Croatia: From tears ... hope!
By Tim Schirman
In my 25 years of videography, I have conducted numerous
interviews with people who get emotional as they share their heart. But this
time it’s just too much. My “news videographer heart” crumbles, and I stop the
What is left of my objectivity is destroyed when 16-year-old
Kelsey Wade looks at me and says, “I’m sorry I can’t stop crying. I’m trying to
tell you what you want to hear — that it is all good and things are great
here. But it is just so hard.”
This story is about some wonderfully “real” missionaries
giving their lives to Croatia — and why Kelsey, a missionary kid, is
But first, the beginning …
I have never met missionary Christopher Wade, so as I walk
out of customs I look around and play “guess the missionary.” A distinguished
gentleman looks like a potential candidate, but he ignores me. None of the
signs held up are for me. The only person left is a guy with a shaved head.
He’s wearing a bright red jersey and looks like he’s on his way to a soccer
He is the missionary!
Driving to the Wades’ city of ministry — Osijek,
Croatia — Christopher fills me in on his family’s first years of
ministry. I am curious, since it is unusual for me to do a story on
missionaries during their first term.
A missionary family’s first few years are foundational as
they learn a language, build relationships with the national church, and look
for gaps in ministry that God wants them to fill. Most of the exciting missions
stories come in later years as ministry matures and bears fruit.
As Christopher tells me their story, I see that he and his
wife, Renee, have come at a time when God seems to be accelerating the work.
They hit the ground running, and in just over two years a brand-new youth
outreach is in full swing, complete with a recently constructed ministry
Not our plans, but God’s
“We did not
come to Croatia to start a youth center,” Christopher tells me. “Our goal was
to come and learn the language and build some relationships.”
But God quickly burdened the Wades with the heavy needs of
Croatia’s lost youth.
“We realized God was saying, ‘Look, learn the language. Make
a relationship with the church. That’s great.’ But He also opened our eyes to
what’s going on with the kids.” Christopher gets emotional as he continues.
“When you walk through Osijek, you see young people who are just wild. They’re
not getting guidance.”
The Wades responded to the compelling need by holding a
series of creative youth outreaches. Soon they found themselves with a core
group of relationships from which to build a youth evangelism center. But
digging a foundation in hard soil is, well, hard.
“I just get up every day saying, ‘Lord, I don’t know what
I’m doing,’” Christopher tells me. “‘I can’t speak the language. I have no idea
how to start or run a youth center. What am I going to do?’ I realized early on
that all I can do is just be faithful every day.”
Being faithful when you are over your head has to be one of
the hardest things in our Christian walk. Nevertheless, I have witnessed over
and over again that miracles happen when human strength is not adequate for the
Christopher confirms this when he tells me, “We look back
over the past two years and realize God really is in this thing. We have great
relationships with people at the police department. We have great relationships
with people at the store and the market and in the neighborhood. These people
aren’t Christians, but they know what we’re doing.”
Workday at the ministry center
Simon Wade, Christopher and Renee’s 9-year-old son, is
hanging on for dear life as a Croatian teen pushes him in a wheelbarrow around
the grounds of the youth ministry center. Looking around, I see a group of kids
putting the finishing touches on the site. My dad would have called these kids
ruffians, and they are. But they are surprisingly well-behaved ruffians.
I grab my camera and head inside. I’ve been around some
tough young people, and I can tell right away these kids are used to running
wild. But as I watch them carrying off trash from the construction site and
digging holes to plant trees on the property, I am amazed by how much respect
they show the Wades and their six children.
Christopher tells me the story behind the workdays. “The
kids knew we were building a youth center for them, and so we got to thinking
— since the center is for them, they ought to come and do some work,” he
recalls. The Wades announced a workday, and 17 Croatian youth showed up.
“They worked hard,” Christopher tells me. “We had them doing
different things — digging, moving wood and junk, collecting garbage
— hard work. Our last workday was supposed to be on a Tuesday, but on
Wednesday our doorbell rang and there were all the kids again. They continued
working the next four days and really took a lot of pride in what they were
doing. We were shocked. We couldn’t believe they continued to show up and work
As Christopher shares, I look around at the kids who are
working yet again. Clearly, they are here because of the love and respect they
receive from the Wade family.
The coolest MKs ever!
The Wades’ children — Simon (9), Kelsey (16), Jeremy
(15), Isaac (13), Micah (11) and Noah (7) — take me to their favorite
pizza place. This is my first opportunity to get to know these MKs, and we form
an instant bond. Being a missionary kid myself, I am predisposed to think that
all MKs are special, but these kids would stand out in any crowd. They are
charming, outgoing and passionate about ministry.
While we eat, we talk about all kinds of things. I get a
sense that their commitment to ministry in Croatia has a human side. This is
not easy work. They have experienced persecution and loneliness. They have
struggled and questioned, but they have done the work of ministry despite hard
times and disappointments.
The room is dark, the stage lights are flashing and the
worship music is loud — all ingredients of a youth service. The crowd is
not quite standing room only, but full enough to be surprising for any Croatian
It is Saturday night and the youth center is having an
outreach. Kelsey, Jeremy, Isaac, Micah, Simon and Noah each have a role to
play, and they are doing it enthusiastically.
There are games and fun, then ministry and prayer time. I am
amazed to see how engaged these Croatian kids are, especially since they have
no church background. The foundation for lasting work is being laid, and real
spiritual fruit is being harvested.
Lighting the way
I really don’t like risking my life and well-being, but
sometimes it just happens.
At midnight, Christopher and I walk to the pitch-black
riverfront. All around us, young people are drinking and partying. No police
are present, no control of any kind. With my video camera I can barely make out
a teenage girl with a large bottle of alcohol stumbling from group to group and
passing out drinks. This is spiritual darkness, but normal life for most
When we reach the middle of the scene, I ask Christopher if
he is ready and hit the on switch of my camera light. I know from experience
things will get interesting really fast, and they do. Kids scatter, yell at us
and then get curious.
Within minutes Christopher manages to calm a few teens and
they talk to him. I watch in amazement as he launches a conversation about God
and creates an opportunity for ministry in the most godless spot in the city.
Light penetrating darkness gets a reaction every time!
While my time in Croatia was unforgettable, my conversation
with Kelsey made the greatest impact on me personally. As soon as she begins
crying, our interview stops. “I’m so sorry, Kelsey,” I tell her, regretting the
pressure I have unintentionally put on her. “I never want you to feel like you
can’t be real as an MK.” With the camera off, I share some personal things from
my own life growing up as an MK in Haiti.
As I try to encourage her and listen more closely to what
she is saying, I am shocked to realize that she is not crying because of the
difficulty of ministry in Croatia. Though she is one of the hardest working MKs
I have ever met, she’s crying because she feels she has not done enough! Some
Croatian teens whom Kelsey now calls friends have not yet given their hearts to
Christ. Kelsey sheds tears from a heart that is broken for the lost.
Later, Renee shares story after story of ministry
opportunities each of her kids have had, such as witnessing to large groups of
adults at a party, personal evangelism and even praying for the sick. Each
child has made an impact for the gospel in Croatia. And each member of the Wade
family prays for more — more of God and more fruit from the harvest.
Christopher sums up the theme of the Wade family. “We feel
inadequate. We get scared and think, Is this going to work? And then great
things happen. We believe the Lord is saying, ‘Just keep going. Just keep doing
what you do, and I’ll keep doing what I do.’”
TIM SCHIRMAN is video production manager for AG World
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