Jovanovic was a man of wisdom, faith
I first met Mladen when he came to Oklahoma Christian University to serve as visiting missionary for one semester. He taught a Bible class and a course in linguistics. He was a hard-working teacher who made a powerful impression on his students.
A few years later he returned to OC when one of his sons was preparing to graduate. On that visit, he traveled almost every weekend to various churches to tell the story of Croatian evangelism. He met many people around the United States and told about the Croatian churches’ struggle to have legal identity with the government. Mladen was one of those amazing people who always made others feel that he was their lifelong friend. He was open and caring in ways that elicited respect and honor.
In 1991, Joyce and I sponsored the European Studies Program of Oklahoma Christian — two years after the Iron Curtain had come down. Europe was changing rapidly. Yugoslavia was beginning to come apart. On Sunday mornings at worship, when the call for prayers came, many refugees would ask for prayer for Yugoslavia, and immediately someone would say, “There is no Yugoslavia, instead two or three new nations.”
We knew that Mladen had sometimes moved his family to Graz, Austria, to protect them from the war raging in and around Zagreb. Joy Crouch, a long-term missionary in the area, had moved to Vienna, Austria, to wait for the return of peace. Joy arranged for us to travel to Graz to meet Mladen, who traveled there to record the radio broadcasts that had introduced Zagreb and the surrounding territories to the Churches of Christ. We had dinner with Mladen and learned more about the situation the nations were facing. Many people were turning to God as the troubles increased. Our time with Mladen was short, but we saw that all the fighting was only strengthening his faith and his resolve to preach Christ.
In 2005, at the Pan-European Lectures in Warsaw, Poland, Mladen and Dragica were there. Twenty years earlier, the Jovanovics had lived in Warsaw, and Mladen served as professor of linguistics at the University of Warsaw. He worked diligently at the university, but he also shared his Christian faith. He invited students to his house for Bible study and worship. He and Dragica had led many to Christ, and they served as mentors and shepherds to the believers.
Before the lectureship began, Mladen had contacted as many of his former students as he could and invited them to a reunion. Many of his former students came and brought their families to meet a favorite professor. At worship on Sunday, many of those people met with the church to hear Mladen preach. I remember one older lady who came carrying a leather Bible that Mladen had given her after he baptized her.
At the end of the worship service, one of the men stood up and talked about the closeness to God he had experienced when he studied and worshiped with the Jovanovic family. Mladen once explained to me why the family had left Poland and returned to Yugoslavia. Dragica and Mladen had great concern for their families and their countrymen who did not know God. They went home to teach and lead their people to Christ.
Mladen and Dragica traveled the United States early each year to report in person about the growth of the Zagreb church. During their second stay as missionaries in residence to OC, the Jovanovics had become very good friends with Steve and Beth Walker, a family dedicated to missions and strong leaders.
One summer, the Walkers and their two sons visited Croatia to see the Jovanovics and the church in Zagreb. Afterward, the Walkers opened their home to Mladen and Dragica each year when they were in Oklahoma City. Since that time, a dinner with the Walkers, the Jovanovics and McBrides became a ritual. We all learned so much about the communication skills, wisdom and faith of Mladen.
Heaven has gained a great servant and leader.
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Related story: Croatian church leader Mladen Jovanovic dies at 68