Balkan Nation (HCJB) – In the former Yugoslavia, victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence would receive just six months’ respite-six months’ protection in a “house of refuge” before they were forced to return home again, often back into the arms of their abusers.
Carlos and Laura (fictitious names used for security reasons), Colombian Operation Mobilization (OM) missionaries in the Balkan nation trained at HCJB Global’s Corrientes missionary mentoring program in Quito, Ecuador, quickly saw a need and responded to it.
Since their arrival in the country in 2010, they have developed a social integration program to give hope to women and children who have suffered sexual abuse or domestic violence. Additionally, through a microbusiness program and church planting work, they are bringing dignity to the citizens and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with them.
After moving from Colombia to Ecuador for work and seeing their own business venture collapse, Carlos and Laura felt God saying to them, “The time that you had to invest in yourselves is over, and this is the time for you to focus on my kingdom-on what I want you to do in my kingdom.”
As they prayed for countries which had been torn apart by war, God gave them a burden for the nation. “One night,” Carlos recalled, “my wife said to me, ‘What would you say if we started to focus on going to [the Balkan country]?’ There were certain things that caught our attention and one was that it was a country in a Muslim context. The second was that it had been through the disruption of war and we are from a country at war. And the third is that we’re passionate about it.”
Two years later-12 years for Laura since she had first felt called to missionary service-the couple began to develop a new ministry in the country as part of a small team based in a nearby city.
Through microbusiness training, Carlos and Laura helped a family make and sell knitted products, while assisting another in producing and selling jam, now on the shelves of local supermarkets. As they worked with the families, they also shared their faith. Carlos said that “one of the families is visiting us in our meetings that we are running on Sundays where we share the Gospel…. The woman [in that family] has accepted Jesus as her personal Savior and her husband is coming to the meetings.”
As the couple began to settle into life in the Balkan country, they were moved by the plight of women and children who had been sexually abused or suffered domestic violence. “Women who have survived violence, by necessity have to return to their homes because there isn’t a program enabling social re-entry for them,” explained Carlos. “So, seeing this situation, we decided to open the doors of our house so that they could come and live with us.”
Last May the program was formalized as Operation Restoration, a national nongovernmental organization. “We have a house equipped with everything necessary so that they can live there with their children and we provide psychological help,” Carlos continued. The center also offers rehabilitation, art therapy, and classes in sewing, woodwork and information technology. Young girls who haven’t finished high school are able to continue studying for exams.
Another strand of their outreach, interconnected with microbusiness training and their work with abused women and children, is relationship building and church planting. “We invite our friends [to church], and there we have the opportunity to share the Gospel in a more direct way,” related Carlos. Last February they celebrated the inauguration of a church plant called Road of Salvation, the sister church of another congregation by the same name.
Throughout their preparation time and ministry in the former Yugoslavia, Laura and Carlos have been grateful for the support of Corrientes. “We think that what Corrientes has done-enabling us to speak with missionaries who have spent years serving on the field-is priceless, it’s priceless,” said Carlos.
“I think that each one of the missionaries inspired us with what they told us about how God had worked through their lives,” added Laura. “And it was also a very sincere encounter with them of sharing very intimate things.”
Carlos and Laura are in their second month of a five-month home ministry assignment in Ecuador while team members continue with the work in Europe in their absence. A family from Korea and a missionary from the U.S. recently joined the eight-member team. In January a missionary couple from the U.K. will provide further support.
As Carlos and Laura think about returning to the Balkan nation next year, they’re excited about what lies ahead: “Our great expectation is that we could work not only with women, but also with the three men who are going to join our team. Pray that we could work with men, too, and that God would grant us success in the strategies we’re thinking about using in working with young people and furthering evangelism.”