“How are we going to start the work here? We don’t know anybody!” I asked my husband as we drove into the city of Split with all our belongings in the back of a borrowed van. It was July 1991 and my husband Danijel and I were moving from Osijek, a city in northern Croatia, to Split, the second most populous city in the country with 360,000 inhabitants, to start a church. Croatia had just begun its journey to independence from ex-Yugoslavia with a war that lasted until the end of 1996.
Croatia is located in Southeast Europe and is part of the Balkan region. It is a beautiful country with a surface area of fifty-six thousand square meters, 1,200 kilometers of sea coast, 1,300 islands and 4.5 million inhabitants. Seventy-eight percent of the population is Roman Catholic, seventeen percent is Serbian Orthodox and the rest are Muslims, Protestants and others. The percentage of newborn Christians is 0.09%. Matthew 9:37 is a reality in this country: The harvest is great but the laborers are few.
Danijel’s answer to my worrying question was his typical response: “Trust in the Lord!” Indeed, there was no other way than to trust the Lord for his daily guidance. When we came to Split there were no evangelical churches and we only knew of one newborn Christian—the aunt of one of our friends from Bible school. We spent the first months looking for an apartment and getting to know the city and its people. We wanted to discover the key needs in this area so that we could minister effectively. Two groups of people stood out: drug addicts and war refugees.
The number of drug addicts was overwhelming. We kept running into young men and women enslaved to drugs or parents asking us to help their children. Even if we did not feel adequate for this kind of ministry (although we had both taken a Teen Challenge intensive course) and did not have a center where we could receive these youth, we decided to love them, show them there is hope and practically help them. It was not always easy; we were robbed, lied to and deceived. However, we started to see young people enter a Christian rehabilitation program and leave delivered from drugs. We started to see parents seeking the Lord and giving their lives to him. After some time we established a rehabilitation center in the north of Croatia which ran for several years. Today we still do prevention and re-entry programs for people with life-controlling problems.
From 1991 to 1997 there were more than twenty thousand refugees from Croatia and Bosnia in the Split county. With donations from churches and world organizations such as World Vision and Feed the Hungry, we were able to distribute nearly twenty-four thousand tons of relief aid to refugees not only in our area, but in several cities in Bosnia. Today we are still helping a group of seventy refugees placed at a camp thirty kilometers from Split. We are the only group visiting them and throughout the years we have earned their respect as well as sown the seeds of the gospel into their hearts.
In the summer of 1992 we started a home group at our apartment with the acquaintances we had made in town. D.L was a young student of theology whom we met at a flower shop. G.D. was a nurse who asked for help for her drug addict son. M.P. was a construction worker who took many books from the table we exhibited on in the main walking area downtown. They were all eager to hear the good news of the gospel, learn from the word of God and invite friends over. A year later our place was too small and we rented a public hall for our meetings. The number of visitors grew rapidly. People were convicted in their hearts, made a commitment to Christ and were water baptized. Being the first generation of Christians in a very traditionally religious place, many were rejected because of their faith; however, their love for Christ gave them courage and strength to persevere and grow.
Growing Together in Christ
Through many challenges and hardships, our church has grown and today we have a regular weekly attendance of 250 people, making it one of the fastest growing and most dynamic fellowships in the country. Besides the three weekly worship and Bible study services, we have a weekly discipleship class for new believers and a weekly prayer meeting. Almost every day of the week there is a different home group meeting or outreach ministry. Each group or ministry presents a great opportunity to touch the lives of many people who will further influence others.
The number of children is growing rapidly both through the coming of new families to the church and through the birth of new babies. There are about fifty children at our church now (0 to 12 years old). It is a joy to see the commitment and enthusiasm of each teacher as they work with the children several times a week. Nearly forty kids (half from two orphanages and a special needs school) gather each Saturday for the weekly children’s club, Awana. There are about thirteen teens meeting every Saturday for fellowship and Bible study. It is encouraging to see them inviting their friends and being involved in church life. Friday evening a group of about twenty-five young adults meet. Our desire is to see the youth and young adults more involved in missions. About fifteen young couples meet every Friday to study God’s word and to find guidance for their daily responsibilities as partners, parents and working people.
Women are the majority of the church family and enjoy fellowshipping with each other and spending time in worship, the word and intercessory prayer. There are two women’s groups meeting every Thursday and a MOPS (Moms of Pre-Schoolers) group meeting every second Saturday. The “Deborah” (wives with unbelieving husbands) group meets once a month for prayer. Once a year we have a special evangelistic event where we invite friends. The last one was in May 2006 where some of the 125 women in attendance gave their lives to the Lord.
We have realized that if men, who are the head of the family, have no vision for their lives the whole family will suffer. Every other Saturday a group of men meet to share their struggles and find guidance in the word of God. We also have time for fun activities such as barbecues and sporting events.
Advancing the Kingdom of God
We are very thankful to God for what he has done in Split and it is our desire to be an example and encouragement to other believers and cities not only in Croatia but in neighboring countries. We have committed ourselves to help the advance of God’s kingdom in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro by giving of ourselves and our resources.
We believe it is time for us to not only receive but give. We have also been able to organize four conferences in Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia for pastors, their wives and their children. These have been times of renewal and refreshment.
Another practical way to bless the Balkan nations is through the establishment of “Focus,” a Christian camp (discipleship training and retreat center). The purpose of the camp is to encourage the leaders of existing churches through discipleship programs and train the youth to serve on the mission field. The camp is a place of fellowship and reconciliation among the nations of ex-Yugoslavia.
It is our ultimate desire to see a strong multiplying missions-minded church in Split, Croatia and the Balkans. With this purpose in mind, we give ourselves to God to be used as instruments in his hands for his purposes to be accomplished.