28 Jan 2008
The bride is ready. … Her family and friends are here to help her along. The groom is ready too … as are the proud grandparents. It is a time for a new beginning … for new freedom and for new responsibilities.
The people of Montenegro are nearing an historic crossroad in their lives and the life of their country. In the year 2006, they will have an opportunity to take a new direction … a chance to once again become an independent country. By voting for independence in this referendum, they can break the last link with the old Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 1991, Yugoslavia was torn apart as Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia declared their independence. Only little Montenegro remained in federation with Serbia as the country called Yugoslavia and war raged throughout the former federation. In 2003, Yugoslavia became just a name on old maps and in history books as the two loosely aligned countries changed their name to simply Serbia and Montenegro. What will be the future of this poor little country if it votes to regain an independence it has not known since World War I?
For centuries, their country has been pushed and pulled by the religious whims of their political leaders. Throughout the Balkans, millions have died fighting for a religious cause they did not choose. This legacy has left uncertainty and apathy in the hearts and minds of the people. They call themselves Orthodox, Catholic, or Muslim but, … in reality, … these religions have become irrelevant to their lives. Few attend the worship services and the religious buildings have become little more than museums … a place to show off the relics of the past and a place to solicit donations for maintenance of the facilities. They have sought substitutes … the national sport of soccer, spending a quiet Sunday fishing or, … perhaps, … spending time with friends.
Montenegrins are beginning to realize that their future does not depend on the failed political and religious institutions of the past. However, they have yet to discover the new beginning that fellowship with Jesus Christ will provide.
In schools and orphanages, children are taught respect for their country. They eagerly line up to sing their national anthem. They can explain the meaning of their flag … even with their halting English. Many want to learn English and want to participate in one-on-one ESL classes with visiting Americans. Often times stories from the Bible are used for these lessons.
High school kids are proud and confident. They, too, seek an opportunity to practice their English with visiting Americans. One quickly learns that these students have high motivation and goals but, … in Montenegro, … the professional employment opportunities are few. Young people look for status symbols and, … today, … it is the cell phone. These high school students are willing to discuss almost anything including their spiritual beliefs.
In public schools, the children learn about other countries. On this day, their strong desire to learn was evident as they were discovering new things about Mexico. Discussing religion is not permitted in public schools, but perhaps there is another location where they could hear about the friend that Jesus Christ would be to them.
Some businesses are beginning in the country as political and economic situations improve. In Montenegro, … like many other countries, … corruption is high, business ethics is low and entrepreneurship is stymied. Opportunities abound to share effective business principles with the people. Who knows? Perhaps the owner of the sidewalk market, the cook at a restaurant, or the vendor of religious paraphernalia may be willing to listen. Perhaps they will hear how Christian principles can be applied to a business.
Physical fitness is important to many and taking time to share healthy lifestyles is a natural venue for sharing a healthy spiritual life … for sharing Jesus Christ.
In Montenegro, the summer time is a time for tourists. It is a time that one can walk around among the people; a time when one can stroll along the sidewalk … a time that people will pose for the camera. These are the times that prayers come easy. Can you come and walk among the 700,000 Montenegrins as you pray for their salvation?
Today there are only about 120 evangelical Christians in all of Montenegro. This small number of believers needs your encouragement. Visit with them and listen to their testimonies. Watch their faces and see the difference that Christ has made in their lives. One young father is Mirko. There are no evangelical churches in his city and perhaps only one other Christian couple. Mirko says that people are closed to the Gospel message of Jesus, that there is a big wall in reaching Montenegrin’s for Christ. Will you come and encourage believers like Mirko and his family?
Visiting in the home of a mother and her three daughters is a rare treat. As a widow, she has an especially hard time in supplying the needs of her family. Yet, she was happy to serve us a meal in her home. It was a special time of hearing how God has been the father in this family for the past five years. It touched our hearts to see the smiles and listen to the joy expressed because Jesus lives in this home. Won’t you come and get acquainted with families similar to this one?
Vladamir is one of the three evangelical pastors in Montenegro. He is Serbian and lives with his family in a small home on the outskirts of Podgorica. Nearby is a creek where children fish from the small bridge. Family milk cows forage on the roadside vegetation. Vladamir’s church is a few miles down the road and in rented space formerly used as a grocery store. Vladmir says that evangelical Christians are viewed as a sect. Shortly after copies of the Jesus film were being given away, a sign appeared in an Orthodox bookstore that read “Warning! Sect handing out film.“ The Pastor says that friendship is the best thing and sharing the Gospel of John Chapter 3 is the most effective chapter in reaching people.
Stan and his wife and five children left Los Angeles to return to his family’s roots in Montenegro. He has a burning desire to see Montenegrins come to Jesus. In a nearby village, his 85-year-old aunt lives in the house where Stan’s dad was born. She was delighted to have a visit from her nephew and to greet those he brought to meet her. Again, this was an opportunity to learn more about the people and their culture. She was a gracious hostess and very happy to show us the garden and surrounding area where she and Stan’s dad had been raised. Village life is difficult, work is hard, and jobs are few, but half of the people of Montenegro live in villages. There is helplessness among those who cannot find work. One avenue of ministry that Stan is using is to help set up a lumber business with the hope that this will provide a means of support and encouragement for people.
Will you pray that someone will also feel a burning desire to tell these people about Jesus? Perhaps your roots originate in this part of the world. What will you do? Do you have a trade that you could teach someone in a different culture?
Before you come learn all you can about the history, culture, and people of this beautiful land. When you come, show genuine interest in the people and their country. Be a listener, be an encourager, be a teacher, be a friend.
Are you willing for God to use you to build bridges with Montenegrins to bring them out of spiritual darkness into the light of Jesus? You may be overwhelmed by the response. Perhaps you too will experience those pressing around you and wanting to hear more.
New beginnings require commitment, encouragement and support, but, … like the wedding, … there are those that remain on the sidelines and just watch the proceedings while others see the wedding as an opportunity for personal gain. Still, there are many who contribute with the talents that they have, … some make music … some serve as escorts….some carry the family coat of arms…. and others are chauffeurs. So it is with sharing the Good News of Jesus with the people of Montenegro. There are many ways that you can be involved.
Will you become an active part of this new beginning for the people of Montenegro?
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