Dec. 1, 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

Has God been doing anything amazing in or through your life lately? Tell someone about it!

“Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.”
Psalm 96:3


God is constantly at work and the closer we walk with Him, the more aware of that we become. We hope you enjoy reading about some of the “marvelous deeds” He’s been doing in and through us as we trust Him. May He receive the glory!

Love in Christ,

Greg

Ministry to Serbs in Dallas?!!

Thanks to the civil wars that took place in the former Yugoslavia and economic turmoil (like 40% unemployment) there are almost as many Serbs living outside of Serbia as there are in Serbia itself! And the population there continues to drop at drastic rates. A recent survey shows that a large percentage of college students plan on leaving the country to find work abroad after they graduate.
So, needless to say, it’s not uncommon to hear Serbian being spoken in public places in the United States. We have even met several Serbs and other former Yugoslavs while living here in Dallas!
 
Lately we’ve been hanging out with a couple named Dragan and Brankica. We got into contact with them through a friend of Jelena’s in Sombor. It’s been such a joy getting together with them. It’s almost like having a piece of Serbia in the U.S! A few months ago we started talking about church and discovered that Dragan used to be roommates in college with a pastor friend of mine named Mika in Serbia! What a small world! Dragan said, “You know, this guy [his old roommate] was really into reading the Bible and praying. He used to get up early every day to do this! I went to his church and some camps a few times and even sang some songs. The church was very different than the Serbian Orthodox ones, but I really enjoyed it.” After this conversation, I couldn’t wait to get home and send Mika an email to which he replied:

“Greetings from Serbia! I was ecstatic to hear this news from you! I’ve been praying for him and for him to come to salvation for years. May God give you wisdom and the will to lead his soul to Christ. Please say “hi” to him from me. I’m so glad he met you both. Please say “hi” to Jelena, too.”

Wow! Coincidence? Don’t think so.
Just a few weeks ago I got to share the Gospel with Dragan. He’s heard it before, of course, from Mika and was full of questions. Jelena got to share the Gospel with Brankica about a month ago for the first time. They both seem really open and have even expressed a desire to come to church! We gave them a Serbian New Testament. (Fortunately Chip, the pastor whose house we’re staying at, had a few extra ones). Please pray for them. It would be so great to see them come to Christ!
So, even though we can’t be in Serbia right now, God’s bringing Serbia to us!

More Than a Retreat (by Jelena)

In our last newsletter we shared with you about the great joy and privilege God had given us to organize the “Joni & Friends” Retreat for 20 families from all over Serbia who are affected by disabilities. Something that many of you may not know is that the whole vision of having these retreats isn’t just to minister to people during those few days once a year, but it’s also to get people into contact with local Christian churches and organizations that will care for them throughout the year. We also make an effort to stay in contact with them through email, Skype and other means of communication. Here are some really encouraging stories I thought I’d share with you:

“Jelena is a young lady in her thirties that is completely blind, and unable to walk. Her mental capacity is on the level of a child of 12. She has an amazing sense of humor! Christians from a local church invited her and her mother to the J&F Retreat and after the retreat they continued to visit them regularly. Jelena just recently came to the church with her parents for the first time. She immediately started singing the songs we were singing for worship, almost as though she had sung them a million times before! She asked if she could pray at the end of the service. She thanked God for all of the members of the team that was involved at the retreat and asked for forgiveness for not wanting to share her wheelchair with others there that needed it. She also thanked God for the retreat and asked Him to let her be a part of it again next year. When I heard how she was praying, I was so touched and realized that I was witnessing pure faith in action. You could really sense that every word was coming from straight from her heart.” - Zuza (one of the volunteers at the retreat)

“Jovana’s family was at the retreat for their very first time. Jovana is 8 and is developmentally delayed in speech and physically. She is unable to go to any school. After getting back from the retreat her parents shared about their experience: “We were saddened, encouraged and challenged. Saddened because the retreat went by too fast and we heard so many new and special things that really took time for us to ‘digest.’

Encouraged because we met people who are in the same boat as us, volunteers that unselfishly gave of their time, money and energy so that we could have a nice break, and speakers that completely understand what we’re going through. Challenged because we who are Serbian Orthodox background heard for the first time that a relationship with God doesn’t depend on any priest or what Church you belong to, but on Christ alone.”


Just about a month ago I signed up for an online course with “Joni & Friends” organization called “Beyond Suffering.” It is an intense, very informative course designed to help better equip people who have a desire to be involved in ministries to the disabled. I discovered some very interesting and troubling facts I thought I would share with you:

• Statistics show that there are around 785 million people in the world with some kind of disability; 200 million of those are children.

• Only 5-10% of these have been evangelized, which makes this group of people with disabilities the most unreached people group in the world.

• 97% of children with disabilities in underdeveloped countries are neglected and abused.

• In Kosovo, a southern province of Serbia, many young girls that are developmentally delayed are sold into prostitution in order to avoid being institutionalized.

• 90% of children in underdeveloped countries won’t be included in any kind of school program.

• Every third girl in the world that has a disability is exposed to sexual and physical abuse.

• 80% of people with disabilities will never have the chance to have a job and will be forced to beg in order to survive.

When John the Baptist ended up in prison, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus – “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” It was wonderful to hear Jesus’ reply – “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” Our Savior was recognized as being sent from the Father by the fact that he was surrounded by those that were blind, those suffering with leprosy, the lame and the poor.
May people recognize Christ in us by the same thing!

Good, Bad, and Divine (by Jelena)

We just had another meeting with Hana’s teacher, her therapist, and her principal. To be honest, it was kind of depressing. Hana’s condition is worse that we thought or than we could even imagine. Along with discovering that she is no longer in the category of “high-functional autism” but “low-functional,” we also found out that she has some kind of serious speech/communication delay. She’s not really progressing enough in her speech, behavior or education. We keep getting bad reports back almost on a daily basis from her teacher. Even her bus driver has been complaining about Hana’s behavior! Most experts advise parents to be aware of the fact that it’s usually “three steps forward, two steps back” when it comes to raising kids that have autism. In our case it feels like we’re going three steps forward, five steps back!
I knew that there was only one place to go after being overloaded with such terrible news – at His feet. Only the Lord can comfort me it such crazy circumstances and He does, over and over again. I cried out to Him – “Lord, why did you bring us here if Hana is not even benefiting from the school?” I kept bringing him this question for days and I kept getting the same answer – “You are where you are because I brought you there. I wanted to get your attention again, to cause you to fall in love with me and my Word all over again. Now that you’ve experienced this, you’re ready to go home.” Over and over again verses kept jumping out at me throughout the Bible relating to going home like – “On that day I will gather you together and bring you home again,” Zephaniah 3:20 and “I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land” Jeremiah 29:14. Could it be true, or was it wishful thinking? I really sensed it was God’s voice. It was interesting that right around the same time, I discovered that Greg seemed to be getting the same type of signals from the Lord. “I really think that the Lord is leading us to go back and that the right time is this coming summer,” he told me. We both seem to be at peace about returning, even though it seems crazy and irresponsible; especially considering Hana’s present condition. We’ve been in contact with a special ed. teacher in my home town (Novi Sad) that used to have behavioral therapy with Hana once a week when she was three years old. We asked her what the situation is like now concerning schools for kids with special needs. She said it’s not ideal, definitely not as good as what’s available in America, but getting better. The laws are changing, more money is being put into schools for kids with disabilities, and she is optimistic. She said if we decide to move back, they would try to put Hana in a regular school with her own personal assistant. If this doesn’t work out, they would then put her in a school where there are just autistic kids, most of which are very severely disabled. (In Sombor there is no such school and not one child with autism there has so far been provided a personal assistant).
So, there are still a lot of uncertainties, many details and provisions that need to be worked out, but it looks like we’re going to take that step of faith and move back. We’ve told our kids, relatives, families and most of our friends the news. Although we are sad that Hana’s condition seems to be bad, the thought of going back and continuing to work with and serve families that are going through similar problems as we are, really excites us! We know that God has a plan in everything and that He is working it out for His good. Maybe it’s necessary for Hana to be in such a condition for a while, so that we can better empathize with others. God knows, and we’re trusting Him. Please continue to pray that the Lord would clearly guide us as we consider moving back to Serbia.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”- Jeremija 29:11-14

Nick Vujicic

Thanks for praying for the Nick Vujicic evangelistic outreach that happened in Serbia. The outcome was even more amazing than anyone expected or dreamed! Local churches pulled together to help advertise and organize the event.
During his short stay in Serbia Nick:

• met with very popular public figures from Novak Djokovic (world famous tennis player) to Ivan Ivanovic (Serbia’s Jay Leno) which created quite a stir in the local newspapers and t.v. stations,

• had several interviews with leading media, including one on national t.v where he openly told the Serbian public – “People, the secret of my joy and contentment comes from having a relationship with Jesus!”

• visited colleges, schools, book stores (where he promoted the book of his life’s story in Serbian).

• Had two large outreaches (one in Belgrade and the other in Novi Sad) which thousands of people attended. Even the President’s wife was at one of them! Tickets were sold for a small amount that helped cover the cost of renting the halls they used. Money that was left over from the tickets went into various organizations that help people with disabilities, including our own!
 
We received the equivalent of over $3,000 that will help cover the part of the cost of the next “Joni & Friends” family retreat that we’re planning on having in June of 2013.

Thanks again for all your prayers and support! We really appreciate your involvement in our ministry. Thanks to your giving, we got out of the debt I mentioned in the last newsletter.

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