I hope you have (and still are) enjoying this Christmas. I hope you are having blessed and fun time with your family and friends. This being a time of giving and sharing (ideally our lives and hearts before the gifts), allow me to share a little story on sharing that we had taken a part in. More concretely, it was about sharing/giving away Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child gifts – or as we simply call them, the “shoeboxes”. However, there is something that made this distribution different than many that we’d done in the past and it is that it happened in the coastal town of Ulcinj to the large group of mostly non-Roma children.
I like to think that this endeavor came out of the initiative that had been launched a year and a half ago when 5 of us pastors of Montenegrin churches got together as a sign of unity, demonstrating determination to work hard on bringing the Body of Christ in the country together. The strange thing was that as small as it was, the Body had been scattered around, with its parts being strangers to one another – nothing like what the Body should be like. With this being the case, we all had felt a need to re-connect, re-build our relationships, fix what was wrong, heal our hurts and move forward together.
This had not come easy. I remember our first meetings as being almost chaotic, each one of them starting in almost tensed atmosphere, with conversation switching from one topic to another. Only then it had become so obvious that the years of semi-isolation have had their share on all of us and the baggage we all have been carrying was so huge that it had to be unloaded gradually. Also, it became obvious that we should not have had to carry it alone. It took us a couple of over 3-hours long meetings for emotions and streams of thoughts calm down and we were actually able to begin dealing with new things and start leaving the past behind us.
Eventually, we felt the Lord is leading us towards organizing a meeting that would gather, besides us, also the leaders of all recognized ministries in Montenegro, as well as the missionary families that are now serving in the country. This meeting that took place on December 11 felt really good to (I believe) everyone. The result of this meeting was that in spiritual realm some mountains have been moved and I believe the result of this is only to be seen and felt soon.
Anyway, one of the concrete thing that came out of December 11th meeting was the invitation by Bukurije Nikqi, a missionary and church planter from Kosovo who serves in Ulcinj for last 7 years. She asked us to help her group distribute the shoeboxes in local elementary school and a small refugee camp slightly outside of the town. While she asked for only 2 guys to join her, we strongly felt that we should go there as a larger group. The gut feeling that we have had appeared true. The group from her sending church from Kosovo could not have come, so when 8 of us showed up it was an answer to her prayers. Once again, God demonstrated that He solves our problems before we are aware of it. Will we have faith to see it?
Having said ALL THIS, our trip to Ulcinj took place on Friday, December 22nd. We got there around 10 h after hour and a half long drive and after some time of worshiping, praying and fellowship, we went to the school and gave away shoeboxes to over 400 pupils. Their responses were amazing! The expression on their faces, cheerfulness, curiosity….all of that was simply priceless. This act of kindness spoke loudly to school teachers and other staff. We were very happy to witness creation of trust between Bukurije as a local church leader and school staff despite the fact it is almost impossible to have ANY religious activity in elementary and secondary schools according to Montenegrin legislation. It is our prayer that this relationship will grow into a real partnership and that Bukurije and local believers will be able to find creative ways to reach them and next generations for Christ.
In this particular event, our group really had something to offer. Besides shire numbers and physical strength to carry boxes around, our guys – Bashkim, Vllaznim, Petrit, Tasim, Besim, Egzon and Albijan (and myself) – had to offer their language skills and connect to the children and school staff on that level. Ulcinj, being right next to the Albanian border, is predominantly populated by the ethnic Albanians. Our guys, all of them Albanian speakers, were able to connect both with teachers and children on a whole new, deeper level. Together with this, long years of experience in shoeboxes distribution that we have was of a great help to local church’s team.
Besides all this, last Friday I witnessed something else, something that brings a powerful blow to well-accommodated stereotypes – the non-Roma children were receiving gifts from the Roma. It was a powerful image demonstrating the powerful work of God in the lives of our men, presenting His Kingdom in the best possible way. He is the One who can bring together what could not be further apart in this fallen world. On the other hand, our men enjoyed it a lot. They were rejoicing together with teachers and children, being received with warm welcome and gratefulness. The interaction that happened that day was far more and deeper than just shoeboxes.
Later in the day, we went to the small refugee camp, with only several families living there. There we have learned again how small the world is, especially in Roma and Ashkali-Egyptian circles. Some of our team members found their relatives among them, other found old friends and neighbors they haven’t seen in ages, etc. Again, our presence was very helpful for local church to set their foot in the door of that community. The spiritual conversations we have started there need to be followed up as we have seen once again many interested and open people.
Please pray that the local church group will be able to do it and that this ministry opportunity will not be wasted. Moreover, please pray with us as we are also about to start preparation for distribution of shoeboxes in Konik and other places where we have contacts. Pray that we do it in the most godly and effective way, affecting as many lives as possible. Pray that the cooperation between different Christian groups in Montenegro continues as it obviously is a “win-win” for everyone, providing necessary resources to those who need them and yet giving fantastic ministry, learning and life-transforming opportunities to serve to the others. Please pray that we allow God to use these experiences to work even deeper in our hearts and model us. Pray for God to show us more and better ways to reach peoples of Montenegro.
In His service,