“Why do you want to fight in the war?” the question came unbidden to his mind, surprising him with its distinct clarity.
“I want to fight for good, for my country, to defend it. I want to fight against evil.”
Even as J. responded to this strange inner-dialogue, he knew the question, so outside the realm of his present orientation, had not come from him. At the inception of Croatia’s war six months before(1991), he was only nineteen years old when he volunteered as a personal security officer. At some point, he realized that his close friendship with the Prime Minister’s son meant that they were constantly put through “specialized training” rather than sent to actual combat. Frustrated, he had withdrawn from that company and was trying different channels that would likely move him into combat. And then suddenly, this mystifying experience unmoored him from his course.
“If you want to take up a weapon, you will be killed by a weapon. But if you want to fight for good, then put off your weapon and give it away and I will teach you how to fight for good.”
So J. gave up his gun and uniform and began a three-year spiritual journey in which he practiced a sampling of the “spiritual market”: Islam, astrology, numerology, mediation, and Christianity. When he read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, however, he was captivated by Jesus’ words. “If I submit under any authority, it would be Jesus,” he thought to himself. Slowly, his other spiritual practices faded into the background and he studied the Bible with greater frequency. Finally, in a quiet moment, he understood the gospel message in his heart and accepted it.
Consequently, during the last year of the war, J. underwent a radical transformation. Whereas before he would read his Bible, smoke weed, and entertain his friends with his fantastical interpretations, he now gave up everything from his former life, much to his friends’ astonishment and confusion. Like the other newly-converted individuals who would soon become the leadership of the Borongaj movement, he knew little about “church” or what a Christian was supposed to do. He only knew that he was now compelled to share his experience with his friends who were living in a drug-smoked, alcohol-numbing haze, trying to deaden the pain and confusion of those days.
“In those early days, we would take the whole summer and drive down the coast, taking nothing with us. We stopped where we felt we should stop, talk about Jesus to whoever was in our path, sleep on the beaches or park benches, sometimes eat and sometimes going hungry. Those were fantastic days. We were discovering God and His kingdom and sharing our lives and deepest sins with each other, praying and receiving healing in those areas.”
Fifteen years later, has the promise from the voice been fulfilled? Since many conflicting voices claim to be “fighting for good” in our world today, how can one evaluate the truth?
“I believe the Borongaj movement is a work of God,” another local pastor said. “I know what kind of lives they had before and I see them now. How do you evaluate a church? They teach their members to give and take care of people in all kinds of need; for example, they support two elderly people who have no means to take care of themselves. They teach their people how to serve the poor, broken, and needy…they are growing, and are healthy, and planting new churches… and I think this is the best way to tell.”
This kind of lifestyle seems to reflect Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the very picture of Jesus that captured J.’s interest in the beginning. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be satisfied,” Jesus proclaims. As I looked into J.’s eyes as he told his story, I saw more than satisfaction; indeed, I was drawn to the life and light that spilled out from his eyes—a life hinting of deep joy and peace.