Iosif, aka Johan Boekhout is an old friend of the Romanian evangelicals. He visited us many times before Romanian revolution, being involved in BEE, with the purpose of training leaders, being extremely appreciated for his skills as a Bible teacher. He kept coming even after 1989 to different conferences organized by OSCER, BEE, AFCR or BIG. Iosif was his undercover name, used before the revolution, but it stocked with him up to this day. Nowadays he serves in Africa, where he deals with the implementation of a leadership training program. This interview was recorded on September 5th, at Oroshaza in Hungary, during the annual retreat of the families of BIG-Impact founding members, where Iosif was invited as a motivational speaker.
BIG: Iosif, personally I have met you only 2-3 times, if I remember it well. First time was at Sinaia, during the “The Church as a Training Center” conference, in the fall of 1998, then in two national OSCER camps, where you taught from Neemiah and Mark, if you remember. This was, maybe 8-9 years ago. I must confess I was very impressed. I heard a lot about you and about your past, about your involvement in Romania and I fully appreciated your qualities as a teacher. I was very surprised, though, to hear you talking these days about your burden for orphans and widows. You were like a different Iosif. Iosif, talking about Neemiah as a project manager, and Iosif talking about widows and orphans seemed to me like two different Iosifs… Could you explain this change?
Iosif (Johan Boekhout): In the Bible, the care for orphans is explicit, because these have no rights, and, the same thing is true for the widows, because they were also unprotected, so that the society had to take care of it’s weaker side. The times are changing so, permanently, we have to decide who are the weak ones and what do we have to do to help them. I think the major problem deals with the fact that we don’t have to go to Heaven incognito, but to go there, making Christ visible here, because his visibility on Earth comes through us. He took care of those in pain, took time to train the disciples and took care of people, in general. The biblical times give us both training models, and caring models for people. The training was available to all, but the society who got out of this training was a society where people took care of one another, even when things were not going well. In Africa I learned that church grows extraordinary, without something changing. In Nigeria there are 125-130 million people, half of whom are Christians. But, regardless of the statistics, Nigeria remains the most corrupt country in the world. Is it not relevant to be a Christian when it comes to business? When you have half of the population Christian, a critical mass… why are things the same? In Africa, they consider poverty, health problems and refugees as problems that need to be taken care of by the government and the international aid organizations. We must do something today, as Christians, to change the mentalities and, as an example, I saw that, besides the leaders’ training in Timi?oara, the initiative to start the Esther foundation was spontaneous, not from a prior training, but from the love of God, to help others. I was in Surinam where I helped developing a leaders training system and I observed a similar thing. People entered politics, started helping the old and orphans, started becoming moral in business. It is interesting – these were projects that were not talked about in their leadership training. I like teaching from Neemiah about how to do a project, but the training doesn’t really end until you begin to do a project. Things regarding health, economics, street dirt, discrimination, such things require projects. All we have to do is to shift the mentality towards the area we want to focus. So, to be able to extract a priority from the Bible, we need a certain spiritual mentality.
BIG: How could we see Romanian Christians be more caring for the weak, when many of them are not satisfied with their situation and are looking for their well being in foreign countries?
JB: Yes, I see many Romanians in Spain, France, Portugal, Italy and I don’t criticize them for that. I believe people are using opportunities. During Ceausescu’s time, kids were raised by their grandparents, because Ceausescu would send someone to work 800 km far, after finishing the university. Now this happens voluntarily. I think Romania has a system in which grandparents take care of their grandchildren. But, when the child reaches 6-7 years of age, they move with their parents. I believe that something is happening with the young people in Romania, for which the church has to be relevant. Those that are outside Romania, taking care of their material needs, want to come back. I have spoken with a lot of people like these, and they want to turn back immediately after they earn enough to buy a house, to be independent, and, then, to look for a job. The next 20 years will be a challenge, economically speaking, for Romania. I think it’s normal to see that many people abroad. But these are 20 years for the church to become relevant to families, small children and those abroad. Many church people are abroad. How does church act, in relationship with this? Because there are consequences. I am a foreigner, what do I know… I know, though, that this is a holistic mentality and has to be on the agenda of the church leader. The church has to help Romania continue it’s existence on Earth. I believe this is one field. There are others. I don’t know all of them because I don’t live in Romania and don’t know it that well. But I hear a lot of worried Romanians, and for me, all comes down to a good training. We, as church leaders, have to help churches be relevant to today’s realities. In Africa, the major problems are poverty, corruption and violence. Training could take place to overcome these problems. I helped them be free to do this. Putting money on the table, bringing people to teach, showing them how to write relevant courses…It was extraordinary to be free and address problems, although I am not African I was involved and I believe the same thing is needed for BIG, to have an impact. Impact comes from perfectly understanding the Bible and through relevance for today’s world. I think that BIG’s team leadership idea is perfect. I hope that BIG will put it’s priorities in the agenda and it will be strong as a movement, with a lasting impact.
BIG: In these days you get an idea about BIG, who we are and what we want to do in Romania. Do you have an encouragement, a challenge for us?
JB: You all are focused on training the next generation, laying the foundation for a proper climate for tomorrow leaders. That is outstanding! You promote teamwork and team leadership. These two ingredients are extraordinary and very biblical. What I admire even more is your relevance towards the society. We have to help one another to be relevant for today’s Romania. I would stimulate the spirit to continue choosing a proper agenda and, then to be focused and to go forward. Everything done together: walking together, spending time together, but towards a strong direction. I don’t believe it is easy to direct a network or a movement, who’s power is represented through the power or volunteering, offered by the many people who represent it. It is very clear that in BIG there are some who can work part time, in a delicate way and can stimulate what is happening. This, I stress, is a good thing. But the heart of the ministry is represented by all those who join and have the same values and vision. So, I assume what I saw here and during the last 3-4 years will continue for the next 3-4 years.
BIG: From your experience, do you believe there is any danger we should expect, as an organization, being a ministry and a growing organization? We do not have a big experience in organizational development, somehow we learn by growing. Is there something we need to stay clear of, in this process?
JB: There is no reason I should tell you to stay clear of something. You are together and this is your strength. When someone, one individual, makes decisions in everyone’s name, that person can be a blessing or a curse. But, when you walk together and have the trust you have for one another, there is a great privilege that you could find guidance and wisdom together.
BIG: How do you see your future involvement in Romania?
JB: One of the things I am eagerly waiting is to be an encouragement for the Esther Foundation in Timisoara. I am impressed by the care for the unborn and the aid offered to mothers to take responsibility for giving birth and care for their unborn babies. For me, being a true Christian means to show love and to care about orphans and widows. I saw the progresses in Romania in the last 18 years and the Church has to get involved. Honestly, I would stop the people from Holland, my country, who come to take care of the Romanian orphans. I believe this is the duty of the Romanian churches. If I help the Esther Foundation, this is due to the local initiative of this organization, initiative that comes from churches and individuals who say: “we want to make a change!” That is why I have a connection with Romania. And, also, because we have a kid in our care who is not ours. When it comes to BIG, I am glad I can pray for you. I am in a period of transition now. So, I don’t know over the next 6-12 months where I will go in the future. I am not very involved in Africa right now, the ministry in Mozambique where I was involved in the past years now has a leader. Times are changing and it is possible to go some place else to put the basis for a leadership training system.
BIG: Thank you for speaking from the heart.
JB: I even preached!