Nontraditional Believers Recover Christian Community
"Hypocrisy was not in the community," Ivana said. "There was so much [openness] there. You felt everyone could see right into your heart." At the time, Ivana was in deep despair. But Jasmin doggedly sought her out. Finally, she agreed to attend another fellowship meeting.
"Again, I could feel this love drawing me—everything was melting," Ivana said. At one meeting, she had a vision of herself, crushed by guilt, standing before Jesus on the cross. Deep in her spirit, she heard Jesus tell her that he knows and loves her. Long after the meeting concluded, she finally opened her eyes—tear-soaked and exhausted, but a new person. She freely confessed the sins of which she had previously been so ashamed.
As more Croatians joined these independent fellowships and experienced inner healing, controversy ensued. Croatian national identity is fused with Roman Catholicism—to be Croatian is to be Catholic. Some religious leaders branded the fellowships a "sect," which stigmatized them. Established Protestant leaders expressed both curiosity and concern about the groups' theological doctrine.
"We look back now and say, 'Yes, we were very theologically incorrect,'" Karlo Biočina, one movement founder, told CT. He said they were spiritual babies with no other motivation than to listen to God and understand the Bible.
"We had no intention of having a church, but we had this need to share the gospel—we just wanted to be disciples," said Jasmin, emphasizing their movement was responding to unmet spiritual needs of the unchurched.
An Unexpected Role Model
Over four years, the fellowship tripled in size. Up to 60 people crammed into the small basement. Onlookers gathered in the hallway and peered through windows.
People began referring to the attendees as the Borongajci (pronounced Boar-own-guy-tsee), labeling them by their meeting location in a part of Zagreb called Borongaj. Rather than finding a bigger room to accommodate their growing numbers, the core group decided to send out smaller groups to meet in homes, each fellowship led by an elder.
This was a period of self-defining. As the group moved through it, they remained open to change. Often, they confessed their sins in front of the fellowship—a practice that the fellowship elders believed allowed God to move freely in their midst. Several times, Jasmin felt convicted to confess that he had pushed his own spiritual agenda on other people, hindering the freedom of their spiritual growth.
"It's always hard to do this because of pride. But [the practice of confession] became the foundation of our fellowship so that there were no heroes or saints," he said.
This regular confession included admitting doctrinal mistakes. Women had been tightly restricted in the early days to the point of wearing head coverings during prayer. However, the Borongajci's ongoing Bible study and openness to the prompting of the Holy Spirit led to the appointment of the first deaconess in 2003.
Later, the elders announced a new doctrinal position that empowered women to preach and teach publicly. This announcement was soon followed up by a service in which women were completely in leadership, in order to "give radical proof that we had changed our minds," said Jasmin.
In 2002, during another scorching summer, the Borongajci leaders took a big step forward. They conducted public evangelistic meetings on the banks of the Sava River, inviting established churches in Zagreb to share in the worship and preaching. The 70 consecutive meetings successfully reached people who would be unlikely to enter a church to worship.