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A Different Fire from Heaven

Slobodan with Pastor Selim with flour provided for over 500 of his church families.

Many houses and buildings have been burned during the NATO air campaign against Yugoslavia. Often even people have perished from the fiery bombs. But in Southern Serbia, in the central area of the Balkans, a different fire has been burning within the hearts and souls of the Gypsy people. Like NATO’s “fire” so this one came from above, but from a much farther place than just the air. This fire has been coming down from the throne of God and it has been lighting up the hearts of a despised community the Roma or Gypsy people.

Gypsies happy worshipping in their tent

The Gypsy people in Serbia attended a Serbian church pastored by Pastor Mio Stankovich and responded to the love and hospitality shown to them by the people of this church.

Very soon, a young Gypsy boy, Selim Alijevich became a Christian. He later assisted pastor Mio by becoming a volunteer custodian or caretaker for the church. As he grew spiritually, he lead some of the services and eventually to preach under the guidance of Pastor Stankovich.

Slobodan and Pastor Selim

The Gypsy believers were now able to have their own services and meeting place. Selim became their leader. The people experienced the miracles of God as people were healed. During the following number of years the church increased to 30 people, a few years later the church was filled with 60 new believers.

In 1988 Pastor Selim honoured his service in the army then continued on to England for theological training. Meanwhile pastor Mio took direct oversight of the Gypsy church which had grown to 120 believers, including a newly formed Gypsy music group.

Upon his return in 1992 Pastor Selim preached, lead worship and formed a new youth group. He also planed and implement large open-air meetings, and meetings at the City Hall at special times like Christmas and Easter.

Gypsies wait in line to receive humanitarian aid from Shining Light Ministries

The open-air meetings in 1993 were usually held in a rented tent in an area where the Gypsy people were known to reside or frequent. The people heard the preaching, singing testimonies and saw miracles of healing . One older man with a heart condition received prayer and was totally healed. The doctors in Belgrade even exclaimed that it looked like God had done by-pass surgery.

Evangelistic teams and visitation programs were organized to visit people within the surrounding areas. Often 20 or more volunteer church members would present the Gospel in song, many of which were about healing, instrumental music and drama.

Washing Powder is too expensive for many families to buy
A local boy, Trail (trajce) Bakich was healed and his dad Serif became a Christian and started to share this healing through music his father had composed himself. Many of the Gypsies who came to the Lord in this area of Serbia were from Muslim families and background.

By September 1998 the church had grown to about 300 people. A year later their number had risen to 500 people and two services were conducted each Sunday. In January 2000 there were three services and they had about 700 people attending the church services. by July of 2000 there were already 800 people in the church. Since April 2001 often up to 1,000 people worships in a tent.

Ramo and Slobodan in Nis where a new church has just sprung up

It has been a privilege for me to travel to Leskovac and minister there since 1993. On some of my missions trips Rev. Craig F. Pitts, PAOC Eurasia coordinator, accompanied me with great blessing. I contributed through preaching, marriage semininars, interpreting and on occasion help with humanitarian aid for both the hungry Christians and to the needy refugees that live in the area.

Few years ago the Gypsies wanted to have their own church property. They erected a collection box at the exit doors of the building. A sign on the box should indicate, in Yugoslavian and English that everyone should begin to pray and give towards a new church building.

Ljiljana with Pastor Selim Alijevic on the spot that the church tent was eventually erected.
The results were astounding! Even though the Gypsy people are perhaps the poorest of the poor in this country, they were able to raise over 5,000 DEM, almost $4,000 Canadian. This amount was added to a very generous donation from some Swiss people and also some funds were provided by the PAOC. I, myself, have assisted Pastor Selim and Senior Pastor Miodrag in important negotiations in finalizing the purchase of a property.

In 1992 Pastor Selim was blessed with a wonderful helpmate and wife, Gordana. They now have two children Christian born in 1994 and Christina born in 1997.

In spite of their great poverty the Gypsy Christians are happy at worship

It has been a very interesting journey indeed for Pastor Selim from a 15-year-old church caretaker, to becoming another kind of caretaker and Shepherd of this Gypsy church. I asked him, “Selim, what would you like to have God do in your life?” His response was, “The miracles of God! To fulfill the purpose of God, so the city of Leskovac, the entire city of Leskovac, will convert to a full knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That many in the cities and the city itself will be able to see what God is doing in the Gypsy church.”

I asked Pastor Selim what difficulties they have encountered so far. He said, “The poverty of the church members, the many impoverished people that have no income whatsoever.

Slobodan with a group of poor children
It is hard to see them struggle and not be able to feed their own children and families.” I asked how we in Canada may help, how should we pray? Pastor Selim said, “To have more strength and wisdom from the Lord.”

In Leskovac there are about 80,000 people, of which 10,000 are Gypsies. In the last ten years we do not know of any place in the Gypsy community that has not been affected in some way by the Gypsy church. Many people within the homes of Leskovac, or someone from those homes have attended the church at one time or another. The Gypsies are unfortunately despised in many European communities including the Balkans and Serbia. As a result of being ostracized they are quite shy as a community of people.

Interestingly, however, during the NATO bombings in 1999 it was this Gypsy church that was invited to spearhead a demonstration of worship against these attacks.

Slobodan with Gypsy children in Nis
The Gypsy people began to pray and fast, asking the Lord to spare the city. Even though Leskovac was supposed to be bombed, the city center itself was not bombed. God clearly had his hand of protection around these people. I believe God wanted His work to continue because revival is taking place amongst the Gypsies. This church has also initiated many other works and outreaches. Twelve surrounding cities now have meetings of between five to thirty.

Selim is a man who is free for God. The people under his ministry listen very carefully. During the last three years we were able to assist them with humanitarian aid. We were amazed how well organized they were. I have not met any other group of people in the Balkans who were so well organized at distributing that aid.

Slobodan met this very poor boy in Pancevo.

Pastor Mio says, “The Lord through his prophecies has promised wonderful things for the Gypsy church. One of the things is a new prayer house, a house for healing and for miracles. God promised that in the next five years that even the greatest godless person would fall on his or her knees and admit that God is alive. My vision is that we will open many new churches and mission stations, so that the gypsy church will be a mother to them.”

Recently I received a letter from Pastor Selim, he says, “I am thankful to God that among the many brothers and sisters who come from foreign lands that brother Slobodan Krstevski has come. He has helped me personally a lot with his counsel. He was a great blessing to the church with his teaching on marriage and to the young people who are planning on marriage”.

Children at the garbage dump attempting to find something to eat or wear

Please continue to pray daily for the needs of this Gypsy pastor and his congregation. They have suffered greatly because of the war and bombings. We feel privileged to be able to assist them in their work. Won’t you join us in any way the Lord might lead you?