Republic of Croatia
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The political upheaval of southern Europe in the 1990s saw Croatia once again become a sovereign country after many years for foreign control. Located on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea with Slovenia to the north and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the south and west, Croatia boasts a population of more than 4.5 million people in an area of about 56,500 Sq km (22,000 sq miles). Historically, Croatia dates back more than 1000 years, emerging in the ninth century and peopled by Slavic speaking immigrants from the region of present-day Ukraine. Invaded by Hungary in the twelfth century Croatia was subsequently controlled by Ottoman Turks, Austrian Hapsburgs, Hungarian rule with a Croatian Monarchy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and in the twentieth century Croatia became part of the state of Yugoslavia. Intermittently Croatia enjoyed pockets of independence and self-rule. Independence came again in 1991 followed by several years of hostilities as Croatian Serbs attempted to integrate Croatia into a “Greater Serbia.” At present Croatia is a Republic governed by two legislative bodies known as the House of Districts and the House of Assembly.
Economically, about one-fifth of the population and about one-fifth of the land are devoted to agricultural pursuits. Cereals, fruit and tobacco are the main crops and sheep are also raised. Industry claims a little more than another one-fifth of the economic base. Some iron and coal are produced. Services make up more than half the economy. Tourism was once an important industry, particularly the historic city of Dubrovnik, but it was largely destroyed in the Civil and regional wars of the 1990s.
Roman Catholicism dominates the religious scene of Croatia claiming more than two-thirds of the population. Orthodox Christianity is the largest minority with Slavic Muslims, Protestants and various other religious traditions representing small minorities.
The Stone-Campbell Movement in Croatia has largely centered around the capital city of Zagareb with a genesis dating back to the late 1960s through the work of several people of the American a cappella Churches of Christ. Because missionary activity was forbidden at that time David Gatewood and Bud Pickle moved to Zagareb in 1969 and began as students at the University. Enrolling in Croatian language courses their Christian commitment and lifestyle attracted the attention of their teacher, Mladen Jovanovic (1945-2013), and by 1971 he became a convert to Christianity.. Through his leadership, and the work of other evangelists, fourteen churches were planted and the Church of Christ in Croatia received official recognition from the government. He also led a Biblical Institute in Zagreb.
A very small group of Christians began meeting in homes. Building the church in Croatia was a slow and delicate process. Because of the mindset of the people and the prevailing ideology of the era very careful steps were taken to make the new church a Croatian church not an imported religion. Otis Gatewood and Bob Hare made regular visits to the city to help strengthen the Christians there. Bud Pickle was able to initiate a short-wave “Herald of Truth” broadcast from Portugal that allowed people to learn of God’s love in the privacy of their own homes. With the help of this underground radio the church meeting in homes was able to survive. Other Americans went to Croatia in the late 1970s and by this time Mladen Jovanivic was able to work full-time with the Church in Croatia with the support of a congregation in Texas. By 1981 Ivan Tesic also became a full-time worker in the church. 1989 saw native Christian Misho Jovanovi return to Zagareb and take up Christian work. By 1985 the Church of Christ in Zagareb was recognized by the government and a three room apartment was purchased for the congregation. By 1998 a building was constructed for the congregation. In 2001 a beautiful building was also constructed for the congregation meeting in Zapresic.
With the independence of Croatia in 1991 the doors began to slowly open and other Americans made trips to Zagareb serving as summer interns and conducting a “Let’s Start talking” campaign. Another result of the fall of Communism in Croatia was the need for food, medicine, clothing and other necessities. Humanitarian organizations (Partners in Progress, Manna International, Healing Hands International) and congregations of the American churches of Christ responded with $3.5 million dollars worth of supplies and Croatian Christians were able to minister to 3,000 refugee families. Because of this hands-on ministry the Christians in Croatia became known as the people of the Book and of action.
Seeing the benefit of radio in the education of Christians World Radio Croatia began broadcasting in 1992. Introductory messages were prepared for two weekly newspapers to aid listeners in following the broadcasts. The Zapresic congregation was active in such broadcasts as well as serving 800 families a month with relief supplies. A Bible School was established in Zagareb. Mark Hornbaker was able to prepare a Croatian and Serbian Hymnal. Both of these help to train the Christians in Croatia. In an April 2003 interview in The Christian Chronicle Mladen Jovanovic reported that there were seven congregations located throughout Croatia, each with an attendance of 50-100.
The International Churches of Christ planted a church in Zagreb in 2006.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
Revised by Gary Holloway, December 3, 2013
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