August 26, 2021

Discover How God Works In All Lives

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.  1 Corinthians 1:10

Some of God’s choicest servants are those whose names are little known on earth but will be prominently lauded in heaven. Such is a German-born missionary working among Bulgarians of Turkish descent known as Pomaks.  I met Thomas when I was ministering in Bulgaria. Having heard something of this man’s fierce determination to take the Word of God to people who don’t fit into the grandiose evangelistic plans of many mission organizations, I told my host that I wanted to meet this man.

Subsequently we were invited to his home for a meal. Leaving the nicer area of Bulgaria’s second largest city, Plovdiv, where there are lovely shops, apartments, and stores such as you find in Western Europe, the neighborhood began to change as horse-drawn carts replaced European cars such as BMWs, Mercedes, Fiats, and Skodas. The neighborhood is known as a Mahala.  A more descriptive word is the synonym ghetto—a place where thousands of Muslims, Turks by nationality, are living.

Arriving at a somewhat decrepit concrete building, one built during the days of the USSR, we walked up nine floors to a small apartment, sparsely furnished but filled with the enticing smells of Bulgarian food.

Behind every individual who really accomplishes anything for God is a story, and Thomas Otto’s is about as unreal as any you have ever heard. In the 60s, he was a young man searching for meaning in life who took his backpack and decided to take on the world. Ending up in Istanbul where cheap drugs, wild parties, and rebellious youth were in abundance, Thomas ran out of money.

By chance—no, by God’s appointment—he met a missionary who recognized that this young man needed help and invited him to his apartment for a bath and a few warm meals. In the process the missionary talked to him about Jesus Christ and how God’s Son came to bring purpose to life. He was skeptical, even somewhat hostile, but he needed more than food and a bed. He needed something he saw in the lives of his hosts and ultimately came to Christ.

Eventually he married, and the Ottos began working among Turks; and as he grew in spiritual maturity, he began sharing the Good News. Then when authorities learned what was happening, the Ottos were asked to leave Turkey.

Coming to nearby Bulgaria, Thomas learned that here was a mission field of 700,000 Turks with Bulgarian citizenship, isolated from the mainstream of life with no Bible they could readily read. Translating the New Testament and Psalms into Cyrillic characters that Turks could read took two-and-a-half years. And then it was published and has been quite widely distributed.

As we enjoyed a lovely meal prepared by his wife, we talked about the challenges of his ministry. “What do you consider to be the most difficult challenge facing you here?” I asked, expecting him to talk about the hostility of the Orthodox Church towards Evangelicals who are thought of as cultists, not Christians.  Or the growing hostility of segments of Islam who teach youth that Christians are enemies.

But thinking for a moment, Thomas replied, “The jealousies and opposition of other Christians whose churches are not growing and who strive to undermine what we are doing!”  Strange, is it not, that the greatest hindrances to reaching a lost world often come from those within the fold?  “Friendly fire!” is the term the military uses when one of its own is brought down. I think God, though, would have a far more descriptive term for it. Don’t you?  Remember that old cliche, “Living with the saints above may be glory, but living with the saints below is quite another story?” May God help us to remember who are our own!

Resource reading: 1 Corinthians 1:10-17