Word on the Street: Novi Sad

11 Apr

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From Paul Hovda | Novi Sad, Serbia

It was a Sunday afternoon. I was feeling weary because the kids and I had been struggling while my wife, Jody, was in Russia. I went to church early, sat on a bench nearby, and began to talk to God. I had been there maybe 10 minutes when I noticed a young man walking a small dog coming toward me.

As they got nearer, the dog came up and sniffed my pants. Then, to my surprise, he jumped up on the bench next to me and snuggled right in beside me. The guy walking the dog also sat down and said in Serbian, “The dog really likes you!”

We chatted a bit, then he asked me, “What's your story?”

I told him I was an American and with that little bit of information, to my relief, we switched to English. I mentioned I was in Novi Sad to help out churches and leadership.

He then said, “I don’t believe in God.” To which I replied, “Well, he believes in you!”

We talked about God for a few minutes, then I said, “Hey, I’m about to go into church. Is there something we can pray about for you?” He said, “Sure. How about happiness, health, and work.”

I said fine, we would surely pray for him. Then I said, “But, if you recognize that you are happier, healthier, or that you suddenly have work, you must acknowledge that God is real and that he loves you and is caring for you.”

What he said next really shocked me.

He said, “Okay, but how can I let you know if it happens?” I gave him my name and number. Then I said, “Since we’re here right now, can I pray for you?” He agreed and I prayed for the things he had mentioned. I said “Amen” and we went our separate ways.

As I went the short distance to church, I was overcome with emotion. Had that really just happened? You see, two weeks prior I was at a training for team leaders within CRM. One evening a new friend asked me, “If you could ask the Lord for one thing right now, what would it be?" Without hesitation I said, “That he would give me boldness to interact with strangers on the street differently—to begin to pray with them.”

My friend’s response was fascinating. He said, “I will pray for fearlessness for you, so you will not have to overcome anything, but that it would be straightforward and easy for you to simply talk to people and pray for them.”

God, in his sweet and gentle way, had used a little dog to get a potentially life-changing conversation going. In my weariness he had brought me this young man to encourage me by letting me know that he really has been hearing my prayers and that this is just the first of many encounters he will bring my way.

I was undone. All I could do was worship as tears streamed from my eyes. God had answered my prayer in a very simple but powerful way.

And it doesn’t even end there.

On my way home from church I received a text from an unknown number. It said, in essence, “Hey, I just figured out that you met my boyfriend earlier today.”

I wrote back immediately, “Who is this?”

What came in response floored me: “It’s Marina.”

Marina is our landlady! We have been praying for her from the day we moved in. The dog was hers and it recognized me! In a city of 350,000 people, miles from my apartment, I met and shared God’s love and truth with our landlady’s boyfriend.

We are now praying that God would use that conversation and prayer to open the door to both of their hearts.

TAKING THE NEXT STEP

- Assuming that God is constantly at work around you, where do you sense him inviting you to join in sharing the good news of the Kingdom with someone else? Who is waiting for your encouragement, prayer, or word of truth? What’s one way you might step into that today?

- What internal barriers might be keeping you from stepping out in faith and talking with or even praying with others? Would you be willing to lay these at the feet of Jesus and ask him for what you need in their place?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Hovda and his wife, Jody, have lived and served in Novi Sad, Serbia since 2012. Prior to that, they served in Caracas, Venezuela for eight years.