05 Dec A Summer in Serbia
This past summer I got the chance to go to Belgrade, Serbia for six weeks with a team of six other college students from around the Triangle. Without overstatement, I can confidently say that this summer was the most spiritually formative time of my life. I traveled to Serbia as a part of Second City, one of the programs offered by the Summit Church’s Go Now Initiative, and it was a great experience for me; I would highly recommend it to any college student interested in serving Jesus for a summer during college!
Here are a few quick facts about Belgrade:
- It is known as the most overthrown and bombed city in the history of the world, it was most recently bombed by an American-led NATO in 1999.
- The unemployment rate is around 40% and has been for at least 15 years, which is almost twice as much as the rate in the United States at the peak of the Great Depression.
- The population is much less than 1% Evangelical Christian. Between five and ten protestant churches exist in Belgrade and each with a membership of less than 100-200 people.
This summer, the mission of our team was to serve a church plant in Belgrade, Serbia. We lived in dormitories with college students and simply did life in Belgrade for 40 days. Our schedule was cleared for building relationships, sharing the gospel, and hanging out with Serbians. The number one goal over the course of the summer was to serve the body of Jesus by blessing the mission field for long-term disciple making. With this focus, we were not basing our success on immediate visible results, but on the faith that Jesus would use our mission to bless the city of Belgrade. An intentional focus was placed on discipleship with the young Serbian believers so that after we departed, the mission would be carried out more boldly and powerfully than before we arrived.
One particular Serbian college student comes to mind when I think about discipleship with the Serbian believers. Mark (name changed for privacy) was a believing student who, at the beginning of the summer, was very skeptical about success in the mission of God in Belgrade, especially through Americans like us. For about the first 25 days of our trip Mark did not seem interested in our attempts to share the gospel with Serbians or have much hope, even for the Serbs that seemed attracted to the faith and started attending the house church. He said a few different times, “They just come because they like hanging out with Americans and learning better English. When you leave, they will leave also.”
Towards the end of the summer, we had a few chances to share the gospel with Serbians with Mark present, translating for us, and very involved in the conversation. His shell seemed to be peeled back more and more each time he got this opportunity. Andre, a member of our team from Duke University, described the transformation of Mark after one particular interaction, “At the beginning of the conversation he didn’t want to be involved, and by the end he had carried out a gospel conversation with an unbelieving Serb for over an hour! When we left, he was literally beaming with excitement and ecstatic about making a new friend.” This Serb that Mark shared the gospel with came to a few events with us and began to develop a deeper relationship with Mark! The transformation in this story was an amazing example of Christ working through our team to strengthen the local church in order to bless the field for long term disciple making. We were given an opportunity to show Mark that there is hope for unbelievers in Serbia and that evangelism is important and possible with the power of the Spirit!
Throughout the summer, we experienced many stories similar to that of Mark. Seeing the power of God at work in a context that is closed to the idea of the gospel is a powerful experience. This summer I learned how vain my efforts are in doing things for God apart from his power. Apart from him we can do nothing. He does not desire our sacrifice or our actions, but he desires our broken and contrite hearts. It is in this state that we will bear much fruit, and consequently Jesus will be glorified in places like Belgrade!
The experience of giving away a summer to a church-led experience like this is something that I would recommend to anyone. This summer was a faith incubator for me. It was an opportunity to get away from the distractions of home and school and focus entirely on the death, resurrection, and mission of Jesus. Now, I am not saying that you can’t focus in Jesus in the United States or grow as a Christian without going abroad! But, for me, this summer serving the Lord overseas was a very formative time in my young faith and I imagine it could be for many other college students. I challenge you to at least think and pray about doing something like it!
Justin Leitch is a student at North Carolina State University and a member of the Summit College Student Leadership Team. Find out more about Second City and our other Go Now summer and two year opportunities and how to apply on our website!