Born into a close-knit family in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Leo recalls his childhood days growing up in the former Yugoslavian republic with fondness. But when he was 13 everything changed.
A longing for God at an early age
“I was raised by very upright Christian parents. I had a really good childhood and enjoyed many summers on the coast. When I read the Bible, I sensed God’s presence.
“As I grew up, the need to understand God’s Word also grew. Even though I was a Christian and sought God as best I could, I sensed something missing. I felt unrest and burdened by sin. I always felt impure. But I couldn’t find any help with that. Every time I asked questions about it, I only got long, theological explanations instead of answers.
“I couldn’t understand what Peter meant by, ‘As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness …’ (2 Peter 1:3) Hebrews was a maze for me; I couldn’t understand one sentence in there!”
Everything changed in 1990
“I was 13 years old when the war started. For three years it raged around our city, just outside of Sarajevo, but we experienced only occasional attacks. There was nothing that had a huge impact.
“Then, one morning we woke up to missiles raining from the sky. Soldiers with painted faces and guns were running through the streets, as people were forced from their homes. It was chaos. The war had arrived on our doorstep.
“My family fled to the mountains beyond our town with the few belongings we could carry. We spent several days there, sitting in the ice-cold rain, watching as the Muslim militants burned down building after building. It was total hell.
“As I watched the carnage I prayed, ‘Dear God, I refuse to believe this is my portion in life. I refuse to believe this is the reason I was born. There is no way that THIS is my inheritance, and there is NO way that this is my destiny. I refuse to believe that. I believe you have prepared something better for me.’
“In that moment, I felt the Spirit of God strengthen me, and I knew that I could carry on and take care of my pregnant mother and little brother.
“My dad was soon mobilized into the army and the three of us were on our own. We fled to a protected Croatian city in Bosnia. I began to look in the Bible for help and tried to understand what God’s will was for me midst all the chaos. I had many experiences throughout the war of God’s hand over my life.
“Despite the danger, my father was preserved and after he was relieved from duty we fled to Germany, with the hopes of starting over and having a better life. It was here, in our apartment building, that I met a man with whom I could speak about the Bible. He was able to help me understand those Scriptures that previously were a mystery to me. Bit by bit, I became gripped of what he shared with me. For the first time, I heard the gospel of victory over sin. Specifically, Galatians 5:25: ‘If we live in in the Spirit, let us walk in the Spirit.’
“One day, he invited me to a Brunstad Christian Church youth conference with hundreds of other young people.
“When I heard the main speaker, I became gripped by the spirit that I felt and witnessed; what is written in the Bible is true. What I heard from the speaker was the truth. There was such conviction and authority in his words that it was evident that he lived the life he spoke about; it wasn’t just theory. It was very evident to me that this man loved God with all of his heart and being, and I prayed, ‘Dear God, this is how I want to live. I want to have it like this.’ I sensed that I had found the home for me. All these years, I had been knocking on the doors and searching for something, and that weekend the doors opened for me, and I got the answers to everything I was looking for. It felt like a huge burden was taken away from me.
“Shortly after that, I felt God leading me to move to Canada. Moving there gave me a completely new beginning. At 18 years old I was not a strong Christian yet, so being able to get a fresh start, away from old friends who were not a good influence on me, was invaluable.”
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A changed man
“As I sought God with all of my heart I slowly got the answers to things that I had been struggling with for years. I finally learned that it was possible to become free from the burden of sin and impurity. Through the Holy Spirit, God could point out the sins in my flesh that needed to be overcome, and also give me the power to overcome them. I dove into the Bible and read and read and read. I got nourishment and the strength I needed.
“What I’ve learned is that, regardless of your circumstances, sin in the flesh needs to be overcome. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a warzone or dealing with the everyday life of work, school, or family. I don’t have any special privileges or disadvantages from what I went through.
“It says in 1 Peter 4:1, ‘Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.’ That is something to hold onto. Believe that verse. In the morning when you wake up, arm yourself with the same mind as Jesus. Suffer in the flesh and you get tremendous results. You’ll become strong in the Lord.
“Because of the war, I had a lot of nervous issues and post-traumatic problems that I had to deal with. My hands were shaky and I was unsure about a lot of things. I had bad nightmares and would grind my teeth almost every night.
“But I experienced a miracle when God’s Spirit and God’s Word came into my heart. All of these things were taken away from me. I had no more fear; all that shakiness was taken away. I never had nightmares after that, and it’s been 21 years since those days now.”
God’s Word is true
“Although many who have experienced war can easily become bitter, and begin to question God, I began to experience that God’s Word is true and it works. I needed something to help me and to lead me to God. No matter what I did, I felt empty. But when I read the Bible, I sensed peace and help, and throughout many situations, I always turned to the Bible for help. It was the only thing that could bring peace.
“As time went on, I tasted that God was good, and the more I tasted it, the more I believed it. God became even more real to me. He is your keeper and shade at your right hand. (Psalm 121:5) You experience that if you suffer in the flesh, you cease from sin. (1 Peter 4:1-2) You become strong in faith and hope, and life becomes fantastic!
“I can’t go back now and be miserable about my past, when I have since experienced that God is true, and He has perfectly ordained my situations. Many people today feel they don’t belong to anything, but when you belong to Jesus and the kingdom of heaven, then you experience joy, hope, and peace! No matter how things around you are, God is working and true. He is a loving and caring God, and you become gripped to serve Him with everything that you have.
“I praise God for everything that He has worked so carefully to bring me to this place in life I am now. He has been so merciful to me; there are no words to express how good God has been to me.”
“Not that I have already attained, or am perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. …” Philippians 3:12-14.