Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

From Mafia to Minister: Interview with Slavko

Once a month, I highlight the life of one ordinary person who by facing difficulty or choosing to do hard things, lives a better story. This week, I am told the story of my friend Slavko. You can read part one, two, and three if you want before you continue.

Slavko and I two months ago in Mostar

Slavko and I two months ago in Mostar

It is so easy to live a bad story and so hard to live a better one. When Slavko joined the mafia, he thought it would provide him a better life. Surprisingly, the better life was on the other side of suffering and brokenness. It has been my privilege this week to give a voice to his story.

However, you have heard enough from me. I want you to hear from Slavko himself. Yesterday, I asked him to answer a few questions. Here is his response.

You escaped a war, lived as a refugee, and survived cancer twice. What have you learned about facing difficult things in life?

My country went through a terrible war. Some people became rich through illegal means—we call them war profiteers. I like to joke that I am some kind of war profiteer. When I was dealing with my problems on my own, I didn’t see a need for God in my life. Then the war came. I cried out to God. Yes, I lost a lot of my material possessions in the war, but I profited spiritually. And the Bible says that my profits—spiritual things—are much more valuable than theirs.

That first prayer helped me start believing in God, but that belief was limited to God’s existence. I had no idea that I am a sinner, that my sins separate me from God and that I need God’s grace and forgiveness  When Jovana was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, I remembered all the promises I had made to God. I realized that I was a liar and a hypocrite— I searched for God only when I needed Him. Then, when he came through for me, I forgot the promises I had made.

As for the cancer, it showed me that my life priorities were out of order. Life is short and transient. Too many unimportant things were stealing my time and my joy. Now I enjoy my life, my family, and the people around me so much more. Its the smaller things in life that make it worth living.

The Bible says that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him. I experienced this truth. God allowed these difficulties and problems into my life to draw me closer to Him and change me for the better. I learned more about God and grew more in my character in two weeks with cancer then I did in 5 years of “normal” life.

What have these experiences taught you about God?

Well, I started at zero. Before that day I prayed for the first time, I knew nothing about God. Since then I’ve learned that God wants to reveal himself to us and that He always does when we sincerely search for Him. I’ve learned that God is the creator of everything and the Lord of the universe; yet He still cares for me and loves me! He showed me this love in Jesus,  the only just and sinless one, who gave his life on the cross to take the punishment for my sins. I’ve learned that His sacrifice can renew my relationship with God in this life, and for eternity after death. He has a plan for my life and His plan is perfect—much better then any plans I make. He is always in control and He knows what He is doing even when circumstances look hopeless. I am learning to put all my faith and trust in Him.

What would you say to those currently dealing with difficult circumstances?

We have a choice—we can carry our troubles, problems and difficulties through life, or we give them to God. I have tried both. For most of my life, I was an atheist, coping with difficulties on my own. Since I started following Jesus and seeking God’s help  through difficult situations, things have changed. Even during my most difficult problems, there is a smile on my face and joy in my heart because I know He cares for me. Best of all, I will spend eternity with Him. So I would tell those who haven’t experienced a relationship with God that we weren’t designed to carry our burdens alone. The second option is better. Jesus is always ready to forgive, to give us a new start, and take our difficulties from us.

To those who are followers of Christ, don’t be reluctant to ask for prayer and help from other believers. When I faced cancer the second time, it was the prayers of other Christians, their encouragement and care that helped me through that difficult time. Reading the Bible was also a great encouragement as God reminded me of His promises.

What about you? What difficulties are you facing? Let me know in the comments below.

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