Over the course of the interview, my discussion with Mladen traveled over a wide range of topics: his personal story, history, politics, economics, evangelism and mission, literacy and theological education, and the Catholic Church in Croatia.
“We cannot neglect their presence in the history of Croatia…their presence now, ” he said about the Catholic Church when I asked for his thoughts. “They are numerically stronger than we are, although even their statistics that say Croatians are almost 90% Catholic are not true because most of those are nominal.”
I pressed him further, wanting to see what he thought about some of the Catholic charismatic movements in Croatia—even though I knew I was touching on an area that can be sensitive and even inflammatory for some Protestants in Croatia because of the complexity of Croatian history and religio-identity. Did he think there were many New Testament believers in the Croatian Catholic Church?
“I do, I think that some of their movements are very close to what we want to do…but they do it in a different way.”
Still, Mladen carefully laid out some of the problems in the Catholic Church in Croatia—the dichotomy between living the faith and doctrine, the adoration of Mary, practical morality, nominalism.
“I wish that the Catholic Church would transform in points to be closer to the Bible. I know that we all speak that we are all close to the Bible and I am not sure how to measure that. But right now they are very far from the Bible…Even the Pope [John Paul II] said that Catholics need a second evangelism all over Europe.”
Despite his concerns with the Catholic Church, he spoke against any kind of anti-Catholic rhetoric. “If my father, mother, and grandparents were all Catholics and someone comes and starts speaking against Catholicism, my first reaction would be, ‘How dare you!’ It is much better to invite people to sermons that speak about Christ and are Christocentric. I would say that we should try to be friends, not enemies, with Roman Catholic priests who are trying to change something within,” he remarked, noting several priests he counts as good friends.
Although not every Protestant in Croatia would agree with Mladen’s views, few could negate the fruit of his ministry which was a rare balance of love, truth, and grace to those around him. His broad-minded views demonstrated he was truly “Kingdom-focused”—finding disciples of Christ in many places. Although it was apparent he loved his Church of Christ denomination, it was equally apparent he focused on Jesus and people. Such an attitude reflects the injunction in Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live at peace with all men.”
“John Stott said that every good preacher should have two ears…one ear listening to the Bible and one ear listening to people,” Mladen smiled.
Finally, as the camp dinner bell rang and I could see my interview rapidly drawing to a close, I asked Mladen the same question with which I always end my interviews. What did he think God was doing in Croatia?
He sighed thoughtfully and gathered his thoughts.
“I think God is expanding his kingdom in Croatia in his own way. God knew about globalization and the EU before the EU was created. We are going to become a global village sooner or later. Croatia will become a full sized member of EU in 2013 so there will be no borders. Our Croatian churches will become part of the European family of churches…which will benefit us in a way. We won’t be 1 % of the population…maybe on the scale of Europe, we will become 3% or 4% or 5 % and we can operate with that number. And [we will] have more contacts with our sister churches in other parts of Europe. But definitely we will lose some things in order to gain some things. We’ll probably keep some cultural characteristics…even in your country, even after 200 years of living together you have north and south and there are different characteristics. So, they will remain…but maybe only language and dialects will be the only distinct separation between people.”
With that, I thanked Mladen for his honesty in speaking openly. I went back to my cabin to put my recorder away while Mladen and Dragica walked over to dinner together. The beautiful Adriatic was beginning its end-of-day tones, the heat of the day diminishing into evening’s welcome breeze.
Thank you Mladen for your life that you poured out for others for the sake of Jesus, whom you followed faithfully to the end.