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Decade of upheaval in Yugoslavia opens doors for Baptist witness

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (BP)–Through a decade of political turmoil, Southern Baptists have offered hope and help to refugees in Yugoslavia, laying a foundation of goodwill with both authorities and the people.

Now the opportunities to share God’s love through Christian ministry are increasing as Yugoslavia’s government moves back into the world community.

In 1990, the International Mission Board began assisting the Bread of Life ministry in Belgrade and the Love Your Neighbor work in Nis. In just the last two years, the board has provided $400,000 to both ministries, said Jim Brown, a human needs consultant for the International Mission Board.

The ministries provide food and stoves for refugee families, and they hope to begin job skill training and agriculture projects for the families. Many of them have been forced from their homes three or four times, Brown said.

“Some went from a home with five or 10 acres to a one-room building that used to house pigs and cows,” he said.

But despite their circumstances, Brown said Christian refugees do not express bitterness or anger. On a recent trip to Serbia, he often heard refugees say, “God has turned Serbia upside down to get the people’s focus back upon God and on who he really is and how he loves us.”

The human needs ministries have increased Baptists’ reputations in the cities of Belgrade and Nis. Cedo, a Baptist pastor in Nis who organizes Love Your Neighbor, has formed unique relationships with medical authorities, city officials and the new mayor, Brown said.

“The new mayor, who had only been in office for two or three days, had already heard about Cedo and his credible ministry because of helping out the refugees,” Brown said.

City officials in Nis have offered the use of city property so Baptist work with the Kosovar refugees can expand further.

“People are coming to realize who Baptists are, that Baptists care and Baptists want to share the love of Jesus with folks,” Brown said.

Because Baptists have met the physical needs of refugees, people are more receptive to hearing the gospel, Brown said. In fact, the Bread of Life ministry has reached enough people in the city that dozens of churches could be started among the new Christians. But the people need leaders, church planters and discipleship leaders to mobilize the believers, he said.

The effect of the ministry also is spreading into other countries. Bread of Life and Love Your Neighbor workers share the gospel with refugees or internally displaced people, such as Kosovars. When the refugees return to their homelands, they take the message of Jesus Christ with them. Brown compares the movement to the early church depicted in the Book of Acts.

“The church in Jerusalem was persecuted and it spread out,” he said. “This war has created a similar diaspora.”

He cites the example of a 10-year-old boy who had to flee Sarajevo with his father, leaving behind his mother. The father and son lived with an uncle in Belgrade but were kicked out of the house when the uncle discovered they were Christians. Bread of Life helped them when the father needed surgery and they still were homeless.

If the father and son return to Sarajevo, they will be able to tell others about the Christians’ acts of love.

Then there was the girl who was separated from her parents when she was 12 years old. She heard about Jesus Christ through Bread of Life and accepted him as Savior. She was then able to confidently declare God would help her and take care of every detail. When she is reunited with her family, she will be able to share the hope she found in Jesus.

“I’m reminded of Romans 8:28,” Brown said. “God is still in control. The people who have seen the refugees in Serbia have seen the hand of God in real ways and they are wanting to be used by God.”
Donations may be sent to: Office of Finance, Serbia Relief, International Mission Board, P.O. Box 6767, Richmond, VA 23230. Interested in serving overseas as a volunteer? Visit www.imb.org/vim.

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  • Brittany Jarvis