From Slovenia to Sydney… and back again

Slovenian pastor and student ministry trainer Bostjan Cifer has been a Christian for around 20 years, and has been in ministry for most of that time. But there’s always more to learn in ministry, as Bostjan found during a recent apprenticeship in Australia – and now he’s keen to take that learning and establish a ministry apprenticeship model back home.

Bostjan and his family during their time in Australia.

Bostjan’s passion for ministry springs from his own extraordinary story of coming to faith in Jesus.

A troubled beginning

Bostjan’s early years were not easy. Divorce, alcoholism, conflict and tragic loss plagued his parents’ and grandparents’ lives, and he spent years as a very lonely child, living with various relatives and never really feeling as though anyone was taking care of him.

He turned for comfort to a group of friends at high school and increasingly spent time outside his home; and with those friends, he also turned to drugs – first marijuana and alcohol, then later pills and heroin. Falling deeper into addiction, Bostjan began dealing drugs and stealing money at school. And when he was caught and confronted about his addiction, he began the first of a series of failed detox attempts over a seven-year period.

By the end of those seven years, he was in a very dark place. Bostjan remembers, “I was visiting graveyards, and I felt such a peace there, I wanted to die and spend my life there.”

God intervenes

But by God’s grace, Bostjan had already met the person who would lead him out of this darkness and point the way to Jesus.

Two years earlier, one of Bostjan’s ex-drug-dealing friends had become a Christian… and now he invited Bostjan to a Bible study group he had established especially to reach out to drug addicts in his and Bostjan’s hometown. Bostjan went along ­– at first not because of Bible study, but because of free pizza and the chance to spend time with people. But he found much more than that: “I was surprised how gentle they were with us, how they accepted us with deep love, and showed that they were caring for us.”

It was only a matter of time before God’s word made an impression, too:

We were reading the passage from the Bible where Jesus was walking on the water… when Peter started to drown, then he called to Jesus, “Lord save me.” So God somehow showed me that I was also drowning in my drug addiction, and that I could call to him for help. And the same night I came home, and I was crying, “God, if you exist, please change my life, because I cannot live life like this anymore.”      

Bostjan says what happened next was a miracle. He awoke next morning with the desire for drugs completely gone from his life. A smoker for ten years, he could not even smoke a cigarette. He went to his doctor and asked to stop methadone treatment. He simply didn’t need it anymore.

But because members of a local church had already bought him a plane ticket to go to Spain for rehabilitation, a few weeks later Bostjan arrived at a Christian rehab centre where the Bible was taught, and there he fell deeply in love with God’s word – so much so that that he has dedicated his life ever since to teaching the Bible and sharing the gospel with others who desperately need to hear it.

Christianity in Slovenia

Evangelical ministry in Slovenia is challenging. A 70% nominally Roman Catholic country, its population is what Bostjan describes as very secular, and even those confirmed in the Catholic faith can be “quite suspicious about Jesus”. Evangelical churches are few and far between, and their congregations are small and most of them are still in the pioneering stage.

Further, with many Bible-believing Christians the first generation in their families to follow Jesus, there is a real need for training in how to be involved in everyday church ministry. Bostjan says, “Most people are just coming to our worship services, listening, going home, so we need to teach them that we are all a kingdom of priests, and that we all have a part in God’s story, and we all have spiritual gifts.”

Next steps for Bostjan

After completing rehab, he returned to his hometown and worked with drug addicts, successfully helping many. But his hunger to be able to teach others the Bible led him to want more. With little evangelical culture and no appropriate theological courses in Slovenia, he made the decision to study in Croatia. On his return, he began the work he is passionate about: preaching the Bible so that people can meet Jesus like he did, at first in churches and then through a part-time supported role with the Slovenian national Christian student movement, ZVESh.

Bostjan gathering with students at a Credo meeting – just before COVID forced everyone off campus.

Discovering apprenticeships in Australia

Bostjan helped lead online Bible studies for Credo, like this group meeting on Zoom to discuss a passage in Philippians.

It was his work with ZVESh (and its affiliation with AFES through IFES) that led to Bostjan’s recent one-year stint as an apprentice working with AFES head office and with Credo at UTS. Guided by Howard Spencer, Bostjan had the opportunity throughout 2020 to experience how ministry apprenticeships can equip gospel workers – not only for Bible teaching, but for crucial organisational aspects of ministry development such as fundraising, setting a vision and managing a team. He’s excited to see how these ideas can be implemented now that he’s returned to his home.

Bostjan says:

Ministry development here is going very slowly, mostly because there are few full-time workers, and that’s one of the reasons why we want to see this apprenticeship program, because I think that that is crucial for long-term evangelical culture here in Slovenia to raise full-time gospel workers who will be really passionate about the gospel.

Meeting Ben Pfahlert of MTS in the course of his work with Credo has also given Bostjan a strong interest in the experience and resources that MTS has to offer. He says that when he looked at the resources on the MTS website, he was amazed at how practical they are. “I wanted to see that something similar will happen here in Slovenia.”

So what appealed to him about the apprenticeship model – especially as he already had a theological degree and many years of experience in ministry before undertaking this role last year?

I never had this type  of mentor or supervisor in my life. And I needed to learn almost everything on my own, from online courses and reading books… We have some IFES conferences here in Europe, but that’s once a year, twice a year, where we can grab some of the resources and some of the wisdom… But it’s totally different when you are walking every week with someone, who is mentoring you, who is supervising you, and sharing wisdom with you, giving you guidelines about how to develop the ministry.

Bostjan hopes that by 2023 or 2024, ministry apprenticeship will become a valued part of raising up gospel workers in student ministry in Slovenia, “starting with small steps… and hopefully we will see how God will expand this thing in the future.”