We were keen to settle as soon as possible and to begin to formulate a Vision, Mission and Strategy for the Caucasus region. After the closure of the Operation Mercy office, we could now focus on our role as OM Field Leaders.
We still had a strong desire to be involved in disciplemaking and we were seeking ways to incorporate it as a strategy for our personal ministry and for the Caucasus region. We learnt that there was a young Georgian man serving with OM on the LOGOS Hope. LOGOS Hope is a OM ministry where recruits from many different countries serves as crew members on board and do Christian service and witness outreaches in the ports that they visit. The young Georgian man was coming to the end of his term on the ship and preparing to return to Tbilisi. We were keen to meet him and see if we can recruit him for the OM team in the Caucasus.
When he arrived at the end of February 2014, we connected well with him. He was uncertain about his future, and we created a space where he could come and discover himself and make plan for his future. He had a troubled past and had wrong friends and practices before he was recruited for the LOGOS Hope. He was still an immature believer in Jesus, and he was grateful that we provided a safety net as he moved back into his community and culture.
He agreed to be our guide and translator as we learnt more about our new host society. He was just nineteen years old and became like a son to us. He came daily to us and we read the Gospel of Matthew together, talking about what it mean to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
We decided to attend the services of the International Church of Tbilisi. Many leaders of other Christian agencies and organizations were also attending these services on a Sunday. It was a good place for us to have Christian fellowship and to network with other leaders in the city. We were still interested in reaching Azerbaijani’s and Magda joined a prayer group praying for Azerbaijanis in Georgia in the Marneuli region. There she met an American single lady of our age who became a good friend to this day. She had only one other team member in the country – a young single American man – and she was grateful to find like-minded people to share life with.
She was not only a prayer warrior but also a language instructor. She was a facilitator of the “Growing Participator” method of language learning and has trained a Georgian lady to teach foreigners Georgian using this method. At first, we asked our young Georgian friend to teach us Georgian, but we soon learnt that he was not skilled as a teacher. We knew we had to learn Georgian if we want to build relationships with Georgians and it was just a matter of time before we approached our new American friend to help us find a Georgian language tutor.
In March 2014 I received an invitation to attend an OM Field Leader training in Belgium. I was still very inexperienced as a Field Leader and this training would have provided me with much needed knowledge and skills to perform my duties as a Field Leader for the Caucasus region in OM. I went to apply for my Schengen visa but was told that I need a Georgian residence permit to apply for a Schengen visa in Georgia. We entered Georgia on a 12-month tourism visa and now I faced a clear choice: Apply in South Africa for the Schengen visa or apply for a residence permit in Georgia. It was clear that I will not be able to go to Belgium in 2014, but I decided to take every step to get our documents ready for any future opportunities.
We had no intention to return to South Africa at that time. Our desire was to stay and work long term in the Caucasus. I consulted other leaders and the best advice was to register an NGO in Georgia to do humanitarian development and consultancy work. This was an easy and affordable process. The registered NGO will then be the basis for a residence and work permit for us. This has been done many times before and has proven to be a fool proof approach.
Within two weeks we had a registered NGO and we proceeded with our application for the residence and work permit. It was indeed a fast, affordable, and easy process to that stage. Now we just needed to wait for the process to run its cause.
We continued to mentor our young Georgian friend. We found a Georgian language tutor and we prepared to start Georgian lessons. To facilitate our exposure to the Georgian language and culture we went to the home of our new Georgian language tutor. We expected that our American friend who made the arrangement would be there too. We arrived on time but received a message that our American friend was delayed and will join us as soon as possible. We were already invited into the home of our Georgian host. She did not speak any English and we were left with signs and wonder – showing hand signs and wonder what the other one was trying to say!
After a few awkwardly silent moments our host spoke a few words in Georgian and tapped with the index and middle finger of her right hand on the right-hand side of her neck. Magda nodded “Yes”, and our host disappeared into another room, only to return with two glasses filled with a clear liquid. When I tasted it, I knew it was Vodka. We sipped slowly and when our American friend arrived, she was surprised to find us with drinks in hand. When we explained to her what had happened, we had a good laugh. The tapping with the fingers to the neck was the Georgian way of asking if the visitors wanted a drink. When Magda nodded “yes”, she obliged. It was one of our most memorable language sessions!
Magda learnt to be careful to nod to any gesture she did not understand!