June 6, 2016

Receiving Good and Evil – by Jelena

Nice weather has finally come to Serbia! It seems like the winter lasted a long time, in our backyard and in our lives as well. Greg and I have had to deal with a lot of bad news: health problems, our autistic daughter’s beginning stages of puberty, internal problems in the church, broken lives of people we work with… It feels like for a long time now every stream God has led us to had dried up. But then, after praying for so long for God to lead us to “still waters” something happened that completely broke and paralyzed me. On the 8th of May this year, Greg and I went on a retreat with Chip and Julie – good friends of ours that we partner with in ministry. We left Hana and Sara with a babysitter friend of ours from America. At about 9pm we received texts from our daughter and babysitter – “Emergency! She is missing.” We had left our phones in our rooms and didn’t notice the message until an hour had passed. We quickly called to find out what was going on. Hana, our autistic daughter, had run out of the house while no one was looking. Sara and the babysitter looked for her for a full hour around our neighborhood and then after no success they decided to call the police.
On May 6th we read about an 11-year-old autistic boy on front-page news named Ognjen that had also run away from home. They looked for him for days and found his body floating in a river he had drowned in. Statistics say that 50% of all children with autism run away from home, and out of those about half are never found, or are found dead. Unfortunately, our child was part of the group of those that run away. This wasn’t the first time she’s run away, but it was the first time we had to call the police to try to find her. Fortunately, a family whose house is 7 blocks away, reported to the police that a strange girl they couldn’t communicate with had run into their house, jumped in one of their beds and covered herself up. When they tried to talk to her, she just sang songs. We found her, but peace, joy and hope had left my heart and could not be found anywhere. I was overwhelmed with anxiety, already worried about this kind of same situation happening again in the future. How can I live with such uncertainty? For a while, it seemed like Hana was starting to get better, communicating and understanding a bit more, sleeping better, etc. But since the beginning of the year she has taken a turn for the worse, at times acting like a complete lunatic: banging her hands on the floor and furniture, opening and closing doors all day long, waking us up in the middle of the night with screaming, rubbing her arms and feet until they get sores on them, mentioning every time she has a melt-down someone named Joe Joe almost as if possessed… Although we never thought we would have to do this, for the first time in our lives, we have actually started thinking about the possibility of putting her into some kind of home for disabled kids. If her mental, social, emotional state continues to down the downward spiral it’s on, we may be left with no other choice. After consulting the main child psychiatrist at Hana’s school, we decided to put her on some heavy meds (antipsychotics) to see if this might improve her condition.
Hana running away completely broke me. The little peace and hope I had been trying to desperately hang onto was completely gone.
A few days after this defeat, I was doing some work with kids with special needs at a private school. Something really interesting happened during recess that caught my attention. A Boy with autism had attacked another boy with Williams-Beuren syndrome (characterized by mental retardation and distinctive facial features, friendliness, love and happiness). The autistic boy was persistently trying to kick the other boy that was so cheerful and calm and after a few seconds he stopped, bent down and hugged and kissed the leg that he was getting kicked with, which ended up causing the autistic boy to give up and walk away! I felt God speak to me through that whole scene saying – “Jelena, I want you to embrace the evil I send into your life, kiss it and thank me for it the same way.” I knew that there was no way I could do this, but somehow, by his Spirit, I actually began to thank Him!

Oh, dear friends, isn’t it great that peace, joy, love and goodness are all fruit of the Spirit and not fruit that depends on our circumstances or blessings we receive!
“…Should we receive what is good from God, and not also receive what is evil?..." – Job 2:10

English Club
Ever since the civil wars, this country has become like a “sinking ship” that seems like will soon be engulfed by the waters of: political unrest, corruption, diminishing population, economic instability… Many people from here are trying to get off this “ship” before it goes down completely. One of the things they are doing to increase their chances of escape is learning English! I don’t think there has ever been such an interest in the English language before in Serbia!
Several years ago I decided to take advantage of this interest and started having free conversational English classes. This turned out to be a great way to: make new friends, have fun and spread the Gospel! I saw a few people come to Christ through such classes in Sombor.
After we moved back from Dallas, I continued this tradition in the city of Novi Sad. I get together with a group of 4 once a week and I have had some really great opportunities to share the Good News. Haven’t seen anyone come to the Lord yet, but I can see the Lord slowly start to open their eyes to the truth and it’s so exciting!

Disability Ministry
We are continuing to minister to people with disabilities. One really wonderful thing happened that I wanted to tell you about. This is a friend of mine named Voja that has severe autism. He was at our last family retreat with his mom that lives in poverty and raises him on her own. (The dad divorced her a few years ago mainly because of all the stress from Voja’s disability. He doesn’t pay any alimony and barely visits his son). Her only form of income is a small amount of social aid.
Until recently, because of his disability Voja was unable to communicate. But a few months ago Voja’s mom started trying to teach him to use a computer keyboard to type out what he was thinking and feeling. The results were overwhelmingly positive! I was shocked the last time I visited them to see his progress. He wrote out this message to me:

Translation: We go to the park a little. My name is Voja Djordjevic. I’m 14-years old. Greg, cookies thanks, Divcibare [that’s where we had the retreat he went to]. I seriously love you.

His mom said he’s even using hard words. The other day, for example, she asked how school was, and he typed out – “monotonous.” She couldn’t believe he knew what that meant and asked him to define it. He then typed – “like boring!”
Now that he’s communicating, he has become calmer. During previous visits in the past he would literally be jumping off the walls and often hurting himself.
We got to share the Gospel with his mom individually and at the retreat. She’s started reading the Bible regularly and has been to church events a few times.
We are working on a project that may enable us to provide more humanitarian aid to such families.

Drug Rehab Ministry
I’m continuing to share the Gospel regularly with ex-drug addicts, many of which have never heard the Gospel or met a born-again Christian before. I also teach them from the Bible and we have times of worship and prayer like shown in the photo. Many have come to Christ through this ministry. I can’t express the joy I have being involved in these guys’ lives. I’m so thankful for the privilege God has given me to share Him with them.

Encouraging Missionaries
One thing Jelena and I love to do is go and visit missionaries in the field in Serbia and other countries nearby. A few months ago we got to visit good missionary friends of ours in Bosnia. Bosnia has the lowest percentage of born-again Christians in all of Europe! (Several hundred would be an optimistic figure). This couple became refugees in the 90’s during the civil wars and fled to Novi Sad (Jelena’s home town). They became Christians through the humanitarian aid ministry our church hosted and decided to go to Bible school soon after their conversion. Although they had an opportunity to move to Canada to start working and building a new life for themselves there, they turned it down in order to return to their own country of Bosnia and start a church in a city where there was no church! They have been through many phases, going through much difficulties: having support cut off, struggling in and out of poverty, being discriminated against and ridiculed by the traditional Serbian Orthodox Church (that has much power there and resemble the hypocritical Pharisees of Jesus’ day), difficulties in having a place to meet, church denominational politics, burn-out, family crises… Basically, you name it, they’ve been through it! These people are heroes of the faith in my eyes and I respect them greatly. God has blessed our times together with them and has used us often to encourage them to keep going, keeping their eyes on Christ.
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” – I Cor. 15:58

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