Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Our names are Greg and Jelena Sivulka. We have been working as missionaries in Serbia for over 20 years (where Jelena is originally from). Several years ago my wife and I discovered that our daughter, Hana, has autism. Since then God has taken us in a new direction of ministry - evangelizing and serving people affected by disabilities. Here are a few interesting facts about this group of people:
• Statistics show that there are around 785 million people in the world with some kind of disability; 200 million of those are children.
• Only 5-10% of these have been evangelized, which makes this group of people with disabilities the most unreached people group in the world.
• 97% of children with disabilities in underdeveloped countries are neglected and abused.
• 90% of children in underdeveloped countries won’t be included in any kind of school program.
• Every third girl in the world that has a disability is exposed to sexual and physical abuse.
• 80% of people with disabilities will never have the chance to have a job and will be forced to beg in order to survive.
Statistics in Serbia:
• Approximately 1 million people affected by disabilities in Serbia (out of a population of 7.5 million).
• About 700,000 thousand of that 1 million live in poverty.
• A half a million children with developmental delays do not have adequate conditions to obtain a good quality education.
• Only 14% of adults with disabilities are employed, receiving regular salaries.
• Most people with disabilities living in Serbia are marginalized by their society and very rarely seen in public.
• In Kosovo, a southern province of Serbia, many young girls that are developmentally delayed are sold into prostitution in order to avoid being institutionalized.
Being the parents of a child with special needs, God has given us great compassion to reach out to those families that are in similar circumstances. We have had the privilege of partnering with an organization called “Joni & Friends International Disability Center” www.joniandfriends.org for several years which sponsors camps for children with special needs all over the world. Each year since 2010 we have organized these camps in Serbia once a year where we have:
• Christian volunteers babysit children with special needs so that parents can have a much needed break.
• Bible Studies, testimonies, discussions with themes such as: “God’s Perspective on Disabilities,” “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made,” “How we Survive – Enjoying a rich relationship with Christ, our only Hope”…
• Fun, Singing, Dancing, Entertainment: A clown show, costumes, Olympic Games, Serbian folk dancing, Talent Show, swimming, crafts, games, fishing…
• Gatherings with experts/trained professionals where practical advice is shared on improving quality of life of children with special needs.
Most of the families that attend are non-Christians who get the opportunity to hear the Gospel for the first time! A few people have come to Christ through these camps. Praise God!
During the civil wars of Yugoslavia (mid 90’s), Jelena and I got involved in relief efforts with the “Christian Fellowship of Novi Sad” delivering hundreds of parcels donated by “Eurovangelism.” We saw many people come to Christ through this ministry. We also continued to deliver aid to poor families later on as we got involved in planting new churches in Temerin and Sombor. Through the distribution of this aid we were able to: help so many people in a practical way, improve our reputation as a church (that is considered a dangerous cult here in Serbia), develop new contacts with people we shared the Gospel with and lead many people to Christ.
As we were praying about extra ways we could help people affected by disabilities, the idea of delivering humanitarian aid to them came to our minds. If commenced, we would the set-up to be very similar in the past, the only difference being the target group.
Here’s what we would need:
• 20 parcels a month – Filled with very essential food items (flour, sugar, noodles, jam, etc.), several important hygienic items (tooth paste, detergent, soap, diapers, etc.) and Bibles. Each parcel would be worth 20 EUR. (Total = 400 EUR per month)
Each parcel would be delivered individually to the homes of families affected by disabilities. We would spend time visiting and developing relationships with these families and sharing the Gospel with them. This would be the first ministry of this kind ever developed here in Serbia; a true pioneer work.
The Lord is opening a new door of ministry for us here in Serbia and we are so excited! Please prayerfully consider getting involved in helping us carry out what we believe He has put on our hearts. Thanks!
Sincerely in Christ,
Greg and Jelena Sivulka