Bera Beredji

Bera BeredjiBera is interviewed by Helen Todd of WMA.          


What we are taught in childhood makes a big difference on who we become in adulthood. My guest on today’s podcast grew up in a Communist family in the former Yugoslavia. He believed in Communism until the war tore the country apart when Bera was in his late teens and he threw himself into another extreme - anarchism and abuse of drugs and alcohol.

However, that all changed when a friend invited him to church during Christmas time.

Today Bera Beredji is the pastor of the largest evangelical church in Serbia. Bera is truly an example of how “Changed Lives Change Lives.” He has great wisdom to share about what it means to say “Yes” to God and be obedient in our service to Him - Dusan Bera Beredji

Bera Beredji: I grew up in a communist family. My father was part of the Communist Party. Later, he was dissident, but he was really cognizant of communism and we grew up in this ideology. That was a strong message in our family, that communism is something good. When I was 20 years old, I went into the army for one year. The situation was terrible. I was told to stay in our barracks and we were young soldiers. I was terrible. I would usually lose consciousness when I drank. I would wake up in the morning in the woods or on the street and I didn't know how I got there.

   I'm Helen Todd and my guest today is Bera Beredji, the pastor of the largest evangelical church in Serbia. When you meet him today, it is easy to see Jesus in his face and in the way he treats people around him. It is harder to envision who he used to be - a convinced communist and later an alcoholic and punk rocker. After a mystical encounter with God, Bera was healed of his addiction in one instant moment. His past has equipped him for the work he's doing today not only as the leader of a thriving church but also someone who helps people with various addictions to rebuild their lives. He has an amazing story, one that fits perfectly with our current series "Changed Lives Change Lives". Let's listen to it now.

Helen: Hello, Bera. Thank you for joining me on the Limitless Spirit podcast all the way from Novi Sad, Serbia.

Bera: Hello, Helen. I'm glad that you invited me for this podcast. I'm really enjoying time with you.

Helen: Well, I'm looking forward to hearing your story and talking about it. I think it's very interesting, maybe, even unusual for some of our listeners. To be honest, our podcast is being listened to all over the world. So, I don't even know who is going to listen to us. Well, let's jump right into it. So, you grew up in Serbia still during the years of communist.

Bera: Yes, that's true and I grew up in a communist family. My father was part of the Communist Party. Later, he was dissident but he was really cognizant of communism and we grew up in that ideology. That was a strong message in our family that communism is something good.

Helen: So, you're really brought into communism? Did you believe in it?

Bera: Well, yeah. I was taught by my father to believing in that, in the school, and everything.

Helen: You said your father became a dissident. What happened?

Bera: That was some coping in the Communist Party here in Serbia. They usually have some different opinions. In one moment, there was a question, how young people dress but student dress differently like Western. All Communists were against that and my father protected kids and that was a moment of his conflict with the Communist Party. But still, he really does believe in communism.

Helen: Wow! Over a dress code? Would you say then your father was more of a progressive person?

Bera: Oh, yeah. He was more progressive, but there's a strange time here in Serbia.

Helen: It's very interesting. Would you say it was the late 80s then?

Bera: Oh, no. That was in the 70s.

Helen: In the 70s. What was the Western-type of clothing that the young people wanted to wear?

Bera: At that time, it slowly rocked music games, so shirt and jeans and other things.

Helen: Did your father enjoy listening to rock music? Why he didn't believe in that?

Bera: No. He just wanted to protect these young people who were attacked by the Communist Party.

Helen: When he became a dissident, was he fired from his job?

Bera: Yes, but still he keeps some other opportunity for him to work. Before that, he was working for the Communist Party. He was like the, I don't know the English for, [foreign language] of people. Later, he worked in the massage shop and we relocate. It's not a problem.

Helen: I see. So, when your father has started to have problems with the Communist Party, did that make you question the Communist Party or you still believe in it?

Bera: No. He really believes in that ideology. He was against how people approach communism in Novi Sad but he, absolutely, believes in the current thinking and what they taught him.

Helen: What about you?

Bera: Me, potential is the only option. You know, I grew up with communism.

Helen: So then, when did you change your opinion and become disillusioned? What happened?

Bera: At the end of the 80s, in Yugoslavia, started Civil War, so first, Slovenia. So, Yugoslavia was a federation of 6 countries and at the end of the 80s that starts the war - first with Slovenia and then with Croatia... Bosnia. We saw that everything they taught us was about the brotherhood of nations. With communism, it changes this world that people who live together like brothers were not true. I was a teenager at the time. In one year, everything disappeared. The reason why I went to war here. That was when I stopped believing in communism because I saw that that it was not true.

Helen: That's when you became interested in punk music. It's sort of replaced your belief in communism. Is that how you would describe that?

Bera: Well, yes, because you know, like young people, we try to find something to believe, something to be. You really tried to find something because we saw that that the entire message of the brotherhood and everything was not true. Then, we saw something different. We were against everything but we didn't believe in the state and government... nothing. That was punk music. That was for us. Like it was an answer for us, no meaning.

Helen: You basically jumped from one extreme of an extremely controlling government into another extreme of no rules, no government at all.

Bera: Yeah, that was my belief, like a punk rocker and it's just...

Helen: So, how did you express yourself during that time or in your life?

Bera: You know how a punk rocker looks. Just a strange post here, aggressive behavior, really likes a small group like a small community here in our suburb. Later, alcohol and drug abuse became my addiction. We would fight with other groups.

Helen: You became involved with drugs, pretty heavily. What kind of drugs were you using?

Bera: More with alcohol because that was more available for us and drugs were expensive. There was a huge inflation in war, so I had no money to buy expensive drugs. We switched in glue, abuse tablets, and other things. Heroin was too expensive for us. Glue was the drug of choice and we would sniff glue.

Helen: What was the lowest point in your life when you felt like, things need to change?

Bera: It was after the Army. When I was 20 years, I was in Army for one year. At that time, I was not in a war because at that moment, the war in Bosnia just finished. It was like one year of having a moment of peace. But the situation was terrible as we drank alcohol and did drugs in the barracks. We were young soldiers with constant pressure. When I left the Army, I drank until I lost consciousness. I would wake up in the morning and find myself in the woods or on the street, and I didn't know where I would finish. I was really at the end of my life. I was 21 years old at that moment.

Helen: How is it that you ended up in church?

Bera: My best friend became Christian when I was in the Army. When I came back, I was shocked when I heard that he's Christian. For me, Christianity was something stupid, something absolutely not relevant for people.

Helen: You did not believe in God at all, right?

Bera: Oh, yes. Actually, I didn’t understand Christianity and really didn’t know the meaning. We were more interested in Islam or something, but not in Christianity. I think that he became Christian listening to the Gospel being preached while I was drunk on the street. He took me home after the service and found me somewhere ***drunk. I finally made a decision for Christ that evening. I want to hear more about what he believed. Then, finally, I came to church asking for help by hoping that something will change my life. I didn't know what but I just came to church. That was in 1993 and I was still touched from the first moment. When I came into the building, people will approach me with a smile, shake my hand. There were a lot of young people at that time in the church. I have not been here in the black, I shake, shivering from addiction, but before, really, they show me love and spend time in me through it [inaudible]. From the first moment, later, when it was worship, again, for me that was something so good. For the first moment, I really was touched.

Helen: So, from punk music to worship music.

Bera: Music was a key. Worship... A lot of families are just smiling. I was still in touch.

Helen: Did you also feel something within your spirit like the presence of God maybe? A touch of the Holy Spirit?

Bera: I don't really remember. I think my focus was on what I saw on the face of the people, how they behave and how they were full of life. I remember in the sermon, the preacher says how he wakes up in the morning with a smile and I still I don't remember the last time I woke up with a smile, with a joyful life. Usually, I was Oh, no, other days; I don't want to live anymore. That was something that really was important for me. That my life can be changed so I can wake up with a smile.

Helen: Was it then in that service that you decided to invite Jesus into your heart?

Bera: I really didn't understand the gospel. I was just touched by people, worship, and with this idea that my life can be different.

Helen: So, what happened then?

Bera: So, after that, I was again with my friends that night. I was with my friend in the front row and there was a lot of alcohol and some drugs. Then, I came. I told them, "I don't use alcohol anymore. I'm a Christian now. My life is different." Then, I saw them have their drink. I start to shake from the start, a litte bit, to shiver from the desire to drink again. At that moment, first time, I just asked God. "God, help me now, please." Few words from the song stay in my mind. It was Christmas time, so it was Silent Night. I repeat few words from Silent Night. The song [inaudible] from other songs that God helps me now. I was free in second in the [inaudible] in the dark, in the presence of evil, I was just free.

Helen: In one moment, you were free.

Bera: Yes, I was free. Do you know [inaudible] from that moment? Now, that's 6 years time, I believe, any form of addiction.

Helen: "Any form of addiction", that is a very powerful testimony because for many people, it takes time and sometimes a long time to recover.

Bera: I think that was the only solution. At that time, there's was no rehab in Novi Sad or Serbia. So, there's no opportunity to go to some form of rehabilitation, something like that. In the church, just was more people were capable to help. The only solution for me was to be healed from addiction and that helps.

Helen: What God did for you? In a nutshell, how did the journey happen from a recovering addict to a pastor and a Christian leader? Really, the pastor of the largest church in Serbia today, which you are. How did that happen?

Bera: I don't know. All of these experiences were so powerful. Not only that I was free from addiction but look, my life suddenly. You know, I wake up the next morning with a smile. And even that night after prayer, I approached one girl, Lilia, her school name. I talked to her, "Lilia, I don't drink anymore." She was shocked later when she came home. She talked to her sister. "Something is strange this evening. Bera was smiling and he was not drunk." Because I was always saying [inaudible] forefinger, but after the 3 hours, I was just free and full of joy and I start to go which is just regularly, every opportunity. At the time, it was every day with some Bible study or something like that. So, in every meeting [inaudible].

It was my first opportunity to serve after, maybe, three weeks, Pastor Danny, he asks somebody can help with the cleaning of the room. I said I want to help. From the beginning, I start to serve the church, first cleaning. After one month, they asked me, "Can you take care of books?" because I was so interested to read books. After one year, they called me, invited me to serve full time with the refugees to visit people who came from the Bosnia operation in Serbia. So, after one year, I started to visit them hoping they come in [inaudible], witness, share the gospel with them, plus they reward me, "Can we help with you?" Then I always say-- My answer was, "Yes, I want to serve this powerful God who changed my life."

Step by step, yeah, I was more and more in Ministry. Another thing that happens is that I find that my brain really recovers. I do [inaudible]. In the beginning, I was still the best student. I got dyslexia. It was really difficult to read, to learn reading. So I grew up, really believed that that's stupid. At that time, nobody talks most about dyslexia. People just think that I'm stupid. And I was thinking that I'm stupid. Same time, when I became Christian, suddenly, I found that my brain is recovering from addiction. I applied to a University. I was last on the list but I started to study. And [inaudible] I finished first master degree in water management, and later, I finished Theology, Master's degree in Theology. Until I have studied, I was interested to see my grades. In the first year, my grades were the lowest. I was a poor student from all groups. But the second year, I was average, and the third year I was excellent. I feel the best degree on the end. God restored my life, step-by-step.

Helen: That's quite extraordinary, really. Truly a transformation in so many ways. Also, you mentioned that the first person that you shared your transformation with was a girl named Lilia who shared it with her sister. Now, the sister, who was the first witness of your transformation, she became connected to you in a significant way.

Bera: Yeah, It's Mira; she’s now my wife, yes.

Helen: Even your spouse, you found in your transformation, which is wonderful.

Bera: Yes. Later on, I think after two years, I [inaudible] with Mira for Jesus' movie in the [foreign language]. She came for Jesus' movie, accept Christ, and later we became best friends. In the end, now, we are husband and wife. She became Christian through me.

Helen: That is absolutely beautiful. Well, the series of the podcast that we're doing, right now, is called Changed Lives. Since God transformed your life in such a powerful way, and He has also used you to change the lives of others. Can you share a little about this?

Bera: I'm one of the leaders and founders of the Rehab Center, Rainbow here in Novi Sad for heroin addicts, mainly. We started this ministry 12 years ago. Addicts who were my friends in my former life came to church, because we shared the same background. But step-by-step, that shows to us that we need to work slowly with people. I was healed at the moment that God came into my life and changed me. At the center we need to take care for them slowly through discipleship and teach them and help them to overcome their addiction. We started the Rehab Center with around 30 people. Helping addicts is a big ministry in our church. The fastest growing part of our church ministry is educating and delivering people with a gambling addiction.

Helen: Well, I had the privilege of visiting the Rehab Center myself with our World Missions Alliance teams and we saw what an incredible work you're doing there. I also find it interesting that while your dad was serving the Communist Party he had a heart for the youth. Now you are serving Jesus and have a heart for the youth and the kids. It's hereditary, I suppose, but you are serving a different master today.

***Bera: Oh, yes, absolutely, different master, but I don't know if that connects with my father but connects me with my story. I always ended with what I missed when I was young. Somebody who offers me something better, a better solution, especially when you're a teenager. So we started with punk rock and all that. Now, I am the leader of the Rangers soccer team in Serbia, and for Beočin at this moment. Why? Because I think if you offer kids something better, you know, like scouting and everything, and Christ in the same ministry, we will prevent them from some bad decisions. That is why I am part of scout.

Helen: I agree with you very much. The kids and the youth, if we just give them our attention, and show them what it's like to live for Christ, it's irresistible. The gospel message is irresistible to the youth. I think that what you're doing is absolutely incredible. There's another part of the ministry that your church has. You help the homeless people to rebuild their lives in some very significant ways. Can you share about that ministry as well?

Bera: Yeah, that started with our student who finished Rehab Center, Blanco. When he finished his rehabilitation because he came from the streets, he approached me and asked, "Can we do something for homeless people?" When I say homeless people here, we think of the broken homeless. We help people who came from the streets. When we speak about what can do for a friend that is people who are really bad who are not looking for any rehab. We decided we want to show them hope and offer them friendship. We're not classical work with the homeless people. We are friendlier. We eat with them. We don't serve them only food but we talk and meet with them. We spend time with them. We are friends with them. We reach them on the streets and we speak with them. That is our approach to the homeless.

Helen: Basically, you restore their dignity and show them that they're valued in your eyes, and above all, in the eyes of God.

Bera: Oh, yes. Now they started coming to our church. We send them and they love the book. Well, for some of them they finally finishing the rehab and that is the other good thing. But only 10% are okay with rehab.

Helen: Wow! That is an absolutely incredible story. I'm in awe how there is no person that is too lost or too broken for God, and He finds us right where we are and He makes something beautiful out of our brokenness. Your life is a great example. I considered this a privilege to be able to serve with you in Serbia. What would you tell our listeners? For some of them, perhaps, they're still in transition in their lives and their lives are not fully restored. And for others, maybe they have experienced that transformation, but they are not sure how to apply it in the lives of others. What advice would you give them?

Bera: I don't know. For me, this was a journey. If you remember, I mentioned, my first ministry in the church was cleaning the praying room. There were meetings. They decide they would say yes to God. I remember the first month of my Christianity, I read a children's book. That was a fiction story. One kid who finds New Testament with no knowledge about Christianity. He slowly read through the New Testament and processed what he read with no any other influence on his part. He came to the moment when people ask Jesus. Then, in the story, kids start to cry, and say, "Jesus, I'm so sorry. I want to be there and to stay with you." I remember at that moment when I read from the book, I started to pray and ask Jesus into my heart. "Jesus, I don't know You at this moment, but I know that I want to follow You." That became my decision that moment. So, I followed Him and God always opens new doors for me. I didn't find that out until I became a Pastor or leader of Rehab. I was kept repeating to Him. I said, "Jesus, I want to follow You and I want to just help people. I want to share Your love." And from that obedience, that developed my life and ministry and everything. I think that is just following Jesus. It was a testimony of people that I started to serve Jesus and then bring joy to their life. And that is my experience. Me serving Jesus, and He opened up a big source of pleasure, joy and fulfillment in our life.

Helen: Wow! That is very well put. I can't think of a better advice. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Bera: Thank you, Helen. It was my pleasure. Thank you for the invite.

Bera's Hearing His Voice Testimony

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