By Shane McNary
Several months ago I was enjoying coffee with a few friends at a gas station on the way back from a meeting in Prague. Included in this auspicious group was Ksenija and her husband Toma. Toma is pastor in Croatia and former president of the European Baptist Federation. He told me about the incredible ministry being done in Serbia among several Roma communities. I was invited to visit and witness for myself what God was doing among these people. This weekend I was able to go.
The Friday drive from Košice, Slovakia to Osijek, Croatia was without incident. Well, except Budapest which is always a nightmare to drive through, around, or near. Once you cross the event horizon near Budapest, time stands still. Anything gained by leaving early disappears into the darkness of the potholes which are waiting to greet you in Budapest. But I digress.
On Saturday, Toma and I left early because we were headed to Vršac which is on the other side of Serbia. Toma continued to speak about going to the end of the world and entering the Twilight Zone as we made our way along the 250 kilometers towards Romania. After Friday’s drive through Budapest, every road in Serbia was a walk in the park.
The countryside was beautiful. Hard to believe that less than twenty-five years ago war tore this area apart as neighbor turned against neighbor in an effort to find independence and exert control. When we passed through Lazarevo, Toma pointed out that this was the town where Ratko Mladić was captured. Mladić is the Serb military leader currently on trial for war crimes in The Hague.
We arrived in Vršac in time for lunch with Toma’s mom and brother. The pastor of the local Baptist Church, Avram, came for lunch as well. I confess that I was a glutton . . . and it was not only because Toma’s mother forced me to continue eating. What an incredible cook she is! After lunch Avram, Toma and I headed south to the village of Parta.
In Parta I met Jovan and Radica along with Nenad, who goes by Tosa. These three have given so much in service to the Reign of God in this region by reaching out with the Good News and giving of themselves sacrificially in order to help others know the joy of Christ. Their charisma was evident; their faith was vibrant. Tosa, having never left Serbia, speaks almost perfect English! They spoke about the successes of their outreach activities in neighboring communities – how one fellowship quadrupled in attendance when they were able to devote their energies to the work on a regular basis. The lack of dependable transportation is one barrier to their ministry.
We visited the Baptist Church in Parta where these three regularly serve. The beautiful sanctuary was built in the 1980’s when, so I was told, the loud worship music caused the walls to start giving way in their old mud-brick building. God has been faithful in providing for their needs and they have shown faithfulness in using their meager resources for God’s glory. The opportunity to impact the five or six communities on either side of Parta is restricted, however. Without different transportation and a long-term commitment to partner with this congregation, to encourage and pray for them – and yes, to financially support them – they are unable to grow the ministry any further.
As I asked about the situation of Baptist work in Serbia, it was disturbing to hear how laws which recognize only the majority Serbian Orthodox church make life very difficult for Baptists. Unable to own property or even open a bank account, local churches are tightly connected to the Serbian Baptist Union which was grandfathered in as a religious group. All properties are owned by the Union and arrangements for church bank accounts must be made by the Union as well. Years ago, automobiles to be used in the Parta ministry were confiscated by customs police because they refused to recognize the legitimacy of the local church. The punitive laws about recognized faith groups in Serbia represent a religious liberty issue of great concern to Serbian Baptists.
Toma and I returned to Osijek, arriving about 20:30. We picked up Ksenija who had been at an ecumenical meeting for women in town with representatives from Croatian and Serbian churches. With Toma’s excellent translating, I preached on Sunday morning at the Osijek Baptist Church. I did do a very brief introduction in Slovak since the church was founded by ethnic Slovaks who lived in the community – a few of them came up to me after the service and identified themselves as Slovak. Several women who were in town for the ecumenical meeting visited the church that morning. It was a beautiful worship service. After lunch with the Magdas I returned home to Kosice.
I usually don’t write about my trips in a format like this. But I did so in order to share how this trip was made possible. Not only was it through contacts with local friends and churches, it was made possible because you gave to support the Offering for Global Missions. The Offering makes it possible for us to connect with others and provide a way for you to connect with them with confidence that your prayers, encouragement, and financial support are targeted in such a way to honor what God is already doing among our brothers and sisters in Serbia. Supporting The Offering enables us to do the “due diligence” on the ground to ensure effective partnerships.
If you have not given yet to The Offering this year, you can make your contribution online immediately. If God is speaking to you about meeting the needs in Parta which I have shared here, then write to me at smcnary(at)thefellowship.info (If you have not seen emails listed in this form before, it is to cut down on spam. Replace (at) with @ and email me!)
This post first appeared on the CBF Romany Ministries blog.