Flowers, honest conversations and Psalms readings: how evangelicals in Serbia reacted to the shootings
An evangelical leader in Belgrade shares about the mood of the country after the violence that killed 17 people. “On Sunday churches did not sing. Instead, we were praying, and a Christian psychologist shared about how to find support and encouragement”.
BELGRADE · 08 MAY 2023 · 16:50 CET
Serbia is still digesting the two consecutive shootings that happened in the Belgrade area on 3 and 4 May.
Samuil Petrovski, a pastor and leader of organisations such as the Serbian Evangelical Alliance and the national student movement EUS (member of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students), analysed the situation in a conversation with Evangelical Focus.
Question. Almost one week after the first shooting in the ‘Vladislav Ribnikar’ in Belgrade, what is the mood in Serbia?
Answer. This has been a very big shock for the nation, because we had never had shootings in schools or in public places, especially not with younger children. This boy, the attacker, was 13 years old, and took his father’s guns. He was trained well. He had a list of 16 young people and killed eight of them. He was unfortunately planning this for one month. We will see what doctors say, if he had psychological problems or was a victim of bullying, they are still investigating it.
We thought this only happened in America, not in Serbia. The nation is sad, we have had three days of mourning. People are coming close to God. The Orthodox Church made a statement saying we should have a strong faith now. People are talking to us and asking for a Bible. Lots are saying, ‘what is this?’, because the second shooting happened the day after, immediately.
Q. What has been the impact on families?
A. Parents did not send their kids to school the first two days after the shooting. Today, Monday, was the first day that children went back to school in Belgrade. Two days later, they will also return to the centre where the shooting happened.
As evangelical believers and as IFES we made a public statement saying that we are praying, feeling the pain, and showing the condolences to those who lost their dear ones.
The Serbian Minister of Education, whom I know personally, resigned. And today, there was a protest in Belgrade, called ‘March against violence’, called by the opposition parties. The President has said he wants to change the laws, especially related to guns. For one month, people who have illegal guns will have the chance to bring them to the police. After that, if such guns are found, there will be very big penalties.
Q. On Sunday, how did evangelical churches address the violence in their worship services?
A. Sunday was a day of mourning, and churches did not sing. Instead, we were praying, especially in sorrow for all the nation. Churches prayed for mental health, for the families who lost dear ones, for the government.
In our church, we read Psalms, where it says that ‘God is our refuge’, and also Revelation 21, where it speaks about the place where there will no longer be tears and death. The message for the church was that we can be brave and ask God to use us until these times comes.
Moreover, in our local church (International Christian Fellowship of Belgrade), a Christian psychologist shared about how to find support and encouragement, how communities are important, and how to find peace in this time of sorrow and depression. Then we went into small groups to pray, and the sermon was about how we can come close to God in times such as this.
Additionally, some churches organised themselves to go to the place were the first shooting happened. We had a small delegation from our church who brought some flowers and prayed for the families and all of culture. The churches are also in shock that this happened, we need to do more talking to discuss all this.
Q. What are specific needs that Christians can respond to?
A. The good thing of working with IFES, in my personal case, is that we work with students in university and high schools. A mother of a teenage student who recently has started attending our meetings texted us that such work is very important now in this age group. We need to talk to these young people, encourage them, and maybe give them something they don’t get at school, especially when they are isolated in their anxiety. As a student ministry, we are trying to touch on these topics of depression, anxiety, how to find peace.
The President of the European Evangelical Alliance called me to know how the situation was here, also as a family. Personally, for us it is hard, we have a kid in primary school and another in secondary school and now we need to talk to our children about these things. There is a huge conversation in society: do we need more policemen? Or psychologists? Were do we need more support?
I think we need to point people to a living relationship with God and teach them how the Bible can help them with this issue of violence, with fears, the role of social media, and other problems in all of society, not only in our schools.
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