Tihomir Kukolja shared a message “The Way of Jesus” at the 2017 EDI – Economic Diplomacy and Integrity Forum in Fuzine, Croatia, July 2017. Time: 28:24 min.
The Way of Jesus: With a few adaptations, for the purpose of contextualizing it for the listening audience, I shared the message “The Way of Jesus” several times throughout 2017. I shared the same message with the participants attending the 2017 EDI – Economic Diplomacy and Integrity Forum (audio) at the end of July 2017 in Fuzine, Croatia. And then in August I shared it with the 2017 ROM – Renewing Our Minds participants (video). The available video segment features the middle part of the message presented at ROM 2017. Take 11:20 minutes, listen to the message and let me know your thoughts about the message and its implications. A message to EDI 2017 and ROM 2017 friends: let’s continue the conversation about the centrality of Jesus in everything we are, believe and practice. Video recorded by Silvia Nichita.
Additional thoughts: One day Jesus took three of his disciples – Peter, James and John – to a solitary mountain for a special educational moment. There the three disciples had a unique encounter not only with Jesus, but also with Moses and Elijah, the two pillars of the Old Testament religion. Delighted and afraid disciples wanted to turn the mountain into a holy shrine. The moment Peter suggested the idea to Jesus, everything changed. “A bright cloud covered” the terrified disciples. They fell to the ground and heard the voice speaking from the cloud: “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” A moment later they looked up and “they saw no one else but Jesus.” Matthew 17:1-8. In other words, no one and nothing else mattered any more except Jesus.
This is one of those stories that I repeatedly want people to remember, because as the years are advancing we can easily lose sight of the true heroes of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina 25 years ago. This is partially so because the true heroes never brag about their acts of heroism. Of all of them who made a true difference in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the years of the sinister 1992 – 1995 war, we need to remember first ADRA – Adventist Development and Relief Agency and their 120 volunteers in Sarajevo, and many across Bosnia-Herzegovina, the region, and beyond.
During the 1,425 days of the Sarajevo siege 11,541 people were killed, of whom 1,500 were children. Early in 1993 I had the privilege of spending one month in Sarajevo as a guest of ADRA Sarajevo, and taste what it looked like living in an “open-air concentration camp” barraged every day from the surrounding hills and mountains with all kinds of mortars, missiles and sniper fire, in what was the longest siege of the 20th century. If I ever experienced what the real war looked like, this was in Sarajevo in 1993.
ADRA Sarajevo volunteers
Apart from the relief work of the U.N. agencies, ADRA was by far the most efficient and respected relief presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina thanks to its strict ethnic and religious impartiality. During those war years ADRA Sarajevo, with the help of ADRA International, provided also the only effective postal service that delivered thousands of letters in and out of the besieged city.
I am gladly giving my contribution to the remembrance of the true heroes, of whom many still remain unnamed. This is a fragment of my experiences of one month spent with the ADRA volunteers in Sarajevo in February and March 1993. This article was originally written and released for the first time soon after I left Sarajevo in 1993.
Sarajevo after a morning mortar attack
A sudden burst of sunshine heralds the arrival of a new day. “Who would say this is war?!”, says Detlef Riemarzik, a photo journalist from Germany. The two of us are sharing a room in the home of Radomir and Mira Nikolic. Radomir is an Adventist pastor and the ADRA Director in Sarajevo.
Through the window of our room our eyes scan the authentic mixture of European and Middle Eastern buildings and roofs around us. The last patches of snow are visibly melting, revealing the ugly nakedness of the wounded city. The surrounding hills gripping Sarajevo in a deadly embrace appear cunningly still.
It is 8 o’clock in the morning, March 1993 — only a few days ahead of Easter. The rooms and corridors of ADRA’s offices in Sarajevo resemble a beehive. The ADRA Coordinating Team is meeting to discuss the priorities of the day. Today 120 volunteers will be busy distributing humanitarian packages, preparing an additional warehouse for the arrival of 30,000 food packages from a number of European countries, and distributing hundreds of letters that have arrived into the city with the latest convoy. In the first year of the Sarajevo siege ADRA provided the city’s only efficient postal service, delivering close to 50,000 letters to its citizens cut off from the rest of the world.
ADRA Pharmacy, the only operational pharmacy in Sarajevo in 1993
Detlef checks his cameras, lenses, film. Stepping out of the sheltered ADRA residence into the open is a hazardous adventure. A group of people at the street gate asks us for a handful of any kind of food. “Just a potato or two, please,” asks one of them. Then, suddenly a sharp, metallic, thunder-like sound splits the air. Mortars — one, two, three hit the nearby houses. Heavy machine guns rattle. Sniper bullets shriek through the air. Metal fences and gates ring. Heavy dust rains upon the gardens, houses, streets. Detlef and I hide behind a wall. There, together with another fifty people, we wait for another round of deadly blasts to pass.
An hour later we find ourselves visiting Kosevo Hospital — overcrowded with the wounded and dying. Mufita Lazovic, a medical doctor, takes us around. People who have been disabled for life are telling us their stories. Hasan and Hana Camdzic, husband and wife, were wounded by an air missile while sleeping in their bedroom. Hasan has lost both, and Hana one of her legs. A tank missile has permanently disabled Elizabeta Krasni. Wounded Munira Milanovic describes with the tears in her eyes how she survived the blast that instantly killed her husband.
The war children of Sarajevo. Where are they today?
“Children suffer the most,” explains the doctor while escorting us out of the hospital. “Not long ago we had to amputate both legs from a 6-year-old boy. After the surgery he begged his parents to give him his legs back.”
Only a few minutes’ walk from the hospital spreads Bare Cemetery with no more room to receive the daily increase in the number of the dead. Kosevo Football Stadium was turned into its extension. Respectfully we stoop down and observe the thousands of orderly aligned graves. Detlef reluctantly decides that he must take a few pictures — for the record. Next to one grave, three men support a collapsing woman. She is sobbing, screaming, cursing. There lies the dead body of her 19-year-old daughter, buried only a few days earlier.
They were waiting patiently every day
A couple of hours later we arrive at the main ADRA warehouse in the city. Hundreds of people slide patiently toward the entrance that leads to four huge storage rooms packed with thousands of recently received humanitarian parcels. It seems as if the endless hours of queuing do not bother people doomed to waiting.
Through the eyes of his cameras, Detlef captures every moment worth remembering: an elderly woman with shaky hands placing her food parcel into something that used to be a stroller for babies; two young men loading their received goods onto their bicycles; a man totally immersed into reading the only paper published daily in Sarajevo; two women in tears embracing each other; a cat with a broken tail gliding through a jungle of human legs; and a man in a long queue slowly drifting forward and shouting “Thank you ADRA!”
In Sarajevo every moment, every movement and every picture tells another story.
Rade and Mira Nikolic, the engines of ROM in Sarajevo
We then join Senad Vranic, one of the 50 ADRA postmen in Sarajevo. Not long ago one of their postmen was killed on duty while delivering letters to the homes of people not far from where we are. Although a volunteer, like any professional postman, Senad brings the letters right to the doorsteps of involuntarily separated mothers, fathers, children, grandparents and friends.
“There are hazardous days, too! Sudden blasts, mortars, bombs, snipers! Not a safe place to be! Still, I go because I know how much hope these letters bring to people separated from those they love the most,” explains Senad as we reach the gates of a small oriental-looking house occupied by a young couple. As we enter their home we hear an exciting welcome: “Our ADRA, our friends have come to us!”
Seven funerals in one day
It is getting dark and we are back at the ADRA offices in Tepebasina 7. Hedviga Jirota, a cheerful 82-year-old lady of whom none would ever guess her age, has prepared a delicious supper composed of various humanitarian ingredients: blended cheese from Czechoslovakia; macaroni from Italy; rice and tinned corned beef from England; hot powder milk, enriched with white coffee powder from Germany. She invites Radomir, Mira, Detlef, me and a few others to take our places around the table. Could we ever expect a more beautiful feast in the undernourished Sarajevo?
ADRA postal distribution service
“It is not easy. Many eyes are upon us. They think that ADRA can do what others can’t,” reflects pastor Nikolic at the dinner table. “In fact, we could do more if we would only have more trucks, diesel for trucks, better international support,” he adds.
By now it is almost midnight. Detlef and I are staring again through the window of our room. The engines of the U.N. planes shake the dark sky above the city. Tonight they are bound for eastern Bosnia where they will parachute several tones of food into the night. A sudden burst of machine guns echoes through the streets somewhere close by. We hear angry shouts, screams and more firing. A couple of distant explosions break in the night. And then everything is quiet again.
The moonlit houses look strange with all the lights out. The city, which appears to have fallen into a deep sleep, with only a few distant and dimmed lights creeping through the blankets stretched over the darkened windows, remind me of the romanticized pictures of Bethlehem the night when Jesus was born.
I wonder if in 1993, in more than a metaphorical way, Jesus walks the streets of an imprisoned and wounded Sarajevo? I cannot help but love those 120 dedicated volunteers of ADRA, Muslims and Christians together, who against all odds feed the hungry, distribute humanitarian aid, deliver the letters and give medicines to the sick. No doubt they are fulfilling Jesus’ commission: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Through their dedicated service and sacrifices God is saying to the whole world that He has not forgotten Sarajevo.
Audio: The sound of machine gun fire in Sarajevo in March 1993.
Having spent four weeks in Sarajevo I left the city with this ADRA convoy
The Book of Hebrews, one of the most ignored New Testament books, powerfully argues that Jesus is the final destination and the retirement place of every religion, including yours and mine. All attempts to find God through the ways of religion are exhausted in Jesus. The One who “is the end of the law” (Romans 10:4.) has become also the end of any and every religion.
The book progressively demonstrates that the entire Old Testament’s religious narrative, with its beliefs, practices and institutions served only one purpose – to guide human history, and its communities and peoples to Jesus Christ. The Old Testament religion, with its prophetic mission, laws, tabernacle, priestly duties, sacrifices and festivals, observances and rituals – was only a shadow destined to vanish once the real deal was revealed, thus making Jesus Christ superior to every detail of the Old Testament religious decorum.
The author of the Book of Hebrews illustrates Jesus’ supremacy over religion with precision. A careful reader will notice that Jesus stands for – a better Moses (3:2.), a better Sabbath (4:9.), a better priesthood (7:12.24.), a better law (7:12.), a better high priest (7:22.214.171.124.), a better sacrifice (7:27., 9:26., 10:12.), a better ministry (8:6.), a better hope (7:18.), a better promise (8:6.7.), a better covenant (7:22., 8:13., 9:13.), a better order (9:10.11.), a better tabernacle (chapter 9), a better access to the Father (6:19., 10:19-22.), a better mediator (9:18.).
No element of the Old Covenant religion is left untouched. Finally, only Jesus remains, seated at the right hand of the Father, as the ultimate authority, and exclusive object and focus of our adoration. It is within such context that the author is calling his followers to be purified from the dead works of religion, and serve the real and living God, and not an ideological concept, idol or a mascot (Hebrews 9:14.).
The New Testament message supports the picture of a temporary and limited use of religion. It speaks of the Old Covenant as something that is fading away, disappearing and becoming obsolete in Jesus. It is “a veil taken away whenever anyone turns to the Lord”, and a “guardian put in charge to lead us to Christ” (2. Corinthians 3:7-18., Hebrews 8:13, Galatians 3:24.). The implication is that Jesus Christ is everything and much more any religion can offer.
With His life, death and resurrection Jesus Christ did not upgrade the old religion. He was not a “new patch placed on the old garment”, or “a new wine poured into old wineskins” (Mark 2:21.22.). Nowhere did He suggest that he was a founder of a new religion either. The four Gospels and the rest of the New Testament are uncomfortably quiet about Jesus leaving behind any instruction to his followers as to how to turn his legacy into a religious system. Instead he called people to follow and trust Him, suggesting that out of his following a worshiping, caring, loving and serving community would emerge; a community made of people who, having been embraced by Jesus first, are now embracing each other in love. Thus, His community would become the light and the salt to the world (Matthew 5:13-16.). The New Testament calls it His Church and His body, and defines it relationally rather than institutionally.
I suspect that not much of what most of us perceive as Christian religion today was ever intended by Jesus or his immediate followers. I fear that much of our colorful religious heritage, spiritual folklore, even some cherished teachings and beliefs are nothing more than ancient or more recent collections of superstition that are continuously pushing us back into the shadow-land of religion outgrown in Jesus?
Here is the punch line. The Old Testament religion, with all its religious décor, had only one legitimate purpose – to surrender people, communities and history to Jesus Christ. This is no less true for any other religion. They are only as useful as they are eventually willing to capitulate to the One who transcends them all. And Jesus’ intention was never to return his followers back to the ways of religion, but to keep them in his loving embrace.
Richard C. Halverson (1916-1995), a former Chaplain of the US Senate, summarizes it all well: “Jesus Christ transcends all religions! Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism. He is greater than all these, including Christianity. Religions are the inventions of men. They may begin with a great leader in mind, but human tradition soon reduces the original to a mere set of ethical standards and a dead letter of the law which no one can follow. Jesus transcends religion because He is the incarnation of all that is true, good, loving, gentle, tender, thoughtful, caring, courteous and selfless.”
The message of Jesus’ supremacy over religion, any religion, demonstrated so well throughout the Book of Hebrews, was also powerfully illustrated in the event of Jesus’ transfiguration.
One day Jesus took three of his disciples – Peter, James and John – to a solitary mountain for a special educational moment. There the three disciples had a unique encounter not only with Jesus, but also with Moses and Elijah, the two pillars of the Old Testament religion. Delighted and afraid disciples wanted to turn the mountain into a holy shrine. The moment Peter suggested the idea to Jesus, everything changed. “A bright cloud covered” the terrified disciples. They fell to the ground and heard the voice speaking from the cloud: “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!” A moment later they looked up and “they saw no one else but Jesus.” Matthew 17:1-8. In other words, no one and nothing else mattered any more but Jesus.
At the beginning of April 2017 I was honored to preach at the International Christian Fellowship Church in Belgrade, Serbia at the invitation of my friend and colleague Samuil Petrovski. The message of my sermon with the title “Are You Following Him?” was anchored in Mark 9:33-10:52. I would like to share with you a part of the sermon where I focused on the need to follow Jesus with the honesty and trust of children, and to humbly accept each other in Christ.
The sermon begins with the following words: “I think of many of my friends in the days when we were young. They were enthusiasts about Jesus. They were enthusiastic about becoming pastors and ministers, and about working for the Kingdom of God. But when I look at them now, so many of them – they don’t believe in anything any more. They got disappointed with Jesus. It looks as if God had failed them. He did not meet their expectations. They are saying: ‘We don’t believe in anything now. We are atheists.’ I would tell some of them: ‘You really need to asses your heart, honestly. Have you come to this conclusion because you really came to understand that God does not exist any more? Or, maybe you have become arrogant, and you do not want to trust Him any more, so you think you are paying him back when you say that you do not believe in Him’. I hear them saying: ‘You failed me, Lord, and therefore you do not exist for me any more’.”
For more take a few moments and listen to the whole thing. Time: 7:16 min.
Today’s embrace of the theory of evolution by natural selection, as if it were a proven scientific fact, has much more to do with the scientific culture ridden by dishonesty than with the workings of empirical science. When this theory is abandoned as fake only one thing remains: trusting that the entire universe, including human life came into existence thanks to the intelligent design put in place by a creative and powerful God.
This is something that many modern-day scientists and philosophers dare not swallow. Admitting that a mighty Creator is behind the whole creation would lead the evolutionists to ask themselves some tough questions, such as: Who is the Creator? Is there anything that He wants from us? Are we in any way accountable to Him?
The theory of evolution is in fact the religion of science that is ideologically, and not factually driven.
Many people today would rather believe in a nonsensical theory about nothing somehow becoming something without anyone interfering in the process, and call it a science, than pay attention to the abundance of visible evidence of God’s creative power plainly made manifest, according to the words of Paul, in “what has been made” Romans 1:19.20.
Likewise, they would rather believe that adding the imaginary stretches of millions and trillions of years to the fictional evolutionary processes would make them more scientifically credible, than humbly admit that the theory does not hold water. And because they are not able to provide any meaningful empirical demonstration in favor of the theory, many evolutionists, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins including, have chosen the way of contemptuous insult and mockery of anyone who brings faith and God into the story of our beginnings.
The workings of the militant evolutionists and atheists go hand in hand. Their activism is not much different than the deceptive lullabying of the underworld witch, described in the C.S. Lewis’ children book “The Silver Chair” (The Chronicles of Narnia). Trapped in the underworld and taken hostage by the wicked witch, the Narnia-bound children came face to face with a deceiver who almost succeeded in deceiving them into believing that there existed nothing else but her dark underworld.
“’It is all a dream,’ said the witch, always thrumming. ‘Yes, all a dream’, said Jill. ‘There never was such a world (Narnia),’ said the witch. ‘No,’ said Jill and Scrubb, ‘never was such a world.’ ‘There never was any world but mine’, said the witch.” To the witch the facts did not matter. What counted were her ritualistically repeated lies intended at making the children lose a sight of the obvious truth that above the huge dark cave shines the sun, and spreads beautiful Narnia, ruled by the powerful, just and good lion Aslan. The witch thought that if only she could erase from the children’s minds any memory of Narnia, any notion of the king Aslan would have become nothing more than a myth too.
The theory of evolution is much more than a theoretical concept. It births a dangerous worldview that has inspired philosophers, leaders of revolutionary movements and shapers of ideologies, all of whom were attracted by its immoral social applications and implications. Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler understood just as well as the modern advocates of social evolution do today, that in the universe without God all moral restraints were gone, and the future belonged to the cruelest and meanest of the bullies. For, if the theory of evolution is the scientific and social truth, there exists no moral difference between one man killing another for the pure convenience sake, or crushing an annoying mosquito that has just landed on your hand.
The most evolutionists are still decent people who will not do anything foolish to other fellow men and women. However, this cannot be attributed to the high ethical standards found in the theory of evolution, but to the fact that the current lovers of the theory of evolution continue to feed off the borrowed values of the past generations. While most of them love to brag about how advanced and progressive they are in their thinking, they still dare not live the lives consistent with the worldview inherent with the theory. They are afraid of consequences. While professing boldly their scientific superiority, they are still finding comfort in the value systems derived from the faith in the God of clearly defined moral standards and expectations.
But, gradually, things are changing for the worse. Today we are hearing the talks about how science ought to take control over human evolution. Such statements demonstrate that the scientists and law makers of today are beginning to toy with the fire that does not belong to them. They are like priests of a new kind of humanity who believe that it is given to them to determine what will constitute the new human being. Eugenics, legalization of euthanasia, genetic modifications, merging humans with technology, and other attempts to redefine the boundaries of what it means to be a human being are only a few examples of the experimentations where we see the immorality of social evolution nudging us to take another bite from ”the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” Genesis 2:17. Apparently Ray Kurzweil, Google’s chief futurists, is not the only one who believes that within a decade “humans, with the aid of technology, will be able to live forever.” The deceitful thrumming of the ancient Witch is becoming increasingly louder: “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like god!” Genesis 3:5.
It all boils down to this: if we are the result of meaningless set of coincidences, journeying through millions of stages of impersonal and meaningless evolutionary history, and heading towards equally meaningless future, then human life is no more meaningful now than at any time in its evolutionary past, and as such it is a deserving prey to any bully or tyrant who will find a way to enslave us.
And why not? For in the universe which is run by the engine of impersonal lines of coincidences there is no room for justice, compassion, empathy, fairness and love. In fact, those qualities are annoyingly obstructing the evolutionary progress of the universe in which only one rule keeps the evil engine of evolution going – survival of the fittest. In the domains of social evolution this would mean the survival of the worst kinds of bullies, dictators, tyrants, all kinds of Borgs, Darth Vaders, Caligulas, demons and human beasts.
Wow! Would any sane person like to live in such a universe?
Thanks God, the theory of evolution is nothing more than a desperate and foolish fiction. Thanks God His revelation trumpets a different truth to anyone who wants to hear: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Psalm 19:1.
There where God is treated as dead all moral arguments are murdered as well. And there where all moral reasoning is turned upside-down, confusion and deception prevail. Whatever is wicked is called good and progressive; and whatever is good, noble and decent, will be called illegal and criminal.
When God is pushed out of the picture evil flourishes by default, queasy science replaces faith, and the lives of people are treated as disposable commodities. There the Orwellian systems and Kafkian nightmares rule the people.
Such are the antichrist’s times
We are worshiping beings. Let us not be naïve. Neutrality is not given to us as an option. Wherever God is dethroned, Satan is uplifted and worshiped. Bob Dylan truthfully and prophetically declared in a song more than thirty years ago: “You’re gonna have to serve somebody, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody!”
There, where God is not allowed to reign, Satan sure will, one way or another, whether you believe it or not. There, where Jesus Christ is dethroned all lights are out and all hell breaks loose.
Has our world reached that point yet? Almost! But hear the good news: God is alive and well, and He will not be bullied forever.
Friends, let me share something from my filed of service that has been my primary work and ministry over the past sixteen years. If you feel inclined to respond feel free to see the additional information as you read our latest newsletter. Thank You.
As we are fast approaching the summer of 2017 we would like to share a quick reflection on the work of Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation (Forum) at this time.
The work of Forum embraces the governing of the three amazing leadership ministries with global impact, yet anchored in Southeast Europe (Balkans):
ROM – Renewing Our Minds reconciliation and leadership ministry was born in 1999 in Fužine, a picturesque and welcoming village in Croatia, with the vision and mission to help build a new generation of leaders across all lines of division – ethnic, racial, political and religious; and all of it on the platform of the teachings and example of the person of Jesus. Many ROM alumni have emerged as leaders of influence, and are today making a difference in the political, social, humanitarian and religious arenas of their countries. Our vision and mission continues to grow strong – “Developing Ambassadors for a Better World”.
We are less than three months away (August) from our next, two week long international ROM – Renewing Our Minds Leadership and Reconciliation Gathering to be held in Fuzine, Croatia. We are expecting 60 young and selected leaders from at least 15 countries to take part in the ROM 2017 Gathering.
EDI – Economic Diplomacy and Integrity Forum, a powerful leadership ministry for change built upon the vision of ROM, continues to bring together young professionals whose mission is to serve their countries as business people, economists and politicians. Since 2006 EDI has been instrumental in inspiring the birth of several national EDI initiatives in countries like Romania, Albania, Costa Rica and Serbia.
We are only two months away from the next annual EDI – Economic Diplomacy and Integrity Forum planned for two weeks in Fuzine, Croatia at the end of July. We believe that the best way to fight against unhealthy rivalry among and within nations is by pursuing an economic and political community inspired by Jesus’ life and based on His principles. We are expecting 40 young, promising leaders from at least 10 countries to attend EDI 2017 in Croatia.
Golden Rule Project, a more recent project was born with a vision of becoming a practical expression of service of Forum, that embraces the communities of ROM and EDI into visible demonstrations of love and service to various groups of people in need. Since 2015 our focus has been on serving refugees passing through or staying in the Balkans. In 2017 we will continue to serve a group of Iranian Refugees who left their country due to religious persecution. The words of Jesus, “Whatever you did for the least of those, you did for me” are the guiding principles behind the Golden Rule project.
Our Forum ministry, and our ROM, EDI and Golden Rule programs are becoming more precious and needed than ever, at this time of increasing global distress, international tensions, and growing atmosphere of hatred and conflicts. How we wish we were able to do more, or encourage others to do more in peace making by multiplying the practical means of service, training and mentoring? But all of it calls for funds that we do not have, and frankly, it is becoming increasingly more challenging to secure the financial support we need.
With your support however, we will be able to equip at least one hundred young leaders with a new, Jesus centered vision of leadership and peace making.
As you give this time we would like you to see our need in the light of our rich history almost twenty years old, and always about lifting up the name of Jesus. This long history of service and education has been proven by success, supported by the prayers of many, and made possible only through the sacrificial donations and gifts given by people like you.
And let us remember that the main fruit of our labor are the hundreds of seasoned leaders who are at this time making a profound difference in many countries of the world.
Thank you for your love, partnership and giving.
Tihomir Kukolja Executive Director Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation
Law, Grace and Promise in Galatians. Tihomir Kukolja reflects on the Law. Grace and Promise in Galatians in his sermon preached in the Malesnica Baptist Church in Zagreb, Croatia, Sunday, 26th March 2017. The sermon was enhanced by the translation into Croatian provided by Mihal Kreko, pastor of the Malesnica Baptist Church. The guiding Bible reading for the sermon was from Galatians 3:10-14. Time 41:10 min.
My most recent daily Bible readings are from the Old Testament books that major in the judgments of God against the kingdoms of Israel and Judah at the hands of the Assyrian and Babylonian invaders.
One cannot miss the point that God was delivering repeated warnings to the kings, leaders and people of both kingdoms over a long period of time. Through a number of His prophets He warned that severe judgments would follow with certainty and precision should the rebellion against Him continue.
God was not angry because his people were involved in some petty, minor and mischievous sins. One does not need to go beyond reading Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel to notice that God’s judgments visited Israel and Judah due to their offensive lifestyles. Demonic and promiscuous idolatry blended with syncretism, attack on human dignity, abuse, injustice and oppression of the week and poor prompted God to act severely.
The list of relational and social sins, which were spiritual sins too, was a lengthy one. It included “shedding of innocent blood”, “oppression of alien (immigrants, refugees)”, “mistreatment of fatherless and widows”, “acting wickedly”, as well as pursuing corruption, sacrificing their own children to demons, and leading unapologetically promiscuous lifestyle … (Ezekiel 22).
Previously I used to read those Old Testament passages somewhat academically, by distancing myself from a possibility of any real personal impact. But today, as I am observing the rapid and global growth of moral, social, political and religious decadence, the judgment passages of the Old Testament are forcefully coming to life. They are no longer only some ancient tragedy stories removed far from having anything to do with our days. They are coming to life as the harbingers of our own days, very much paralleled in the apocalyptic pages of the Book of Revelation.
Most of us do not like to talk about it, but the day of big reckoning is coming, fast and certain. The sins of our age and civilization are no less grave than those so graphically painted by the Old Testament prophets. And just as God could not tolerate the sins of the ancient civilizations forever, He will not tolerate the sins of our generation much longer. “Once more”, quotes the author of Hebrews the Old Testament prophets, “I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens” Hebrews 12:26. My friends, this warning is not a metaphor. And this time it will not happen at the hands of the world superpowers, but by the mighty hand of the King of kings, the Lord Jesus himself.
Contrary to the musings of liberal interpreters of the Scriptures, who would like to suggest that the final stage of the Kingdom of God will be established gradually, by the means of some kind of friendly spiritual evolution, the coming of the King of kings will be shockingly sudden and obvious, terrifying and beautiful at the same time. This will be the final act of liberation, as well as the final act of judgment of which the Old Testament judgments were only a type. From that day forward everything will be radically different. The power brokers of today, exposed or hidden, will have no say whatsoever in the shaping of this new world. “There’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend” (Bob Dylan).
Under the leadership of the Zagreb Malesnica Baptist Church and its minister Mihal Kreko, and with help of the visiting pastor Reza Ansari from Vienna, Austria, a group of 30 Iranian refugees established the first organized Iranian Christian Community, HAMGAM in Zagreb, Croatia. The Iranian Christian Community in Zagreb conducts all its weekly church services, Bible classes and prayer meetings in Farsi language.
Baptist Church Zagreb, Malesnica, with the Iranian Christian Community in Zagreb has embraced a group of Iranian refugees in Croatia, who are at this time waiting to have their asylum requests approved by the Croatian Government. All of them left Iran due to the life threatening religious persecution directed against the Iranian citizens who left Islam and embraced the Christian faith. They all became Christians, or sympathizers of Christian faith by their own decision, many of them before they left Iran.
Although Iran is a signatory member to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which obliges the Iranian Government to guarantee its citizens the full scope of “freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, including “freedom to change one’s religion or belief” (article 18), Iranian government punishes the Christian converts with persecution, social and religious ostracizing, severe prison sentencing and torture, and frequently by sentencing them to death. Although the Iranian government claims that it has granted the freedom of religion to its citizens, numerous international documents, released by a number of religious freedom and human rights agencies claim otherwise. They prove that serious and life threatening forms of persecution follow all discovered or suspected converts to Christianity.
Pastor Mihal Kreko, whose local Baptist church has become a spiritual home to the Iranian refugees in Zagreb, said: “Croatian Constitution and the Croatian laws are among the most democratic legislations in Europe, and as such they are fully qualified to respond affirmatively to all requests for international protection, including those made on the ground of religious persecution.” He added: “My church community empathizes with all refugees who are seeking help from Croatia at this time regardless of the religious identity of the asylum applicants. However, we recognize that the Iranian refugees who have embraced the Christian faith are in the unique situation to be misunderstood by the Croatian authorities and disqualified as legitimate asylum seekers. Should this happen their lives would certainly be put in serious jeopardy. We hope, pray and are doing whatever is in our power to see that no one in our Iranian Christian Community is sent back to what would amount to certain persecution, even death sentencing for most of them.”
In addition to providing a spiritual sanctuary for the Iranian refugees in Croatia, the
Zagreb Malesnica Baptist Church is offering the refugees various means of practical assistance. They include social help, humanitarian care, and legal and integrational assistance in forms of the Croatian language and cultural integration classes. Also, members of the church are readily opening their homes to refugees, and by doing so they are surrounding them with so much needed warmth and friendship. Moreover, the CBA – Croatian Baptist Aid provides additional support to the refugees in the care of the Zagreb Malesnica Baptist Church.
Today there are exists 200 HAMGAM Iranian Christian worshiping communities across Europe.
Mihaela Kovacs, Romania, Director of a faith based ministry Fundatia Beraca (Blessings Foundation) and a member of the ROM - Renewing Our Minds core leadership group in Europe, has been for a long bringing joy, hope and healing in the lives of the young Roma population in Romania. The latest project of her ministry focuses also on building bridges between the Romanian Roma communities and other people in Romania. Recently she has been sharing her experiences at many places in the US, including Houston TX. On there way to the Houston Intercontinental Airpot Airport she agreed to share the highlights from her most recent story of how a simple playground project can bring different different people and church communities together in their desire to bring joy and hope into the lives of the Romanian Roma children. Mihaela Kovacs and her Beraca Ministry are true Ambassadors for a Better World. Mihaela too shares a Roma background. Time: 13:37.
Blog Author and Producer
Tihomir Kukolja, born in Slavonska Pozega, Croatia in 1954. Studied, lived and worked in Yugoslavia, Croatia, United Kingdom, Australia and the US. Educated in theology, communications, and radio journalism. Worked as a church pastor, media professional, radio producer and presenter, journalist, religious liberty activist, and reconciliation and leadership development activist. Lives in Baytown TX, USA with professional ties with Seattle WA, USA and Fuzine, Croatia. Currently serves as the Executive Director, Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation (Forum), and Director of Renewing Our Minds (ROM) initiative.