God Working Through Those Who Believe

God Working Through Those Who Believe

DECEMBER 29, 2020

On June 27th, my husband Tom & I drove to Mechanicsburg to attend a luncheon to honor a 14-year old girl who was being confirmed in the Catholic church. After having lunch & several hours of conversation with Terezija Grbavac (fondly called Tea, by her family & friends), her father, two older sisters & the one sister’s husband, I decided that it was appropriate to share information about this family with all of you, now attending Camp Hill UMC. On June 24, 1997, 23 years before Tea’s confirmation, Tom and I and several other members of CHUMC traveled to Harrisburg International Airport to welcome the Grbavac family to the US.

The war between Bosnia and Croatia had ended, but there were still many lingering issues between the three major ethnic groups occupying the country. Many individuals and families were subjected to persecution because of their ethnic background. Many received refugee status and came to the US seeking peace and a new life for themselves and their families. Many faith-based groups in the greater Harrisburg area became involved in sponsoring and assisting refugees from Bosnia. CHUMC was one of those churches that had agreed to sponsor a family. Based on CHUMC members’ commitment to do God’s work, a Committee was formed, and Louise Rynd and I were co-leaders of the Refugee Team. Despite my best efforts, the only person I distinctly remember as part of the Team is Sandy Zirbel, who is still attending CHUMC.

Holding up a sign that read “Velk (Welcome) – Grbavac Family,” the family we greeted in the airport terminal was Pjer, his wife Sladjana, and their two daughters, Valentina (age 4) and Snjezana (age 2). Pjer had been in the Bosnian military and had survived being shot during the war. They had fled Bosnia because, as a mixed ethnic family (Croatian and Serbian), they were being subjected to harassment. They arrived with very few personal belongings, not much more than “the clothes on their backs.” Each of the girls had a doll in her arms, but no other toys. Pjer and Sladjana spoke only a few English words, and the CHUMC team knew only a few words from the Serbo-Croatian languages. While waiting for the CHUMC Mission House to have an empty apartment, Pjer, Sladjana, and the girls stayed with Tom and me. During the time the family stayed with us, members of the CHUMC Refugee Team provided support and assistance and began teaching them English. The rest of this article will serve to explain how God worked through the “Refugee Team.”

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Several weeks after their arrival, we moved them into the Mission House. Members of the Team met with the family almost every day – teaching them our language, taking them shopping for food, etc. Members of the Team were able to help Pjer get a job that did not require him to speak perfect English – stocking shelves at the Giant grocery store in Camp Hill could be done by matching boxes and can labels. Later that same year, Sladjana began working at Arnold Logistics Warehouse.

Today, 23 years after arriving in the US, the family has attained the “American Dream” – Pjer owns his own flooring installation business and several homes. Sladjana has worked for many years in the banking industry and is currently the Branch Operations Manager at the Camp Hill branch of Santander Bank. Valentina attended HACC, Central Penn College, and Saint Joseph’s University, earning an Associate’s degree in Medical Assisting, a Bachelor’s in Healthcare Administration, and a Master’s in Healthcare Administration and Organizational Development and Leadership. She is currently employed as the Finance and Marketing Coordinator at UPMC Pinnacle – AllBetter Care. Snjezana, married in June 2019 to Andrew Clark, received her Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice, from Central Penn College, in September and is currently employed by Members First Federal Credit Union as the Customer Service Assistant Manager.

In closing – When I first volunteered to help lead the Refugee Team, I had numerous concerns – the primary one “Could our church be successful in helping this family adjust to life in the US?” I spent a lot of time, as did the church during worship services, praying that God would lead us in helping this family. What started out as a project to help one refugee family ended up covering multiple years, assisting four families from Bosnia. Tom and I have been truly blessed by our participation in this project and are still in close contact with the Grbavac and Blazevic families. Over the years (even after our move to Maryland), we have been invited to family gatherings, attended a college graduation, have often visited, shared meals with the family, and consider them a part of our “extended family.” There is no doubt, in my mind, that God answered all of our prayers. Because we believe in him, all who volunteered for the CHUMC Refugee Team were his disciples, able to do his work! 

Linda Deckard