Not by Might or Power
When you hike up the Slovenian Alps located in the northwestern part of the country, two-thousand-meter-high snow-capped mountains rise above you, and below are forests and valleys with glacial lakes and rivers of stunning emerald green color that dance and sparkle. It is all very picturesque, and should you find yourself standing on an alpine meadow among these vistas, there may come a sudden urge to raise your arms and belt out the opening scene from The Sound of Music. Slovenia proudly wears her coat of scenic beauty and holds her head high for being one of the safest countries on the planet. But among this remarkable landscape is a current of spiritual apathy despite centuries of Christian influence. Slovenia has a long history of faith, but years of war in which religion was used on one side, followed by communism, have left people disillusioned with Christianity. For decades the gospel was repressed through the influence of communism. It is now repressed through the influence of secular humanism. The vast majority of Slovenes remain skeptical about Christianity and resistant to the gospel. Therefore, God had a purpose when he wrote Andrej Zelenjak‘s favorite Bible verse on his heart: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Given as both a word of warning and a word of wisdom, the Lord was preparing him for the dark and challenging days ahead.
Know Your Calling
In the second most secularized country in Europe, Andrej emphasized, “I always say to a new missionary coming to Slovenia, ‘You have to know your calling. You have to be certain about your calling.’ When you experience hardships, trials, and frustrations in the ministry you have to know your calling. It will help you fight through the stormy seasons.” When Andrej was 18, God began calling him. “It took a few years for me to recognize that God was calling me to ministry. Whenever I read the Bible and came to a specific verse, I heard the voice in my heart saying ‘You must be my witness! You must be my witness!’ Only looking back did I understand God was calling me into ministry.”
Not by might nor by power, but my My Spirit (Zech 4:6). That is how the work of the Lord is done. God directed his path and led Andrej to a Bible college. He says, “The Spirit of the Lord was leading me to study in Toronto, Canada even when I did not know much English at the time. I went by faith and successfully finished the four-year program.” Led by the Spirit, he continued on his path and soon met Lydia. Upon meeting her, the first words that stumbled out of his mouth were: “I won’t forget your name.” And he didn’t! Andrej recalls, “I did not know the Spirit of the Lord was prophesying through me. A year after this event I went to Serbia for a youth/young adult summer camp. There I fell in love with her.” Was she the one? He prayed for a month and sought guidance from the Lord and heard his voice, “Step out of the boat.” With a nervous voice but a confident heart, he proposed to her. Now he says: “The ‘water’ holds us both up and we are both enjoying our marriage.” The young newlyweds soon stepped into full time ministry with an invitation to work for a church in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Looking back, Andrej says, “There we got our first ministry experiences. We did not know how ministry works or how it looks like behind the scenes since we were right out of the educational season in our lives. Now we see that the Holy Spirit was leading us to that church and it was the right decision. There, we were introduced to ACCI by the lead pastor.” As Lydia and Andrej were learning to navigate through their young ministry, a new faith adventure would soon await them that tested everything they had.
Learning to Trust
It was a tough lesson, and a pair of shoes taught them about trust. Andrej recalls, “I can name the lesson: ‘Learn how to trust the Lord in the financial area.’ When I was growing up I never had a lack. When I was in college I had a very well paid student job, making a few times more than what was considered a normal student salary. And now when we stepped into full-time ministry with only $250 a month!!! The dollar in Slovenia goes as far as it does in North America. In certain areas, life is even more expensive in Slovenia than in the US. I do not know how we survived for a couple of years. The Lord was testing us to determine whether we are in the ministry because of money or because He has called us with His Holy calling. He was teaching us how to trust Him in the financial area.” God was taking this financial situation and building into them character, hope, and a future. Words of encouragement from a friend deeply impacted them. He had said, “People are funny. They trust the Lord for eternity, but they cannot trust Him for tomorrow.” They made the decision to continue to step in trust and soldiered on. “Our first financial step of faith was when I bought a pair of shoes I needed for 50 Euros, even though everything we had was 60 Euros for food and gas for the month. And the best thing of all was that we haven’t felt a lack!” That encouraged them to have Elija, their son by faith. They said, “We are so glad we learned the lesson. Trusting the Lord never disappoints, and by faith we continue to be in the ministry and did not quit even when it was hard.” It’s not about one’s own might and power. It’s about the might and power of the Holy Spirit. The verse etched on Andrej’s heart proved once again to guide his life.
“You are not here because of them, but because of Me!” These words thundered across Andrej’s thoughts and made him stop in his tracks. He had just finished a service, pastoring at the church an hour’s drive from where they lived. In addition to pastoring two other churches, Andrej says, “I was complaining to Lydia that we are wasting our time here because of different reasons.” They had only walked a few hundred yards after the service when the voice of God reprimanded: “You are not here because of them, but because of Me!” Andrej quickly repented, and to this day, they continue to pastor at the same church, which turned out to become, as he smiles, “the nicest one in the spiritual sense!” This experience reminded him of Jesus’ words: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to me” (Mat. 25:40).
In a country of 2 million people, there are only 2,000 evangelical believers. The Zelenjaks currently do pioneering work that serves the town of Kobarid. To nurture and sustain believers and invite new ones, Andrej and Lydia’s days are filled with public programs that serve the community and the surrounding area, such as charity concerts, kids’ happy clubs, meeting one-on-one, fellowshipping with people, marriage seminars, and summer kids camps, in addition to their regular church services. But with 90% of Slovenia’s municipalities lacking an evangelical presence, Andrej has a big vision to reach more people through video ministry. He says, “A couple of years ago I got the vision to start a video ministry. Just to let you know there is very little done, well almost nothing, in the area of Christian video production in the Slovene language. Moreover, almost every Slovene has a smartphone, tablet, computer or smart TVs at home. We believe the video ministry is the right tool to potentially come to every home in Slovenia. We believe video is the right tool for how to find the people who are seeking after God.”
Andrej and Lydia allowed the vision to marinate for a while to confirm that it was from the Lord. After spending additional time securing equipment and learning about lighting, visual and audio recording methods and editing approaches, they are now happy with the quality of the videos and have started to publish their first materials. They shared, “We are excited to see where this is going to be in a few years’ time. We believe and hope that many will find Christ and step on the path of eternal life because of this video ministry. Our desire down the road, if the Lord wills, is also that the Lord will lead capable people to us who will become a part of our video ministry team who will focus full-time on Christian video production.”
Planting for a Future Harvest
In 2013, Slovenia suffered a terrible ice storm that destroyed close to 40% of its forest. The mess of the storm is similar to the current spiritual state of the country. God is still working. He continues to come, even to a place of shambles, to clean up the mess and make room for new growth. And despite wading through a spiritual storm, Andrej and Lydia work tirelessly to plant the seed of His gospel to bring new life to Slovenia. They are of course, guided by the verse, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).
Learn more about Andrej and Lydia’s ministry and watch their video ministry: https://www.adventive.ca/all-project-list/andrej-and-lidija-zelenjak/