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June 1, 2001
Advocates International is celebrating its 10th Anniversary! When we started this adventure on June 1, 1991, our checking account was empty.
3,653 days later. . .
* After 180,000 hours of staff work at an average cost of $11 per hour, plus thousands of hours of donated services by lawyers and judges;
* After more than two million miles of staff and board travel to 50 countries and bringing 300 lawyers, judges, and national leaders from 75 nations to the U.S.;
* After participating in conferences in 30 countries and at the U.N. on human rights, religious freedom, conflict resolution, and the integration of faith and practice;
* After nearly 100 newsletters and over 20,000 personal notes;
* After spending no money on buildings and only 1% on office equipment;
* After more than 3,653 His-Stories demonstrating our Author's daily involvement;
* After all of this ---- the daily financial challenges remain significant.
Advocates has no pulpit, no congregation, no denomination, no TV or radio programs, and no books or magazines to tell our story. Rather, we depend on a core of 400 donors, the most consistent and generous supporters of any ministry I know. Words cannot express our gratitude to the Lord for your generosity over the past decade.
3,653 days later we are working to bring together 1,000 judges, lawyers and national leaders at four Leadership Conferences in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. A generous 10th anniversary gift will enable us to start the next 3,653 days promoting religious freedom, reconciliation and the integration of faith and profession.
Thank you for your prayers and support as we continue...
Living in His-Story,
Samuel E. Ericsson,
President & CEO
3,653 DAYS LATER
by Samuel E. Ericsson
Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise,
making the most of every opportunity,
because the days are evil. Eph 5:15-16 NIV
On May 8, 2001, I had the opportunity to address 60 justices, judges, and lawyers at a Bible study held monthly in the South Korean Supreme Court building. The purpose of my brief comments, which began with the above verses, was to invite their participation in our Advocates for Asia Leadership Conference to be held in October in Seoul. After the meeting, the former Chief Prosecutor of South Korea made his driver available to take me to a hospital in Seoul. I wanted to visit an 81-year-old highly respected lawyer whom I had met in 1997 and who is now suffering severely from Parkinson's disease. As the driver pulled away from the Supreme Court in the new black luxury car, he turned on his stereo to listen to the Bible on CD. The reader began:
Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise,
making the most of every opportunity,
because the days are evil.
There are 31,173 verses in the Bible that the CD could have started with. When I heard this passage, one hour after I had read the same verses to the judges, it was the "gentle whisper" of the Author of His-story saying, "I am with you." Advocates International is celebrating its tenth anniversary! It has been an inspiring journey watching His-story unfold over the last 3,653 days. Here are some reflections from along the way:
The First Invitation: On Saturday, November 1, 1990, I had breakfast with law professor Lynn Buzzard and Kent Hill, the President of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. At the time, I was the Executive Director of Christian Legal Society. We were speaking at a CLS function in North Carolina. During the breakfast, we shared how interesting it might be to visit Moscow. (In 1981 Lynn and Kent were instrumental in negotiating with the KGB the release of "the Siberian Seven," Pentecostals who had lived for five years in the basement of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and wanted asylum in the U.S. I had helped arrange the "ransom" funds necessary for their release.)
Two days after our breakfast, a political science professor from Kings College in New York called to invite me to meet five members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences to discuss how the Ten Commandments could be reintroduced into the educational system in Russia. I took Lynn and Kent to the meeting at which time the Academy invited us to visit Moscow in January 1991. That visit changed my life. For the first time, I experienced the oppressive spirit of communism. I wanted to do something as a lawyer to help nations transitioning from communism to an open society. I also wanted to help prepare the ground through law so that God's people could live their faith in peace.
3,653 days later, Advocates' board and staff have traveled over two million miles to 50 countries in our mission to encourage, enable, and equip lawyers, judges, and national leaders to promote religious freedom, reconciliation, and the integration of law and profession. By June 2001, we have over 100 nations in the network linking together close to 7,000 Christians in the legal profession, plus 2,500 members of parliament who receive our monthly Global Voice articles by email.
Lynn Buzzard is a member of our board and has edited our devotional books. Next year, during his sabbatical, we have arranged for him to teach at law schools in Albania, Bulgaria, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and possibly Mongolia and elsewhere.
The First Meeting: When we arrived in Moscow in January 1991, we discovered that our Academy of Sciences hosts had no contacts in the legal profession. In a near-miraculous series of events, my first meeting overseas was with the Chief Justice of Russia. Our team had decided to keep the discussion very "legal" and to focus on the importance of an independent judiciary. Our goal was to build relationships and work professionally. The spiritual component would follow after the relationships had been built. Thus, we were somewhat taken aback when the Chief Justice told us he wanted to discuss the Biblical view of capital punishment. It was an interesting discussion.
Six years later, I met the Chief Justice at a reception held at the U.S. Supreme Court for justices from 35 European courts. When I introduced myself to the Chief Justice and reminded him of our first meeting, he responded, "I remember you. You were that Christian lawyer who brought God into the discussion in a very interesting way. Let's continue the discussion sometime."
3,653 days later, Advocates is planning to hold its Advocates for Europe Leadership Conference in September in Moscow. We believe that there are nearly 200 Christian lawyers throughout Russia who would be interested in participating in the conference, along with Advocates' colleagues from 28 former communist nations plus Western Europe. I hope to see the Chief Justice again during my next visit to Moscow.
The First Christian Lawyer: During breakfast with Kent in Moscow on January 24, 1991, I mentioned my hope that I would meet at least one Russian Christian lawyer before returning to the U.S. One hour later, during a meeting with the president of the Russian Bar Association, a woman introduced herself to me as a Russian Orthodox lawyer. Her name was Natalia Vyssotskaya, and I asked her over lunch how she happened to come to this meeting. She told me that two days earlier she had been filing papers at the Ministry of Justice in Moscow to register her Faith, Hope, and Love Foundation, which is driven by Jesus' statement: "I was in prison and you visited me." The Foundation would provide Russian prisoners with: 1) legal aid for those who had been unjustly sentenced; 2) Bibles and religious materials; and 3) medicines and clothing. While speaking with the clerk at the Ministry of Justice she had mentioned that her pastor was helping her launch this first-of-its-kind ministry in Russia. One of our Soviet Academy hosts was standing next to her and invited her to meet some Christian lawyers visiting from the U.S. As a result of our meeting, I joined Natalia's board and became a supporter of her ministry. I also learned that Natalia had lost her husband tragically when her son, Nick, was six years old. I met Nick and invited him to study at a Christian college in the U.S. He joined our family in July 1991, becoming our "Russian son."
3,653 days later, I visited Natalia in Moscow. Her Foundation with 2 lawyers and 6 support staff operates on a total budget of $15 per hour. Since 1991, they have received over 16,000 letters from prisoners, written 2,200 letters and appeals to the authorities on behalf of inmates, been successful in nearly 600 cases, and reduced over 400 years in sentences. In addition, she has distributed over 44,000 Bibles and other religious books and 150,000 medical kits, such as those needed for tuberculosis. In 1998, Natalia was instrumental in helping bring about a moratorium on all executions in Russia. Advocates has been a supporter from the beginning. I know of no ministry in the world that has accomplished more with less.
The First Day on the Job: The office was very quiet on Monday, June 3, 1991, my first day away from CLS. There was no staff, no business plan, no donors, no funds, no mailing list, only a deep concern to help Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union rebuild after decades of communism. I could identify with Abraham who "obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." (Hebrews 11:8)
3,653 days later, our U.S. staff has grown to include three lawyers, one U.N. Ambassador, one journalist, and three support staff. On May 22, 2001, we will host our first luncheon at the U.N. for 70 diplomats and their colleagues under the auspices of Rule of Law Forum, our arm serving the diplomatic community. Advocates' board member Judge Kenneth W. Starr will speak on "The Rule of Law in Building Democratic Societies." We remain amazed at how God uses available people to do His work.
Two Timely Bankruptcies: A few weeks before my first day on the job, two tenants who had rented space in two office condominiums that Bobby and I owned went bankrupt, leaving desks, file cabinets, chairs, and an antiquated phone system. This was during the 1991 recession and over 30% of office space in the area was vacant. I was not happy to lose the income from those tenants since I had no income of my own, but the Lord knew what he was doing. Suddenly Advocates had office space and furniture! As I sought creative ways to fill the rest of the empty space, I became aware that many small ministries including Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Child Evangelism Fellowship, Jubilee Campaign, and Assist Crisis Pregnancy Center could not afford conventional office space. I invited them to move into "The People's Place," use as much space as they needed, and pay whatever rent they could afford.
3,653 days later 27 ministries have used "The People's Place" as a launching pad. After ten years, both FCA and Advocates needed more space, so in May, FCA moved its fruitful ministry impacting over 100 campuses and 40,000 people. Their move enabled Advocates to double its office space. We thank God for the timely bankruptcies in 1991.
The First Calls: By June 19, 1991, I still had no idea how to proceed with my desire to help believers in the Soviet bloc. Then a good friend, Roger Sherrard, who did not know that I had left CLS three weeks earlier to focus on international matters, called me from Poulsbo, Washington. He asked if I had any interest in visiting Sofia, Bulgaria to meet with the dean of Sofia University Law School to discuss Christian ethics. My response was, "Roger, Sofia Bulgaria?! Why not Paris, Bermuda, or the Bahamas?" The next day, I received a call from a stranger in Los Angeles, Paul Popov. He asked if I would be willing to go to Sofia to meet with the president of the Bar Association to discuss Christian ethics. As we talked further, we discovered that in 1952 - 39 years earlier - Paul's mother and my father had worked in the same office in Stockholm, Sweden! When I told Roger about this second phone call, we decided it was time to visit Bulgaria.
3,653 days later, we have a Rule of Law Institute in Bulgaria with over 125 young, dynamic and committed Christian lawyers, judges, and law professors. It is the largest active Christian law group in continental Europe. The Institute has become the hub for our efforts impacting nearly every country in the Balkans.
The First Conference: On Sunday, March 22, 1992, Roger's law partner, John Johnson, and John's wife Laurie, read about Albania's first parliamentary election, held that day. They prayed for the election in this nation that had adopted Atheism as its official religion and suffered under the worst tyranny in Europe since World War II. Two days later, John and Roger arrived at their law office and discovered two faxes: the first was from a friend of Roger's in Vienna, Austria asking if Roger and I could visit "Tirana, Albania and meet the Minister of Justice to discuss ethics." The other fax, which had arrived ten minutes earlier, was from a stranger in Kona, Hawaii - 12,000 miles from Vienna -- asking if Roger and I could visit "Tirana, Albania and meet the Minister of Justice to discuss ethics - ‘for such a time as this.'" Roger, John, and I felt that there was no need to wait for a third fax! The following year, Roger, John, and I organized our first conference at the invitation of the Supreme Court of Albania. In 1995, John moved his family to Tirana for nine months to work with their Supreme Court.
3,653 days later, Advocates International has been invited to conduct conferences by the supreme courts in several former communist countries, including Albania, Armenia, and Mongolia. In addition, we have participated in conferences focusing on religious liberty, human rights, conflict resolution, reconciliation, and professional ethics in nearly 30 countries touching over 100 nations. Roger and John have served on our board from the beginning and have been actively engaged with us on three continents.
We are planning four regional Leadership Conferences to be held this year: 1) African Christian Lawyers Network hopes to bring together law professionals from 20 nations in Kampala, Uganda in August; 2) Advocates for Latin America is aiming for 20 Latin nations to meet in Lima, Peru in late August; 3) Advocates Europe hopes for over 30 nations to participate in the conference in Moscow in September; and 4) Advocates for Asia hopes to see law professionals from a dozen nations convene in Seoul in October. The goal is that a total of 1,000 Christian lawyers and judges will participate. We thank the Author of His-Story for His daily guidance and provision during the past 3,653 days.