Oct. 19, 2011
Dear Family and Friends,

At a conference several months ago one of the speakers said something that really stood out to Jelena and me – “Sometimes the way forward in one’s ministry is to take a step back.” We really believe the Lord is using this time here in the States to prepare us for future ministry in Serbia; a ministry that won’t weigh us down, but one we will enjoy to the fullest. But we need to take that “step back” right now in order so ensure that this happens.

One Foot Still in Serbia
Although we are temporarily settled in Texas, our hearts are definitely still in Serbia. God has truly given us a strong calling for that nation that just doesn’t seem to fade, no matter how far away we are. What a great privilege the Lord has given us to be involved in such a needy area of the world where so few have heard of His amazing love!
Jelena and I have been taking advantage of our time here to share with others about some of the incredible things God has done and is doing in Serbia. We’ve had opportunities to do this publicly in front of churches and also individually. Just a few months ago, for example, we had the opportunity to speak at “North Coast Church” in Vista, California and were presented a check for $6,500 that went towards covering some of the debt of the Sombor church renovation project! Last month Pastor Chip (whose house we’re living in) decided to interview us instead of having a sermon one Sunday at his church. You can listen to it online at: http://www.fbcarapaho.com/services/2011/10/02
Joni Erickson Tada looking at her life’s story book
in the Serbian language that we helped get published

We are so thankful for modern means of communication like Skype, email, instant messaging, etc. through which we’ve been able to stay in contact with our dear Serbian brothers and sisters in Christ, friends and family. Through these means Jelena has started making arrangements for the next “Joni & Friends Family Retreat” that we plan on hosting next summer in Serbia (setting up hotel reservations, getting volunteers recruited, finding out expenses, etc.)

Just a few weeks ago I got to talk to a friend of mine in Sombor on Skype for three hours that used to come to conversational English classes I would have at the church café. He’s full of questions about the Lord and was thanking me for all the things I told him and the literature I gave him. I really think he might receive the Lord soon!



God’s Gift to Hana

Hana's first day of school

So, if our hearts are in Serbia, what on earth are we doing in Texas? You might remember the main reason we came to the States is to obtain better care for Hana’s development. We are just overwhelmed by the services they have available here for autistic kids; and all free of charge, paid in full by good ol’ Uncle Sam!
Hana's classroom
 Hana spends about 8 hours a day in a classroom specially tailored to help her progress in behavior, academic skills and communication. She has a whole team of professionals that are working with her, from speech therapists, to special ed. teachers.

A bus comes right to the house to pick her up and drop her off each day. The school district also provides free seminars, resources and even in-home training for parents which we are actively taking advantage of. We are so thankful to God for his amazing provision!
Our other kids are adjusting well to the new culture and getting excellent grades in their schools. We’ve been able to spend a lot more time with them then we were able to in Serbia, which is really great.
Julie and Chip Bell


God’s Gift to Us
Although we came to Dallas for Hana, this is also proving to be a great gift to us. God has provided Jelena and me with some much needed care of our own and some desperately needed rest. It’s not uncommon for people who have been involved in ministry for many years to experience a period of “burn-out." It wasn’t until we left Serbia that we actually realized how deeply “burned-out” we really were. We are so thankful to be here. At times we feel like we’re on an emotional rollercoaster experiencing great sadness from the loss of being without our Serbian friends, family, church, home that we’re used to. But most of the time we have a sense of great joy; appreciating this much-needed break. As many others missionaries have experienced, we were starting to wear out from the constant demands of the ministry without adequate time for rest and rejuvenation. It’s so refreshing to be away from: the constant phone calls, the many roles we were trying to carry out in the church, the seemingly endless hours of counseling, witnessing, serving, teaching… The stress of not being able to provide Hana with adequate care… God pulled us out of the pit we were sinking in just in the nick of time to: speak to our weary hearts, renew our vigor and enthusiasm for ministry, heal wounds of cynicism and other bad attitudes, replenish the supply of compassion that we started to lack for people, get our focus completely back on Him... and to prepare us for all the ministry that lies ahead. It’s not a coincidence that the Pastor we’re living with went through a “burn-out” stage himself just a few years ago. He and his wife are giving us excellent advice and counseling.

Another extra blessing about being here is the opportunity to be able to spend much more time with my parents, brothers and their families. After my dad retired at the beginning of the year he and Mom sold the house in California and moved (yes of all places) down to Houston, Texas which is only about a three-hour drive from here! Just a few months ago my youngest brother also moved down to Houston after receiving a job offer from my dad’s old company! Another coincidence?
Here’s another amazing “coincidence” that happened – As you know, in the last newsletter I asked you all to pray that we would somehow be able to get some good health insurance while living in the States. In July, right before we arrived, the worship pastor at the church we’re going to resigned and they needed someone to fill in. I offered to help out and the church in return is providing us with good health insurance as an interim member of their staff! I’ll continue help organize and lead worship for their church until we go back to Serbia.

Regardless of what we’re feeling, regardless of what kind of changes and adjustments we’re experiencing, our God is still the same! He is faithful! Although we have left the country we love and are called to, hopefully only temporarily, our God has not left us and He never will! Once again He has taken us out of the rut we got stuck in to remind us of this important truth.
We really appreciate y’all (as they say here in Texas) continuing to support us in prayer and financially. You have remained with us in the “thick and thin” and we are so thankful to have you on our team.

Love in Christ,

Greg

The Great Artist (by Jelena)

Well, it’s our second month in Texas and we really miss our home, dog, friends, church, family… in Serbia. We can’t stop thinking about all of them and are even counting the months until we’ll be able to return. We’re not crying as much as we were at the beginning, but we’re still sad. I know and remind myself regularly why I’m here. I remind myself of the amazing invitation we received and the God-given opportunity to live in the States to offer our child the adequate help that she needs. But it’s hard for me not to think about all the things I’m missing out on while here.
Just a few weeks ago I received an email from a friend of mine named Daniela that I used to work with at a local high school in Sombor. We would often enjoy talking during coffee breaks about all kinds of things that were going on in our lives: happy moments, as well as worries, fears, doubts, troubles… I openly shared with her about my relationship with Christ; how He is my strong tower of security in difficult times and how without Him I know that I would not be able to survive everything this life throws my way. She heard what I was saying, but never really believed it. But just recently she met a friend of mine, named Tanya, that’s a Christian working in Serbia for “Campus Crusade for Christ.” Daniela had a great talk with her. Tanya had just continued right where I left off! Joy filled my heart just thinking about how maybe after all these years, Daniela will finally come to know the Christ I love and serve. At the same time though I also felt a bit sad thinking about how I might miss out being around her when that great event takes place. It was also quite a humbling thing to realize that God doesn’t even need me around for that to happen. Sometimes after being in ministry for so long, we can make the grave, subtle mistake of thinking that God’s work depends on our performance. When the first church started in Jerusalem 3,000 people came to Christ. Although this happened after an outstanding sermon by Peter, it’s foolish to think that the sermon was what did it or the close fellowship the believers were having at the time. These were only tools, but God was the One that added them to the flock. We sow seed and water it, but He is the One who causes it to grow. He gives us the privilege of participating in his amazing works, but it is He that does them, not us. How silly of me to think it all depends on me! His great works will continue to happen in Serbia with or without me! No matter how highly I might think of myself, He doesn’t need me to perform them.
Have you ever had the opportunity to observe a great artist at work? It is such a pleasure to sit back and watch them perfectly orchestrate colors and lines with every stroke into a beautiful work of art. This time being spent in America has given me this opportunity. I get to sit back, rest, and watch the best Artist in the universe create a work of art in Serbia. Although He gave me the opportunity to get my hands messy with paints and even scribble a few things on the canvas, it’s not me that’s creating the painting. It seems like lately I’ve been so focused on the work of art that I’ve missed out on enjoying the Artist Himself.
I truly miss my city, country, friends, ministry, the life that I’m used to… but the time I get to be able to rest and spend with the great Artist while being here makes all of that seem so trivial.
Prayers continue to be sent up; ideas and plans are in the making about the next great works of art we’ll be able to participate in with the great Artist hopefully next summer in Serbia. But the most important thing is to stay close to Him and enjoy His presence, no matter where we are.

“ But as for me, how good it is to be near God! I have made the Sovereign LORD my shelter, and I will tell everyone about the wonderful things you do.” Ps.73:28

Add Comment
Carrol Mickley says... (Reply)
"Greg and Jelena, As you said our God is an amazing God who is providing just what you need at this time in your lives. However, I am sure he is still using you to accomplish his purpose in others' lives--in Houston and Serbia. Thanks for making sure I got your newsletter. Carrol" (11/5/11)