When my aunt and uncle retired, they knelt and promised God they would make themselves available if He wanted to use them. The result, a decade and a half later, is a ministry that has touched the lives of many people and has deepened their own lives and faith.
“Faith and action,” my father often emphasized. Believing the right things is necessary, as is a wisdom that sees issues and points to answers. But my father always saw those who are active, who put their faith into a working expression, as the missing element in much Christian work. What my Uncle Haig and Aunt Vula Rushdoony did after their prayer was to seek opportunity for service. Before long, God provided ample opportunities.
Haig, formerly Professor of Education at California State University Stanislaus, and Vula, longtime manager for Del Monte, headed for Greece where Vula held citizenship. Knowing of their plans to visit Bulgaria, a friend introduced them to a couple with a sick niece in Sofia. When they located Tereza, age seven, she weighed only thirty-five pounds. Vula brought her to California in December of 1992 and immediately began going from doctor to doctor asking for help. Vula, who had immigrated to California from Greece alone when she was just sixteen, said, “I went hungry as a child and never begged for a thing, but God took all that pride away when I was begging for another.” Tereza’s hereditary skin condition was treated, and operations were conducted on her feet and tongue by doctors at no charge at the Stanford Children’s Hospital.1 Fully recovered, Tereza was eventually able to return to Bulgaria in 1996.
Thus began Macedonian Outreach, which Haig and Vula began operating out of their Danville, California, home. They focused the Outreach’s work on the Balkans where they travel each spring and summer. Their work is centered on the countries of Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, the former Yugoslavian states of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, and FYROM (the former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia). In addition to its indigenous people, this region has many other nationalities who have become refugees following wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Yugoslavia, Albania, and Iraq, as well as those displaced by civil wars in Georgia and Russia and the breakup of the Soviet Union and its satellites. Russians, Afghanis, Georgians, Armenians, Turks, Kurds, and Gypsies are all heavily represented in Macedonian Outreach’s programs.
Very quickly more life-threatening situations came to the couple’s attention. They began working with other organizations and hospitals. Over fifty heart patients have received hospital treatment and surgery in the U.S. and Europe. This work has touched each Balkan country. Since 2002 Macedonian Outreach has helped sponsor the education of several nurses at the University Children’s Hospital in Belgrade, Serbia. Additionally it has continued to provide hospital equipment as well as medical equipment and supplies.
One of the problems with “amateur” missions is that they are often more focused on impacting those who briefly participate than those to whom they minister. This can be a particular problem with weeklong youth mission trips. Over the years my older three children have all repeatedly participated in such trips to Mexico through a local church.
They have varied in their usefulness to God’s work. In most, construction projects for churches in Mexico were the primary “mission.” The teenagers were turned into an amateur construction crew, an efficient and useful use of their energies. One year my oldest son came back proud of the fact that he had used a jackhammer all week in his job—digging an outhouse pit! I was thrilled; he really was able to supply a much-needed service. More recently, my teenage daughter came back and told us she had helped electrically wire some new church construction. I was a little worried about that, despite the fact she had a skilled supervisor. Amateur wiring is a bit more problematic to contemplate then an amateurish outhouse (unless ... well, never mind).
What is always dangerous is amateur “missionaries” who evangelize for one week and then pack up their iPods, guitars, and sunglasses and go home. I was distressed one year when there was no construction project and the evangelizing consisted of a pantomimed skit (none of them were fluent in Spanish). I asked my daughter if she would be impressed by a pantomimed skit by a group of Mexican students who traveled to the U.S. for a week. She did note that at least they got the children off the streets for a week and gave them something to eat.
Macedonian Outreach seems to avoid the problems of amateur missionaries in part by their support for indigenous Balkan Christian workers. These individuals are often their sources for information leading to the efficient deployment of their other support, which includes physical and educational needs. Bibles in sixteen languages have been distributed. Pastors have received support, sometimes for such mundane items as a suit or winter heating bill.
Outreach volunteers do, at times, take part in worship services, but the usual practice is to provide material and spiritual support for the local Christian workers. Over thirty such workers throughout the Balkans, both lay and clergy, now receive partial financial support. In a Petrovo, Bulgaria, orphanage they were able to pay for the hiring of thirteen babas (grandmothers) to care for the disabled children’s constant needs. Likewise, support is also given to the Christian Home for the Elderly in Katerini, Greece.
Food and clothing is the Outreach’s largest budget item. Each week donated clothing and shoes are packed and mailed to the region. For many years this was done in Haig and Vula’s California home. Because postage costs are so high, volunteers who take part in the summer missions are often given an extra suitcase (airlines allow two fifty- pound pieces of checked luggage) in order to get as much to the field as possible without paying freight costs. In 2005 over twenty-five volunteers helped in the distribution. My youngest daughter, Marie, is, as I write, in Albania sharing in their work, following in her older sister April’s footsteps, who helped several years ago.
Funds for food are often used to purchase food in the region. Donated food is usually sent by mail or by container. In Romania and Bulgaria Haig and Vula saw families with chronic shortages of food. They began a project to purchase goats for milk, cheese, and meat production. Each goat cost $50 to $75. So far over 200 goats have been distributed in those countries to provide long-term relief to these families.
In Sofia and Russe, Bulgaria, there are Armenian refugees who have to choose each winter between buying food or heating their homes. Macedonian Outreach has been able to provide $25 per household per month to about ninety families each winter.
Financial support has also been provided for orphans throughout Greece and Serbia. It costs $50 to $60 a month to support each orphan. The number of needy in the region is staggering. In Greece alone, two million of its eleven million people are refugees from the wars of the last twenty years alone. From a soup kitchen in Thessaloniki to rent assistance for church facilities in Xanthi to work among the homeless in Athens, Macedonian Outreach finds ample opportunity to put its donated funds and goods to use.
An additional part of Macedonian Outreach’s ministry is in education. In the Republic of Macedonia, a Christian pre-school in the (Romi) Gypsy city of Shutka is given financial aid each month. Each child costs $25 per month to support. In Bulgaria, over 125 children are supported from primary through secondary schools. A scholarship of $300 a year covers the cost of books, supplies, one meal, and transportation to and from school. Other such assistance is given to students in Albania, Serbia, and Greece. Five students who graduated from secondary schools are now supported at the Bible University in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Retirement for Haig and Vula was not to be filled with leisure activities or even their own children and grandchildren. It began with a commitment to God and has expanded steadily as they saw increasing opportunities to manifest the love and mercy of God to others.
My father (Haig’s older brother, Rousas) often spoke of the men whom their father had credited with saving his life. Drs. Raynolds, Ussher, and Tracy were principals of the Armenian Mission Orphanage and Hospital in Van, Armenia. My grandfather was taken in as a sick orphan and nursed to health. After his basic education, the mission saw that he received a college education and then advance training at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. There he lived with his sponsor, Mrs. Oliver. She continued to correspond with my grandfather for many years and, after my father was born, sent him presents every Christmas. He was taught to think of her as a grandmother. Earlier, my grandfather made sure his journey from New York (where my father was born) to his new pastorate in the farming community of Kingsburg, California, went through Los Angeles so that my father could be baptized by Dr. Tracy, whose picture still hangs in my father’s library.
The impact of acts of Christian love and mercy can ripple down to many generations. One group helped by Macedonian Outreach, for instance, was founded by men and women who grew up in a Christian orphanage in Katerini, Greece, in the 1950s. The Benjamin Child Support Society seeks to reciprocate the love and support they received from others by duplicating it for orphans today.
Making themselves available for God has meant a great deal of hard work for Haig and Vula and those volunteers who help them in the work of the Outreach. The impact it is having in their lives and those they help will have a long-term impact that will last for many years to come.
“God didn’t ask us to do this,” Haig has said. “He doesn’t need us. He can do everything on His own. This just put legs on our faith.”2
 Quotation from “Couple’s Mission of Mercy Is for Kids,” by Kimberly Winston. San Ramon Valley Herald, December 30, 1995.