by Ellen Foell, International Program Specialist, Heartbeat International
Slovenia and the Balkans Conference 2023
Some of us have dream jobs. I am one of those people.
As Heartbeat’s International Program Specialist, I have the privilege to interface with our 1,200+ international affiliates over Zoom and WhatsApp, at conferences and summits, and sometimes on their home turf. As someone who has the privilege to travel to different countries, one of the attendant responsibilities is learning to watch and process what I see in the context of this question: What is God doing around the world, and is there an invitation to participate?
Recently, I had the joy of attending the fifth Balkans Network for Life conference in Ljubljana, Slovenia. This conference, themed Unity, was hosted by two affiliated centers located in the heart of Ljubljana: Zavod Zivim and Sara's Place, a small retreat center in the mountains. Zavod Zivim is a Catholic-based center and Sara's Place is an evangelical center. About 45 people were in attendance, representing 10 nations (Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Croatia, Albania, Greece, Slovenia, Netherlands, Italy and U.S.) and 9 life-affirming centers. The Balkans include 12 nations or parts of nations: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, and Slovania. Portions of Greece and, sometimes Turkey, are also within the Balkans Peninsula. If you are at all familiar with the history of the Balkans, you will know that the region has historically been a hotbed of conflict, unity under duress, disbanding under more duress, and has been impacted by the Greek Empire under Alexander the Great, the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the former Soviet influence. The very term balkanization means “division of a place or country into several small political units, often unfriendly to one another. The term balkanization comes from the Balkans Peninsula, divided into several small nations in the early twentieth century.
Why the history lesson? Because the life-affirming centers in the Balkans stand together in stark defiance of the region’s moniker and history. The Balkans Network for Life stands for life and unity, and is an example of what can happen when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity. There, in this place of unity, the Lord commands a blessing.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! -Psalm 133:1
What is that blessing? More life. Even though the oldest Balkans pregnancy help organization we know of is less than twenty years old, the centers are praying for the next generation of centers and are actively seeking opportunities to birth the next generation of centers. Life begets life.
When I observe the ongoing work and the intentional efforts to unite the Balkans centers, I am overjoyed and challenged to consider God's invitation to participate as Heartbeat International. I believe it is to live out with joy and sometimes, through tears, sometimes with struggle, but always with prayer, the invitation to pursue unity across denominational lines, across ethnic and national lines. This resembles the character of Heartbeat International as an "interdenominational Christian association," who believes the Lord wants to "use Heartbeat to continue to bring about greater unity among Christians." This is to God’s glory; may we truly declare His glory among the nations as we hold onto the Word of life.