romania team is a diverse one. All eleven of them speak at least two languages and represent three nationalities — Mexican, American and Romanian. The preschoolers speak three languages, and Vanessa and Sara speak four. 

Although I had written each of their stories as they prepared for their chosen fields, I did not know their various backgrounds, personalities, talents, skills, quirks and mannerisms. It was great fun finding out who they really are, making memories together and, most importantly, feeling and understanding their collective heart for the Lord.

We only talked about it briefly, but the war is always on their minds and not because they think about the “what ifs.” It is because they see the urgency of spreading the gospel in a much more tangible way than we do. They see it in the eyes of those who are displaced and hurting and have no idea when or if they will return home.

Please pray for this team as they meet believers and non-believers, share the gospel with them and begin their church planting vision.