| Dear Family and Friends,
It’s so great to be back sharing the Gospel in Serbia! It’s a privilege and honor that we know we don’t deserve. God is so gracious!
Last month we had our annual “Joni & Friends” Retreat for families affected by disabilities. There were 26 families from all over the country that attended the event. Almost all of the families are non-Christian and many of them heard the Gospel for the first time! Christian volunteers from both Serbia and the U.S. came to help take care of children with special needs (Down’s Syndrome, Autism, Rett’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, etc.) during a 5-day period so that the parents could have a much needed break. Here are some comments that were heard by some of those parents:
“We had an amazing time and can’t wait to come to the next retreat. We learned and experienced so much and also became richer through all the new people we met. There was such a positive atmosphere. It was great being around such joyful people.”
• “We feel like we won the lottery or something! No one has ever offered to babysit our child before; not even our close relatives! And you who are strangers volunteer to do this with such love and care, not charging anything, paying your own way to be here. We are just overwhelmed!”
• "It was a true joy to be here at this retreat.”
“Thank you so much for this retreat! So much love, understanding, empathy, games, fun…. all in one place and with fellow sufferers that have the same troubles. We all have a common bond, even though we are from different countries and all have different roles.
There was an unusual kind of fellowship that could be felt there. Thank you for loving us. You are such different people that really care. I’m going home from this place with my batteries recharged. I realized at this retreat that I’m not alone on this road I’m travelling on called life. Even though I’m a single mother, with all of you along my side, I’m not really alone. I now know that God has given us these perfectly made children as gifts.”
So many of the volunteers were also touched by the retreat saying things like:
“I’m going home from this place a completely different person. I came to give and serve, but I feel like I’ve gained so much more from God through these kids than what I gave.”
Marriages were strengthened, bad perspectives corrected, seeds were planted, lives were touched… God was definitely glorified! Praise be to Him for his great works!
Those 5 days were filled with all kinds of activities:
• Bible Studies, testimonies, discussions with themes such as: “God’s Perspective on Disabilities,” “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made,” “How we Survive – Enjoying a rich relationship with Christ, our only Hope”…
• Fun, Singing, Dancing, Entertainment: A clown show, Texas/Western night, Olympic Games, Serbian folk dancing, Talent Show, swimming, crafts, games, fishing…
• Gatherings with experts/trained professionals where practical advice is shared on improving quality of life of children with
Two-day pastor’s conference: Several pastors came from various areas of Serbia to interact with the families and also discuss and learn about ways to reach out to people affected by disabilities in their communities and welcome them into their churches. One pastor said at the end – “Before this conference I used to think that I had to be qualified or trained to work with people with special needs. Now I realize that I can and should help them. It doesn’t seem so impossible anymore.”
Shelter in the Storm-Jelena
A little over 20 years ago I came to know Christ. Some of the first wise advice I received from mature Christians at that time was that I needed to spend quality time alone with the Lord each day. Over the years, through various trials and problems, these "quiet times" with God have become deeper and more and more amazing with each passing day.
My awareness of how dependant on Him I am is getting sharper and my hunger for Him is getting stronger. These times have become something that I just can’t live without!
This summer we had the opportunity to enjoy a ten-day vacation on a boat; all expenses paid! (Thank you Jesus :) ) As we were enjoying being out on the open sea, visiting various islands throughout the Adriatic Sea, we would have to stop at least every other day at a port. The port was a necessary place where we would be able to: throw away trash that would accumulate on the boat, refill water tanks, refill batteries, sleep peacefully, find safety from storms, clean the boat, buy needed groceries and give our equilibrium a chance to stabilize.
I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between those ports and the quiet times of communion with the Lord. We have to have these times in order to survive the storms of life. I have no choice but to come to Him to: unload burdens, refill batteries, throw away trash that’s accumulated in my heart, rest, get fed, experience refreshment and find stability for my unbalanced life. The waves of life throw us to and fro. Without the ports, we could never enjoy the trip! Without the Lord, life would be a turbulent, miserable journey with no rest or refreshment.
“I pray that God, the source of all hope, will infuse your lives with an abundance of joy and peace in the midst of your faith so that your hope will overflow through the power of the Holy Spirit!” Rom. 15:13
We really need your prayers during this time. We’re in a kind of limbo that is very unsettling. Right now we are borrowing Jelena’s dad’s car for transportation. He called yesterday to let us know that he needs it back soon. We can’t afford to buy one yet. We haven’t found an adequate place to rent in the city we’ll be living in (that has the school for autistic kids). We are having a hard time collecting all the paperwork/transcripts needed for the kids’ reenrollment into the school system here.
Both Jelena and I are pretty sure that God wanted us to come back here, but in the midst of this mess, every so often we’ll look at each and just say, “Are we crazy or what!!? What are we doing here!?” Not only do we wonder about our sanity at times, but we run into people almost every day that ask why in the world we would ever move back here! (The condition of this country, politically and economically, just seems to be getting worse and worse with each passing day. Many people have moved to other countries to find work. Some statistics show that there is currently around 40% unemployment! The level of corruption here is terrible…)
But over and over again, as we come to the Lord daily, He just keeps reaffirming the calling He has given us for this precious, broken nation. He continues to give us peace and strength to keep living this life of faith one day at a time with our eyes fixed on Him; not leaning on our own understanding. Please pray that we would stay strong in our faith and that He would give us wisdom and courage as we wade through all these problems.
Thank you all for your love, support and encouragement!