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10/1/97 Croatian seminarian seeks to be educator, peacemaker

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–For the better part of three years, he huddled in a basement seeking shelter from the bombs and bullets that kept his city in the news internationally. Rare time outside was usually spent waiting two to three hours for food. Often before reaching the head of the line, civil defense sirens forced him to return, hungry and frustrated, to his bunker.
Croatian Marinko Kimmer, a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, has a life history unthinkable to most people his age. Or any age.
Marinko was born in Germany, but his parents moved across the nearby border to Croatia when he was 7. His father was Catholic, his mother Lutheran. He grew up in the small village of Medjugorja in the Croatian section of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
At 17, he heard a story about Jesus’ mother, Mary, appearing to six children in the village. Later he dreamed he saw “the end of the world” and himself walking around in a black priest’s robe. “A couple of months later, I heard someone say on the radio, ‘God loves you as you are,'” he recalled. “I was feeling empty and I wanted to get to know God better. So I decided to go into the ministry.”
Marinko enrolled in a small seminary, similar to a Bible college in the United States, concentrating on language and Bible study. His trouble accepting some of the Catholic doctrines earned him the derisive nickname “Protestant.”
“I was different than other students,” he said. “I had evangelistic ideas.” During his studies, a small evangelical group helped him become a born-again Christian.
After graduation in 1989, he completed his mandatory service in the Croatian army, but hope for additional schooling seemed blocked. “Further education for me wasn’t ‘recommended by the communist government,” he recounted of being denied admission to state universities.
“So the only way I could continue my studies was to go to a Catholic seminary.”
Then Croatia was shattered by war with Serbia. Marinko spent months in the bomb shelter below his living quarters. By the time fighting quieted in 1993, the war in Bosnia was heating up.
Bosnians flooded Croatia, and during the Christmas season of 1993, Marinko volunteered to work with refugees. In his camp, 3,000 people lived in tents piled with two feet of snow. Average temperatures were below freezing and provisions spartan. “There was one house with 10 showers for every thousand people,” he said.
At the camp, he met a group of Southern Baptists from Atlanta. While he was assisting them, one team — from Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Atlanta — invited him to visit. Marinko visited the church in the summer of 1994 and was baptized there. In the fall, he went back to school and “couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I told everyone I was Baptist now — and I got suspended for three months,” he said. “But my appeal for special permission from the Vatican to continue my education there was granted and I stayed to complete my degree.”
He still felt a longing to prepare himself for evangelistic ministry, however. So Marinko talked to his pastor, who recommended Southwestern Seminary.
Marinko arrived in Fort Worth in 1996 to pursue a master of divinity degree with a concentration in communications. “I want to get practical experience,” he said. “I’ve had the equivalent of six to eight years of college education, but I’m considered only a ‘research theologian.'” Southwestern, he feels, will help him bridge his theoretical knowledge and practical calling.
“I also want to gain credibility” by earning a degree from a leading Baptist seminary, he asserted. “There are only 600 Baptists in Croatia.”
He noted — as in many previously communist countries — the people now are suspicious of everything. Including him.
“They don’t trust me very much, because most Baptists there were born into the church. My background is unusual since I became a Baptist as an adult. If I died today, I would be buried with Muslims and communists.”
Although his life was hard in Croatia, he does miss it. One thing he longs for is “real” food: “Everything here is low fat!” he lamented. “Even during the war, I was used to getting two full meals a day, with meat, soup, bread, salad and dessert. I can’t get full here!”
His goals are to go back and minister to the Croatian people: “I want to educate Baptists. I believe planting churches isn’t a one-man deal. I also hope I can be a peacemaker.”
Even in Baptist churches, he explained, ethnic divisions exist. “After the Serbs lost the war, they didn’t want to remain Catholic because that would identify them with the Croatians. So many joined the Baptist church. Then the Croat Baptists left, because they don’t want to be around Serbs.”
Marinko can understand why — his family lost four farms in the fighting. “Everything was totally destroyed by the Serbs,” he conceded. “We had nothing left.” The war even severed his mother and father from Croatia — if only by a few yards.
His parents now live on the Bosnia/Herzegovina side of a border-defining street. “The politicians drew a line and suddenly they’re in a different country. It’s tense, but it’s my home.”
It is a striking metaphor for his own experience. God drew a line in his heart and life and suddenly he was in a different spiritual country. It too is tense for this unproven Baptist-among-Baptists, this evangelical among Catholics, this Croat temporarily among Americans.
But make no mistake about it. He has a home. Eternally.

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  • Dena Dyer