July 22, 2008

Dear Family and Friends,

"The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy."
Psalm 126:3

This verse totally expresses what's in our hearts right now! Let me tell you about some of those "great things:"

More Help for Hana

A few years ago I got an email from a young lady named Jennifer who found out about us by putting "missionaries in Serbia" in Google. She really wanted to get a new version of the New Testament in Serbian for her husband who is not a Christian and from this area originally. I sent her one along with some tracts and ever since then she has been receiving our newsletter. Last year when we were in the States she came to an "Open House" that we had at my brother's house and we got to meet her and her husband. We had just found out about Hana having autism and Jennifer mentioned that she works at a pre-school for autistic children! She told us that if we have any questions or need any help, just to let her know. Unfortunately, Jennifer's husband did not become a Christian and actually filed for divorce. We received an email from Jennifer a few months ago asking if we would mind if she comes over for a month during her summer break to help Hana with one-on-one behavioral therapy and also to help train us to help Hana more effectively. She also mentioned that she would pay for her own way out! Jelena and I were totally overwhelmed! What a great sacrifice! Jennifer just got here a few days ago and has already started working with Hana and us. She just started out right where Ali, the other special-ed. teacher that came over in the spring, left off (using the assessment Ali wrote). We are just so thankful to the Lord for His provision and amazed at how He does it! Thank you all for your continual prayers for Hana and us during this difficult time.

Jennifer working with Hana

Cell Groups

A few months ago my coworker, Zoli, implemented these new cell groups that have been an incredible blessing to our church. Look at what he wrote in his newsletter about them:

This week I finished series from book of Daniel that lasted about 2 months.
At the time we started this series, we also got almost the whole church involved in weekly sermon-based home groups. At our main services they would get homework and then during the week they would have an opportunity in their home groups to share their views and hear others.

Now at the end of this series we are all totally exited about how everything turned out! :)

We can really tell that this series and home groups made a great impact on the people in our church. Before, so often at the Bible Studies it would seem like, for most, that everything we taught would just go in one ear and right out the other! Now with this new set-up, it's impossible to be just a passive listener. Knowing that they will have to answer certain questions for their homework and discuss in their home group causes them to listen more carefully during the services.

While hanging out with people from church I would often notice they would mention something from the series like: God is sovereign, we need to have integrity, be humble, live for him in every detail of our life, etc.

Some people that thought they were really close to God and who were at the same time judgmental toward others are now starting to change and some have even confessed in front of others that they have a pride issue! Others have confessed they struggle with bad language, or bad behavior on the job and also other things. They are repenting and asking others in the home groups for prayer and help in those areas. Also, attitudes toward each other are much better. Every time during the home group we would share what we are going through so that during the week we could pray for each other. There is more love and caring among us!

New Worship Leader
In my last newsletter I mentioned a guy named Sinisa that got saved through the Irish team that came to visit us. Well, Zoli has been having discipleship with him and he has been growing wonderfully in the Lord. We discovered that he knows how to play the bass and sing so just recently we asked if he would like to play in the worship band with us (which before he joined just had two members - Zoli and me!) Now all we need to do is get a drummer saved and we'll have a full band!

Church Renovation Project

Good news, bad news. First of all, the good news - our church building is almost completed and looks great! The bad news - we are about 32,000 (about $50,000 Euros in debt and rising!) The fundraiser that my brother and sister-in-law were planning to have on the 26th of July, unfortunately had to be postponed because of the poor turn-out. They were expecting 60 teams to sign up; each raising $1,000, but only 6 signed up! Please continue to pray for the success of this event that is now planned to take place sometime in September. A lot of people from our church and we have started a chain-fast that began a few weeks ago because of the seriousness of the situation. We are on our knees like never before! I want to make another appeal to you to help us if you can financially. You can do this by:

1. Getting involved in the fundraiser - Contact Dianne at Dianne@sivulka.com or by phone number 760-613-4540

2. Sending funds over directly - See info on www.SerbianOutreach.com under "Support us!" option


Thanks so much for all your prayers and generous donations. We thank God for you all the time!

Love in Christ,


A Death in the Family (by Jelena)

Yesterday I went to the funeral of my uncle who passed away at 61 years old. Greg stayed home with the kids. I got in the car and after about three hours of driving I finally made it to the home town of my grandma, grandpa, dad, uncle… then to the old house at the end of the street with a beautiful yard, trees, etc. that reminded me of my childhood.
Because I'm the youngest in my family and the only one who has accepted Christ, despite the fact that for more than 15 years I've been very open about my faith, telling everyone about my Savior, as I drove up to that old house, met with my relatives and family, walking up to the coffin, I couldn't help but wonder if I had done enough. Suddenly a chill ran down my spine as I looked at my deceased uncle's body and thought about where his soul is right now. I listened to the priests' futile chanting and praying to God to forgive my uncle of his sins and receive him into Heaven and wondered once again - "Could I have done more? What if I had been clearer, bolder, and more persistent?" I observed my family and relatives and cried out to God in silent prayer with tears in my eyes - "You should have chosen someone else in this family to carry out your great commission. I don't think I'm doing a good enough job. Another one has left the earth without You." 200 people were at the funeral; 200 whose lives were touched by my uncle; 200 who will also end up like him. What can I do to warn them?
In Serbia, especially in small villages like the one my uncle's from, there are many Serbian Orthodox customs that people often get confused about. Most people only go to church for Christmas, Easter, funerals, weddings and special holidays. Everyone is under pressure to carry out certain customs and not really sure how and when to do them, like kissing icons, standing at certain places, etc. We were standing in a cold, large church when all of the sudden the priest motioned to the family and began to help them get in line to bow down and kiss an icon and cross. I was challenged by this custom and for a moment tempted to just do what everyone else was doing. But then in the end I decided not to give into this unbiblical custom that openly perverts the true message of the Gospel. I stood out like a sore thumb in the midst of a crowd that was kissing and bowing down to images of Serbian Orthodox saints. When my turn finally arrived, I simply walked up to the coffin and touched it with my hand. I knew this act would probably provoke my family to anger and cause them once again to question my beliefs and my faith… "Oh, Lord," I prayed, "I just want to tell them about You"
The day went on and the group of people began to disperse. I wanted so badly to just go home. I was so sad and tired. Just then an old relative rather sheepishly walked up to ask me why I hadn't kissed the icon on the coffin. He didn't criticize me at all. He was just curious. We talked for a long time about the Bible, Christ, the Good News, etc. It was such a wonderful opportunity that would have never taken place had I just decided to compromise. I suddenly felt a sense of relief. I wasn't a part of this family just by chance, and yet I still couldn't shake that uneasy feeling caused by the questions weighing me down in my mind - "Am I doing enough? Could I do more?" All the way home I prayed, spilling my heart out to the Lord.
It was late when I finally got home, but the kids were still awake. Sara, noticing my sadness, sat down on my lap and gave me a big hug. "What's the matter, Mom?" she asked. I decided to share my burden with my little seven-year-old, telling her how sad I was that for years I've been talking to my parents, sister's, family about God and no one is really listening. I told her openly that I was afraid they wouldn't be with us when we get to Heaven and shared with her my desire for them to come to know the Lord. She began to cry, gave me another hug and then suddenly perked up. "Well, at least you don't have to worry about Alex" (my nine-year-old nephew), she said, "At least we know where he is going. I explained everything to him a few months ago at Grandma's house - that he needed to pray to receive Christ into his life if he wants to go to Heaven after he dies. And he did just that! So at least he's going!"
"Oh Lord," I prayed, "thank you for using the mouths of little children to glorify Yourself and encourage me!"

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