In 1998, a chemical engineer and his family were sent to Istanbul, Turkey on work assignment. Little did they know that this would be the beginning of a personal spiritual revival and the start of a nationally influential ministry in their home country. Over the years, Bob and Ria Verlackt have learned to trust God in ways they could not have imagined, and now He is opening doors for them to use their talents to share a message of hope and joy to others.
Bob and Ria come from a traditional Catholic background. They were open to God, but they had never considered that faith could be an anchor in times of trouble. After they arrived in Turkey, they got involved in a small church and joined a Bible study. In that group they met people who had weathered the storms of life and gave God the credit for bringing them through. Bob and Ria realized that they had always counted on their own inner strength and had tried to work harder when things got tough.
After living in Istanbul for nine years, their work commitment was over and they needed a new challenge. They decided to enrol in a school for Biblical studies and evangelistic training offered through Campus Crusade for Christ in the USA. Although they had never been interested in that kind of training before, going to the US gave them new supportive friends and taught them valuable spiritual lessons. Today they are thankful that they followed God’s leading and took a step of faith.
At the end of their course, Bob and Ria prayed about the next step. They felt that God did not want them to return to Belgium and live a quiet life as retirees; instead, they began to have a vision for serving their countrymen with their time and talents as well as sharing the Gospel message of love and hope in Belgium. They felt it was important to stay rooted in their Catholic context, but they also saw a need to share Biblical truth. This is because the Catholic Church does not typically focus on personal Bible study, but usually relies on the local priest to study and present the Word to the congregation. They returned to Belgium open for new things that God had prepared, sensitive to the need to talk and speak with care, and focussed on His plan for our lives.
“We asked the Lord to speak and work through us, use us for His purpose.”
Through their training, they learned the importance of walking by faith in the power of His Spirit and leaving the results up to God. As they stepped out in faith, God began to open doors of opportunity for service. One of the first doors that opened accidentally – or miraculously – was an invitation to present a weekly Biblically-based devotional on a Catholic radio station that reaches 40,000- 50,000 people.
They also do a monthly broadcast about Christian marriage principles and another programme that discusses books written by Christian authors, including Popes Benedict and John Paul II, Bill Bright, Anselm Grün, Rick Warren, and other writers who focus on Jesus Christ as the centre of faith. They also looked for ways to bring the Good News to younger people and have produced a series of prayer videos (using Taizé songs and prayer liturgy) that can be used to lead 1-hour small-group meetings that are available on YouTube.
They want to see students using these resources to host prayer gatherings in their campus dorms. One advantage they have seen in their work is the amount of credibility and goodwill they experience with Christian leaders. They see this as a sign of God’s blessing on their work and something they work hard to maintain.
“Our good reputation has opened doors for us to speak in many churches, to women’s groups and at other gatherings. We deliver a simple message about how to have a personal faith-relationship with God.”
During their second career as Christian workers, Bob and Ria have found real meaning and purpose for their lives through serving and loving others. For them, sharing the love of Christ is key to personal growth and ministry.
Still, it has not always been easy. In their 45 years of marriage and raising two children, God has needed to shape them for the task, changing old habits and behaviour patterns. This process of refinement has helped them learn how to communicate better with each other and with the people they meet through their work. For Ria, the main challenge is practicing humility and learning to listen to others, especially when working with people who do not think as quickly as she does. Bob’s obstacle has been self-control and patience, especially when reacting to stressful everyday situations like traffic. They have developed new patterns for dealing with these issues, and they want to help others begin this kind of journey of personal transformation.
Today they look back with thankfulness on how God has blessed the work and brought many opportunities to share His message of hope with people in Belgium. Bob and Ria are excited to see people becoming more open to this message, and they continue working to answer questions and help people take steps of faith.
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