March 1, 2010

Dear Family and Friends,

I read somewhere that trials are God’s servants – sent into our lives to keep us close to Him. This is so true. Last month we sent out another S.O.S. for help to friends, churches, relatives to get some extra prayer going up for our sanity! Hana was going through an awful stage, screaming throughout the day and making all of our lives miserable. Even Jennifer, the young lady that came over to help Hana, was completely discouraged saying that Hana was not progressing at all and was being uncooperative during the therapy sessions. Thank God He answered our prayers and pulled us out of “the miry pit” again! Hana calmed down and started to progress positively again in her behavior. She’s still very much autistic, but it’s good to have her back on track again. Also as a result of the prayers Jelena and I both sensed an extra, supernatural strength come over us that is helping us keep hoping and trusting the Lord. It is definitely an ongoing struggle that we are trying to take one day at a time; three steps forward and two steps back. Please continue to lift Hana and us up in prayer.

Hana Celebrating her 5th Birthday


Many great things happened over the Christmas and New Year holidays. The puppet show we had was a great success. Hundreds of parents and kids heard the Gospel and were so touched by the unconditional love shown through the distribution of “Christmas Shoeboxes.”
We recently finished a youth Alpha course at our church that was also a great success. A few teenagers prayed to receive Christ and are continuing to come out to youth Bible studies.
One older man named Josip (Joseph), who was invited to church by a friend, prayed to receive Christ and is continuing to come out to the Bible studies and even go to “Campus Crusade” training that we have 2 times a month at our church! Zoli, the other pastor of our church, approached him to share his faith with him once after a service, then our bassist shared his testimony with him one time, and a few other people watered the seed and finally he gave up and turned his life over to Christ! It was so encouraging to me to see several people play a part in reaching this man; like a beautiful orchestra working together. It brings me such joy when I see others in the church share their faith; not just us all the time.
In coalition with "Joni and Friends" we are planning on having a first-ever retreat in Serbia for families with kids that have special needs. We have started making preparations for this event that 14 families will participate in the first part of April. Please pray that God would give us wisdom to know how to organize this event effectively and that all of the families would enjoy their time with us at a wonderful hotel in south Serbia. Pray that the families, most of which are non-Christians, would turn their lives over to Christ. I can't imagine how they live, with the kind of daily struggles they have, without Christ!
I have attached an encouraging testimony that I thought you would enjoy reading. It was written by a young man that I lead to the Lord several years ago when we first started sharing the Gospel in this city (Sombor).
Thanks a lot for your continued prayers and support for our ministry. I know that God will reward you for your involvement in this area of the world that needs Him so much! If you are reading this and have never given financially to our ministry but would like to, please check out the information on our website on how to give: www.SerbianOutreach.com

Love in Christ,

Greg



Testimony


My name is Dusan Smud. I was born in 1986 in Knin, Croatia, but I now live in Sombor, Serbia. I have one sister.
My childhood wasn’t really a typical, carefree one. On the contrary, it was one full of fear and unrest. There were good things I remember from that time: love, trust, friendship, etc. But there were two horrible things that happened that affected my life forever.
The first was - when I was two years old I was accidentally burned on the head by hot water and the second was – war. The right side of my face had scars from the water that eventually faded over time. The scars of war, however, never seemed to fade completely. In a moment’s time we lost everything we owned and even lost several loved ones and friends in the war. The southern area of Croatia where we lived that was mainly populated by Serbs like ourselves was completely ethnically cleansed by Croat forces within a few days. Most fled to Serbia in a mass exodus of 200,000 people, others were captured, and many others were killed. My mom, sister and I were taken to a prison camp where we lived for two months. The first day, before the U.N. intervened to protect us, we saw all kinds of horrible scenes: fingers being chopped off, eyes gouged out, etc. I was only eight years old, but even then I knew that nothing would be the same again. We were separated from my dad and had no idea if he was alive or not. My mom was so worried that she lost 40kg. They had to give her IV’s to help her survive. We were transferred by the U.N. to Serbia where we had to try to start our lives over again. We still had heard nothing about my dad. The reality that he had most likely been killed filled our hearts with great fear and sadness.
On our way to Serbia, after a long time of traveling, our bus finally stopped and I jumped out, thinking that we had finally arrived, and started to sing patriotic, offensive anti-Croat songs. I had no idea we were still in Croatia! My mom and others tried desperately to shut me up, but it was too late. One of the Croat military policemen that heard me started to approach me. I was in a crowd of children and my mother, who was standing near me at the time, suddenly bowed her head and quietly said, “Surely, they’re going to take him away,” thinking of me. Then the man walked up whose face seemed cold and strict; typical for a policeman, and asked my mom, “Are these your children?” “Yes,” she replied hesitating, thinking that he was referring to just me and my sister. You know what happened then? He could’ve taken me over to a nearby prison camp that was just across the street, but he didn’t! He went away for a few minutes and then, to our great surprise, he suddenly appeared holding all kinds of candy, snacks and juice in his hands! He handed them to all of us and all I could say was – “Thanks.” I never saw him again, but I wish I could tell him “thanks” again. I learned something important right then – what it means to forgive someone and to do good to someone who deserved to be punished. This was an act of mercy that I never forgot, that I will mention again later.
We got back into the bus and traveled a long distance again finally arriving to Serbia late at night. After that war many of our friends, close relatives and loved ones were scattered all over the country. Some even left to go to other areas of the world.
After about three months of being separated, we were finally reunited with my dad! While staying at a hotel that was turned into a temporary shelter for refugees our names were publicized in the newspaper and that’s how my dad found out where we were. We were so happy to see him again and thankful that he survived after being drafted and forced to fight in that useless civil war.
Through a series of events, we ended up moving to Sombor – a place I would have never dreamed I’d live in. That period of adjusting was truly challenging. We lived in great poverty and my parents worked very hard, doing all kinds of jobs, in order to provide us with food and basic needs. I am extremely grateful to them for this and I hope that I will one day have this same kind of love toward my own children.
For a while, we lived in a shack with no bathroom. I had a really hard time, at first, adapting to school where I had no friends. I reminisced of the happier days before the war when I had many good friends, living in a familiar place with lots of family members around; in normal, peaceful conditions.
But over time we started to get used to and even enjoy our new surroundings. I switched schools so that I could learn English and I got excellent marks/grades. I got involved in sports that I eventually became good at. I made a lot of friends, many of which became like my own brothers. Even though I didn’t have much compared to most people my age, I was thankful to be alive and to have another chance at life.
Just as we were starting to get used to a time of peace, we were caught off guard by a NATO bombing campaign that was thrust on Serbia in 1999. Over a two-and-a-half-month period of time NATO bombers would fly over every single night and shoot Tomahawk missiles on military sites all over Serbia. Thousands of missiles were launched, some of which strayed and blew up civilians. There many civilians and soldiers killed, many people misplaced, wounded, etc. Once again, the winds of war were blowing hard, and we were caught in the middle of it. Fears long buried suddenly appeared again, loud sirens frightened us each night, and many people ran to basements, shelters to try to protect themselves from the bombs. Every night we would go to bed wondering if we would wake up in the morning. The Serbian government closed the borders to all males, just in case they had to implement a draft for ground troops.
Along with all the insecurity, fear, death, etc., there were also some positive things happening at that time. For example - I don’t think I’ve ever seen people in my country become as others-minded as they did back then. People were helping each other, caring for each other, uniting together, encouraging each other… God became a topic of people’s conversation again. I learned an important lesson during the bombing – great trials can bring about great things.
I hope you’re enjoying this story. The next section is even more interesting.
Finally, the war was over - AGAIN! President Milosevic surrendered to NATO and pulled out all Serbian forces from the province of Kosovo. Many of the buildings, houses, army bases, bridges, etc. that were damaged during the bombing were reconstructed.
It’s interesting that after that time, by the providence of God, an American named Greg came to visit my family and me. I met him through my uncle that lives in San Diego, California. Greg had been living in Serbia since 1990 as a missionary and moved to Sombor to start a new church. I remember that most of my neighbors were not happy when they found out, after the bombing that was instigated by America, that an American was coming to visit us. But despite their prejudice attitude, I really believed that this man had good intentions. He would bring us humanitarian aid regularly (parcels filled with basic necessities like cooking oil, flour, sugar, etc.). One time he told me about a bridge in my life that needed to be reconstructed. “What kind of bridge?” I asked confused. Up to that point, I had always thought of myself as a good person, moral, etc. What did he mean? Surely I hadn’t ruined anything or any kind of bridge in my life or others’ lives; nor did I have a desire to do so. In spite of my self-righteous attitude, after a while of talking to him, I realized that I did actually ruin a bridge – the most important bridge of my life; the bridge between God and me, broken by sin. I also found out that there is a person who rebuilt the bridge between God and mankind that wants to help me to experience an abundant life through faith and trust in Him. That person is Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man as the Book of books states. One who is ordinary and unordinary at the same time, who wasn’t just a carpenter from Nazareth, but also God and man in One! He’s the only One that is able to bridge the gap that sin made; only He can be your and my Redeemer and Deliverer. As I came to know this truth and the person of Jesus Christ, I was given the right to a new beginning; beginning of a more joyful and meaningful life. He brought me purpose at a time when I had no purpose. He completely changed my life! By His grace that I don’t deserve, my life has been transformed and He is continuing to change me day by day. Do you remember when I mentioned the military policeman who showed me what grace is; who was good to me even though I deserved to be punished? This illustration helped me comprehend how God is toward me – full of grace, willing to give me a life that I don’t deserve and a home in Heaven afterward, even though I don’t deserve it.
Faith in God thoroughly changes everything! A sad face into a joyful one; even when things are going bad, I know that He uses everything for His good. We just need to recognize that. This is how a boy changed from cursing and swearing to encouraging and comforting others; how a frightened boy was changed into a bold man who is now aware of the fact that God wants to use his time on earth in a more quality, fulfilling way. This is why I decided to go to the Theological Seminary of Novi Sad – to find out more about Him and to get to know Him better as my Heavenly Father and Friend who is on my side and not against me. God has done so much for me by His grace that I can never forget and I want with all my heart to glorify Him in all I do. I’ve graduated with a B.A. and am now working on a M.A. and helping to plant churches in the city of Ruma and town of Irig.
I know it might seem like a fairytale to some of you who are reading this, but it’s not! There are still many things I have yet to learn, but I am totally convinced that God is able to transform lives. I’m living proof! He has given me purpose, a specific plan, security, a safe sanctuary, and a loving, warm embrace in the midst of a world that is falling apart.
This is my story in short; but it’s not yet finished! God is continuing to lead me, protect me and fill me with joy and strength through the mountains and valleys of this life as I walk with Him; He continues to remain my faithful and gracious Lord and Savior. May He forever be praised!


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