Who We Are
International Messengers is an evangelical, interdenominational missions organization comprised of an international staff team. We are committed to making disciples of all nations through partnering with local churches to renew, train and mobilize believers for active involvement in reaching the world for Christ. We believe in obeying Matthew 28:18-20. Approximately 50% of our staff do church-planting/discipleship and 50% do compassion ministries. Every summer we send volunteer teams and church teams overseas to partner with our staff in putting on English Language Camps and other camps in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Several grey, concrete apartments stand clustered on the outskirts of Kosice, Slovakia, forming a community of their own. Unlike other apartment blocks in the city, however, this complex, known as Lunik IX, has no grass underfoot and no swings or slides for the children. Instead, an abandoned Fiat draws kids and teens like a magnet. The car’s doors are ripped off, its windows are smashed, and a teenage boy hammers on the dashboard while his buddies watch and cheer. Garbage lies in heaps around the place, and many of the buildings’ windows are shattered.
Lunik IX is the largest gypsy ghetto in Eastern and Central Europe. Approximately 6,500 people live here. Sometimes three or four families share a two-bedroom apartment. Electricity is available only in the mornings and evenings, and heat and hot water are usually non-existent, but there’s no shortage of alcoholism, gambling, usury, abuse, and incest. The unemployment rate is 98 per cent. Poverty and hopelessness pervade. In the midst of the darkness, however, the Light of Christ shines – thanks partly to the ministry of International Messengers missionaries Karla and Brad Thiessen from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
When the couple moved to Slovakia in 1991, they were unaware of the gypsies’ desperate situation. It didn’t take long before they saw and understood. The gypsies, officially known as Romas, are originally from India. They were invited to Europe to work as blacksmiths and artisans centuries ago. They established their own leadership and social structure, but that structure was destroyed when Communism moved in. The government forced them to live in the ghettoes and work as street sweepers – society’s lowest paid job.
The economy nosedived when Communism fell in 1989. The Roma lost their jobs and became dependent on capitalism’s welfare system, receiving payments partly based on the number of children per family. The result? Large families and a never-ending poverty cycle. Every day, city residents found Roma sifting through the garbage dumpsters outside apartment buildings, searching for scrap metals to recycle or edible wastes to sell to farmers for pig food, and leaving a mess behind. Thievery became commonplace. Alcoholism skyrocketed. Society responded with discriminatory attitudes and actions. Christians struggled with discrimination, too, sometimes turning the children away from their Sunday schools.
Shortly after the Thiessens settled in Kosice, Brad opened an English language school in the city’s downtown center as a means of establishing relationships with the Slovak people. One day, as he looked out his second-storey window and watched the Roma children playing on the street below, an idea came to mind: Start a kids’ club and share the Gospel with them. Each week, the children enjoyed a basic English language lesson, a simple craft, and a Bible story. The children loved it; the school’s landlord hated it. “He showed up drunk one day and yelled that he would kick us out if we continued the kids’ club,” says Brad. “After he left, the children looked at me with wide eyes and said, ‘What are you going to do?’ I told them I was going to continue.”