Benhams Teach, Receive Amazing Invitation in Georgia
Last month, on the eve of their first trip to the republic of Georgia, Steve and John Benham received word of impending conflict in the area, fueled by media reports predicting civil unrest following Georgia’s presidential election.
The MIWC president and its founder decided to proceed with the planned first part of their trip to Ukraine and then determine from Ukraine whether there was any volatility in Georgia that would prevent them from traveling there. The schedule called for John to leave for Georgia several days before his son.
The night before John was set to board a plane for Tbilisi, Georgia, they received an unfathomable invitation – to speak at the International Research Center for Traditional Polyphony of the Tbilisi State Conservatory (IRCTP), a state-run educational institution in the capital of the country.
When their Georgian host, Pastor Levan, learned of the invitation, he was extremely pleased that God opened these doors, because the local church only has limited access to state-run educational institutions. God paved the way for the invitation through MIWC-supported missionary Serhiy Bilokin, who works in Georgia and the Baltic countries, and has established relationships with members of the professional music community. In addition, the Benhams have found that being American university professors seems to give them credibility in foreign countries.
What was astounding, however, was the topic the faculty chose for John to present. Out of the list of topics Steve provided, the school officials asked to hear John present his lecture on Biblical Principles for the Use of Music in the Church.
The miraculous nature of the invitation – a government-run school requesting the presentation of a biblical program – removed a lot of the pressure and fear that John had been feeling.
“As I’ve processed it,” he explained, "I've wondered, Does God sometimes give us a test in direct proportion to the blessing he has planned for us?” If the fear of the danger of the trip was a -10, John says the reward was certainly +10 – a reward that led him to sit down and weep at what he calls shame for not trusting God. His shame shifted into feelings of brokenness, wondering why God picked him. But in the end, the amazing opportunity afforded him tremendous joy, even if he didn’t understand why he was the one chosen to deliver the message.
The conservatory enrolls traditional aged college students, but MIWC’s session was open to all and attracted many faculty members as well. John fielded some insightful questions from the mixed audience including whether MIWC worked with Bible translators, offering some clue that there may have been Christians in attendance. He is hopeful that opportunities like this may help give the church credibility with secular society. MIWC aims to be able to establish a long-term relationship with the conservatory and eventually attain the cultural achievements made in Ukraine. MIWC found that in Ukraine, what was developed musically there has given the people a new, respected image with the professional members and the intelligentsia of the community who previously mocked Ukrainians while under communist rule.
Before the invitation at the conservatory, the Benhams and two other MIWC associates came to Georgia to teach and equip 14 music students at the Christian Music Academy. The original number of students who planned to attend the training is unknown because an undetermined number did not show due to threats that they would be fired from their jobs for attending.
Despite this threat of persecution and the extreme poverty in the region, John found the Georgians “very enthusiastic about the potential to develop music in the church.” While he taught courses on the theology of worship, MIWC associates Vitaliy Bolgar and Konstantin Chernitsky taught choral and vocal techniques, and music literacy and theory, respectively. When Steve arrived, he led sessions on cognition - how the brain learns and processes music.
John said the “people were like sponges” and were a joy with which to work.
Of course, negative situations do exist in Georgia like everywhere else. Not surprisingly, due to the poor economy, alcohol and other drug addictions are rampant. Vineyards dominate Georgia’s landscape, as wine does in many households.
"Life is very hard for these individuals," Steve said, "Some of them had very difficult personal family situations."
Though Georgians do have concerns about their long-term freedom and the great political unrest, Steve was encouraged by their "passion and commitment to reach the country with the Gospel."
This time in Georgia, John said, was constant reaffirmation to him that God is in charge. He was so overwhelmed by the way events unfolded that he doesn’t know if he “will ever recover from that.”
He cites Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” (NKJV)