Writings of Branko's Blog

All around Central Europe

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Behind the Music [blog]

I visited a guitar shop today. When you come to Helsinki, Finland, and take a train to Hyvinkää city 45 minutes north from the capital, and then get to the old wool factory area, there is a workshop owned and run by the world renowned Juha Ruokangas, a master artisan of guitar making. Courtesy of TWR’s Finnish national and ministry global Partner sansa.fi who organized this small visit for several of us, as a form of refreshing and inspiring break from long and tedious meetings.

Juha opened his guitar repair shop 15 years ago as 23 years old-young enthusiast, but soon discovered the power of Internet and custom tailored global ordering. He is now running the www.ruokangas.fi ‘boutique’ business. No, of course, he makes excellent electric guitars: “Best in the world,” he says, while Internet made it possible for him to get to various interested people. Small, cozy, pleasant shop, filled with the smell of thermally treated (personally selected and then handpicked) birch wood from the north of Finland, maple wood, etc., and number of guitars hanging from the walls in various stages of making. Fascinating.

What is more fascinating is Juha’s personal understanding and philosophy of his calling. He considers wood and treat it with respect, he ‘waits’ for it, loves what he does, and he enjoys the company of his co-workers. “Today is all in relationships,” Juha said. It is better to have happy guitar makers – and subsequently happy guitars, than larger production and a loss of the ‘ownership’ on every single unit. While some factories in the Far East make one guitar every 5 minutes, his whole shop (5 people) does 100-120 guitars per year.

I learned, and smelled, and listened and observed today a master craftsman who is using the art of management, intuitive marketing (his words) and excellent leadership philosophy to make this world filled with better music, and convey some of his understanding of it to the interested people.

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God is my strength – also in social networking [blog]

Just this weekend I visited Sweden and took part in a meeting that was organized by NOREA Sweden. As an encouragement, one of the things shared on that meeting was a very nice FB entry from a 15-year old member of the local church youth group:

Vadstena church, Sweden. Photo by Riggwelter, 2006, used with permission

God is my strength; Bible is my guide; Heaven is my goal; so put this in your logo and be a proud Christian :).

Quite a strong statement from a teenager – and she has 800 friends registered! That is social networking at its best: sharing the most important things of your life amid often not so important ones.

I saw the first snow of this season there. The youth group orchestrated a snowballs war, right after they discussed the Bible study and had some wonderful time together singing and sharing about the things that make them happy and content. What a blessing to have a youth group of 45 young people. I can only imagine the amount of snowballs flying all around the place…

Since it was just a day before the Judgment Sunday,  as a conclusion to our meeting our small group read from John 5:24: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”

Whenever the actual Judgment Day is going to be, we can be certain of one thing: we are a day closer to it… and this is the reason I am glad for the 800 FB friends of that girl, because they heard the message.

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Living in a Prison (or Is your life your cell?)

TWR Europe (actually Impuls TWR Polska, TWR’s National Partner organization in Poland) regularly receives letters from the prisoners. It is not that they produce special programs for this listener group, but rather that their follow-up team consists of the prayerful people. Every letter they receive they cover with prayers, and in that attitude and understanding, they write a response. No wonder, they have a large group of ‘fans’ in the segment of society most of us consider already lost.

But we were lost in our ignorance and lived lives in the prisons of our habitual sins, much alike the actual prisoners. What was the difference? Some of our sins were not punishable by the laws of the land. But they were all punishable by the rule of ultimate justice in front of God. To Him, we were the same, some of us were just prisoners of our lives, while others were/are prisoners of the institutions founded by the state.

Please read the below letter, in a simple but strong language, filled with emotions, just bursting out of the page toward a reader and jumping joyfully even on this digital site, polished and shaped for public appearance, and rejoice with me in the work of the Holy Spirit in life of this individual – now my brother in Christ:

“Eastern Poland: I am 29 years old. My sinful life has brought me to jail. I was a cruel man, full of hate and rage. I simply took pleasure in wronging people. Thefts, robbery, assaults, followed by time of fun, was my way. It was horrible for my fiancé and my 5-year-old son. But here, in this specific place, something unthinkable happened. Jesus knocked at the door of my heart. There was something so powerful in His love that the ice which had been chaining my heart – just melted away. I was forgiven!!!

I began to feel joy and peace. My eyes and my mind opened up. The Word of God inspired me and brought a lot of energy to fight the evil and hardships. There has been a great breakthrough since Jesus entered my life. Prayer is giving me joy, and so is reading the Bible and Christian literature. I gladly attend the meetings of the Christian group here. I am trying to follow Jesus’ teaching; He delivered me from addiction to hazard and I am also praying for deliverance from smoking. Praying fervently, I am making first steps in being patient and humble. I have been blessed with a paid job in the kitchen. In this way I can send a modest support to my fiancé and son. Recently I have been interviewed by TV and had the opportunity to share about how Jesus changed my life. It is my dream to be able to tell people about God, to bring hope to those who most need it…”

May God bless my brothers in prisons today.


The Jesus Model of Leadership [blog]

THE JESUS MODEL (submitted at the Lausanne III)

It’s not about me. I am not the one who gets the glory. It’s really about Jesus. These could be the words of Paul, as they describe his basic attitude as he seeks to serve Jesus and be God’s servant to the people to whom he was called. 2 Corinthians 4:5-18 give us a list of attitudes and phrases defining the Apostle Paul as a Christian leader.

Perhaps this is why Jesus never used the word “leader” when referring to his disciples.  It seems that the conventional leadership values in his time were not those Jesus wanted to transfer to the future leaders of the church. Although the religious establishment of his day was perpetuating a system that seemed infinitely stronger and more permanent than what Jesus did, history has proven His model endures.

One of the key values that distinguished Jesus’ way of leadership was his priority on the Kingdom potential of his followers. Furthermore, the weight of the Gospel writings indicates that Jesus spent very little of his time building an organization. Although he could have grown a huge congregation which might have protected him from the wrath of the political and religious leaders, Jesus opted to invest in just a few people – with the goal of reproducing his heart for the world in those who would carry the Gospel torch after he returned to the Father.

Most leaders of today desire to be successful.  After all, how will an organization be effective in fulfilling its mission unless the leader is successful?  Comparatively speaking, the leadership choice Jesus made and models is risky. Yet the rewards are truly everlasting. By building people for the world instead of his small gathering, the face of the nations changed forever.  The two thousand years old assembly we call “the church” is the result of Jesus’ primary focus on transforming a few followers during his three years of ministry.

The message is profound for leaders who want to lead like Jesus. It distinguishes Jesus’ leadership from the utilitarian models that are discarded if they aren’t ‘successful.’ Those who lead Jesus’ way do so not because it is not the successful way to lead, but because it is the right way to lead.