by Andy & Faye Mayo
Andy and Faye helped found the Belgrade Bible School, and continue to support its work.
In 1991, as civil war exploded in southeastern Europe, an Oak Hall coach, loaded with humanitarian aid, headed into war-torn Yugoslavia. After that first harrowing visit, we returned time after time with coaches and trucks loaded with supplies that had been lovingly prepared by many across the UK.
Every time we shared these gifts in refugee camps or sports stadia, we carefully explained, alongside local followers of Jesus Christ, the message of the gospel. As we shared the good news of Jesus with refugees, a small number expressed a desire to follow Him. When the war finally ended in 1995, we prayed about how we could support them in their newly found faith.
A Bible School Launched
In 1996, prayerfully supported through Echoes of Service and working alongside local Christians, we moved to Serbia to set up a Bible school, where these new believers could be discipled. At this stage, we did not realise that Serbia would become our home for the next decade.
Many Bible teachers travelled out to teach for a week or two of the year-long programme. Through that first year, we studied through the whole Bible. Each week, students and teams headed to refugee camps, to continue to speak of the hope found in Christ. We lived in community, sharing life together.
Church Planters Head Out
As those students graduated, many headed to new locations to plant churches and launch initiatives to further share the message of Jesus. During the second year, as well as visiting refugee camps, we travelled across the region to serve alongside those students who had studied the first year. Consequently, the work gathered momentum year after year.
it is amazing to see how God is building His Church across the region
The Bible School Moves to Belgrade
It was soon clear that although the welcoming, small northern village of Bački Petrovac was a perfect cradle for the beginning of the Bible school, we needed a base in Serbia’s capital city, Belgrade. After years of prayer and research, God wonderfully provided an amazing building for our centre on the edge of Belgrade.
In 2004, after a summer of repairs and renovations carried out by graduates and a team from the Bible school, the ninth generation of students began their studies in the new premises in Belgrade.
Ongoing Blessing & Growth
After several years of serving together, in 2006, Sladjan and Jaroslava began to lead the Bible school team and we returned to the UK. Since then, the work has been fully led by local people.
Former students serve in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. We visit regularly and it is amazing to see how God is building His Church across the region.
Four Stories of Bible School Graduates
Some of the darkest days of the work in the Balkans were during NATO’s bombing in 1999. Throughout that time, some of us questioned, “Is there any future? Has God let go?”
Unknown to us, under such pressure, this was when many began to ask the biggest questions. With his workplace closed, Sladjan took a John’s Gospel that he had been given and began to read it in a field. The person of Jesus Christ whom he met there enthralled him and, after many days, he entrusted his life into the Lord’s hands.
Sladjan began to seek out others who followed Jesus Christ. He became part of a local church and eventually came to study at the Bible school. After graduating, he and his wife, Jaroslava, joined the Bible school team. They were such a blessing that, in 2006, after five years of involvement, they were asked to lead the work.
Through the very circumstances that seemed to indicate that there was no future, God was preparing the future leader of the work and bringing Sladjan to know Himself. What a glorious echo of the sovereignty of God – the God who brings light out of darkness, purpose out of chaos – who came in the person of Jesus and took the most devastating loss to prepare for us the most glorious future!
Vesna and her husband, Nesa, were students in the first year of the Bible school. On graduating, they moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina to begin a church plant in Banja Luka. As that church became established, they moved again to be involved with two more fledgling churches in northern Serbia.
Throughout this time, Vesna became deeply concerned about women in crisis pregnancy situations and the lack of provision for them. Motivated by her Christian faith, that emphasises the dignity and grace extended to all of humanity made in God’s image, she has set up an NGO that provides education for young women and supportive alternatives to abortion, including a refuge centre, guidance towards adoption or support for single parents. Lives have been infused with hope and women have heard about the Lord Jesus.
The work has been so successful that Vesna has been involved in supporting the establishment of a network of such organisations in neighbouring countries.
Drago & Jaroslava
After eight years of hard drug use, Drago’s closest friends said that his only future was to die on the heroin that enslaved him. That was until he met a group of people who claimed to have a similar recent history, yet were now free of drugs. As he pressed them for their story, they explained about Jesus Christ and the liberation He brings.
Soon, as part of a Teen Challenge rehabilitation programme, and growing in his new-found faith and redeemed life, Drago thought of the friends who remained addicted and their ‘inevitable’ destroyed destiny.
After completing rehab and settling into a local church, Drago came to study at the Bible school. As he studied and travelled around the country with the team, he felt a growing conviction that he should spend his life sharing about the One who says, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full…” (Jn 10:10).
Following his studies, Drago moved to Ruma, the town where he had become addicted and to which he had intended never to return, and planted a church. Ten years on and a thriving group is growing around him and his wife Jaroslava, including some of those who had years before taken drugs with Drago.
In the earliest days of the Bible school, while visiting a Romany community, we spent time and shared the message of Jesus with a family who opened their home to us. A little girl, Tamara, listened in from the background and enthusiastically joined in with the children’s songs. Not long after, the Bible school moved to the capital city and we were no longer able to see this family.
Two years ago, Tamara applied to the Bible school. She mentioned how years before she had been a little girl listening in the background to stories of Jesus, told in the heart of her home by the Bible school team as they visited.
She had later come to know Christ when a small group of older people in her village began to pray. Every morning before they went to work, they prayed in the fields for teenagers in their community to meet Jesus. Along with a group of friends, Tamara was one of those who came to faith.
Tamara has now graduated from the Bible school and returned to the village where, years before as a child, she first heard about Jesus. Serving alongside her husband, they are now helping to lead what has become a growing church in that area.
A Call to Prayer
The Church in the countries of former Yugoslavia continues to need much prayer. Despite these stories of blessing, relative to the population, the numbers of those committed to following the Lord Jesus in this region remain small. For each of these cultures, there is an internal conflict of identity that encompasses politics and fundamental ideology, and reflects their recent history.
It would be wonderful if we could continue to pray that, over these next decades, many will put their trust in the risen and victorious Lord Jesus, as they hear of Him from the lips of those who have put their lives into His hands.