Will and I were fortunate enough to spend an entire week in Crikvenica, Croatia for the annual Spiritual Growth Retreat. We were supposed to be in Croatia by Monday and leave Friday, but due to a crazy amount of snow that fell on Monday, the retreat was postponed a day. Everyone made it safely to the hotel on Tuesday and all was well through Friday and Saturday. Because so many wonderful things took place throughout the week, we’d like to highlight three of our favorite retreat takeaways:
Fellowship with new and old friends:
Croatia is becoming our second home (in Europe). The moment we saw Mladen, the preaching minister at the Zagreb Church of Christ, he gave us both a hug and exclaimed, “Welcome home!” Wow – we have not one, not two, but three different countries where we can hear and believe the words “Welcome home”. Amazing.
We were reunited with our beloved friends from Zagreb (in a non-panic, non-stressful way!), as well as with our good friends, the Wilguesses, from the States. We rode down to the retreat with new friends from Vienna, and met a former Australian HIM Worker, Barry, who’s from the States and now works for World Bible Institute. We hung out with friends from our church in Donaustadt, and met people in other churches from all over Croatia. We all ate together, worshipped together, prayed together, and enjoyed Crikvenica together. Many long-lasting relationships were made on this retreat.
After morning worship came to a close, everyone divided into small groups. Those of use who don’t speak Croatian were put together as the “English-speaking Group”, and would then be led in a discussion over the chosen topic for that day, such as the importance of unity in God’s people, the differences between Godly wisdom and human wisdom, and the content and actions of our lives before and after our faith was found. Nearly everyone in our little group had something to share everyday, allowing us to get to know each other even better. Stories of faith experiences were shared, and some were harder to fathom than others. Mislav, a Croatian who works in the Zagreb church, joined our group the day we talked about unity and told us about his journey as a war veteran in essentially “loving his enemies” after the Yugoslav War. Those he once considered enemies, he now considers brothers. An incredible story, and we were only able to hear a few minutes of that journey. Hearing stories such as Mislav’s as well as others from the group enabled us to see how God has worked in the past and how He is currently working in our group’s lives, and we’re closer now because of it.
One of our favorite moments in worship came Friday night. Quite a few of our number left earlier in the afternoon, and because of the coming preparations for church on Sunday, the projector and translating equipment were packed up and taken back to Zagreb. Those of us who spoke German or English now had no way of joining our Croatian brothers and sisters in song in their language. We attempted to hum to a few unfamiliar tunes until the song “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” began. Suddenly the German and English languages joined alongside Croatian and we all sang to God together in our native tongues. Ja sam odlucio slijediti Isusa. Ich bin entschieden zu folgen Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus.
If you need one more reason to travel abroad, make it “worship experience”. The intensely moving experience of worshipping with a people who speak and worship in a different language than you while praising the same God as you will change you forever. You’ll flip through a song book and find what appears to be consonants and vowels slapped together with spaces after every 5 or 6 letter groupings, or someone will pray and the only thing you’re able to understand are the fluctuations of their voice and the final “Amen”. You’ll feel a little frustrated and perhaps like you’re missing out on worship. But eventually it’ll dawn on you that God needs no translator.
We loved this retreat. Praying that we’re still here at this time next year, we hope and look forward to going again. And if you should come across the opportunity to attend this retreat yourself, do it! You’ll be blessed, and you’ll be changed.