Monthly Archives: March 2012

When Jesus walks among the people…

In March 2010, he had a dream.  “Now is your  time, ” a voice in the dream said.  “It’s time for you to come to me.”  When he awoke, he wasn’t sure who the voice was or what it meant.  That following Sunday morning, he had another dream.   “Why are you are still here?  What are you waiting for?”

That afternoon, drunk as usual, he walked across the street in the small, rural Roma village to where his nephew was conducting a church service and joined the congregation for the first time.

As I listened to Uncle’s story, I began to get that certain thrill when I hear an account of how God reaches out to people.  Of course Uncle’s  story is unique, and yet it reveals a certain theme I hear over and over:  God walking among the people, calling them to himself.  Whether in rural Serbia among people who are poor and uneducated, or in Croatia’s capital city among young professionals, there are the threads of this overarching story.  When I studied mission at Fuller, I learned that all mission is God’s mission— we participate in what he is already doing.  The stories I hear put flesh on this concept:  God shows no favoritism, and his presence can often be found peeking through the cracks of a dilapidated Roma house.

But at age 44, this was not Uncle’s first experience with an unusual presence.  When he was 18 years old, he received his mandatory army summons—a summons that struck fear into his heart.  Years before, he had an accident which  injured his head, and consequently he had begun stammering. Even worse, he had kidney issues causing him to be consistently incontinent.  How can I go into the army with these problems?  he wondered

One day, he discovered the Lord’s prayer on the back page of a calendar. Later, he  heard some women talking about praying the Lord’s prayer for their children. If I pray this to God, would he heal me?  Uncle wondered.  So three nights in a row, he prayed the Lord’s prayer.  On the third night, he had the sensation of his head being in someone’s lap and felt someone touch  his forehead.  After that, his stammering and incontinence faded away and he was able to fulfill his army summons.

After Uncle returned from the army, he sank into alcoholism, drifting through the next couple of  decades in a hazy passage of time.  In 2008, his nephew, a young Roma pastor, asked him to help build a church for a growing group of Roma believers in the village. As uncle was building the church, he began feel ashamed of showing up to the church with the smell of alcohol and cigars oozing from his body.  He gradually began to drink less, and after his encounter with the voice in 2010, he stopped completely.

Now, Uncle works together with his nephew, serving God through cleaning and fixing the church, and even beginning to preach as he learns more about the Bible.  “You could write a whole book about all the things in my life,” he tells me, beaming at me with his wide smile, sprinkled with only a few teeth.

I have no doubt of the truth of this claim. I remembered the last verse in the book of John: “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if everyone one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”  When Jesus walks among the people, the stories are too numerous to tell.

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Searching for Safety

Part 3 in The Remarkable Life of Tomislav*

Read Part 2    Read Part 1

Huddled in the forest that same night after their village burned, Tomislav’s mother was not surprised when the Partisans found them and took them to another village.  A Yugoslav resistance movement during WWII, the Partisans’ guerrilla operations frustrated and hampered Fascist efforts, often helping the suffering populace. Their end goal was to create a Communist state, a goal eventually achieved under their leader—Josip Tito.

Soon, however,  German planes began spattering bullets down on the village.  Mother grabbed the children and fled back into the forest.  Hungry and tired, their wandering was peppered with the baby’s cries—her milk had dried up.

“What to do now, Lord?” she prayed.  Soon, they stumbled upon an abandoned army tent next to a spring of water.  “Thank you God,”  she mumbled with relief as she began to gather some of the food  to prepare for a meal.  Just as her small fire grew hot enough to begin cooking, the approaching roar of an airplane caused them to hunch motionless, not daring to look up. Their frozen limbs burst into action when the pilot, spotting the fire, began firing on them.  Mother grabbed the children and began running through the forest—until the terrifying noise slipped once more into the forest silence.  Emerging into a field, she stumbled to her knees and asked her children to do the same.

“Dear God, I don’t have any food for my kids.  We are surrendering our lives to your hands…please take care of us.”

Mother decided to risk going to another village where she had some relatives.  As they were walking on a path next to the village, they could see the village was full of soldiers.  Desperate for help, they continued on despite the villagers’ warnings.  They found their relatives’ house empty, but a neighbor took pity on them and fed them for the night.  Miraculously, no soldiers came to the house, but Mother knew it was too dangerous to stay there.

Rumor spread that special documents were being issued  for some people to  leave the village, since the army was surrounding it.  The soldier in charge accused her husband of being with the Partisans, but Mother staunchly denied it.  The soldier issued the documents and commanded some other soldiers to escort them with their bayonets pointed at their backs.  “We were thinking they would probably kill us, ” said Tomislav, but as they continued walking, the soldiers dropped farther and farther behind until they disappeared.

Finally, they came to a river—on the other side they could see forest and they knew it would be safer.  Suddenly, Tomislav saw a familiar animal. “Look Momma!  There is our Zorka!”  Mother was in disbelief that it was indeed their cow—the same cow that had saved Father’s life—but Tomislav, as the cow’s caretaker, knew it was theirs.  They crossed the river, reclaimed Zorka, and discovered an abandoned house in a field.  All the children were able to regain much-needed nutrition with the help of Zorka’s milk.

Meanwhile, Father had escaped into Bosnia.  By chance, he ran into someone traveling through who knew the current whereabouts of his family—he quickly crossed back over the river into Croatia and finally rejoined his family.  “God is great,” Tomislav mused.  “This is a true story how we experienced God’s providence—in these difficult war situations, he was taking care of us.”

The memory of God’s providence would sustain Tomislav fifteen years later when he began to fulfill the prophecy  uttered at his birth—a year that brought an unexpected and radical change to his life.

Part 4: I Will Not Die

*Name has been changed