Part 5 in The Remarkable Life of Tomislav
“What kind of man are you?” the nuns asked Tomislav when he awoke from his anesthesia. Through a series of Providential events—a neighbor traveling to Belgrade, Serbia and convincing a specialist to come exam and then pay for his transport to and surgery in Belgrade—Tomislav found himself on an operating table with the specialist attempting to stabilize his spine.
“I’m a man like any other,” Tomislav replied groggily.
“No,” the nurses replied, “usually this anesthesia makes people become agitated and vulgar in their speech and behavior.”
At this point in the interview, Tomislav choked up with emotion and required several moments to gain control before continuing.
“But the only thing you kept saying was, ‘Oh my God, my God, help me.'”
Tears ran down Tomislav’s face as he remembered what he said to the nuns:
“I am a servant of God. My mother is a believer and she was teaching me about God’s word from childhood—since then I have been serving God and preaching about him.”
Many fruitful conversations resulted from his witness at the hospital. When his wife visited, she would bring Scriptural readings for the nuns who had previously felt they were not ‘holy’ enough to read Scripture themselves.
After a year and a half at first the hospital and then the rehabilitation center, Tomislav was able to come home—a homecoming that quickly became a period of difficulty and crisis. A man in a wheelchair was a strange novelty in his small town, and a large group of kids followed him everywhere to stare at him. People around town began to say, “Look, he was serving God and look what happened to him.”
“And yet,” Tomislav told me, “these things were not completely destructive to me because I was still convinced God had a special purpose for me.”
And so, despite the fact that he and his wife were barely eking out a living–Tomislav had learned how to crochet and knit in the hospital and his wife sold his handicrafts at the market—his heart burned to serve the people around him. He began to preach at a nearby church, riding a bike with three wheels that he pedaled with his hands to get there. Often, he and his wife would work all day so they could have food, and spend their evenings traveling around to various small churches in nearby towns.
In 1969, he contracted a disease related to being a quadriplegic, and consequently the government put him on full disability, paying for him to have a full-time nurse—his wife. Consequently, they enjoyed more money and had more time to devote themselves to their ministry. Soon, he became the main overseer for the Church of God in Yugoslavia from 1974-1984.
“God always took care of us in different ways–we could always see his hand in every situation,” Tomislav reminisced.
At this point, Tomislav’s wife entered with coffee and fresh palačinka [Croatian pancakes]. I gazed quizzically at her tiny, wizened frame and her colorfully-kerchiefed head and ventured to ask if she also would answer some questions.
Her answers were brief and hardly satisfying—they explained nothing of the hundreds of lines on her face, her humble and wise eyes. I realized this woman was an untapped spring of rich stories but it would be difficult to know how to release them. Hers had been a hard life even from childhood, and loss was an expected part of it. And yet, her mother, a widow at age 25 left with four children during the hardship of WWII, set a brave example for her. “God met every need we had, ” she testified.
God’s provision, mercy, faithfulness…these themes continuously emerge from Tomislav’s life. Stay tuned for the final post in this series for my own reflections on his story.