Saying Yes to new adventure / by Ivor Karabatkovic

As many of you know, I've been in the process of planning a trip to Bosnia, where I was born. I've been updating my closest family and friends with developments, but haven't really sat down to write everything out in detail. So, here we go!

Here's a bit about myself, my family's journey and how we ended up where we are today.

I was born in 1989. My dad worked as a journalist and my mom was (and still is) a dental technician. We lived with my mom’s side of the family in Doboj until 1991, when the fighting was really close to our city and my parents had to make the call to flee.

Two-year-old me in our front yard in Bosnia.

Two-year-old me in our front yard in Bosnia.

There were talks about a peace agreement being signed, so my parents packed two small bags and left for the capitol of Croatia. They planned for a three week trip. We had to cross checkpoints that could’ve deterred us from making it to Zagreb. My mother went to Germany on her own to begin working as a dental technician. My dad, older brother and I followed six months later. We settled in a small town in Bavaria, where we were met by Catholic Sisters serving refugee families like ours. They worked so hard with local officials and residents to provide meals, clothing, education, tutoring, and jobs. It was there where I first encountered any form of organized religion. I was first told about Jesus in Germany, and by first grade I consciously remember wanting to learn more about Him.

At the beginning, we lived as any refugee family would- off of the aid that locals were so generous to provide. We weren’t the only refugee family in our small town, so we grew up with other kids from the same country. German was the first language I learned to read and write. I loved playing travel soccer. I spent most of my days with the same group of friends who were refugees, or I nagged and bothered my older brother and his friends.

My brother and I in our hometown in Germany.

My brother and I in our hometown in Germany.

The German government began sending refugee families back in 1998, so we were left with a choice to go back to Croatia, Bosnia, or go somewhere else. We couldn’t go back to Croatia and enlist in school there because of my mom’s nationality, and we couldn’t go back to our hometown because of my dad’s nationality, so we applied for sponsorship through Catholic Charities and were one of the families to get accepted. 

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We moved to Cleveland, Ohio in July of 1998 because we had friends there who made the same move. Again, we were met by a sponsor family who were so generous and took us in when we had a few suitcases of belongings. Our sponsor family helped my parents find work immediately- my mom still works at the same dental lab 17 years later. I remember little things like being given a soccer ball to play with in their yard, or being explained what baseball is. They seem so small to 27-year-old me, but were comforting to the nine-year-old me that was walking through those moments. Our three week trip turned to 15 years for me to go back to visit, and 26 years since my father has been back. My mom and brother have been back more often. I was taught English by volunteers and a great ESL teacher, Amy. I'll never forget the effort and time she put into teaching us refugee kids the language- because of her I regained my voice.

God gripped my heart when I visited Bosnia for the first time in 2005. I was 15 and just picked up a camera for the first time and began exploring photography as a creative outlet. As someone who was too young to understand the complexities of the war in Yugoslavia, I relied on photographs from conflict photographers to show me what went on. My parents rightfully sheltered us from most things and I'm beyond thankful for that. The coverage of the war not only helped me understand what happened but helped me see the value of storytelling and the closure it can bring to someone who was trying to piece his past together. I wanted to document what I was hearing and share it with the world.

My brother and I in Sarajevo, Bosnia's capitol city.

My brother and I in Sarajevo, Bosnia's capitol city.

Throughout the Bible, we see God use ordinary people who fear and doubt and fail. How encouraging is that? It hasn’t stopped happening. We don’t have to have the highest GPA from the best seminary school to impact a life and introduce someone to Christ. God’s going to work through whoever He wants to work through. We have to be willing and ready to be interrupted by the bigger things God has in mind for us. As perfect and disruptive to our own selfish plans as God’s timing is, it’s our inability to give up control over some things (or everything) that will bring us more difficulties and bigger challenges. We shouldn't disqualify ourselves from receiving God's appointment based on our worldly understanding of success and ability.

So I began to plan this trip, and soon after, I was connected with a pastor in Sarajevo. Then he connected me with a pastor in Banja Luka and my hometown, who we found out later is my third cousin. Then I began to reach out to missionaries who were writing about their work in Bosnia, and more things fell into place. In a matter of six months, God figured out transportation, connections with family, friends, churches, housing here and abroad, and provided about 120 kids to teach English to and mentor on a weekly basis (awesome isn't it?!). Funding is still a big question mark, but I believe that God will provide it.

This process isn't easy. As excited I am to go and begin this journey, I realize I will be on across the ocean from my family. Safety and security are always a concern, and my definition of stability will be changed. We truly have to rely on Him for everything. So, prayers and encouragement would be greatly appreciated.

A few days ago, I felt overwhelmed with emotions of leaving and beginning again. Following God's call to another country isn't easy, even with the path being more clear than before. I found great comfort in Jonah's story. Hers a man who was called by God to go to a place, and instead of going northeast to the city, he hopped on a ship going about 2500 miles west to try to get away from the call and the Caller. But it didn't work. Actually, none of Jonah's plans worked, but God's did, and everything ended better than Jonah thought it would go. Who else can relate?

It's been quite the journey to today, and I'm excited for the future. God has proven Himself so faithful and my family and friends have been so helpful and patient with me and this process. I'll hopefully have some more updates soon!