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Naomi speaking with a homeless man at Hand For a Friend

Naomi speaking with a homeless man at Hand For a Friend

As Zoltan Vegel, who leads the International Protestant Church of Sombor with his wife Tanja drove us to Sombor, a small but beautiful city a few miles from the Croatian and Hungarian borders, he explained that in Serbia, you cannot just tell people about Jesus or invite them to a church event.

Serbia is overwhelmingly Orthodox which is inextricably linked to Serbian identity. To visit an evangelical church is often considered a serious betrayal. But, Zoli, explained, if you ask people who God is, many find it hard to say, some even claim he is a “kind of energy”.

Sharing the gospel needs a much more relational, time-consuming approach. The church uses ‘pre-evangelism’ to break through. For example, they might invite people to a photography event. At the end, the photographer might say that they love capturing God’s creation. It’s a seed sown.

Tanja teaches about prophetic ministry and encourages people to use the gifts God has given them. Zoli wants to see each church member become disciples who recognise the mission field on their doorstep.

In Novi Sad, I met up with my colleague Ken Millwood and Jovica and Savka Bacvanski, who planted Christ Gospel Church, Podgorica in Montenegro and after twenty-four years returned to their home city to start Christ Gospel Church, Novi Sad. We visited the new church space. They were just over a week away from opening the doors for the first service, hoping people would come. A week later, Jovica sent us a message which read, ‘They just kept coming.’

The next day, Ken and I met with Nesa and Vesna Radeka, who both lead different ministries. Nesa showed us around Nexusplay—Nexus Church’s soft play centre that TEN provided a loan and grant to get started. The income supports the ministry of the church and is paving the way for more sustainable ventures. Nesa showed us the booking sheets and they were full up.

Vesna was delightful and very patient. I asked her many questions about the ministry at A Place for Me which is a centre for women considering abortion, those who have undergone the procedure or women who have decided to keep their baby but need practical and emotional support.

Vesna and her team are skilled, dedicated and compassionate pro-life advocates, caring for their clients and the wider family, regardless of the decision made. Later, we visited the site of the new maternity home, which is still under construction, but will soon be a place of sanctuary for mothers with newborns.
We met Boris Pavlov, who became a Christian soon after Nesa gave him a food parcel funded by Harvest for the Hungry. Boris started two house groups and has continued discipling those communities, encouraging them to establish other house groups.

Boris doesn’t speak English so Nesa translated. He brimmed with excitement. When our meeting ended, Boris embraced me and said in perfect English, “My sister, my sister in Christ!”

When we visited Dusan Beredi at Novi Sad Christian Fellowship, the church was hosting its monthly Hand For a Friend project, which was started by two church members, Branko and Antonia who felt the church should do much more to support the homeless community. We met two ladies who embraced us and said, “Thank you so much! We couldn’t do this without you!” I was so touched but I really felt that the support we show to our friends is because you have supported us, especially through projects like Harvest for the Hungry and WinterHelp. That day, the church gave out shoes that had been funded through WinterHelp. I looked at the bags of waterproof winter shoes. Each pair had a size and a person’s name on them. This ministry is also supported by the local community. People were getting haircuts from a local lady. Church members were sorting through bags of donated clothes and blankets. Branko was cooking a large pot of goulash.

At Rainbow Rehabilitation Centre, we met Danny and Vera Kuranji and had a meal together with the men there. We sat with Danny and Vera and about fifteen who were going through the programme and a few others. Each person shared their story. One man broke my heart: “I was the favourite. I grew up in a good home. I had everything and drugs took it all.”

Vera told us that sometimes men leave the centre during the night. But some make it through the course, and some find Christ.

Back in the 1990s, when everybody who could leave Serbia did, Danny and Vera returned from Canada, because of God’s call to bring hope. Gary Cox, then Director of Eurovangelism (TEN), promised to help them. The rehab centre and Novi Sad Christian Fellowship are just part of that legacy. On the Sunday morning, as Ken and I talked with Danny and Vera in their home about their future plans, Vera exclaimed that Christian Fellowship started in the same living room we were sitting in.

On Sunday evening, we worshipped at Novi Sad Christian Fellowship, which was packed. I met Antonia. I saw the men from the rehabilitation centre sitting on the front row, members of the church I’d spoken to at Hand For a Friend, Jovica, Savka, Danny and Vera. I met Mira who is married to Bera. Reflecting back and experiencing the present, I am filled with hope. Even as Bera drove us to the airport the next day, Tomas, who is involved in church planting and training leaders was talking of future plans.

Zoltan and Tanja Vegel
Zoltan and Tanja Vegel
Jovica and Savka Bacvanski
Jovica and Savka Bacvanski
Nesa and Vesna Radeka with Ken Millwood and Boris Pavlov
Nesa and Vesna Radeka with Ken Millwood and Boris Pavlov
Erika Sabljov distributes shoes at Hand For a Friend
Erika Sabljov distributes shoes at Hand For a Friend. (Credit Rogić Vladimir)
a homeless man receives a shave and haircut. (Credit Rogić Vladimir)
A homeless man receives a shave and haircut. (Credit Rogić Vladimir)
By Naomi Greenwood, Communications & Operations Officer at TEN
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