Our Vrbas Mission Trip
You have just read Elfriede’s story – the circle of her life’s journey, from Vrbas through Hungary, Germany, and America and then the special opportunity in the summer of 2003 to return to Vrbas.
In Eph 2:10, Paul tells us;
“For we are what he has made us,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”
When I read this passage before joining the mission trip to Vrbas with Elfriede, the phrase “fellowship in mission” came to mind.
It helped convince me that I was to go. Now, that I am back, the phrase “fellowship in mission” captures what this trip embodied for me.
It was a special time.
I returned home heavier in body - because the food was great and plentiful - but lighter in spirit,
with swollen feet but humbled outlook and with a confused body clock but
an awe of God’s perfect timing in all things.
Most of all, I felt the loving presence of the Holy Spirit among us –I felt a very strong sense of God’s guidance and of being brothers and sisters together in Christ,
of being God’s royal children, of being a part of His plan. As the Bible says in Esther 4:14 “… Who knows?
Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this."
We had a great group. Dr Robert Hunt, our wonderful leader and the pastor of the English Speaking Congregation of the United Methodist Church in Vienna, five terrific teens, and a delightful young couple (all from Robert’s congregation) and the two of us commissioned and sent forth from First United Methodist Church, Hendersonville, North Carolina. There were 10 in our group picture when we left Vienna and
a group picture of 25 one day in Vrbas with so many others that were not in that day’s photo but were still a part of the mission and of the family of Christ. God surely does increase.
The trip over and back was uneventful. Elfriede (pronounced El-free-dah) and I were met in the heat at the airport in Vienna and after an overnight stay met up with the mission group and drove through Austria, Hungary and into Serbia to arrive in Kisać (Key-sahch) around 8 hours later. We did make a brief and emotional stop to see the church on our way through Vrbas (Verrr-bas). Pronunciation note – almost every “a” has the “ah” sound.
We received a warm and joyful welcome everywhere we went, had delicious meals and comfortable accommodations. The heat was the only real draw back but we didn’t let it stop us.
Unfortunately the Vrbas church was not ready for us when we arrived and there was some concern that we would not have the chance to work there at all.
However, this gave us the opportunity for other activities, discoveries, and learning experiences. We went to Novi Sad (remember “ah”) where we saw the old fort and museum, the bombed out bridges over the Danube River, walked some city streets and through the outdoor market. We were accompanied by Rev. Ana Palik-Kuncak, the pastor from Kisać as well as the group of seminary students on summer break who had greeted us in Kisać the evening before.
We were well fed and refreshed by Ana’s sister at the United Methodist Church complex in Novi Sad where she lives and which also houses the District Superintendent’s office where she works.
We had our “plans” - tunnel vision of the purpose of our trip but we continually put it in God’s hands. He had a plan as well and of course it was infinitely better. I had an exciting awareness, a privileged glimpse for a moment in time of the ‘big picture”, of God’s tapestry, of His plan for all His people - for His creation – one body in Christ.
The next day we went the other direction stopping at the church in Vrbas to meet the current pastor’s wife and other members of the congregation, to take “before” pictures, and to evaluate the situation. We drove on to another nearby small town, Feketić to visit a United Methodist summer camp. They were having a week long camp for elementary children from all around Serbia and the next week it would be a camp experience for the teen age group.
We had the opportunity to tour the facility, see some of the activities and eat lunch with the happy crowd. We were also able to spend time with the directors and some of the counselors. Because of the heat we took advantage of every chance to stop and eat ice cream.
At the ice cream parlor in Feketić we were served by Elvira, a lovely young Christian mother.
It was exciting to see and meet Christians of all ages in many places.
We met Seminary students in Kisać and some new Christians. We had the opportunity to visit several activities and locations and learn that the United Methodist Church is enthusiastic and growing in Serbia, even in these struggling times.
They are so positive, determined and hopeful that you can’t help but love them and become caught up in their energy and want to do whatever you can to help them and their churches.
What a privilege to meet with these special children of God, our brothers and sisters in Christ and to have our faith confirmed and energized and to also encourage and energize them with the message that people around the world know about them, care about them and want to help support their endeavors and growth.
The next two days we did work at the church - we worked hard in the heat and the dust. As always in rebuilding, things got worse, much worse before they will get better but it was invigorating for us and the congregation of Vrbas to see the process actually begun.
We came from near and far, from Serbia, Slovenia, Austria, Great Britain, China and America.
We prayed and sang,
worshiped and worked and witnessed in four languages – English, German, Serbian, and Cantonese or maybe five languages if you include the language of music or maybe six languages counting body language –
the language of doing,
of action and example,
the language of smiles and hugs. Even when we didn’t understand the words with our minds we understood with our hearts. It was beautiful and good and right.
We listened to God with our hearts and put aside our daily schedules,
so we could serve and work and worship together.
In these situations, communication was always interesting, and sometimes a challenge and it required patience as the interpreter or speaker searched for the right word or phrase. Many times it was a team effort.
The three main languages used were Serbian, German and English. Sometimes we could communicate directly or through one person that could interpret for us and occasionally it took two interpreters to go, for example, from Serbian to German and then German to English. There was a lot of calling for the person with the needed language, much hand gesturing and body language and many nods and smiles.
From a distance Vrbas Methodist Church looks serene
and lovely but up close
you can see
the wear and tear of the years and weather.
Up close you can see the damage done by rocks and graffiti.
Inside it is worse.
Inside is a disheartening testament to neglect –
peeling paint and broken windows,
some boarded or bricked up to protect what is left from vandals,
there are warped wooden floors, huge piles of pigeon droppings, and gaping holes in the roof.
But, because there is faith, there is hope and because there is hope, there is good news.
We did not go to Vrbas to witness the deterioration and destruction. We went to join in the rebirth of a church. We went to help a young “house church” reclaim a house of worship. We went to claim and answer Jeremiah 29:11-14 “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,
I will let you find me, says the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD,
and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
Elfriede -her father – Pastor Adolph Drumm 1937-44 Holding Amy – whose father is the current Pastor Daniel Noskovsky Standing Maria and younger sister Tamara – father Pastor Darko Vika who began the gathering of the “flock” for the new beginning of the Vrbas church.
In Vrbas, He gathered us from many nations and He brought Elfriede back for a unique homecoming and time of worship. In her words “It was awesome.”
Macedonia is sort of “right around the corner” from Vrbas and we heard it mentioned often in conversation.
You could almost expect a letter of encouragement from the Apostle Paul to arrive any day. Saying - “All who are with me send greetings to you.
Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with all of you.” As in Titus 3:15. And maybe continuing he would say - “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.” As he wrote in Romans 1:8.
Then Paul might say- “We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and
labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3. And especially - “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of everyone of you for one another is increasing.
Therefore we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith during all your persecutions and the afflictions that you are enduring.” 2 Thessalonians 1:2-4.
In fact they are under persecution in Vrbas. Rocks were thrown at the church again the night between the first and second day that we worked there. The church is amazingly accused of being a satanic cult.
Seven years ago (and the number seven has such significance in God’s Word) - Seven years ago seeds were planted and sprouting in the hearts of Darko, Zdenka, Suzanne, and others when the passage. "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” from Luke 12:32 was painted above the windows in their meeting room. God is still harvesting today and we planted more seeds which will be harvested in the days and years to come.
We planted seeds, not in the ground but in hearts and minds. Seeds of friendship and fellowship, seeds of love and laughter, seeds of energy and encouragement, and most of all seeds of hope for a future.
Darko Vika was the “circuit rider” pastor that gathered that first “little flock” in 1996. He went weekends for 2 years and then was assigned to live and serve there for 3 years. In 2001 Daniel Naskovski was assigned to the Vrbas church and Darko was assigned to another church but one of the many serendipities of our trip was that we met Darko at the children’s camp and again working in Vrbas. After returning home I wrote to him and part of his response was:
“IF I have to be honest, my heart is great for Vrbas Methodist church ….. the situation in Serbia is not very good as you saw. Our people is very hospitable and will give you all they can….”
As Elfriede and I experienced, they certainly are very hospitable they give very generously of their time and talents in volunteer work which built the Methodist complex in Kisać where we stayed, and this man and woman power is available in Vrbas as well.
They have little money but they also gave very generously of their possessions. The beds we slept on and much of the other furniture in our rooms and the gathering areas were family pieces donated to the church. The cleaning and maintenance is done mostly by volunteers. BUT to repair Vrbas, they must have the materials to work with and that takes money which they don’t have. As Darko said -
….we can not have all this because the situation in Serbia is not very good as you saw. Our people is very hospitable and will give you all they can but, we as a country are now in a period of transformation from a communist to the democratic country. More then 80 % of factories are not working. The situation is very hard, even for us as ministers. We depend of west and live with 160 dollars per month. Usually, people work on the field through the summer but the winter is the hardest time.”
While Elfriede and I were there in the summer of 2003, the heat and drought added to their hardships.
It certainly was a wonderful privilege to be a part of this special time in Elfriede’s life as well as being part of the rebirth of this Methodist church in Vrbas. I also felt a sense of carrying on my own family’s tradition in missions.
There was certainly a lot of work yet to be done when we left.
Another mission team of 11 from the US arrived Sept 20, 2003 and worked for 2 weeks taking off more of the old plaster.
Hopefully the new roof will protect it from further deterioration and money will come in for the next stage of rebuilding. Other mission groups will also be participating. The work will progress as money is available for each stage. This church is on the National Register of Historical Buildings and so we hope that means that it will be rebuilt as close to the lovely original design as possible.
I wanted to show you the places we saw, I wanted to share the many special experiences that we had, but most of all, I wanted you to meet and love these people.
These are beautiful people in tough times. Each of these faces that you see is a beautiful individual with a wonderful story – stories of searching and prayer,
waiting and action, hope and determination,
persecution and persistence, faith and God’s love.
It was exciting to participate in this - building for Christ and outreach opportunity. Our prayers for safe travel, for new friends, for joy in service, that Christ be present among us, that God’s love is witnessed, His peace attained and His will be done, were certainly answered for our trip. Now we have additional prayers.
They need our prayers but they desperately need our financial support.
You can be an answer to their prayers. You can be a co-worker with them for Christ. Please prayerfully consider what you can give to help rebuild this church, how you can share your love with these people and support God’s work.
Going back to the Apostle Paul - in Acts 16:9-10 it says: “During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.”
Ana, Daniel, Suzanne, Zdenka, Darko, Dajen, Jelena, Marina, they and many others are saying “Come over to Serbia and help us.” May we see the vision and cross over to help them.
God Lives and works through us.
Thanks be to God.
We returned safely home after a wonderful experience on our mission trip to Serbia. We thank everyone for their support and their prayers for safe travel and a successful mission trip which were answered.
Sponsor a person, a pastor, a family, or project, set up an education fund for a child, supply funds for Sunday school materials or computer software, musical instruments or equipment, or art supplies, send someone (child or counselor) to camp or someone to seminary, rebuild the Evangelical Methodist Church in Vrbas, help Darko buy a van and musical equipment, join a short term mission team going to Serbia or anywhere. There are many ways to help.
There is a map of the area where we were on this website. http://www.multimap.com/wi/559.htm