Monday, April 8, 2013

Croatia Week #4

This past week we ministered on five different occasions (3 different churches) in the city of Split.  We have been told numerous times that we were the first ones to ever come to Croatia to teach and preach about worship.  I have never experienced such hunger for the deep things of God, as well as the reception to our admonition to cultivate their personal relationship with Christ and to engage with God on a regular one has ever taught them about “lifestyle worship!”

Upon returning from the Island of Hvar, we ministered at a Baptist Church in Split where we were pleasantly surprised by a 4-member Worship Team that sang original Croatian worship songs indigenous to the Dalmatian Coast (the Southwestern Coast of Croatia).  In fact, Dalmatian dogs are born and raised in this area and then relocated to countries around the world!  We were told that they behave nothing like the dogs on Disney’s “101 Dalmatians,” and that they are very hyper and skittish!  I digress. The Baptist Worship Team was excited to see us and we were so impressed with their musicality and heart for worship…we loved the original songs!  Most of the other churches take American songs and translate them, so this was the first church to actually sing all Croatian songs for us.  We were so captivated that we asked them to sing several more so that we could get a video of them singing!

The next day, we went to the Pentecostal Church and met in a standing room only location.  The Worship Leader (a former rock and roll dance champion for Croatia) led us in songs he had written (as well as familiar tunes) and then we had a two-hour time of ministry in teaching them about what God expects from worshippers.  Although the church consisted mostly of those in our age group and much older, there were a number of young men who had recently come to Christ.  They were saved while in prison through the ministry of this church…in fact, they were baptized in the (freezing) Adriatic Sea Sunday morning and are intensely “on fire” for the Lord!  They even invited us to the celebration feast after their baptism, but we had to leave Split and head back to Zagreb to pack our bags and catch our plane for our journey back home tomorrow.

Thursday, April 4th, was our first official day off, so we went to a secluded Seaport Village built around and over Diocletian’s palace along the Adriatic Sea where there were hundreds of souvenir shops and restaurants.  We then spent the entire day Friday with the Worship Leader (Denis Ribic) and his team from Ziva Nada Church…they served as our host church in Split and provided housing with a wonderful couple for the past 5 days.  This was our longest day of ministry in the entire 29 days we were here, and they wanted to know even more when we were done!  Then, on Saturday, all three churches (along with many other guests and visitors), attended our workshop from 9:00am until 1:00 pm, and it was one of the highlights of our time in Croatia…it was an extraordinary time of sharing, worship, and teaching them about their responsibilities as worship leaders/team/and band members, and a great climax to our time of ministry in Croatia!

Our last day was spent singing, playing piano, and preaching at the Ziva Nada, (the largest church in Split). So many grateful people came up to us and with broken English, thanked us for being the first to share what God has to say about worship…no one else had ever been to Split to speak to them on the topic, so we felt encouraged by the Lord that many seeds were planted!  Nearly every church implored us to come back again next year…they even said, “Come back next year and see what a difference we had made in their spiritual walk with God!”

For those of you who prayed for us or supported us financially, your gifts were used to build up the Kingdom by encouraging Croatians to “engage with God” on a daily basis!  We are so grateful to be the ones chosen by God to deliver a message to so many, and we pray that the “seeds” we have sown will not fall on rocky soil; rather, that they would grow and thrive by the power of the Holy Spirit!  AMEN!

Bog te blagoslovia! (God bless you all!)

You will be made rich in every way, so you can be generous on every occasion (II Corinthians 2:11).
Therefore, since through God's mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart (II Corinthians 4:1).

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Croatia Week #3

Grace and I (along with Brenda), were snow bound for two days, in Rijeka (the most Northwestern coastal city in Croatia).  We couldn't get through the mountains, so we enjoyed a nice day of rest, but spent most of the time at McDonalds, one of the few places where you can get Internet! The roads cleared the next day, (although it was still snowing), so we made our way slowly down the coast.  We finally arrived in the seacoast city of Zadar, a city of 75,000 people.  Zadar is over 2,700 years old and has amazing architectural structures dating back to the Roman Empire. 

Zadar was one of the rare opportunities to minister to both Baptist and Pentecostal churches in the same city. However, the two Senior Pastors are close friends and actually rotate preaching in each other’s churches!  We had a combined seminar that included both churches and they are all close friends…what remarkable fellowship! In fact, the day before we came the worship leader from the Baptist church and her team had just won First Place in the national songwriting contest for Christian/Catholic songs and both churches gathered together to celebrate with us at our seminar!  The worship teams were excited to see us and thrilled at the opportunity to learn more about worship…it was an exhilarating experience!

Sibenik (pronounced SHIB-eh-nick), is like a picture out of a magazine, with all of the old homes built on the mountain down into the Adriatic Sea. And although there is an outward beauty, there is an internal darkness as many people are lost inside...the spiritual need here is so great.  Everyone is Catholic in Croatia (except for .05% who are Evangelicals), but the Catholics are not even practicing their religion...only in name. They don't attend mass or even have a personal relationship with Jesus or read the Bible, nor do the priests even discuss it! To many people their religion is “being a good person. Croatia only escaped Communism less than 20 years ago, so the concept of "knowing Jesus" is foreign to most of them, but God is starting to move here in amazing ways. Three churches to which we have been are now so large that they have to construct new buildings! We ministered at two churches, both of which were Pentecostal, and they were elated that we would travel all the way from the U.S. to come to minister to them.  We taught one worship team how to sing harmony and a “new song” to the Lord; the Pastor’s wife was there and heard the difference and was so excited that she could hardly contain herself!  She begged us to spend more time with them, and we were honored to be the ones to help them move to new levels of worship!

We attended a worship service at a house church on the Island of Hvar (uh-VAR), where I spoke on worship after they all sang to the Lord and worshipped freely.  They laughed and applauded when I attempted some Croatian words and they were extremely gracious and friendly. The stone house was a century old building overlooking the sea, but it took us up nearly 250 steps on a “rocky” road that was pitched at nearly 65 degrees!  But, it was worth the effort as the group really reached out and ministered to us!

The next day, we ministered to a Catholic Priest (don Milli) and his youth group; they were captivated by the things we shared and we had the rare opportunity to see the inner workings of the Catholic Church.  It was definitely worth the two-hour ferry ride to get to the Island!

There is a huge void in the spiritual and natural worship of the Lord, yet the Spirit has moved so graciously and powerfully among the people that it has been amazing! They have been so receptive to receiving our ministry and the Lord’s anointing has been so powerful…we know we are at the center of God’s will! In fact, everywhere we go, the pastors and worship leaders have told us that we have come at just the right time!

Though there has been quite a variance in the size and location of churches that we have been to in Croatia, the love for God and passion for worship has remained the same!