By Jay and Natascha Georgeff, Des Moines Vineyard, IA.
Have you ever thought you may have missed your calling? Or forfeited one too many opportunities? Or maybe turned a deaf ear to the Lord’s leading? If so, we can relate!
Currently, Jay and I (Natascha) are sitting in Denmark, preparing for our next steps to move to the former Yugoslavia. We recently finished a three-month vision trip through the Balkan countries of Montenegro, Bosnia, and Croatia. We carried no detailed, clever plan, but had simply tried to be attentive to God’s leading. Right now we are in the process of transitioning from a typical American family life to an empty-nester life in the Balkans.
The Original Call
The “call” to Eastern Europe began for both of us before we even met. Jay’s Macedonian grandparents and my Russian lineage have played a big part in shaping who we are. We have often felt that God is using our family history in how we see the world around us.
After Jay finished Bible School in 1991, we moved to my hometown in Denmark with the goal of becoming “tent-makers” in Russia. In 1992, we took an extended trip from Denmark to Moscow to explore working with a Baptist church. This was right after the fall of the iron curtain; a crazy time for sure! Though we clearly felt God confirming our call to love on the people in former communist-ruled countries, we both sensed the timing was off for us. We didn’t have a plan B and soon struggled with doubt and embarrassment. We questioned if we really heard from God about serving the church in Russia, or was it just our zest for adventure?
In 1996, we moved back to the States and became a part of the Vineyard in La Jolla, CA. By then we were a family of six with life in high gear! On our best days, a life of Eastern European missions was a distant, foggy dream. But in La Jolla we soaked up the rich truths of Kingdom Theology and “everyone gets to play” -- transformational truths for us then and now. We fell in love with the Vineyard distinctives of “how we do church” and “love people the way Jesus does.” During those days our desire for missions and church planting were being formed.
Had We Simply Missed Our Chance?
More than two decades flew by after our original call, and we resigned ourselves to the idea that it was probably too late to dream again. Ugly parts of life kept us from looking much beyond ourselves. It was easier to believe that we were too messed up from personal failures and marital struggles. Had we missed our chance? Over and over again we would disqualify ourselves, which essentially kept us from asking God what He was working in us.
Slowly it became apparent that our self-deception did not change the desires He had placed in our hearts. The year 2012 was our burning-bush moment. Both of us experienced the Holy Spirit setting fire to the old call. Visions of life “somewhere in the Balkans” flooded our hearts and filled our dreams at night. A strong desire to see more Vineyards planted there welled up in us. This went on for weeks!
That year the Father was saying to us, "I have not forgotten you. You did not screw up. You are not too old. I have equipped you. The time is now. I am sending you. I will lead you.” We came alive to the heart and love of the Father toward the people of the Balkans. There were only two responses for us: lean in and keep up!
The scripture that spoke deeply to our hearts was Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
God orchestrated two vision trips in 2013 and 2014 that were instrumental and fruitful in connecting us to Vineyard leaders already working in the Balkans. Relationships were established then and have grown to friendships that continue to encourage us.
As faith-building and exciting as these trips were, they also birthed a heavier reality in us. One of resoluteness. Every decision from here on out would need to fuel our call and not derail it. We began to realize some of the costs of following Jesus.
For Jay, the thought of leaving our children in the States became a painful source of guilt. This internal anguish came to a head when a few people with good motives asked, “Jay, how can you leave your kids?! This is the most important time of their lives…you need to be there for them!!” That hurt. Jay’s guilt went into overdrive, replaying those words on a continuous loop for the next year.
But Jesus stepped in. In a very loud whisper, Jesus said, “Jay, you are not leaving your kids, you are leading them. You are showing them that there are often difficult decisions to make when you follow me.” His words were very freeing. Side note: our children and their spouses are by far our biggest cheerleaders in following God’s call, and we couldn’t be more thankful.
God didn’t stop there. He made a way for us out of financial debt. This huge undertaking took years. We prayed for God to increase our income, and He answered by dropping a well-paying job into Jay’s lap. It took him to California for nearly a year, separating our family. It also meant years of overtime hours for me, a nurse, to maximize our earnings. It meant saying no to really good things. And it meant selling our home of 17 years to pay off our remaining debt. While the debt reduction plan was going on, we also had to seek costly medical treatment for one of our children due to a life-altering illness. To us, the situation with our child was undoubtedly the enemy’s most personal attack and attempt to derail us. And yet, we have experienced God’s faithfulness in all those trials. We may walk with a limp, but we’re walking!
In the fall of 2017, God highlighted to us the call of Abram (Genesis 12). Abram was to leave his home and follow God to an undisclosed land. Even though Abram was leaving his father’s house and leaving many of his relatives, he was called to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. (Families are important to God!) This became our confirmation. We sensed God was ready to release us, and in March we were sent out by our pastors Mike and Sherri Harder and our church family of the Des Moines Vineyard, IA.
We left the U.S. this past April to attend the DACH Missions Conference in Germany, and in May the Vineyard Nordic Summit in Copenhagen. Both events were extremely encouraging for us personally, and provided more opportunities to pray with more Vineyards about the Balkans.
As I wrote at the beginning, we just wrapped up our three month vision trip through Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. Though we went into the trip with our own plans and ideas, we tried to hold them loosely, keeping our hands, ears, and hearts open to all the different impressions and nudges the Holy Spirit was giving us. Take a look at our blog balkancrossroads.blogsopt.com to hear the story of how God led us to Zagreb, Croatia - where we are excited to be moving in January 2019!
Some important lessons we have learned on this 20+ year journey:
God’s call is irrevocable no matter how old you are, how much time has passed, or how much you have messed up. Just lean in and say yes to his invitation.
Every person is stamped with God’s image. It is our call as followers of Jesus to dust for God’s fingerprints on people’s lives, bringing awareness to God’s activity in their life so that he/she may see and experience God’s great love and power.
The ‘why’ will always direct the ‘how’.
Don’t fret the small stuff and enjoy what God is doing along the way.
Jay and Natascha have been a part of the Vineyard since 1996, and have been serving the Vineyard in Des Moines, Iowa since 2000. In March of this year they were sent out from Des Moines to begin church-planting in the Balkans. They are blessed with four grown children and two sons-in-law. If you are curious to learn more about their vision or sense an interest in this area of the world, they would love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org