It was an overcast, drizzly day in November when I sat in a local restaurant in Pristina, Kosovo, listening with increasing interest to a new, yet familiar, story.
Entering the smoke-filled, pub-like restaurant, mostly made up of men sitting around small round tables, five Global Partners (GP) colleagues and I wove our way to the back of the restaurant to find a smoke-free area filled with the aroma of flavorful Kosovar food. Newly assigned missionaries, Ken and Dawn Bishop — missionaries formerly serving in the bordering country of Albania for the past 12 years — shared their heart for the Kosovar people over lunch. They had recently moved to the smaller city of Skenderaj, Kosovo. Kosovo Albanians make up over 95 percent of the population in Skenderaj, with the Muslim religion just as high. Our group listened with anticipation to the hope of reaching more for Christ in this town of 52,000.
The Bishops had invited a partnering Kosovo Nazarene pastor to join us that day. Imir arrived about the time we were having after-lunch coffee. Imir’s smile and engaging introduction created an immediate connection with this looks-younger-than-his-age, mid-thirty-year-old Kosovar.
“Tell us your story,” I said, after introductions. From the beginning, his story captured our attention.
Born in Kosovo to an agnostic father and a nominal Muslim mother, Imir sensed as a kid that he wanted to be a priest. Growing up in an environment that didn’t express belief in a personal God or faith in Jesus as the Son of God, this desire could only be explained as God uniquely drawing him to serve in a religious capacity.
Imir shared a fascinating part of his story that impacted and reminded me of what our rich Wesleyan theology calls God’s prevenient grace–the grace that goes before grace. Prevenient grace is exactly what Imir identified it. He experienced God’s grace revealing Jesus before he experienced salvation through Christ.
It was at the age of 12, that Imir “knew for certain that Jesus was Lord and Savior of the world.” As he shared, my heart stirred within at the reminder of God’s drawing grace.
He just knew. The Holy Spirit was revealing the truth of Jesus to Imir years before he experienced salvation, to a young boy living in a home and country where the name of Jesus was not proclaimed.
With tensions that had been brewing for years with the collapse of Yugoslavia, the Kosovo War broke out in 1998. At the age of 14, Imir and his family, among hundreds and thousands of civilians, sought refuge in the bordering country of Albania. While a refugee, at the age of 15, Imir went to church for the first time and came to a saving faith in Christ. “I was ready to give my life to Jesus. God had been working in my life and drawing me close. It was as if all the pieces came together and I knew what I needed to do.”
What a comfort God’s presence was to Imir. “It felt like a close friendship. I would look up in the sky and smile as if God was smiling back.”
“With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself” (Jeremiah 31:3).
God engages in conversation and circumstances, lovingly drawing others to himself. He’s speaking to those who surround you at work, at home and at play, even in brief moments, on a plane, during an Uber ride, or in the grocery store checkout line.
Sometimes we discover this grace by simply asking, “tell me your story,” listening to truly hear and understand. By asking, you may be able to identify and affirm God’s grace working in them.
Like Imir, who had a “sense of God’s closeness” before he knew much of anything about God, there may people in your life on the cusp of being made new in Christ. It’s those of us, like you, like me, who could be one of the points of connection to open their eyes to the love of God. You may be joining a conversation that God is already having.
That day in the restaurant, as I listened to Imir’s story, I couldn’t help but imagine the stories yet-to-be-told of those in the town of Skenderaj who are being drawn by God’s patient, loving-kindness. Grace before grace.
When entering a new mission field, GP laborers seek people and places who might open up doors, be a source of gaining history and be a mutual encouragement in the work of the Kingdom. We are thankful for Imir and others who join in the work of the Great Commission. Pray for GP missionaries, Ken and Dawn Bishop and Corey and Emilie Munsell, as they engage with the people of Skenderaj.