| “I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all the marvelous things you have done.” – Psalm 9:1
Well, if I were to write about all the marvelous things the Lord has been doing these past few months here in our little corner of the world, this newsletter would be at least 30 pages long! Every time I sit down to write one of these, I find it so difficult condensing what has been going on into 2-3 pages, and also putting into words those amazing, indescribable things that God has been doing.
Well, in any case, I hope this feeble attempt will stir your hearts up to praise Him together with us. Thank you for the generous financial support and prayers. We are extremely grateful for your involvement in our ministry!
Love in Christ,
As you know, in May we had terrible floods that caused thousands of people to have to evacuate their homes. After much prayer, our church decided to send a team down to one of the worst hit areas – a city called Obrenovac. This team has rented a big house and has started distributing humanitarian aid, sharing the Gospel and doing renovation projects to help people there that are trying to get settled again. Many of the team members are ex-drug addicts that came to Christ through the rehabilitation centers in Temerin and Novi Sad. So many lives are being touched through the team (some of whom used to be hardened criminals!) One of the leaders is from Obrenovac originally. His friends and relatives are amazed to see the complete transformation that has taken place in his life.
As I mentioned in the last newsletter, we invited several families from flooded areas that have kids with special needs to attend our annual family retreat. Unfortunately, none of them responded to our invitation. We think that they may have been a bit skeptical. (You know that in this country our churches are considered a dangerous cult by most of the population). As the team in Obrenovac has been reaching out to the community, some have come into contact and developed friendships with such families and the walls are coming down, so there should be a better response next time we have a retreat.
Joni & Friends Retreat
Once again God touched the hearts of so many people that attended our 5th annual retreat for families affected by disabilities. There were a few new families this year that got to hear the Gospel for the first time, discovering the secret of how we survive raising a child with autism.
Unlike last year, we didn’t have any problem recruiting volunteers for our retreat for people affected by disabilities. In fact, we even had to turn some away! A small team of volunteers came from our old church in Dallas again. Here is a prayer written during the camp by one of the local Serbian volunteers:
Thank you for bringing me to this retreat to “help” Mika that has Cerebral Palsy. But actually Mika helped me more than I helped her.
Mika has an immobile body, but has a heart that is sincere and unbounded. Through her you opened my eyes, ears and heart. The tears that came from my eyes broke the hardened heart that I had. Dear Mika has been sitting in a wheelchair for 21 years, patiently enduring chronic pain in her hands and feet and I can’t even sit in one place quietly for more than 15 minutes! Dear Mika has a hard time speaking, only able to say one or two words at a time, but when her heart is excited, she shouts for joy for all to hear. Dear Mika knows what she likes and doesn’t like and she honestly says what she thinks, sometimes completely outside of all cultural norms. She doesn’t wear any mask of fake kindness like I do. Her large fingers are barely able to hold a paintbrush, and yet she enjoys works of art she paints without any shame. I always thought I have “clumsy fingers” and was always ashamed of anything I would try to paint. My dear Mika is delighted by little things. As we strained together to cut a piece of paper she yelled happily – “Look, everyone! I’m cutting with scissors!” She repeated this sentence several times, so proud of her success. Tears streamed down my face. How little she needs to be content! Lord, I have You, a healthy body, hands and feet that work properly, a mouth that can speak, and yet so often I am discontent. My mouth has such a hard time expressing joy, love… I always shut it and hesitate before expressing such things. Dear Mika loves music, loves singing, knows so many songs and isn’t ashamed of her voice. She sings for joy, even though she’s only able to sing a word or two of each song. Her heart sings and she struggles with all her might to lift her unresponsive hands as much as she can and move her body at least a little to express all the joy that is in that heart. I’m ashamed to sing because I sing off key and I almost whisper when I sing to You so that no one close will hear me. She’s not ashamed to stand in front of the whole room and sing her favorite song with tons of mistakes. But she sings from the heart.
My Mika has such a big heart that has affected me in so many ways. Dear Mika has physical handicaps, but her heart and emotions have hands and feet that run and speak without any hindrance. My body functions as it should, but I am handicapped! My emotions are lame, immobile, blocked… My attitude is stuck in a wheelchair that people close to me push around with their opinions and rules that I overestimate. Jesus, I am a lame, blind, weak person that desperately needs healing! Mika leans on you and her heart runs around in your pastures. My heart needs healing so it can run with Mika’s. O, Lord, thank you for showing me what I’m really like and how much I need you. Thank you for using Mika to teach me how to cry and laugh again; how to show affection. I’ve never been one to hug people much, always so distant, but at this camp I couldn’t stop hugging Mika! Thank you for loving me so extravagantly, without shame, so generously.
Thanks a lot to those of you who gave to help cover the expenses of this retreat. As always, the Lord provided for everything just in time.
Twice a week I get to hang out with ex-drug addicts in Temerin and Novi Sad. I spend time: sharing the Gospel with new ones that have just joined the program, encouraging and teaching new believers to enjoy and grow in their relationship with Christ, leading worship, counseling one-on-one… It has been such a joy and privilege to be involved in the lives of these guys that have hit rock bottom and are so hungry for Christ. Since I got involved last year, I’ve seen about 5 people come to Christ. One of them I’d like to highlight. His name is Ljuba. When Ljuba first came to the center, he was a mess, trying unsuccessfully to get off of heroine. The first time I met him, we were all having a discussion and I threw out the question – “How’s the dialogue going with God?” Some of the new believers mentioned things that God had been showing them the past week. Ljuba very boldly said, “I don’t really feel like I have any kind of dialogue with God. It’s more like a monologue if anything!” That statement took us off on one of those unplanned, productive rabbit trails and I got to explain to him what it means to have a relationship with Christ and all the Christ had done so that we could have that “dialogue.” A few weeks later, he was having some serious pain in his knee. One of the pastors prayed for him and he was instantly healed!
God used this miracle to get his attention and soon after that he came to Christ. Ever since his conversion, he could never stop smiling. One time he told me, “You know, Greg, I just can’t explain the joy I have. It never runs out! Even on rainy days, I’m always content and joyful. I keep thinking it will run out, just like the drugs I used to be on, but it never does! I’m like a totally different person!” A few months later we had an Alpha Course at the church (It’s a two-month course designed to help introduce Christianity to people who don’t know anything about it. We listen to lectures and discuss subjects such as “What is the Bible, Prayer…?,” “Who is Jesus?,” “Why did Jesus die?,” “Is Christianity irrelevant, boring…?) and Ljuba invited his mom to attend and she did! She had seen the huge transformation that was taking place in her son’s life and wanted to find out how this was happening and was even jealous. About half way through the course, she prayed to receive Jesus into her life and started experiencing the same joy her son has. Their relationship that was really bad and full of strife, like most drug addicts’ family relationships, is now doing great! Praise the Lord!!
Humanitarian Aid Distribution
Twice a week I get to deliver humanitarian aid in the form of: food parcels, detergent and diapers, to people that have cancer, those that are in remission and also disabled people (some of which became disabled from the cancer). We try to spend at least an hour with each person we visit and often get to share the Gospel. We’ve seen several people come to Christ, some of whom have gone to be with the Lord. It’s hard making friends with people that you know will most likely die soon, but it is such an incredible privilege. We cry a lot, pray a lot. Sometimes the Lord miraculously heals people we pray for. In the last newsletter I mentioned a man that the doctors said would only live 40 days since his diagnosis of a brain tumor. They told him that the tumor had spread too much and it was too late for chemotherapy or radiation therapy. I said that “apparently” he was healed in the newsletter. Well, I’m happy to say this time that he was definitely healed. Take a look at this recent x-ray of his brain:
The doctors are completely dumbfounded! They said they have never seen anything like this before in all their years of practicing medicine! When they ask what the secret is, the man just says – “People, all I can say is that God healed me!” He used to be a Muslim, but became a Christian through this whole situation.
This man (in photo), Zoran, is dying of lung cancer. He’s my age (42). Unfortunately, after going through chemotherapy, the doctors said his tumor hadn’t shrunk at all, it’s gotten bigger and because it’s close to the heart they’re unable to operate. Unless God does a miracle, Zoran will probably die in a few months. Last week I got to share the Gospel with him for the first time and he’s really open. His wife, Sneza, became a Christian a few months ago and is growing strong in the Lord. Their son went to a Christian camp last week and loved it! Please pray for Zoran to be healed (spiritually and physically).
Churches in Sombor and Temerin
“Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the Word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” – Acts 15:36
About once a month I’m continuing to visit the church in Sombor to: preach, fellowship and encourage the pastor. The church has really been through some rough waters this past year, but seems to be doing pretty well. Last month there was an outreach team, from my brother’s church in California (North Coast Church) that spent a few weeks there. They had various activities for kids and adults. Several new people came out to the church and got to hear the Gospel. I got to spend three days there while the team was there. It was great! While I was there I got together with some people that I hadn’t seen in years. They got saved back in the early years when we first started the church, but fell away and have been out of fellowship for quite some time. One of them, a policeman named Ivan, has been going through an awful time this past year. His brother committed suicide, dad died of cancer and wife cheated on him. But through all this his heart was broken and he became hungry for the Lord again. Zoli, the pastor, started visiting him again, he came out to some of the events that the team had put on, and now he’s started coming to church again and walking with the Lord!
The other church we started in Temerin, before Sombor, is not doing well at all. The atmosphere is not very healthy, attendance is extremely low, and there are often arguments and dissention between the elders. I have been visiting them less frequently than Sombor and am taking things really slow. More and more it seems like God may be leading me to pastor that church again. They haven’t had a pastor in years. I’m still praying and want to make sure this is really what He wants before making a commitment. We are building a house in that town and plan on moving there in the near future.
Thank ya’all again for your support!