“You can’t do that here,” they said. “We’ll talk to him for you,” they said.
But God said, “Go. Go now.” We had to listen.
Serbia wasn’t on our radar, not even on our map, but people told us we needed to check it out. The doors had firmly shut for us in a different direction, and we weren’t sure what God was going to do next. So we visited Serbia purely out of obedience to what God might be saying, and once on location we knew it was where he wanted us.
But one big challenge we faced in getting started in Serbia was finding housing for our families. We have big families on our team. Both our family and another have several adopted children, and there just isn’t much available for families of our size. But on our first trip to Serbia we had visited an orphanage—actually a “village” of large family-style houses—and for some reason, the whole time we were scouting for places, that orphanage village wouldn’t stay out of my mind. From the very first time we visited it, I had a feeling that God was going to do something with that land. I would take it to the Lord and ask, “OK, Lord, is this me, or is it your leading?” and I kept feeling pressed to go and meet with the director of the orphanage and inquire.
Some of our Serbian friends said they knew the director personally—they would talk to him about it. But they never did. When we followed up with them they said, “Well, they’re not going to give that land to you.” And I was like, “I understand that that’s not how things are supposed to go, but I just feel like God’s gonna do something. We need to be obedient to that!”
After a year of looking for housing, we continued to feel strongly that God wanted us in Serbia, but we still had no place to live. On a short trip to Novi Sad, a large city in Serbia, my teammate Mike and I went with our contact Chuki up to a fortress overlooking the city. We wanted to pray over the land, pray over the people, and to ask God, “What are you doing?” We were on the top of this fortress, praying for Serbia, when I really felt pressed by the Lord, “Go. Right now.” I knew it was about the orphanage village. So I turned to the other guys and said, “Hey, what if we went to the orphanage director right now? I really feel like the Lord is telling us that he wants us to move right now and we need to be obedient.” Chuki looked at me and simply said, “Are you sure?” And I said, “Yeah!” So he agreed. “You think we should go? Then let’s go.”
“What’s the likelihood that the director’s not going to be there?” I asked as we drove. Chuki responded, “I have no idea. This isn’t normal—you don’t usually just show up someplace. But you know, we’ll let God work, and we’ll just see.” We were breaking a cultural rule by showing up unannounced; it’s not how things are done in Serbia. So we just started to pray, “Lord, if this is you, then let the guy be there. And let this not be perceived as rude, but may you be working in front of us.”
In fact, the director was there. He invited us right in and had us sit down. “I understand you guys wanted to come and just visit; that’s really great. Tell me a little about yourselves.” So we shared who we were and how many kids we have, how our two families each have seven adopted children, and all of the delights and challenges we’ve encountered in the process of creating family.
The director got the biggest smile on his face. “You have how many kids? You’re gonna be my new best friends, cuz I’m gonna pick a lot of your brain!” Serbia was just transitioning away from orphanage care to an adoption and foster care system. The orphanage village he directed was slowly being shut down. And God was calling our families to Serbia right in the middle of all of this—it was too big a coincidence to not pay attention to!
We talked with the director for two hours straight—he offered us coffee, offered us snacks, wanted to take us to lunch. He asked us a couple of times if we were Christian. Now in Serbia, which is predominantly Orthodox, when someone finds out that you’re a “Christian” (not Orthodox), they pretty much consider you in a cult, and then they don’t want to work with you.
We diverted the question, but he kept asking, so I finally said, “Yes, Mike and I are Christians, but I want you to know that we respect rules, and we just want to engage and make an impact on some of these kids’ lives. We want to show them the love of Jesus.” Instantly the director responded, “I’m a Christian too!” He was linking his Orthodox Christianity to ours, bridging the divide between our forms of Christianity, which doesn’t usually happen in Serbia. As the director claimed that common ground, we once again saw that God was at work. He wanted us in relationship with this man.
Finally, I asked him about the housing situation. The director responded, “Well, it’s government property, so I wouldn’t be able to tell you that you could have it or that you could buy it. I can tell you this—when you first come to Serbia and you need a place to stay, you can stay here for at least two months. You’d be more than welcome to move into one of these houses here.”
Inside I was cheering. “There you go, Lord! You instantly opened one of the houses for us to live in for our first months on the ground, and also a way to build a deeper relationship with this man!” There are still two orphanage houses filled with kids, and we’ve already started to build relationships with them. Living even for a short time in one of the neighboring houses will open doors for our staff to be directly involved and immersed in those kids’ lives on a regular basis, and our kids will be able to build friendships with them as well. This is just the beginning. Who knows what God might do with this land in the future? And it all happened because I sensed God wanted to do something—we listened, we were obedient, and God moved!
The Thiele's story illustrates aspects of the prayer, listening, and obedience to God that are foundational first steps to launching gospel movements around the world. Join us in praying for new ventures and strategic opportunities to spark gospel movements.
ABOUT: Bryan Thiele and his wife, Andrea, live in Phoenix, AZ. Bryan leads Kineo, a CRM ministry under ChurchNEXT, which works to disciple and develop Christian leaders in mission through facilitated immersion experiences in poor and marginalized communities. Their planned launch date to Serbia is March, 2017.