I JUST COMPLETED TWENTY HOURS OF TEACHING the theology of marriage and parenting to a group of pastors in Serbia. Not Siberia on the frozen tundra, or Syria in the Middle East, but Serbia, a beautiful nation in the Balkans, just south of Hungary, north of Greece, and east of Italy. I traveled with Training Leaders International (TLI), an organization that exists to provide theological training to pastors in third world countries.
Everything is old, so old that locals consider buildings built in the 13th century new.
Typical Serbian High Rise Housing
By American standards the people are poor. The income per capita is 25% of the average North American. $1000 per month is considered a good wage. Unemployment is 50%. One explanation for this is the lingering shadow of communism. Serbia was part of the old Soviet Union until about 1990, and the effects of Communism are everywhere. Many of the people are still suspicious of capitalism. The buildings are covered with graffiti and everything is run down. Pornography is ubiquitous. However, the Christians are very hospitable. They fed us extravagantly. They were a joy to serve.
In addition, the population is dense. Most live in high rise apartments. That means many people on the streets. Lots of bicycles. Hordes of pedestrians. It’s not unusual for three generations to live in a 600 square foot apartment. In fact, when most couples marry they move in with their parents.
The Team from the U.S.
I had the privilege of teaching a small group of part-time pastors. They are part-time because there is not enough money to support them in full time ministry. It is the only evangelical seminary in the Balkans, and it only has 30 students. This means that most pastors have little or no theological training. That is because there are almost no Christian books in Serbian. Since there are less than 5000 evangelicals, a publisher cannot sell enough books to cover the cost of publishing, so there is little Christian literature. This is especially true of rich theological works like systematic theologies. We would give them American books, but only 25% of the pastors can read English.
As you read this I hope you are thanking God for the theological and material abundance North Americans enjoy. Nothing makes one appreciate God’s abundant blessings like travelling outside the country.
The Danube in Belgrade at Dusk
Despite all of this the Serbian church is clinging to God by faith. They are rich in joy and fellowship. Please lift them up in prayer, and again above all thank God for the manifold spiritual and material blessings we American Christians enjoy.