The story so far
Both my parents were born in Montenegro. I was born in Los Angeles and grew up attending an Eastern Orthodox church. When I was young I had no love for Christ and no hatred of sin, although I believed I was a Christian. I was converted in 1979 during my first year at college.
I grew as a Christian at a local church, and also knew an increasing desire to serve the Lord in Montenegro. In 1982 I was married and in 1990 graduated from Westminster Seminary, California.
I served as a local church pastor and a reserve chaplain in the navy until I was called to active naval duty from 1991-1994. When my tour ended, I investigated the possibility of ministering in the former Yugoslavia, then in the middle of civil war.
We made contact with churches in Serbia and together with our church elders came to the decision that I should minister at an existing church in Serbia with the goal of raising up a team for church planting work in Montenegro.
After being denied visas by the Yugoslav government, I entered Montenegro and was soon granted visas for my whole family. Although God shut the door to Serbia he opened it to Montenegro – the very place we eventually wanted to minister anyway!
There were already two church planting works in Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital and largest city. So in 1996 we began our ministry in Niksic, Montenegro’s second largest city. The city also had a university with an English programme.
When we arrived, we didn’t know a single Christian in the entire city. Over the years our work has expanded from ministering in group Bible studies, one-on-one, to holding Lord’s Day services. We long for God to form us into a functioning biblical church, and we long to see other such churches established throughout Montenegro.
Until 20 years ago, there was not a single Protestant church in Montenegro. Fifteen years ago, Pentecostal and Brethren missionaries came from Serbia and started church groups in the capital. We became the third Protestant church planting work in Montenegro, the only one that is self-consciously Reformed – one of just a few Reformed churches in former Yugoslavia.
In addition to reaching out to our local community, we are also seeking to establish a reformed study centre where believers (and unbelievers) from Yugoslavia could come and be grounded in truth (something like what Francis Schaeffer and L’Abri did in Switzerland, only on a much smaller scale).
We need lots of help – we need co-workers and help with gospel ministry. What a joy it would be to see serious, reformed workers join with us here before the superficial, faddish and erroneous start flooding in.
Problems and progress
Although we have had good unity with the two other Protestant churches in Niksic, we are currently experiencing problems with ‘radical’ Pentecostals. They cause problems by their false doctrine and by their open attacks on us for our stress on teaching from the Bible.
Currently the landlord of our church building does not allow us to put up a church sign. This coincides with Eastern Orthodox propaganda that we are a cult. We would love to have our own building with a cross and sign in the middle of the city.
In this culture everyone walks through the middle of the city on their errands and for recreation. If we had a building there along with a bookstore, I believe we would have real ‘walk-in’ interest that would help us present the gospel and minister to many.
We recently had an indication of the slow but steady progress of the gospel. We went to a meeting for believers from all over the country organised by the three Protestant churches in Montenegro. This was attended by members of those three churches, by church planting brethren, and by believers from parts of Montenegro where there are no churches.
About 130 people attended – a significant increase from the last All-Montenegro meeting five years ago. And the number of towns represented was tripled. Last time, I think we (the Surbatovich family) had pretty much both the oldest and youngest attendees. This time there were more people of all ages.
We rejoice to see the work of Christ here in Montenegro, as God is building his church.