As we began to think about what to do once our two-year mission term was over, we sensed no clear direction from God. At first, feeling the great weight of all the stressors that we had dealt with, we thought that we might take a break from mission service. I thought that we might return to seminary and I might work on a Doctor of Ministry degree for a couple of years, after which we would return to the mission field. After a little more time, prayer, and thought, I remembered a spiritual principle that I had once read (and which I still believe): When you are seeking God’s will on what to do next, and you receive no answer, keep doing what you are currently doing!
We knew that we had been called into missionary service, but we did not sense any clear direction about what to do next. So, we decided that God most likely wanted us to continue serving as missionaries. With that in mind, we began the process of applying to return to the field as long-term “career” missionaries. The next question, of course, was where to go? We looked at several possibilities, including Belgrade, Serbia, and even a city in Poland. But soon, we were directed to consider a third possibility.
When we had been in missionary training, we had become friends with another young couple who were on their way to Moscow. We kept in touch with them while we were in Prague. A few months after we transferred to Tuzla, we were delighted to find out that our friends were also transferring to Bosnia—to the nearby city of Banja Luka. Unlike Tuzla, which was in the predominantly Muslim part of Bosnia, Banja Luka was in the Serb-controlled part. We kept in close touch with our friends, visiting them when we could, and hosting them on other occasions. They constantly told us of the spiritual openness of the people of Banja Luka. They were able to lead many people to make professions of faith, and they even baptized a few. Still, these new converts were unwilling to actually join the tiny Baptist church in Banja Luka—they remained loyal to the Orthodox Church.
By this time, our mission board had several short-term personnel in Banja Luka, but no career missionaries. As we considered the possibility of living and working there, we realized that although we knew and loved people from all three of the ethnic groups in Bosnia, we felt the closest bond with the Serbs. They did seem, in general, the most interested in the Gospel. However, we were concerned with how the Orthodox hierarchy might react to our presence in Banja Luka. We had heard horror stories (most of which turned out to be greatly exaggerated) about anti-evangelical statements made and actions taken by Orthodox clergy throughout the Serb lands, and the idea of working as evangelical missionaries in that environment was a little intimidating.
However, after I had a meeting with the pastor of the Orthodox parish in Tuzla, my concerns were allayed. He assured me that although there were some uneducated, fanatical nationalists among the clergy (mainly in the eastern part of the country), most were decent people. I resolved right there that my goal would not be to try and persuade pious, Orthodox believers to leave the Church, but rather to reach people who were not involved in church. Indeed, this was the practice of all of all our personnel.
So, we decided to “re-up,” becoming career missionaries who would minister among the Serbs in Banja Luka. God was definitely behind our decision to work with the Serbs, as future events would show…
1st Sunday of Great Lent: Sunday of Orthodoxy
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