A group of five young men sit expectantly around a pool table in a dimly lit basement. Slowly, others trickle in, casually pulling up chairs. Some are nervous, some are curious, others are old friends. The meeting starts informally, begun by one of the five men. Everyone takes turns sharing something, whether it be a composed poem, a personal testimony, a Scripture, or even in one case in those early days, a Cinderella fairy tale. There is no particular program since the five men have never attended a Protestant service, but the spirit of God is so tangibly in the room that most people have tears in their eyes at one point or the other. Such emotion proves to be too much for some who consequently never return. For others, it is the beginning of a new life.
It was 1994— Croatia was in its last year of a horrific war and people were grappling with how former neighbors and friends could manifest a level of cruelty to each other that transcended limits of human understanding. The five young men each came from a unique and difficult family background, ranging from Communist atheist to Muslim. Their surprising and life-altering conversions caused some to label them crazy and others to be curious enough to begin coming to the basement pool-table meetings to ask questions and hear stories.
“We didn’t know anything but what we read in the Bible, ” K. told me. “At some point, I did visit another Protestant meeting and realized that they sang before a message. Since we had all been part of a kind of tough gang of guys, the idea of singing was hard for us. We thought it was kind of weak and vulnerable.”
As the movement progressed and grew, leaders from other Protestant churches in the area began to visit to see what was going on. “They didn’t agree with some what what we were doing or some of our theology, ” K. said, “because remember, we had no training or exposure to other churches. However, they could not deny that God was doing something.”
Over the years, the church’s theology has morphed and changed, as they realized certain errors and needed points of correction. At one point, the church became extremely legalistic and tried to regulate specific measures in their congregants spiritual lives before realizing the dangers of too much leadership control. The consequences of this period still lay heavily on the congregation, but the leadership continues to try to reflect to their congregants their own growth and gleaned wisdom.
“They have made lots of mistakes,” one Christian who does not attend the movement told me, “but it never seems to be from bad motives. Rather, it is because they are so zealously intent on doing what God wants them to do, no matter what.”
This movement, called the Borongaj because of the neighborhood where it first started, does not have an official name nor is it registered as an official church in Croatia (to register as a church, the church must be more than 50 years old and have at least 5000 members). But for K. and the other leaders, this is not a concern. “We feel like God’s purposes for our church are evangelism, bringing unity to the other churches, and holiness.” And these goals do not seem to be merely esoteric. Significantly, they have been instrumental in bringing greater unity to the other Protestant churches in the city, spearheading multi-church outreach events and services, and even at one point calling for repentance regarding the amount of disunity between churches. “Yes, there are many challenges,” K. said to me, grinning, “but this is not cause for being depressed or giving up.”