| Sept. 1, 2012
Dear Family and Friends,
The other day, a friend of mine asked me what I miss the most about Serbia. I told him that there are many things I miss, but the number one thing would have to be - the opportunity to share the Gospel with someone for the very first time in his/her life. Can you imagine being the first to tell a person: God loves them, that Christ paid for their sins and that they can have a relationship with God?! In an age of internet, cell phones, television and various other means of communication, I know this might be hard to believe, but even now there is a country full of people in Eastern Europe, many of whom have never ever heard this before; many of whom have never even met a born-again Christian in their lives; a country filled with towns, villages and cities without one Christian church! Out of a population of 6 million, it’s been estimated that there are only 6,000 Evangelical Christians. What an amazing privilege God has given us to be involved in reaching such a nation for His Glory!
|Sharing the Gospel while cooking lamb stew|
Just last week we got back to the States from Serbia. We had an amazing summer, filled with so many opportunities to minister to the churches and non-believers through various different means. Thank you so much for praying for the requests I mentioned in the last newsletter.
We saw God do so many incredible things that I could probably write a whole book! But I will try to summarize the best I can:
Joni & Friends Family Retreat
In June we had our third annual family retreat for people affected with disabilities. Once again Pastor Chip Bell, whose house we’re living at in Dallas, was our main speaker. Several people from Chip’s church came over to volunteer for the event. We had over 20 families attend that have kids with special needs. Most of these families are non-Christian and are from different areas of Serbia. We spent four days in a beautiful hotel:
* taking care of the kids so that the parents could have a much needed break,
* hearing great teaching from the Bible relating to disabilities,
* discussing various problems and challenges in raising kids with special needs,
* providing practical advice and counseling for confused and discouraged parents,
* singing, dancing and having tons of fun,
* and most importantly - sharing individually and collectively about our only Hope and Source of joy in the midst of great difficulties – Jesus!
Here are some quotes from some of the parents that attended:
“I was at the retreat last year and ever since then I am a totally different man inside my heart. I started having a relationship with God; spending time with Him, reading the Bible, etc. I feel myself changing. My attitude has completely changed toward life and toward my daughter. I feel like nothing is too hard anymore to handle.” Davor (father of child with Down Syndrome)
“Before I came to the first retreat two years ago, I used to think that God had cursed me by giving me a child with Rett’s Syndrome. Now I don’t look at her as a curse anymore, but as a gift from God. I now feel privileged that God has given me such a special child and really enjoy her more than I ever have before.” Sasha
“I really enjoy these retreats. I feel like I’m better connected with others that are going through similar problems and have learned a lot of practical things about how to help my child. I was even able to get some special privileges from the government as a result of getting some advice from another family last year.”
“We haven’t had a break at all since our child was born. No one wants to baby-sit a child with special needs; not even our own relatives! Thanks for everything!”
Here’s from one of the children:
Mika is an 18-year-old girl who is in a wheel chair. She is on the intellectual level of a child of 5-years-old and has a hard time speaking clearly. She joined us this year for the J&F Retreat. She was so delighted to be able to socialize, play, sing, etc. The very first day she asked her mom to help her call her grandma who was at home. With much difficulty she slowly began to talk - “Please sell my bed. I won’t need it anymore. I’m going to stay here!”
and from one of the volunteers:
“Neither fatigue, time, hinderances... absolutely nothing could stop God from being glorified at this retreat. I’m thankful that He carried us through it all and that I am so encouraged, learned so much, and am built up. See you next year!” Emil
(Be sure to check out more pictures on our site – http://www1.easysite.com/haninanada )
Maybe some of you remember me writing about an incredible camp we had back in 2010 where God literally created a youth group for our church in Sombor. This year my son Benny and I got to be a part of a similar camp where 30 teenagers from Sombor, mostly non-believers, came to learn English, play games, have fun and listen to Bible studies and testimonies with a team of Americans from North Coast Church in Vista, CA.
So many lives were touched at this camp. Even the physical expressions of some of the kids went from total sadness to joy with each passing day of the camp. There were a few that made decisions to follow Christ and one that came back to the Lord. The following Sun. after the camp, 12 of those teenagers showed up for church!
SOZO Christian Music Festival
The Balkans has always been a problematic area. Throughout history there have been numerous wars between the nations of that region. Reconciliation is a rare, unusual concept; one that really needs to be promoted and nurtured. This is one of the mission priorities of the ministry of SOZO that organizes music festivals once a year in Eastern Europe. I had the unique opportunity of actually participating in this open air festival in Jelena’s home town of Novi Sad right on the Danube riverside. Some friends of mine from Sombor and I did some classic Christian rock songs from the 80’s. It was an amazing experience! Hundreds of people came to the event. There were several other bands and even a full size Contemporary Christian Choir! It was so encouraging to see so many Christians coming out of the woodwork to use their talents to bring glory to God publicly. You can check out a short video clip of the concert on our website: www.SerbianOutreach.com (in “Video” section)
Y.W.A.M. Discipleship Training School
In Aug. right before coming back to the States, I had an opportunity to teach on Evangelism at a Y.W.A.M. (Youth with a Mission) school down in south Serbia in a city called Uzice. At the end of the course, we actually went to a café where I played a mix of classic Serbian and American rock music as well as a few oldies (Elvis, Righteous Brothers, etc.) People came floating in from outside and pretty soon the place was full!
The students went around putting into practice what we’d been discussing during the teaching sessions and I even grabbed a chance to share with a few young people in between music sets who had never heard the Gospel before. Many of those from the school exchanged contact information with people to stay in touch with them and continue to water seeds that were sown.
Along with these events, we had so many other opportunities to serve: through hospitality, teaching, counseling, visiting a convalescent home, leading worship… It was a summer jam-packed with so many activities, but by God’s grace, we managed not to go overboard. We made it a high priority getting our batteries recharged daily in His presence. The ministry seemed so different this time around. No longer do we feel burned-out. Our enthusiasm and compassion for the people there have been renewed.
We are so thankful and give praise and glory to God for the great works He did in us and through us over the summer! We were really sad to leave, but somehow it was easier this time, knowing that we’d be back in 9 months (Lord willing, of course). We would love to be able to move back, but unfortunately, there are still no good programs available for autistic children in the country.
Unfortunately, we got ourselves into a large amount of debt from the plane tickets we had to buy to return to America – about $3,500. These tickets are round-trip, with our return to Serbia set for the beginning of June. If you would like to help us pay off this debt and/or support us in general please send a check to:
Calvary Chapel of Vista
885 E. Vista Way
Vista, CA 92084
Place in the memo section – Greg and Jelena Sivulka
(All donations given are tax-deductable.)
God has given us such an amazing ministry to the Serbian people that we are so thankful for. We’re glad to have you on our team!
Love in Christ,