Beginning Nazarene work in Croatia

Planting the Church of the Nazarene in part of the former Yugoslavia

The story begins with Dan Psaute's annual summertime visits to that area of the former Yugoslavia beginning in 1982. His burden for the Balkans became increasingly heavier with each visit that he made. In the beginning he was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. Then, he took a teaching position at what is now European Nazarene College.

About 1990 a young Croatian named Goran Medved began dreaming of spending his final year in high school in the U.S. as an exchange student. He applied to the exchange student program in the spring of 1991 but then began thinking that his oral skills in English were too limited. As he waited for an answer to his application he began looking around for a way to improve them. One day in early summer he saw an advertisement in the newspaper offering a month of one-on-one conversational English practice with American speakers. He went to the orientation meeting. It was a group of Church of Christ young people from Brownwood, TX who were using the gospel of Mark as the text. That was a bit startling to Goran because he was an atheist. However, he wanted to improve his English skills, so he went through the program. Though impressed by their deep spirituality, he didn't respond in any way.

In late summer Goran got an acceptance letter from the exchange student program. He saw that he would be going to live with a family in Brownwood, TX -- a town where he already had some friends! During that year as a high school student in Brownwood, those Church of Christ people he had already met in Croatia loved him into the Kingdom.

Goran Medved was a good soccer player and during that senior year, he was offered a scholarship to play soccer at Central College, a two-year school now called Central Christian College of Kansas. So, in the fall of 1992 he went to that small school in McPherson, Kansas to play soccer. During first year there, his team was playing at a tournament in Tulsa, OK. Southern Nazarene University's soccer coach was at the tournament looking for junior college transfers. He was impressed enough by Goran to offer him a scholarship to come and play for SNU for his final three years of college eligibility.

Goran arrived in Bethany, OK in the fall of 1993 -- coincidentally the year that we were recruiting the very first of several groups of volunteers that would go from SNU to spend a year in Bulgaria laying the groundwork for Nazarene work in that country.

In the spring of 1994 Goran was in my General Education Christian Thought class. In the spring of 1995 he was in my General Education Ministry, Church and Society class. Somewhere during Goran's time at SNU I decided to improve my Spanish skills a bit so Goran and I wound up being fellow students in an intermediate Spanish class. He graduated in the spring of 1996.

In the fall of 1997 I began a year's sabbatical from SNU. In late September Barbara and I left for Europe where we planned to spend about 5 months and then return to the U.S. to do some other things. After we had been there about a month the Southern Europe Field Director Duane Srader and General Superintendent Jerry Porter asked me to temporarily assume duties as district superintendent of the Italy North district. That wound up keeping me in Europe for nine months rather than the planned five.

One Friday in mid-March, 1998, Duane Srader asked me if SNU would consider recruiting and helping place volunteers in Croatia to help open Nazarene work there. He said they didn't have any contacts there, but he just felt it was the right time. He mentioned Dan Psaute and said he would likely be the supervisor for the team while still continuing some of his work at European Nazarene College. I told Duane I thought we would be interested. Among other things we were about to celebrate SNU's centennial and I thought it would be fitting for us to have a special missions project that year.

On Thursday of the following week -- March 18 -- I received an e-mail from Goran Medved saying he had found my e-mail address on the SNU website and just wanted to say "hi." He noted that he was back in Croatia. He said he had gone back home to work for the government but had already become disillusioned with that and was now working as assistant pastor in his local church. When I responded to Goran's e-mail, I told him about Duane's request and said we would likely be following through on it. I casually mentioned that I was spending a few months in Italy. Goran's response on March 25 reminded me that Croatia was next door to Italy and that I ought to come check things out. He said he had already talked to his home church board (the Church of Christ in Zagreb) and that they had committed to doing everything they possibly could to help the Church of the Nazarene enter their country.

I got in touch with Dan Psaute. We began comparing schedules with Goran and decided that we would make a trip together to Zagreb in early July of 1998.

Dan came down from Switzerland on the train and I caught a 4:30 a.m. train out of Milan in order to meet him in Zagreb! We spent 4 or 5 days, staying with Goran and his grandmother (his parents were up in Germany working at the time). We visited with some missionaries who gave us a discouraging report ("Croatia is becoming known as the graveyard of missionary dreams," they said). We were with Goran's church on Sunday morning and they were extremely encouraging. We also got a chance to see some of their weekday ministries in action. Their pastor begged us to come! It was a great few days in many ways. The 1998 World Cup was on and Croatia played a quarter- or semifinal game while we were there. One important event in that trip was Goran taking us to the top of the stone lookout tower in old Zagreb where we could look out over the entire city. While on top of that tower, the three of us -- Goran, Dan and myself -- held hands and prayed aloud, asking the Lord for guidance and wisdom.

I left Croatia having decided to encourage Field Director Srader to move ahead with plans to plant some churches in Croatia. In discussions with Dan, I agreed that we would try to recruit four young men from SNU to be the first team in there in the spring of 1999.

Back in Italy, I met up with a university Youth in Mission team who were spending eight weeks in Italy that summer. When I returned from Zagreb, I went to Rome where they were to spend their final two weeks before returning to the U.S. One evening we were sitting out in the front yard of the Rome property and I told them about my trip to Croatia. As we headed up to bed later, Jason Lipscomb, leader of that team and who had just graduated from SNU, said to me that he would sit out the spring semester of seminary in order to be on that initial team. When I returned to SNU that fall, we were able to recruit two more (rather than my hoped-for three): Brett Simms and Mark Murray. The three of those left from the Oklahoma City airport in January of 1999. It was, of course, kind of a rocky first year with one of the young men returning home early due to a crisis of faith. It did, however, get us started!

I did get a sense of the kind of hatred between peoples in that area in the fall of 1998 when I spoke in chapel about my visit to Croatia and pleaded for some volunteers to step forward. After that chapel, a student from a different region of the former Yugoslavia student came by my office to ask how I could dare speak so kindly of the awful people in Croatia.

In that fall of 1998 I suddenly realized that there were several connections I felt with Croatia:

  1. In 1974 when we first went out as missionaries Barbara and I took a freighter to Italy. That freighter was a Yugoslavian vessel (at that time Croatia was part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia).
  2. I remembered Bill Prince in the late 1970's talking about a trip he had made to Communist Yugoslavia when he was serving as the head of European Nazarene College.
  3. In the summer of 1994 Barbara and I went to Italy to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Because we would be renting a car, we picked up a map of Italy at the AAA office in Oklahoma City. That map had Italy on one side of it and Croatia on the other side!
  4. I spent part of the summer of 1996 in Caracas, Venezuela doing some seminars for pastors. While there, I watched the NBA championship series (with the announcer speaking Spanish!) in which "Croatian Sensation" Toni Kukoc played a leading role in the Chicago Bulls taking home the winner's trophy.

So, Croatia had been on my mind on several occasions before I ever went there!

Initial written summary of my trip to Croatia

As a result of my trip to Croatia (part of the former Yugoslavia) in mid-July, SNU will try to provide 4-6 volunteers to begin Nazarene ministry in that country in January, 1999.

My trip with missionary Dan Psaute was extremely fruitful. We stayed with a former SNU student of mine, Goran Medved (who came to SNU on a soccer scholarship).

The Church of Christ of which Goran is a part welcomed us with open arms. They offered to help with orientation and want our group to worship with them until we start our own services. That church runs a very active program including compassionate ministries, camps, publications and English conversation programs. They owns a large first-floor apartment that reminds me of our rented facility in Sofia, Bulgaria. It is far from adequate for them but they are oriented to ministry and not to a building.

We met with Campus Crusade for Christ people and the director of Youth With a Mission (Y-WAM as they call themselves). Both organizations offered their assistance in orientation, training and wanted to closely collaborate with us even to the extent of eventually channeling their contacts and converts into Nazarene congregations. We also spent some time talking with the director of the evangelical book store in Zagreb.

We checked out some language study possibilities for the team. Dan already knows a smattering of Croatian, but wants to do further study himself. We browsed through several bookstores looking for language learning books. He is taking back a book and some tapes and I brought back a couple of books and some tapes to the SNU library. Croatian is a Slavic language that uses the Latin, rather than the Cyrillic alphabet.

There are not very many protestant churches in Zagreb (1 million population) so there are lots of areas where we can work without seeming to be in competition with anyone else. Dan also has his eyes on a couple of cities on the coast where he has spent several summers evangelizing.

Like most European cities, Zagreb is fairly compact with an excellent public transportation system: lots of electric street cars supplemented by buses.

The country is culturally Roman catholic with only a minority active in church. Economically, it appears closer to western Europe than to the other former communist bloc countries.

Goran's pastor told us: "Don't send people to Croatia who just want to do safari evangelism." So we need to find our best and most committed. We need to get them signed up fairly early so we can begin training and they can begin raising prayer and financial support. Pray for us.

    -- Howard Culbertson

God's Bulgarian Tapestry: How the Church of the Nazarene began in Bulgaria    10/40 Window explanation and map     Seeking God's will?    African martyr's commitment     Mission trip fundraising