Pozdravi iz Hrvatske! (Greetings from Croatia!)
The longer we are here, the more we are falling in love with this country, the people, and the privilege we have to be here with them. Over and over again, Emily and I remark to eachother how great an honor is it to be living alongside the believers at Calvary Chapel Čakovec, gleaning from them and from Pastor Damir. We have front row seats to the very neat things the Lord is doing in Croatia, and it is evident He has directed our steps here.
Last time we sent out an update, I mentioned that we were working on the siding for the church building. I must say, Croatians certainly know how to work, eat, fellowship, and get the job done! We completed the whole building in just two weeks (which is very quick), and it looks great. It was amazing to see all the men and women from the church who volunteered to help finish the church building that they built themselves only a few years prior. There is a huge sense of ownership and community as people gather here.
Right around the time the building was finished, Ron and Jenny Sanchez (Emily’s pastor and his wife) came to visit us. We spent a couple of days in Čakovec, as they recovered from jetlag, and on Monday morning, we headed out to the Calvary Chapel conference center in Millstatt, Austria, for a five day annual church retreat. Ron was the guest speaker for the retreat and taught through the book of James. The time was very refreshing physically and spiritually for all who were able to attend. I know many people were encouraged, convicted, blessed, etc., and one man even accepted the Lord. His family had been coming to the church for several years, and he attended the conference to spend a week of vacation with them. On the last day, he shared that through Ron’s teachings, all the questions that he previously had were answered and nothing more held him back from being giving his life to Christ. Since the retreat, he has been consistently coming to church, and you can even see the change in his face. He has new life!
During our week together, eating, having coffee, studying God’s Word, the time was richly filled with getting to know other people in the church. At one time, I had the opportunity to sit with one of the believers here, who is around my age, and hear his testimony. He grew up in an unbelieving family, with the exception of his Baptist grandmother, who once gave him a Bible. As he got older, he became heavily involved with worldly things. Somehow (I can’t remember the exact details) Damir and Božica knew him and were inviting him to church. At first, he kept avoiding it, until eventually, due to various circumstances, he broke down. He visited the church and immediately noticed how warm and friendly everyone was. Even though he was a stranger, he didn’t feel like one. That night, we went home, and knew that he wanted Jesus in his life. He prayed, and said that when he woke up the next morning, everything was different, and his life was changed from that day on. Hearing his heart and seeing this transformed man before me, hungering for righteousness, desiring the Lord and His Word, really impacted me. It further encouraged me in the ways the Lord is working here.
Our time with Ron and Jenny was very sweet as well. We were blessed to have them and were greatly impacted by the words and advice they shared with us over the many car rides and conversations. Thank you to all of you at South Hill Calvary Chapel for sharing them with us for this short time! Words cannot express how much it meant to us to have them here, physically with us, encouraging us in the things of the Lord. Though it was sad seeing them leave, our hearts were strengthened and excited to continue on in all the Lord has for us here, and we knew they would be as much of a blessing to the others they would visit. We know that they would not have been able to come, were it not for your love and support.
Since we arrived back to Čakovec, we have continued with our language classes, and are continuing to fit into the pace of life here. Our language skills are improving a lot, which is very encouraging, and we, thankfully, haven’t made too many embarrassing mistakes while using it yet! For humor’s sake, one specific example of this happened one evening after church. Someone asked how old I (Ben) was, and trying to be funny (keyword: trying), I told them my age, and continued to say, “Without my beard, I only look 14 years old.” However, my joke was only met by puzzled looks, and then Damir burst out laughing. I had accidentally said the word for “hill” instead of the word for “beard” (brada vs. brdo). I don’t know if I will ever live that one down. People still ask me how my “hill” is doing. Anyways, since we moved here, we’ve gone from pretty much only being able to talk about the weather, to actually having short conversations, and we can understand significantly more. Generally, as long as we know the context, we can get by for a few minutes with what we know, until the conversation veers into too much unknown vocabulary. But, it is great progress! We still have a lot to learn as the grammar is very complicated, and almost every city in Croatia speaks a different dialect as opposed to the standard language. By God’s grace, we are improving, and it is comforting knowing that in His sovereignty, He is daily bringing the right events, situations, people, etc., to give us the tools He knows we will need in the future.
This Sunday is the church’s annual baptism, and so far, about ten people are planning on being baptized, including the man who accepted the Lord at the conference. A couple of days ago, Damir and I drove to Ljubljana, Slovenia, to pick up Bill Gallitan, who will be visiting until Monday. On the way back, they were reminiscing about the first baptism they did as a church, which Bill was present for 20 years ago. I was thinking to myself, now 20 years later, he is here again, able to enjoy with Damir all the Lord has done in that time. It is exciting to see that, take part in it, and wonder about all the possibilities the future holds. We ask that you keep the baptism in your prayers. Please pray that the Lord would move on others’ hearts to be baptized as well, and that he would use this time as a testimony of His power to give eternal life.
Laboring for the same King with you all,
-Ben and Emily