"He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory." (1 Samuel 2:8)
Thirty years ago, the Berlin Wall came tumbling down. The euphoria was contagious. I cannot remember a time in my life that was so hopeful, exciting, and so filled with the possibilities of sharing the Gospel of our Lord. Inspired by those events, that year Sheila and I planned a special dinner to explain the meaning of the uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving to U.N. ambassadors from former Soviet bloc nations who had never been able to socialize with U.S. citizens, but were now allowed. There were 77 ambassadors who attended! We provided talented speakers and musicians who told stories about our tradition of Thanksgiving, the faith story behind the Pilgrims, and an explanation about to whom it is we give our thanks.
At our table, on my left was the German Ambassador from the GDR (East Germany). I tried to use my few German phrases and to connect our DNA bond since both my and my wife’s family heritages are German. I began to share my conversion from my own 1960s communist leanings to my faith in Christ, and inquired if he felt curious about the Christian faith that had so long been denied in his country. He didn’t seem too keen to converse on the topic.
However, the guy next to me was the Bulgarian Ambassador, who pulled on my jacket, saying in a thick accent “I am interested in Jesus Christ. What do I need to know?” We became fast friends, and I met with him and his wife once a week explaining why Jesus lived and died. We had a great time together. A month or so into our friendship, Ambassador Strozov called to invite us to his embassy for a farewell celebration because he had just become the new Vice President of Bulgaria. A party ensued, gifts were exchanged, and he encouraged me to visit him in Bulgaria. (“Sure,” I told him, “the next time I am in the Balkans, I’ll drop by.”)
As life unfolded, I did organize a trip with a small group of friends. We were hosted by Strozov in Sofia at a dinner honoring our friendship and a new beginning for their country. The elegant, large dinner gathered all the new leadership of this newly formed government to celebrate democracy. At the end of the speeches, Stroop said that his life has been changed by his new faith. Shockingly and unknown to me, he said that his new friend B.J. Weber was going to tell the crowd all about Jesus Christ and how to be friends with Him.
Standing up, looking over the crowd, I was reminded that years earlier, as I encountered the challenges of New York City, my Trappistine mentor Mother Columba prophesied and comforted me by paraphrasing I Samuel 2:8, “He has taken you from the ash heap and the dung heap to speak to princes of the world.” Many purposeful things happened because of that trip to Bulgaria. Prison Fellowship was launched in Bulgaria, the Jesus Film was shown throughout the country, resulting in new church plants, and the joy of the Lord went forth.
I am heartened that my wife Sheila has collected about 50 stories similar to this one, but written by others, in a new book called FELLOWSHIP: Stories of Transformation through Grace and Spiritual Friendship. B.J. Weber’s 40 Years in New York City. We would be so encouraged if you would buy a copy (and more for Christmas presents!) on Amazon when the book gets launched in early November! (Digital also available. If you can leave a great review, it would be so helpful!)
We are so thankful for your support and depend on it even more at this time. It is because of your partnership that these stories of faith have happened and can be told!
Your friend in Christ,