Time to read, about 4 to 5 minutes
by Ashley Denton
I’ll never forget one bitter cold night several years ago in Croatia with the Marak* family.
The story begins with a remarkable teenage girl named Nada. Nada was the translator for the event I was participating in. She was the most internationally savvy high school kid I had ever met. I really enjoyed talking with her during breaks to learn more about the Croatian culture and her dreams for the future. One evening her family invited me to their apartment, and after walking several miles through dark and icy roads, I finally arrived at their home. Nada’s father Andelko, welcomed me warmly with a hug but wasn’t able to speak English, so Nada graciously translated our conversations during the whole evening.
We munched on simple salt bread and traditional tea and I especially enjoyed the heat from an old Yugoslavian era furnace as the wind howled outside. As the evening went on, I learned that before the war in 1993, on most evenings people would go down into the city streets and socialize with one another. After the war this cultural norm was lost, and it has taken a long time to rebuild these kinds of neighborly interactions. According to Andelko, after the war the religious and government leaders did not lead the people well toward reclaiming that cultural heritage. Such is the effect of cultural and ethnic conflict as the world watched happened in the Balkans.
After the war ended in the mid to late 1990’s, Croatians would not trust foreigners who came with a message, “you should forgive your enemies”, because they automatically assumed they were sticking up for the other side. So when the American army took a neutral position either side thought America was sticking up for the other side.
Probably the most incredible part of the evening was when Andelko shared his testimony with me.
Andelko was a staunch atheist and a loyal police officer. About three months before the war broke out in the early 1990’s he was driving down the road and saw large numbers of people shouting about why they should go to war against the Serbs. Even though he was an atheist he spontaneously said outloud in his car, “Jesus, Don’t let us go to war!”. After speaking the name of Jesus out loud in that humble prayer, he immediately began to remember a childhood experience of walking by a church and hearing people singing. He was afraid to go inside because of negative things he had heard about protestant Christians. But he kept having the memory, and he could not ignore a stirring desire to go back to that church where he had heard the singing. After a couple months he collected some clothes to donate and took them to the church. He didn’t stay, but just dropped off the clothes and left.
A couple months went by and he took some more clothes to the church. This time he mustered up the courage to talk to a young man. He asked, “What does ‘evangelical’ church mean?” The young man offered to share from the Bible with him, but Andelko said, “No”. He had been told all his life to not let any Christians read the Bible to him because it might make him believe it. Well the guy then said, “Okay, I’ll give you this other small book then”, and gave him a small New Testament. Not knowing it was the Bible, Andelko began to read the book. The next week he came back to church and one of the songs they were singing had the line, “I want to be free from my sin.” Thinking the song was directed to him, he thought to himself, “How did they know I want to be free from my sin?” Soon he received Christ and was baptized the next year. He almost immediately began handing out Bibles to all of his friends from the police department, but they thought he was crazy. Now by the grace of God his whole family believes in Jesus Christ.
When Nada was five years old, Andelko had to send her to Italy for three years to avoid the war. This is the story of many Croatian kids. I can’t imagine how difficult that must have been for the children and their families. But God is redeeming these hardships. For example, Nada is fluent in five languages: Croatian, English, Italian, German, and French. And because of her experiences, she wants to go to school to study international politics. I encouraged her that there is a great need for Christian leaders to get strategically involved in politics and diplomacy.
Lord, I pray that you will provide an opportunity for Nada to prepare her for a future in international relations. May you equip and raise up young people like Nada to be the thought-leaders we so desperately need in positions of leadership among the nations.
*All names have been changed