My time in Zagreb has been a tough and challenging one. With this, I don’t mean I haven’t enjoyed it. In fact, this time has been a time of growing in character and resemblance to God. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it, because I’ve met some awesome, inspiring people who are not afraid of getting out of their comfort zones to make an impact in their society. I truly admire their friendliness and openness to outsiders and willingness to make them feel welcome into their city.
I also have to mention their taste for Latino soap operas, which was a beautiful link between them and my background J. I’ve been able to share stories; and hear them speaking Spanish to me has made me laugh and feel even more welcomed here.
I arrived to Zagreb on the 15th February 2017. Before that, back home in the UK, all I kept thinking was how was I going to fit in? The plans, visions, the dreams of making an impact through my work in Zagreb were always in my mind. Though, once I landed and was first exposed to the culture here, I realised that it was going to be an even greater challenge that I thought it was ever going to be. Yeah, it was scary and didn’t know what to expect but I knew that God brought me here for a reason.
The first couple of days were so helpful to get a fuller picture of the local culture. Coffee shops/bars everywhere (absolutely everywhere!), Clubs dotted around the city, blue trams and really cute dogs where the first things I noticed [not mentioning the big amounts of indoor smoking], not forgetting the many bakeries all over the place, and some very particular looking buildings that took me back to the past… I felt like a fish out of the water, definitely was not expecting any of that!
But God has always been faithful, especially with displaying his support through people. No matter where I go I always find fellow Christians willing to help me or guide me. There’s always been someone keen to see another brother succeed, and that gives me a lot of comfort, that no matter who we are or where we are, God is always faithful and he will not leave us on our own. So comforting, isn’t it?
I came here for my block placement. I study theology at Moorlands Bible College in the UK. As part of my course I have to put into practice the theory that I’ve learned during the past 2 years at university. It was a great opportunity to develop and grow in the knowledge of God! I also see it as an open door to take new approaches to do things and being immersed in a foreign culture, which I’ve found to be so refreshing for my soul.
I was often asked by people here, “why Croatia?” – as if I could have picked a better place?! – my answer was simply, “because I’ve always wanted to visit your country and I love working with students, what better opportunity!” I’ve always been interested in traveling and meeting new people from all sorts of places, I think my personality allows me to do that, therefore, I consider it a privilege rather than a burden, I see it as a blessing and an open door for learning. Plus, I get to experience situations that open my mind to new possibilities.
Coming to Zagreb and working with STEP, has really stretched me. I found out some of my weaknesses and was made vulnerable by the lack of all of those comforting things that I’m used to back home. But I can truly say it has been an amazing experience, I’ve befriended incredible people, so willing to serve and follow God, proud to be Croatian and passion to see their country improve. It’s true that the young people here have the desire to see things change, they want to break the mould of ‘narrow-mindedness’ and move into a more freeing society which is not subject to tradition and the classic “if the majority says it is right then it should be right.”
The students that I have encountered here desire better opportunities for their future. This is displayed by their drive to change and be more open to the world out there, to get rid of prejudices and hate despite the tough past they’ve gone through. This, as an outsider, gives me hope and gives me faith in these guys, because soon they will be in charge of running their country, and consequently the opportunities to make an impact beyond the borders will be theirs.
Working with university students is so much fun and rewarding, there is the freedom of having fellowship without worries, there is chance to grow in friendships and support each other in more equal terms. The trips, the tours, the sightseeing have made this experience so much fun and rewarding, I see myself coming back for sure.
Regarding STEP…. I stand in admiration for their hard work and vision to make an impact amongst students. I’ve been learning so much from the team, something that I’ll take back home with me. Today’s society is going further away from the Lord, therefore we need more people willing to give their time and skills to bring hope to a broken world, to bless those who lack, to guide those who are lost. My prayer is that STEP’s work will grow, no in numbers but in disciples. Those committed to the organisation are doing a great job, not realizing that God is using every single bit of their effort for his glory.
Overall, I leave Zagreb encouraged, tired and already wanting to comeback. Blessed is definitely how I’m feeling. The Lord is working, using every aspect of us, including the good and the bad. In our failures he sees opportunities for growth. When we want to give up, he is telling us “keep going.”
Written by: David Ruilova