Cultural Perspectives: United States on Montenegro

The second post in the Cultural Perspectives series is written by Vicki Surbatovich.  Vicki is an inspiration in godly obedience, patience and hospitality.  I have learnt so much and experienced so many great times with Vicki and her family.

Nearly eighteen years ago we moved from sunny Southern California to Montenegro with the desire to bring the gospel, the living Word, the Good News of Jesus Christ, to this land.  We moved to a city with no evangelical church, no known evangelical believers, and no welcoming committee.    From being part of an active, loving, living fellowship, we were abruptly  on our own, a lone Christian family desiring to love and serve the Lord, and we knew we’d  experience both delights and hardships and learn many lessons.

One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned (and am still learning) is to view this life, this ministry, these years from God’s perspective:  Do not despise the day of small beginnings. (Zechariah 4:10a, NLT).  As much as we would love to be able to report that as the Word is being preached faithfully, thousands have come to know the Lord and are being added to the church daily, we can’t: That is not what God is doing at this time and in this place; that is not reality.

This is reality:   After all these years, there are only five registered evangelical churches in the whole country.  When we hold our yearly All-Montenegro Believers meeting, where believers from every church and those believers scattered about the country join together for a day of worship and fellowship, there are fewer than two hundred people gathering.   Think about it:  Fewer than two hundred in the whole country after twenty years of ministry.  Pretty pitiful, at least by man’s standards.

But we do not lose heart, we do not despise the day of small beginnings because the verse continues for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin. (Zechariah 4:10b, NLT)

In the beginning, for years, we hosted all the Bible studies and meetings at our house—there was nowhere else to have them.  Now we are able to go from house to house as different families host our mid-week meeting and our Sunday services are held in rented facilities.  Back then, we were the only Christian family (husband, wife, and children) in the fellowship—all others were divorced, widowed, or married to an unbeliever.  Now there are several young families, committed to the Lord, raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  Formerly, we were the worship leaders: my husband strummed the guitar and I led the singing—he was the only one who knew how to play and I was the one who knew the songs.  Now our singing is led by gifted, godly worship leaders.  We are blessed beyond our greatest imaginings.

All this is the LORD’S doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.  Do not despise the day of small beginnings for this is the day that the Lord has made;  let us rejoice and be glad in it.

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Cultural Perspectives: Middle East on UK

The first guest blog in the Cultural Perspectives series is by a lady originally from the Middle East but now living in Britain:

For a person like me, who became a Christian from another religion and hated religiosity, it was difficult to find the right church that doesn’t make people run away!

I personally like Charismatic churches which are alive and where you can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in the atmosphere.  Also you can see the action of the Holy Spirit and the lives of people changed.  Also, the way of worshiping God is so important for me and a prayerful atmosphere.  Good preaching and teaching are important too.  When I lived in Germany I went to some churches that were Charismatic and I loved to be in that atmosphere.

However, the first time I visited a church in the UK I didn’t have any idea about churches here.  I chose the church because it was near my home, so I went there and found the people were really friendly and kind.  I only attended that church for couple of months because it was not what I had expected.

I tried to find out about other churches and how they differed so I attended some others but none of them were what I was used to.  I spoke to a lady who was from that first church and she kindly helped me and didn’t get upset about my decision to leave their church.

She sent me to the church that I am now a member of.  The first time you experience something is very important for someone, and the first time I went to the new church there was a lady who was so friendly and accepting.  She came to me and started to speak to me.  She touched my heart and I felt like I was at home!

I think it was God’s plan for me to find this church which now is my home and family!  Before that day I was so desperate and was thinking I couldn’t settle in the UK because church for me is like my home and it’s sooo important for me to be in the right one.  I am glad and thankful for being a member of this church and they bless me a lot.  Their kindness and mercy touch my heart, in fact they are good examples of Christians who I can learn from them.

Because I was a Muslim before, I had lots of fear that maybe God would leave me or get angry with me but by attending church in the UK I’ve learnt even more about our God and his mercy than before.  I feel free now from all of those lies which religion and society in my home country taught me!

Also, I went to some christian conferences which built me up and I’ve learnt a lot about being a community in Christianity.  I am still learning and love this adventurous life which Jesus gave me.  Every day living with him is like a gift and I love to find out what’s waiting for me in it.  Sometimes I can’t wait or be patient to find out his plan for my life but I trust in him so I know anything that happened to me was for a reason and I let him work on me to become that shape which he wants me to be!

Grace Church Wolverhampton

18 months ago we were part of a team of Christians that were beginning to ‘plant’ a new church in Wolverhampton – today we had a massive celebration to mark that over the last year and a half we have transitioned from a church plant into a fully fledged church.

In that time Grace Church Wolverhampton has seen many people from the local community impacted by their experience of God – people have been set free from the things that have trapped them, many have encountered God and been baptised, we get a good number worshiping together on a Sunday morning, have seven midweek groups meeting across the Black Country and we have seen healings from illness and injury.

Personally it has been a very positive experience and I have learnt so much – it has not been easy but it is amazing how you can grow and develop through difficult experiences.  Our church leaders, Anthony & Gill Henson, have so much to teach and we are learning how to plant churches from a couple of experts!   I’m really looking forward to seeing what the next 18 months has in store.

Kids and Church Planting

Tim Simmonds has blogged about Planting Churches with Ninja Children.  It reminded me how much I take for granted how versatile and giving kids can be when it comes to the disruption and lack of routine that come with church planting.

It is a real privilege having our children share the church planting journey with us.  It is inspiring to have them with us at midweek group, they are great company in the car and in general it is simply nice to do be doing something productive and worthwhile together.  It also gives children great opportunities to improve their social skills as they meet new people and gain an understanding of the wider world – Anya regularly interacts with people from all sorts of cultures and is confident talking to with people with disabilities and addictions.

But there is a cost that church planting demands of children.  Sometimes it requires a change of school and they won’t get to hang out and make friends with as many children their own age as they might at bigger churches.  We are told time and again that children, and especially babies, need routine but when you’re taking the kids along to evening meetings and out all day on a Sunday then a routine can be impossible to keep!

Nevertheless, all these experiences do help a child to learn resilience and interdependence – essential skills for life.  I was wondering though, and would welcome input from those who may have had similar experiences, what areas or experiences would it be helpful for us to be particularly purposeful about providing for our two children?  Is there anything that it would be wise to put in place to make sure they don’t miss out on any specific area of spiritual or social growth?

Dad

I’m really gutted that Dad hasn’t been selected to be part of the Olympic Torch Relay next year.  I think the organisers have really missed a trick here.  If it comes to ranking people of this nation who are most appropriate and deserving to carry the torch surely Dad should have come somewhere near the top – he has that perfect mix of being a former Olympian and having devoted his life to helping, supporting and encouraging children and young people.

Does a day go by without Dad taking a coaching session, or teaching the kids from church, or running a community group, or spending ALL his spare time planning these things and reading up how to do them better?  No!  And that doesn’t even include the day job.

I think it would have been fitting for Dad to carry the torch but it wasn’t to be so I just thought I’d indulge myself and honour him on my blog instead.

A Very Proud Son.

What does the Sabbath mean for us today?

No answers just hoping for a little discussion and a few ideas….

The fourth commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy…”  It continues to say that God’s people should work for six days and must rest on the seventh day of each week.

But what does the Sabbath mean for us today?  As a society we are a long way from having a communal sitdown as the nation of Israel would have had each week.  But how can the Church, the people of God, remember the Sabbath?  How do we keep it holy?  And what is the Sabbath day anyway – Saturday?  Sunday?  Something else entirely?

Any thoughts…?

Montenegro News

Seems like I’ve been dead busy for weeks now.  My creative juices run weakly, energy is low and social opportunities abound.  This all leads to a lack of thoughtful blogging.  So I’ll just give you a quick summary of what has been going on.

Norwegian and British Christmas came and went, then there was the task of distributing 4000 Christmas Boxes donated through Operation Christmas Child/Samaritan’s Purse from the UK.  It is a different perspective to see the issues surrounding getting them to the children who would enjoy them the most.  The project was headed up here by student worker Danijel who worked tirelessly amidst politics and harassment to get the packages out – all Rada and I really did was take two car loads of shoe boxes to Rada’s dad’s old school up in the village.  What an incredible experience and warm reception!  They treated us like honoured guests and gifted us with a book of the history of the school and fed and watered us very satisfactorily at their end of year feast.

Rada giving out shoe box presents sent from the UK

We have also hosted a New Years party, a family of visiting Norwegians and my old friend Bojan.  I hadn’t seen him for over 3 years but it was one of those precious friendships that takes off where it left of and then deepens immediately.  An amazing time but sadly Bojan is going back to Serbia today.

Mathilda, Bojan & Emil at New Years - they're all taller than me

Yesterday was Christmas in Montenegro.  I managed to pace myself better than my last Christmas here when, after 5 visits before 1pm, I felt a bit like Dawn French in the Christmas episode of the Vicar of Dibley….remember?  So was pretty exhausted yesterday but at least I could move without….well I’ll spare you the details.

Tomorrow is our Christmas service followed by lunch together at the church.  Looking forward to being with people and celebrating the birth of our saviour.