BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (BP)–Yugoslavia’s turbulent change in government has created new opportunities for International Mission Board missionaries among the Serbs — as well as creating a need for new missionaries.
In late September, Yugoslav citizens voted out strongman Slobodan Milosevic as president, replacing him with Vojislav Kostunica. When Milosevic balked at leaving office, the resulting demonstrations left political buildings charred.
Kostunica’s new government has aligned itself with the Orthodox Church, but it also seems to be extending more religious freedom to Baptist work, said Ben Hanna, an International Mission Board missionary.
“There is an urgent need for missionaries to move to Serbia to share the love of Christ and see churches started,” Hanna said.
Most of the missionaries’ work among the Serbs currently takes the form of prayer. Hanna reports prayerwalking teams from Bosnia are interceding for God’s work in Serbia. An extensive prayer network also has been established to pray down barriers to the gospel.
“True change will come when believers cover the land with prayer and love,” Hanna said.
In March 1999, Milosevic “led Serbia into its fourth war in a decade and the worst economy in Europe,” Hanna said. “We cried as we saw NATO bombs fall around our friends and fellow believers on Easter Sunday. We prayed for an end to the fighting, but mostly we prayed for the peace of Christ to rule.”
When the smoke cleared, Serbia was scarred from 30,000 bombing sorties in eight days. During the bombing, Southern Baptists distributed food to the most needy people.
“The aid told the believers there, ‘We love you. We have not forgotten you,'” Hanna said.
After the fighting, Southern Baptists continued to meet the needs of Serbia through three relief projects. In one project, emergency food and stoves were given to more than 3,400 families. The Baptist church in Nis distributed food packets and stoves provided by the International Mission Board — and watched worship attendance grow from 70 to more than 600.
Texas Baptist Men also have pitched in by committing to provide 10,000 winter coats for children.
Those acts of love are changing popular opinion about Baptists in the country. The government used to hold a cautious opinion of Baptists, which was fueled by anti-Baptist propaganda produced by the Orthodox Church. When Bill Clinton — who identifies himself as a Baptist — bombed Yugoslavia, many Serbs equated all Baptists with Clinton, Hanna said.
And after living for numerous years under dictatorial rule, the people of Serbia are suspicious of any promises of hope.
“They don’t put much stock in words, having had 50 years of communist rule, followed by a decade of lies and broken promises,” Hanna said.
But as missionaries live out the hope and faith they believe, Serbians are seeing that Christians offer more than just empty promises.
Search for prayer items for Yugoslavia at www.imb.org/CompassionNet/countries.asp. Learn about specific needs for new missionaries at www.imb.org/FPNeeds.