Members in Action
Uniquely Called: Reaching Turkish Muslims Through Gospel Outreach
Connections and callings come from the Lord, at the right times and for the right purposes. Mihail and Rumi Motzev recognize this. Their thick accents and easy smiles attest to their Bulgarian heritage, adding to the richness of their story as they share how they came to work with Gospel Outreach, an ASI member organization in College Place, Washington, committed to “Introducing People to Jesus in the 10/40 Window.”
Outreach works around the globe, but the Motzevs are preoccupied mainly with taking the gospel to Muslims in Bulgaria, Turkey, and Macedonia. They are, in effect, missionaries to their home country, assisting Gospel Outreach in training and equipping local people to reach Muslims.
Much of what the Motzevs do is from afar. Both have advanced degrees in business and finance, and Mihail has taught quantitative methods and information systems for the Walla Walla University School of Business for nearly a decade. During the academic year, they spend countless hours on the phone with church members in Bulgaria and Turkey, helping them work through tangled issues that threaten to slow the work there.Each summer, they travel “home” to Bulgaria, continuing their mission work while visiting family, including their son, daughter-in-law, and much-adored grandson.
“The house is quiet now that the kids are grown,” Mihail muses with sadness and pride. It is a blessing that mission work connects them with family, and that Bulgaria is their mission ground.
In the early 2000s, Mihail was teaching at the University of National and World Economy in Sofia, Bulgaria, one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of economics in Southeastern Europe. He had a deep desire to be a missionary, however, so when Vernon Parmenter, director of volunteer services for the General Conference, visited the Motzevs’ church, the wheels started turning.
“Just send me an email with your CV, and leave everything to me and God,” Parmenter told them. They eventually accepted a call to Papua, New Guinea, accompanied by their son and daughter, ages 18 and 20 at the time.
“It was a blessing there [in Papua, New Guinea],” Mihail reminisces. “They sang all the time, and they spent the Sabbath together, and they ate together, so it was a blessing for us. It is not the same in western churches [where] you feel the church like a building, not like God is there.”
It was a hard adjustment for their children, however, and eventually they returned to Bulgaria. They felt a sense of defeat, but also a continued sense of calling.
“Sometimes we feel like God is keeping us in the waiting room,” says Mihail.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before they found themselves on a different path of service. Problems arose with a Gospel Outreach check that had been issued to a church in Bulgaria.
Rumi recalls, “The Bulgarian Union president, a friend of ours, asked Mihail to work with Gospel Outreach to have it reissued. That’s how we met representatives from Gospel Outreach for the first time.”
Meanwhile, Mihail had applied for teaching positions at various universities, but “God opened the door for him to teach here [at Walla Walla University],” she says. Rumi didn’t have permission to work in the United States, however.
“I was home for about six years, wondering what to do,” she recalls. “I began to go to Gospel Outreach from time to time to volunteer. But the language was a big problem for me then. I had been learning English for about 20 years, but it wasn’t the same when I came here. Nobody understood me, and I didn’t understand anybody.”
Despite the language barrier, she continued helping out in the Gospel Outreach office, working in the mailing room and preparing newsletters. Soon the entire family became involved. Mihail helped with the database system, and their son created a computer network for the organization. Both of their children graduated from Walla Walla University, married, and established homes of their own.
“I had wanted to find a position with an Adventist university, because working for secular university didn’t satisfy me,” says Mihail. “I wanted to serve God, and the best thing I can do is teaching. Here I can be both a missionary and a lecturer. Sometimes we join a university group on a short-term missionary trip, and every summer we go to Bulgaria where people ask us to share in our churches. We are missionaries wherever we go.”
“There is a reason for us to be here,” he continues. “Somehow, through us, it looks like God is making a connection between Gospel Outreach and the Balkans and His work over there. In my perspective, I think God’s plan and how God is using us is much bigger than what we can see and realize now.”
Mihail and Rumi are excited about collaborating with Gospel Outreach lay workers to reach the Muslim population in the Balkans. They would especially like to see a media ministry established to reach Turkish Muslims in their own language.
“We have two [Gospel Outreach] workers—one in Istanbul and one in Azerbeijan,” Mihail says. “Our volunteer in Istanbul is running a website that has visitors from all over the world. There are people in Bulgaria and Turkey who physically cannot go to church on Sabbath to hear a sermon, so they are asking if there is any way to load sermons on the Internet in the Turkish language. He just needs some computers and a cell phone to do this. Sometimes he is up all night answering questions and staying in touch with people visiting the website. What he has now isn’t powerful enough to handle all the data uploads.”
According to the Motzevs, there is only one Turkish speaking pastor in the entire region. That pastor works with a group of about 30 people, but could reach many more through an Internet ministry. The Motzevs are committed to supporting local workers in their efforts to reach Muslims, whose culture, traditions, and knowledge of the Koran run deep.
“If you don’t have a heart of a Muslim, it is very hard to work with them or to reach them. Once you win their trust, it will be forever. But if you disappoint them, it will be forever too,” Mihail says. “That’s why it is important to use local people who know the culture.”
The Motzevs’ mission is to help create and maintain connections between Eastern workers and Western supporters to help the work progress in Bulgaria, Turkey, and Macedonia. Their work isn’t easy, but they are uniquely called.