Mission to Montenegro newsletter

Blog entry for 18 August 2023

August 2023 Mission to Montenegro Newsletter

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But for me it is good to be near God;  I have made the Lord God my refuge,  that I may tell of all your works.  
Ps. 73:28

Grace and peace to you in the name of God our Father!

Join us in giving thanks and praise to our God for all that He has done, is doing, and will do for His name's sake here in Nikšić, Montenegro.

In our morning service, Stan continued on in John 15, highlighting the truth that loving, obeying, and bearing fruit all spring from abiding in Christ.  

In our evening service, Stan came to a good pausing spot in Revelations after expositing on the seventh seal. With August being the month of “coming and goings and unexpected visitors," we still meet Sunday evenings but have a less formal service with music, prayer, and interactive discussion of individual psalms.  Last week we wrapped up Psalm 73 looking at what led the believer to almost slip and what kept him from such a tragedy.

Camp Monty was held at the end of July.  Although it was a week of scorching weather, the volunteers connected well with the children through sports, English lessons, devotions, evening events, and general time together.  

Please pray that the Gospel seeds sown would be watered, fed, and spring up into newness of life.

As noted, summer is a time of coming and going. We were blessed with not one, but two different groups of Dutch believers camp touring around Montenegro this past month.  Last Sunday, the group camped out for the night in our backyard and treated us to a lovely pancake dinner by lamplight.  How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in unity!

Last month we mentioned that we had several individuals as well as an organization contacting us about the possibilities of coming to support the work of the local church here in Nikšić. 

This month we are pleased to introduce Lucas and Faith H who have decided to come to Montenegro as long-term missionaries. Rejoice with us!

They have much to do to as they plan to arrive by March 2024.  They will spend their first three years here in Nikšić as they learn the language and acclimate to the area and clarify how to best use their gifts and callings in Montenegro.

Please pray for them and their families as they take this major step.

We are going to be finishing up August with a bang!  Please pray for us as we attend a wedding in Serbia (Congrats to Zoki and Sadie!), immediately return to celebrate a baptism in the church (Brother Nenad), and then host the monthly Fellowship Lunch as well as a guest or two.  Such good blessings from above!

We give thanks to the Lord for all of you reading this newsletter, praying faithfully, supporting us sacrificially; you are God's blessing to us and His people in Montenegro.  To God be the glory!

With great love and appreciation,

Stan and Vicki Surbatovich

Vicki's Snapshot: Touched by War, Part 2

Last month I sketched out our relatively brief personal encounter with the Kosovo War in the spring of 1999, and how once NATO entered the picture, the war officially came to an end three months later.  However, like a stone thrown into a pond, the rippling effects of the war didn’t end for us in June of 1999. 

The Day-the-World-Stood-Still for us, the day we all woke up to the shocking news that NATO had bombed strategic military outposts, was the day that scores of journalists poured into Montenegro and headed straight to the capital city, Podgorica.  Back in those pre-ubiquitous-internet days, there were no online postings of rooms, hostels, hotels, and airbnb’s.  There were very few hotels at all. As might be expected, all rooms quickly filled up first-come, first-served, and yet more journalists streamed into town.

Our friend J, who lived in the capital and was a journalist by trade if not by training, called us up.  As one of the few who knew English well at the time, J was involved in aiding foreign journalists who didn’t know the language.  In the course of his helping out, J had a problem to solve:   One journalist sent on assignment from the Wall Street Journal, having farther to travel and arriving late to the country, had missed out on getting a place to stay.  

J wondered if we couldn’t help out. “Help out, how?” we asked.

“Well, he’d come up to Niksic, spend the day and night with you, get a story, and then be on his way,” came the reply.  We were dubious that we even heard J correctly.

“Of course, we can offer him a place to stay, but a story in Nikšić? You want the journalist here? In Nikšić, the city that is in the middle of nowhere, going to nowhere?  We aren’t by any action!  Does he know that?”

“Oh, he says ‘No problem.’  I told him all about you and he thinks he can get a good story.”

We were even more confused.  We couldn't begin to imagine what J told the journalist that made him think he could get anything worth writing about.  “A good story? Does he know that we are just an ordinary American family????”

“He wants to come.  He’ll be on the next bus.  Thanks for helping out! Ciao!” Click went the receiver.

An hour later, Stan picked up the reporter from the bus station and brought him home.  Those first moments of awkwardness, of wondering what an investigating reporter was going to find in us, quickly dissipated with cheerful greetings of “Hi!  I’m Daniel. Thanks for giving me a place to stay.”  (It also helped that he looked and talked like my younger brother—they were the same age.)

I apologized that we didn’t actually have much to offer him.  With 7 of us in our tiny rented home, the best we could do was pile up mats and make a bed on the living room floor, but D brushed that aside and was downright enthusiastic about having a bed at all. (I’ve since realized that as an investigative reporter, following stories wherever they led, he probably had slept in far more primitive conditions.)

After stowing his stuff in the corner, Stan took Daniel per his request out to talk with neighbors while it was still daylight.  Daniel initiated the conversations and asked his questions as Stan translated.  Meanwhile, I prepared dinner and staged bedding.

With darkness falling, the two men came back.  We gathered around the dinner table and fielded a few questions ourselves about why we were there and what we were doing.  Describing missionary work naturally led to explaining the gospel in full and holding that out as the key to the better world mankind longs for.

As our chatting continued into the evening, we discovered that Daniel and I grew up not far from each other (which explained why he sounded so much like my brother, with his So. Cal accent) and we had a happy hour of reminiscing about favorite places and escapades.  

We were startled when, right in the middle of swapping fond memories, Daniel jumped up, grabbed what looked like a tiny, hard-sided typewriter case, and started looking around, getting his bearings.  That mini-contraption was actually a high-tech satellite phone.  

The boys thought it was the coolest thing ever.  Well, to be honest, we adults did, too, but we couldn’t bounce around Daniel like excited puppies the way the boys did as he showed us how it worked.

Daniel had only a limited window of opportunity to make his call and needed to find a direct line-of-sight (no obstructions) to the satellite.  He ended up choosing a spot just outside my kitchen window and I couldn’t help hearing mini-bits of his conversation as I went in and out, cleaning things up.  I was amused when I realized that after a quick phone call to the news desk, the bulk of his “calling opportunity” was devoted to hashing out wedding plans with his fiancée.  Love in the midst of war.  It put a smile on my face.

The next morning we were surprised when Daniel said he had all he needed to write up his story and would be taking off soon.  We tried to get hints on what he found to write about but no hints were forthcoming.  Instead, he told us the article would be published in a few weeks and he’d give us a head's up by email.   As he left with Stan for the bus station, the kids and I crowded around the doorstep waving him off, with best wishes for a Happy Wedding, Happy Life!

Three weeks later the article came out.  And that was that.


The article, along with our memories, got filed into: Another Interesting Moment of Crossing Paths with the Unexpected.  And faded off to be a dim memory. Until three years had passed.

Back in 2002, we caught our news by watching the early evening TV news show.  Of course, that was also the time for helping the children get ready for bed, so it was rare for us to hear an entire broadcast.  One evening, in the midst of bedtime preparations, we thought we heard the words “Daniel” and “Wall Street Journal” (all said with a Montenegrin pronunciation) and jokingly wondered if it could be “our” Daniel.  

The next evening, we paid more careful attention. And yes, “our” Daniel was in the news…. for the most horrible of reasons.  He had been kidnapped by terrorists in the Middle East.   We wondered anew at how God had woven our lives to intersect ever so briefly. We prayed daily for him, his wife, his unborn child, for salvation, for mercy.

It was a cold, dark day, when we learned of his beheading. I cried and cried and cried.  Although I didn’t know Daniel Pearl well, our small connection from the past in light of the senseless, wicked brutality in the present made real for me David’s plea in Psalm 94: 

How long, Lord, shall the wicked—How long shall the wicked triumph?

Only God knows. In the midst of unimaginable wickedness, I cling tightly to this:

Here is the conclusion of the matter:  Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.  Eccles. 12: 13&14

Soli Deo Gloria!

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