Aziza was born in the Netherlands to a Serbian Christian mother and a Moroccan Muslim father. These two cultures clashed at home, and there was additional tension in public dealing with living in a third culture. Two religious beliefs in the home were also challenging. Her father often overruled her mother: Bible reading was forbidden, as was attending church.
But Aziza was always aware of God’s love. “I never doubted that God existed. I knew that God existed. I just knew it, and I truly believe that was God’s protection for me in my life,” she said. Summers seemed like a special gift from God. Aziza and her mother visited family in Serbia every summer, while her father traveled to Morocco. “Just going there and really knowing that God loved me and being with people that loved God was just amazing,” she explained.
Aziza was allowed to attend a week-long Christian youth camp each summer in Serbia. Aziza explained why she loved attending the summer camp: “It was just wonderful to meet my own age group that loved the Lord also. Truly for me, it was in Serbia where I really found the Lord. He really touched me every single year again. He really spoke into my life and into my heart. It just kept me going for the full year.”
Imagine only being able to worship, hear teaching about Jesus, read the Bible, and fellowship with other Christians for a few months of the year. God was working to use the experience to sustain Aziza throughout the year. She had the hope and anticipation of another summer in Serbia with her Christian relatives and friends.
God at Work
As an adult, Aziza met and married Jacob, a native of the Netherlands. Sharing a strong sense of calling, they went to Ireland in 1997 to help with a new church plant. That church plant was very fruitful, and they looked for opportunities to do other ministries. God supplied. Jacob and Aziza heard about ANM’s need for field directors for Europe. That meant they could step into a role that would tap into their passion for church planting and take advantage of their broad European connections. Aziza’s ability to speak and translate Serbian was a bonus and would be a tremendous help to ANM staff who would visit the area.
They began building on relationships they had already established to find new ministry partners around Europe for ANM to support. One of their recommendations was the Serbian ministry running the summer camp that so blessed and encouraged Aziza as a child. Its acceptance by ANM meant that Aziza could converse with the new ministry partners, her friends from camp, who were still holding the summer camps that began in 1972.
A Hard Harvest Field
A little history will clarify the significance of the camp to Aziza. The Serbian people are considered an unreached people group. So how could they minister to this child from the Netherlands? God was at work. Serbia’s long history of oppression and rejection of the gospel, from the 800s when Serbia was first evangelized to the 20th century when a new Christian movement arose, left little hope for the growth of Christianity. God prevailed: a tiny minority of Christians hung on and kept believing. They decided to hold a one-week camp for children each summer for many years, which doesn’t seem like it would have much of an impact. But God used this small, indigenous group doing a one-week camp to touch Aziza. That camp was a light, a hope, and an encouragement to Aziza — a place where she grew in her faith.
An Exciting Future
The potential for reaching the Serbian unreached people group is very promising at this time. George Ainsworth, our Regional Director for Europe, explained that Serbia has been a free multi-party democracy for over 20 years. Because of this, the people have departed from their traditional way of thinking — that being ethnic Serbian means being Orthodox. “Orthodox” did not necessarily mean born again or growing in spiritual fruitfulness.
But God is on the move. There is now more openness to the gospel, especially among the younger people. George said, “I am very excited for the future as we partner with our Serbian ministry partner reaching this unreached people group… They are absolutely zealous for evangelism and new church planting and always looking for avenues to bring the gospel to new places and new communities. They do great with the resources they have. Finding them more resources will just accelerate the process. I really believe these next few years can be the greatest hour of spiritual history for the Serbian people.”
Who but God could have put all the pieces together over so many years to reach one young girl who would later be in a position to bring much-needed support to this small Serbian ministry at a crucial time?
This story is a beautiful example of God working in many miraculous ways for an unreached people group to be reached with the gospel of Jesus. A person may face many obstacles, but God intervenes and obstacles fall away or are overcome.
Donations to ANM support productive ministries, like this camp in Serbia, that are changing lives. Though some ministries may seem small, remember Jesus’ story of the mustard seed, the few talents, a young shepherd, and a boy who had strange dreams. God uses small things. You might think, “But I can give so little, pray only a few minutes a day, only attend a Zoom meeting, or communicate by letter or email. What good can any of that do in such a big world?” It can be a help and blessing when God uses it.