Mission to Montenegro newsletter

Blog entry for 19 January 2024

January 2024 Mission to Montenegro Newsletter

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"Look to Me, and be saved,
All you ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other."

Is. 45:22

 Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Father!

It's the start of a wonderful New Year!  We are excited about things past and things to come.  Read on to find out more.

In our Sunday morning service,  Stan took us through the first part of John 18,   focusing on Jesus's initiative in meeting the cohort led by Judas to arrest Him, His proclamation of "I am He" and their subsequent prostration before Him, and His willingness to drink the cup of God's wrath on our behalf. What a Savior!
In our evening service, Stan tackled Rev. 13 which describes the beast from the sea, his blasphemies against God and his war against God's people--but only for time. Our God is with His people throughout and His purposes are sure. Soli Deo gloria!

  • Please pray for the ministry of the Word, that we'd be faithful proclaimers of the whole counsel of God.
  • Please for those who hear the Word, whether in person or online, that they may joyfully receive the Word, study it, and come to faith. May we all continue to grow in our love and knowledge of God.

Our Holiday Season:   Last month we asked for prayer regarding our holiday services; we are delighted to share with you how God answered them! 

There is always a lot of coming and going throughout the holiday season starting with the tail end of December and ending a bit after Jan 20th with the commencement of school again.  We paused our evening services for two weeks as both Dec. 31 and Jan. 7 were official holidays.

We were very encouraged to have several visitors for our two Christmas messages—mainly family relatives of church members but also some first-time visitors as well.  Please pray that God would work in their hearts to desire to hear more, learn more, and bow before their Maker.


The tables are set!

It is our regular practice to have a Fellowship Lunch the last Sunday of the month and we kept to that in December even with it falling on New Year’s Eve.  Some years, due to people being away for the extended holidays, we have maybe a dozen people for lunch. This year, though, we (unexpectedly) had more than thirty as all the visiting guests joined in with us.  :-) Our sweet fellowship was a terrific way to end 2023.  

Please pray for our continued unity and like-mindedness as well as for the Lord to add to our numbers!

Chilling and Enjoying Sweet Fellowship after our Feast!


Upcoming Events:

In early February, we and Peter Stonelake (co-elder) will be attending a conference for local MNE pastors (& families) down on the coast.  Along with general mutual encouragement, the conference aims to equip us with practical and prayerful ways to reach the lost in our communities.  Please pray for a fruitful time of learning and putting into practice those ideas suitable for our community.

In mid-February a YWAM team from Norway will be coming to minister for one week in Montenegro.  Due to their large size, they will be housed at a local hotel.  They are eager to engage with the community—seeking to be a blessing to all ages, engaging others through direct witnessing as well as through physical labor.  Please pray that God would help us and the EUS team in particular to connect them to the right people and the right projects.


Lucas, Faith, and baby Uriah

In early March, we are anticipating the arrival of the Henegar Family!  They are coming as long-term missionaries but will begin with a 3-year period here in Niksic as active members of our local church in order to learn the language, understand the culture, and solidify a vision for future ministry. 

We, as a church, are now beginning the process of scouting out a place for them to rent.  Most rentals are found through word of mouth, not from advertising.  Please pray for the Henegars as they finish up their stateside obligations, and for us to locate a suitable place for them to rent (which requires a landlord able to provide proof of legal ownership as well as a written lease.)

We so appreciate your faithful prayers, your sacrificial support, your quick notes and cards, and the blessing of working together for God's name to be exalted here in Montenegro.  

One with you in Christ,

Stan and Vicki Surbatovich

Vicki's Snapshot:  Back to the Beginning! (Part 1)

This month’s snapshot was inspired by a dear friend (Hello, D!!) who asked about Fellowship Lunches, Sunday Lunches, and dealing with unexpected guests, too.  To answer that, I realized I needed to note the history and place of Fellowship Lunches and Sunday Lunches (which are not exactly the same thing) in the life of the church.  To properly do *that*, I needed to go all the way back to the beginnings of the church.  It is delightful to begin this year’s series of Snapshots with another wonderful beginning. 

In our first years here, we were busy settling in and meeting people.  As we met people, Stan began one-on-one Bible studies with those who were interested, like with the M. family mentioned in a previous Snapshot.  

After being offered a position at the University to teach conversational English and Writing, it seemed good to us to set up a weekly English-Language Bible Study Group for anyone who wanted to know more about the Bible and/or practice their English.  Of course, it is one thing to say we will have an English language study but another to actually provide English language Bible studies in a country with no English Bibles.  Fortunately, time and the US postal system provided a way.

The first year or two in Montenegro we couldn't receive packages weighing more than eight ounces due to Bosnian War sanctions.  However, we could receive letters. More importantly, the US postal service had M-bag surface shipping back then.  The "M" in M-bag stood for mail, so an M-bag was an old-fashioned mail sack.  One could pack smallish boxes with media-and-only-media mail:  letters, magazines, and books.  These boxes (used to protect from undue wear and tear) were then placed into one mail sack--up to approx. 20lbs per sack.  

For a *very* reasonable fee, that mail sack could be addressed to us, and when ship space was available, the post office would load the sack on board. The time of shipment varied tremendously depending on how quickly the M-bag got ship space.  Our quickest delivery was a mere 10 days; our longest more than three months.  (Two months for delivery was most common, though.)

We used this shipping "loophole" in sanctions to good purpose:  we ordered a bunch of hymnals and English language Bibles and had them shipped M-bag. With them in hand, we began hosting a study at our house.

People came for a variety of reasons: to practice English, to learn about the Bible, to eat American cookies, because we were “different,” maybe even to gain some kind of advantage. (“I did this for you, now you need to do something for me” is a tacitly understood part of life here).  But whatever the individual reasons, we knew that the Lord providentially brought each and every one.

Choosing to have the Bible study at our house in the evening meant that I could be there, too.  Like much of Europe, Montenegrins are often out and up later than is typical for Americans, so our Bible study started at 8pm (not 7pm).  That time is not considered late by any means, and it proved strategic in allowing me to participate as much as possible.

By the time we started these Bible Studies, our five children ranged in age from 9+ years down to one.  Our two oldest took on the role of greeting, seating, and offering drinks to people as they arrived. The attendees included university students, a few professors, and a smattering of professional people that we had met (through Vera K whom I introduced in previous snapshots).  

While people arrived, I was busy putting the three youngest to bed with the goal to be done by 8pm.   What with the inevitable last kiss, last potty visit, last drink (times 3), I didn’t make that target exactly, but I was generally free by 8:15pm or so which was when the evening events started in earnest.

Our weapons of faith.

We’d begin with passing out some blue Trinity Hymnals and singing one song. Sometimes Stan might point out an interesting word or phrase and expand upon it; sometimes questions were asked about antiquated vocabulary or imagery.  As time went by, people had favorite hymns and made requests. After singing, the Bible study would begin in earnest; Stan faithfully led it every week.

When we’d get to the discussion part of the Bible Study, there’d always be that awkward moment of silence, with everyone hoping someone else would go first. Fortunately we had one wonderful man, Milijan S, a fellow professor of English, whom we could count on to offer up an interesting question or insightful comment and get the conversation going when no one else did. These discussions would sometimes go to 10pm or even later.

Attendance at these Bible studies varied depending on the time of year and what the Lord was doing:  sometimes we had just a couple of people; for an extended period we had between 15-20 people packed in our living room. As we met together over the months, friendships and relationships grew.  We invited some, especially the students, to join us for family events, like birthday celebrations or Thanksgiving Dinner.  

By the time summer came around, we joined an EUS (Serbia) outreach and invited our students to a weeklong Christian camp on the coast; a first for all of us!  These small steps slowly but surely knitted our lives together with Christ at the center.

However, not every step was fun and cozy.  When we were at the “crowd of 20” stage, we’d move our (cheap plastic) outdoor patio chairs into the living room to provide extra seating on our slick hardwood floors.  

Normally this was not a problem.  However!  We were shocked and dismayed the first time a tall, solidly-built man sat in one and half way through the Bible Study, we all heard a sharp CRACK! and found the poor man on the floor; the chair feet had splayed out and out and out and finally broke under the unaccustomed weight.  (I’m sorry to say that it happened more than once before we ultimately figured out the actual cause….  To this day, I get nervous around those chairs…)

Our hardest, yet most bonding, valley was the untimely passing of Milijan S, the gentleman mentioned above.  While he was in the hospital, a core group of us gathered together,  prayed together, fasted together, and still he died.  This led to many sober reflections and discussions on God’s sovereignty and goodness, accepting answers to prayer, the fleetingness of life, the urgency to believe, and the reality of death awaiting us all. Everyone saw clearly that the Christian Life wasn’t just about good times together but about true allegiance—to Christ and His promise of eternal life or to this world and eternal damnation.

It was after these events that the core group transitioned from a mere weekly Bible Study into the fledgling local NK church,  Biblijska Hrišćanska Zajednica, with a place to hold Sunday services and provide a meeting place apart from our living room.  And it was about this time, three years after moving to Montenegro, that God began to bring foreigners to NK to help with the work here.  And that is when Sunday Lunches came into being.

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