Wednesday, February 19, 2020 -
I just finished reading the nearly 4,000 pages Winston Churchill penned providing his own account of the history of World War II. it was fascinating to view the fateful time from the eyes and mind of this great strategic master. It really puts things into perspective as he tells of how the conflict really did spread the world over in places we never connect as venues for major conflicts during World War II.
One of the places Churchill spends a lot of time discussing was Yugoslavia, forcibly taken by the Nazis but defended to the end by “Tito,” the Communist mountain guerilla leader who tormented the German and Italian occupiers throughout the war. Five nationalities were part of the nation of Yugoslavia – the Croatians, Serbians, Slovenians, Macedonians, and the Montenegrins. I recall visiting Communist Yugoslavia as a young man back in the early 1970s, when I spent my teenage summers in Greece, learning the Greek language. One day I decided to take a bus across the border to Skopje, which is now the capital of Macedonia. I walked around for a while, but the streets were deserted for the most part – unusual for a city in the summertime. There were few stores, and around every corner was another loudspeaker blaring some sort of propaganda. I was feeling very uneasy being there and was very happy to get back to Greece that same evening.
Kathie recently sent me an excellent book by Marie Chapman called “Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy,” which tells the true story of the Christians caught in the retaliatory fire of the Germans seeking revenge on the Yugoslav people for Tito’s effective guerilla tactics. I’m only fifty or so pages into the book, but it brought back memories, not just of my visit to Yugoslavia nearly fifty years ago, but a more recent memory going back almost seventeen years when I was with Kathie in Greece along with our daughter Victoria, who Kathie and I took with us as a reward for getting the best grades in school that year. This was the time we were homeschooling all six of our children. I had accepted an invitation to speak at a Christian conference on the Attica peninsula near Athens.
Of course, I can never visit Greece without visiting what I consider my “home away from home,” that of George and Ermioni Katzargis, in Katerini. It was in that area of Greece I spent my summers as a teenager, staying at the Christian camp and conference center at what used to be a tiny seashore village named Leptokaria. Twice a week I took the morning train into Katerini for my Greek lesson with my tutor, and the rest of the day I spent with George and their two young sons and eating Ermioni’s wonderful cooking. I had taken Kathie there many years before, back in 1984, when I finally took her on a belated honeymoon (three years after our marriage). I couldn’t believe how Katerini had grown into a big city and Leptokaria had been transformed into a large resort destination for all of the Balkan countries – in just nineteen years!
Now the timing was 2003, shortly after the end of the Serbian-Croatian War that so decimated those parts of Yugoslavia. Quite incidentally, we arrived at the same camp at Leptokaria during a conference of evangelical youth leaders from the entire Baltic region of Europe. The conference was sponsored by AMG International, which had a significant outreach in those countries north of Greece. What was amazing was the number of young men there from both Serbia and Croatia. For several nights in a row, these young men would stand in front and repent and apologize to each other for the animosity they had just gone through. I was telling “Texas” about this today, how only the power of Christ in one’s heart can bring about this kind of forgiveness. Here were men, who not more than just a few years prior were trying to kill one another, weeping on each other’s shoulders tears of forgiveness and reconciliation. How amazing is the power of God’s forgiveness once He encompasses our hearts! Just thinking about that gives me such joy and hope. It was an amazing experience, but not the last time I would experience it. A mere five years later, this time in Katerini, Greece, Kathie and I would witness it again – bitter enemies begging forgiveness, weeping together over the atrocities that were committed in the past. I’ll you about that incident tomorrow!