Unique Integration Conference for Asylum Seekers Held in Fuzine, Croatia
On Monday, September 24, 2018 the unique six-day conference was completed in the picturesque village of Fuzine, Croatia. More than 50 asylum seekers, including an international team of facilitators, humanitarian and faith-based activists from twelve countries, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Iran including, came together to wrestle with a number of burning questions that asylum seekers in Croatia and Europe are facing daily in their prolonged processes of waiting between interviews and issuing of the final government decision to their requests to stay permanently in Croatia.
This dynamic and at times intense conference, with the theme “Moving Forward in Truth, with Courage and Hope,” represented the extension of the ROM – Renewing Our Minds international leadership project, and was organized by “Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation” (US), and “Business as Mission” (Zagreb, Croatia), in partnership with ECPM – European Christian Political Movement, from Brussels, Belgium. The conference was conducted in English, with simultaneous translations provided into Farsi and Arabic.
The conference objectives included helping seekers of the international protection in Croatia, and those who have had their asylum statuses favorably resolved recently, gain a balanced understanding of the integration processes and related challenges in Croatia. Likewise, the conference organizers wanted to hear from the participating asylum seekers what are their most daring challenges as they are often waiting for two to three years, driven by uncertainty and anxiety, to have their requests answered by the Croatian Government? In short, the objectives of the conference were to help immigrants in Croatia and Europe to integrate well, and to help them grasp the essentials of European culture and Christian faith.
The daily afternoon workshops helped the conference participants, most of whom were family men and women with children, to vocalize their most urging needs and anxieties. Some of the most frequent questions were: Why is the process of waiting to receive the final decision taking so long? Why are some asylum seekers, who have come to Croatia only recently receiving their positive answers sooner than those who entered Croatia two or three years ago, and are still waiting to have their cases finalized?
Other questions included: While only a few asylum seekers have been allowed to work legally in Croatia, as they are waiting to have their asylum requests finalized, why are many more denied the privilege to work legally? Why is it that under the law some helpful privileges are promised to the waiting asylums seekers, such as learning the Croatian language and access to health care, while in practice those privileges are seldom accessible? Why is the Croatian government not helping reunite the families separated in different places and countries along their refugee trail?
Through carefully selected lectures, and much time devoted to questions and group conversation, the organizers of the conference devoted their attention to the issues of law, culture and place of religion in the Croatian society; the three overlapping areas whose understanding is necessary if the Integration into the Croatian society is to be fully appreciated and implemented. Special attention was given to building of friendship and trust between Muslim and Christian asylum-seekers, as well as building friendship and trust between asylum seekers and the Croatian citizens and institutions.
At the workshop about the role of faith and religious communities in Croatian it became obvious that the asylum seekers are expecting more empathy and support from the religious communities of Croatia than from the government. “Since it is in the nature of religious communities to care about vulnerable groups,” they reasoned, “religious organizations, churches and faith-based groups should be able to put in place a synchronized care network” that could efficiently help asylum seekers in the months and years of uncertainty and prolonged months and years of anxious waiting; and also help the asylum holders who have recently been granted the right to remain in Croatia. For example, they could help the new asylum holders, especially those with children, to find their first home and first job.
The strength of this conference was that it dealt insightfully and compassionately with the challenges of integration as observed and handled by the three sides involved in the lives of asylum seekers: as they are handled by the Croatian and European laws and legal systems; as they are experienced by the asylum seekers themselves; and as they are addressed by the church and faith-based organizations and groups. Since most of the asylum seekers are spending long periods of time anxiously waiting for the final and affirming decision from the government, often being previously rejected two or three times, it became clear in the initial days of the conference that most of asylum seekers-in-waiting have suffered from the loss of trust in the Croatian government, its institutions and supporting agencies. The conference leadership team, which included also a group of asylum seekers and asylum holders, worked diligently to see the damaged trust and relationships healed and restored, and promised to contribute to the conversation by making the findings of the conference available to the public and relevant institutions.
The quality of the conference was enhanced by the choice of speakers and facilitators, and experienced ROM (Renewing Our Minds) team members. Among them were Heather Staff, an emerging UK politician and Policy Adviser to Kate Green MP; Leo van Doesburg, Director for European Affairs for the European Christian Political Movement (ECPM); Amir Hekmatpour, spiritual advisor and faith mentor from the US; Donya and Shayan Spanta, asylum holders and humanitarian activists from Iran, now Croatian residents; Mihal Kreko, Christian pastor and humanitarian activist from Zagreb, Croatia; Tihomir Kukolja, Renewing Our Minds (ROM) Director; and Ana Šutalo, a representative of the Croatian Ministry of the Interior, and Asylum Support Expert. Ana Šutalo’s contribution to the conference was especially significant as she explained in detail what needed to happen once an asylum seeker has received a residential status in Croatia.
Although the conference dealt with very serious themes and issues, often accompanied by heated but honest discussion, this event also became a festival of friendship through the relaxing, and spirit-lifting hours of sharing in the energetic feasts of music, dances, customs, culture of the countries represented at the conference, and moments of thanksgiving. However, the special feature of the conference were the moments that addressed the spiritual hunger manifest by all participants at the conference, Christians and Muslims alike. No hours were too long, and no optional workshops too many for the groups of participants who never ceased to ask new questions as they listened to Amir Hekmatpour, even in the hours outside his official speaking sessions. Amir Hekmatpour, from the US and with the origins from Iran, served as a spiritual adviser, mentor and speaker at the conference.
“The results of this integration conference surpassed all our expectations” – stated Mihal Kreko, one of the organizers of the 2018 ROM Integration Conference, and the director of a unique integration project currently under construction in Zagreb, Croatia, known as “The House of Hope.” Heather Staff, a speaker at the conference and a UK politician commented: “I’ve never before experienced the level of honesty in our conversations as at this conference, and even when we disagreed we did it agreeably.” “The Thanksgiving Eveningon the closing Sunday demonstrated that we all became one forgiving, forgiven and reconciled family of friends who loved each other. By the end of the conference one could see that the faces of asylum seekers radiated with new hope and new joy,” said Liviu Bocaniala, the conference music director. And Tihomir Kukolja, the ROM – Renewing Our Minds Director stated: “This conference opened my eyes. I learned more about the hardships of being an asylum seeker in six days of this conference than in previous three years”.
At this time the organizers are involved in the speedy preparation of a memorandum that will be presented to the governmental and non-governmental organizations before the end of this month, as well as to a number of church and faith-based organizations in Croatia and abroad. This document will present in detail the conference’s objectives, conclusions and recommendations. It will be released in Croatian, English, Farsi and Arabic, and presented to several international organizations too.
Tihomir Kukolja, ROM – Renewing Our Minds, DirectorLearn More
Two weeks ago Bojan Ruvarac, new Renewing Our Minds director, and Tihomir Kukolja (ROM Director 2001-2019) were visiting Uganda.
We meet with the leaders of the Africa Youth Leadership Forum (AYLF) from Uganda and Eastern Africa. We shared our work experiences with the Renewing Our Minds (ROM) ministry and our governing organization Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation. Our African friends shared their work experiences with AYLF and Cornerstone Development.
We were impressed, humbled and inspired as we watched how young people of Uganda and East Africa were becoming transformed into the future leaders of this region thanks to the dedicated work of the African youth Leadership Forum and Cornerstone Development, and their vision of “nurturing a new breed of African leaders”. Out of our visit and time spent with our friends from AYLF a new vision has flourished: AYLF is seriously planning to move forward with an African version of ROM.
Thank you friends from Uganda for your wonderful welcome and hospitality. Special Thank You goes to our friends Phillip Ojok, Gabriel Odhiambo Achayo, Allan Shepherd, and our new friends Branly Madatii, Monicah Monique Waithera, Emmanuel Baraka, Josephats Yeeko Izaacs, Tim Kreutter, Samuel Wanyagira and Yusuph Athuman, and to a number of other new friends from Uganda and the region.
Tihomir Kukolja, ROM – Renewing Our Minds, DirectorLearn More
Heather N. Staff, ROM – Renewing Our Minds Core Team Member from UK, reflects on what she had gained at the 2018 ROM Regional Follow-up Trip, June 2018, as the team visited the ROM and EDI Alumni in Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and Romania.
A celebration of friendship that engaged people where they were at, listened, reflected and learned. The trip not only engaged on a personal level with people but also physically was a chance to see where people lived, worked and went to school. We saw the highs and the challenges of everyday life and the community that was sustained through the common denominator which was ROM/EDI.
For some our visit brought renewed hope and encouraged a sense of right time and right place, for others it was a chance to remember why they were part of ROM. Yet this was not just about engaging with old friends it was also a chance to meet people who had questions about Jesus, about politics, integrity and where the world is headed. These people I hope will come to be part of ROM/EDI next year.
It was clear from conversations that ROM has impacted people, often career choices were changed or studies undertaken because of what was heard at ROM, it brought home the responsibility leaders and speakers have at ROM. What we say is not forgotten and can have life changing impact. ROM made people think, issues came up of grace and forgiveness, people did not have an issue with ‘too much Jesus’ and for the most part they wanted to be challenged.
There were feelings from some people that we need to talk through issues of nationalism and engage with past conflicts in case we forget them. People also seemed happy that we had addressed the refugee crisis and invited refugees to be among us. In Romania and Albania there was a desperate thirst for examples of good political leadership and ways to combat isolation, corruption and how to argue/disagree well. How do you give dignity and respect while maintaining principles, how do you work through issues that are not black and white but complex?
It was in Albania and Romania especially that perhaps a new format for ROM could be looked at, more intimate gatherings or living room talks and panel interviews/debates that can go along with talks. These panel events were effective and engaging as they allowed greater questions from people. The living room dialogue session in Cluj was a great example of an informal way to talk about politics, yet open it up to a wider framework where friendly dialogue without judgement could be had.
The biggest take away for myself however came in the sense of community that followed us wherever we went, quality conversation time amongst those that came and the people we came to serve.
I was amazed by a conversation in Novi Sad, Serbia with a lady I had not met before, it highlighted how ROM gave her community and how she felt loved and never judged. How much she missed the sense of being in community and how life at the moment is difficult for her. She was able to connect with a lady in a similar situation and they are now able to talk regularly, she really needed our visit. Another young man shared how he changed his studies and as a result now works for Samaritans purse and is looking for other jobs in humanitarian aid.
In Belgrade, Serbia I was amazed by the hospitality we were shown and the growth in some people, likewise seeing people from my small group who are on a journey not just with Jesus but in making change in the lives around them. I feel we were able to bless many people who had little and I hope we also helped people to engage with what is going on around them and examine what it is they really think and feel.
In Macedonia there was a small group of people but we had quality conversations including the excellent bookshop/culture centre that is one of those ideas you think wow this needs to happen in other areas. I was so encouraged to see 3 ladies who had been friends since 2002 and met because of ROM. Perhaps a ROM coffee shop/resource centre could be started in different places? Dream big as they say
In Albania I was amazed by the amount of people who came to the dinners, and the quality of conversations, looking back Albania really needed our attention for much longer. The church service in Berat was excellent and spiritual refreshment for me. The panel interviews and talks engaged people and showed a desperate need for leadership in politics. Those that had been on ROM were hungry for more, but also showed incredible kindness and hospitality. ROM and EDI have clearly impacted people here and I could see how hard it is to not slip into the trends of nationalism but they are fighting it and trying to promote quality thinking and good disagreement.
Cluj, Romania was my stop, and I was blessed in every way by the sculptor Liviu Mocan and what his art is bringing to Cluj and Romania. Even though the weather was against us, again we had quality conversations in the evening at a group set up by Debora Salgau, a young lady who had been on ROM last year. Even though I spoke at this event I came away incredibly blessed that there are people willing and wanting to fight corruption, the informal setting was perfect for discussion. I was also blessed by the hospitality shown to me by the people I stayed with, incredible Christ like love,
If I have to summarise my time on this celebration of friendship it would be to say community is vital, people need community and miss it. ROM has helped to build it and it must be sustained which includes follow up, communication, a text now and then, especially from leaders and speakers. ROM can change people’s thinking and this can make life harder when people leave, and may require some after care.
For ROM to stay relevant it needs to keep Jesus at the centre, His life, love, grace and forgiveness are what makes ROM so distinct from other gatherings and talks. It is because of Jesus that we do what we do and seek to help people become better leaders who act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. Jesus inspires how we should talk and care for each other even when we have differences of theology or political opinion but it also makes us brave. ROMs relevance is needed more than ever, its vital we do not shy away from tackling the ideological positions that the world seems to be taking around – fascism and communism or simply nationalism.
It is vital we keep helping people to see the perspective of each other ‘to walk in their shoes’ and learn how to forgive and show grace. It is vital we show how to speak truth while doing so in love and it is vital we help people to build community and show love to not just the neighbour but the enemy. ROM is relevant, it allows for complexity of thought, dialogue and the ability to connect Jesus teachings to everyday leadership. It should not be afraid to welcome those of other faiths and help them journey and see why Jesus teaching is different and why it stands the test of time and it should always do so from a place of love.Learn More
Please join us for an EDI/ROM Zoom conversation with Dr. Elona Prroj on Thursday, December 17, 2020. Elona will share her story of losing her husband to a blood feud and choosing to forgive and end the cycle of violence.
Dr. Elona Prroj is Vice President of the Evangelical Alliance of Albania and the lead pastor of Word of Christ Church. She is also the founder and director of the “No Blood Feud - Yes to Life” Foundation, a foundation which is very active in fight against blood feuds, providing holistic care to families affected by this violent tradition in the north of Albania. She is also a board member of World Vision in Albania and Kosovo. She holds a master's degree in counselling and a doctorate in psychology.
Elona is an internationally-recognized public speaker, particularly on the subject of forgiveness and reconciliation. She has addressed this topic in different conferences and platforms, Christian and secular, throughout the world, including the EU Parliament in Brussels and the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC.
Last month she received the Mother Teresa Medal from the President of Albania in recognition of her social and humanitarian contributions to the country.
We hope you can join us!
The event will start promptly at:
10am Seattle time
12pm Houston time
1pm Washington DC time
6pm London time
7pm Brussels time
8pm Bucharest time
Join us at: bit.ly/forum2zoom
This year’s Renewing Our Minds (ROM) gathering brought together about 45 young leaders from the Balkans and beyond July 1-15, 2021 in Crikvenica, Croatia. The program focused on identity, forgiveness, reconciliation, and leadership based on the principles of Jesus. The interactive program took the participants on a journey from “Who is Jesus?” and “Who am I?” to help them see those around them more clearly, the challenges they are facing, and how they can respond to those challenges.
Specific issues covered included the understanding challenges faced by refugees, human trafficking victims, and sex workers, maintaining integrity, combating nationalism, increasing political engagement, and moving from an aid to a development mindset. This year a new feature was added to our program this – a peace negotiations simulation which participants shared helped them better understand the complex nature of resolving territorial and other disputes and the importance of listening to and understanding the other side in any conflict..
"It’s amazing to meet all these people and hear everyone’s story and work,” shared a participant from Romania. “I am more confronted with realities I chose not to see before and my next challenge will be to find out where I fit in, and where I can be of most use."
When asked what part of ROM impacted him the most, a participant from Bosnia, responded: "The part where everyone is so nice to each other, everyone is open minded, not judging, everybody is respectful and kind. Everyone from the ROM team is so kind and helpful, they are understanding and compassionate about everything we say. I am glad I had the opportunity to meet all those people since each one of the ROM team and participants are so kind and open to friendship."
Participants were young people ages 18-35, mainly from the Balkans (former Yugoslavia and surrounding countries) but also a few from Western Europe. They represented a total of 16 countries. About half were students and other half are young professionals, working in public policy, education, medicine, NGOs, and other spheres. We believe that the number of people reached will be large as participants return home and share and apply what they learned with friends, family, and colleagues. This year’s participants join a group of over 1000 leaders who have been part of ROM programs since its inception in 1999.Learn More
Economics, Diplomacy and Integrity (EDI) is an initiative designed to support the development of young professionals and students in the areas of politics, economics, and business which are based on the life and teachings of Jesus. EDI 2021 gathered 27 people from 10 countries in Crikvenica, Croatia July 24-August 1, 2021 to learn about how to fight against unhealthy rivalry among and within nations by establishing an economic and political community based on the principles and life of Jesus.
The forum taught principles like integrity, moral leadership, service to the community, a focus on the poorest and their needs, faith, and transparency can help combat corruption, selfishness, youth hopelessness, debilitating unemployment, and abject poverty. Our hope is that when the participants went home from this last summer that they will end up changing and developing the region, not just in terms of economic growth or political change, but through the creation of a community of leaders committed to good economics and politics and most importantly, to each other and God.
During this forum successful speakers from the political, economic and business field shared with the participants that Jesus’s principles and values are not only very helpful for the professional life but also the only principles that can help you have a holistic and successful career and life.
Over the course of the week, participants from Southeast Europe and beyond engaged in workshops, small groups, lectures and fun social activities. They developed an understanding of politics, economics and business with integrity and how to live out the principles of Jesus, develop vision for change and create strong bonds of life-long friendships.
Speakers like Ladislav Illic and Robert Maricak, and all the others really inspired the young people and even older people with established careers and in political parties. Amazingly, it really connected with both the young and the old and from all the different countries and different backgrounds.
“This year EDI was truly special. It has been a great joy to see old and new friends,” shares Corina Leahu, an EDI team member from Moldova. “To share testimonies what God has done in our life, to learn new things from the guests speakers, to learn more about each other, about our culture, politics, future vision with Jesus along-side. I was so encouraged by Justin’s testimony, his journey while preparing the EDI, all the difficulties and challenges made it to be a true miracle. We had a wonderful time in Crikvenica, filled with joy, faith, insightful teachings, fun and beautiful seaside. God has shown his love and grace to all of us.”
“I believe that the goals of the forum were accomplished,” shares Justin Kagin, EDI Director, “and people did have renewed hope to follow Jesus in their countries and create good and lasting change.”Learn More
A new refugee crisis has come to Eastern Europe with the war in Ukraine, and members of the ROM and EDI community are responding. To support these efforts, we have decided to re-open our Golden Rule account. By donating to the Golden Rule account, you can support members of the ROM and EDI community involved in grassroots efforts to care and provide for those displaced by the war in Ukraine in the Balkans and neighboring countries.
All funds we receive will be 100% directed towards efforts to support Ukrainian refugees. Please donate to the Golden Rule Project account and please pray for us as we seek to help others. Thank you for giving to our Forum community members living out what it means to truly be Ambassadors for a Better World.Learn More
The first initiative Forum will be supporting as part of our Golden Rule initiative, supporting ROM and EDI community members serving those displaced by the war in Ukraine, is Polylogos. Polylogos was founded by ROM and EDI alumni in Cluj, Romania, and has set up an extensive network of trusted allies and friends across Ukraine, Romania and Moldova. Through this network they have been able to help extract people who are trying to escape from the brutal war, to get them out of danger, and receive them and take good care of them once they reach Romania.
While primarily focused on extracting and relocating Ukrainian friends, Polylogos also responds to immediate needs as they arise in their community (such as providing wheelchairs at the border for elderly and disabled people, strollers for tired mothers with babies and toddlers, and baby bottles and other essentials for families with babies and young children hosted by a church in Cluj-Napoca).
To support the efforts of Polylogos and other members of the Forum community, you can give to our Golden Rule projectLearn More
One of the projects we are supporting through the Forum Golden Rule Ukrainian Refugee Relieft Project is Perspective Danes, run by ROMmates Liviu and Elena in Mures, Romania. When the war in Ukraine started they transformed their center for work with Roma and other vulnerable children into accommodations for Ukrainian refugees. They have already had more than 50 Ukrainians stay there. Most of them stay three days to a week as they figure out their next steps and longer-term destinations, however now a higher percentage of their guests do not have anywhere else to go and will need longer-term assistance.
In addition to accommodation, the Perspective Danes team has also provided transportation from the Ukrainian and Moldovan borders multiple times, and they also started putting together activity packets for children coming through their town, as they recognized a need for entertainment for the kids, both for the children's and parents' sake. So far they have distributed over 600 of these packets!
"We are a little bit tired to be honest," Liviu shares. "And not just physically, but also emotionally. At the same time, we have been encouraged to see how people came alongside us in different ways. Others make negative comments, but it doesn't matter - we will continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus in these times for our Ukrainian neighbors!"
To support the efforts of Perspective Danes and other members of the Forum community, you can give to our Golden Rule project online.Learn More
One of the projects we are supporting through the Forum Golden Rule Ukrainian Refugee Relief Project is Hope House.
Hope House has been serving refugees and asylum seekers in Zagreb, Croatia for years. When the war started in Ukraine they instantly sprang to action collecting humanitarian aid to take to those serving the refugees at the border (see more about their efforts in the video below), as well as preparing to receive about 15 refugees at Hope House. They have spent the past two month helping these refugees settle into life in Croatia and have also made a second trip to the Hungarian-Ukrainian border with more urgently-needed aid.
As you watch this 5-minute video you’ll be touched by the work Hope House is engaged in and the hope they are giving refugees from Ukraine. The young man featured in this still shot from this video provided by Hope House is Stjepan, who first attended ROM in 2017 and has been an active volunteer both in ROM and Hope House since then.
To support the efforts of Hope House and other members of the Forum community, you can give to our Golden Rule project online.Learn More
While there is currently less fighting in Kyiv, life is still very difficult –utilities and other infrastructure have not yet been fully restored, there are food and fuel shortages, many families are facing costly repairs or the need to totally rebuild their homes, and many have no job and therefore no source of income due to the businesses they worked for have been destroyed.
In March, 2022 ROM director Bojan Ruvarac and his family had the opportunity to host a carload of refugees passing through Serbia on their way to Bulgaria. A month later, their new friends contacted Bojan and asked if there was any way they could help provide food for their church in Kyiv? There are about 50 members of the church living in Kyiv right now, who are working to serve the needs of their community. Thanks to generous gifts made to the Golden Rule fund, on Monday, May 23, he and ROMmate Ilija Micovic delivered a van load of food (100 packages each containing 27 essential daily food and hygiene items) to Mukachevo, Ukraine! From there it was taken to Kyiv by a Ukrainian driver, Vasyl.
Thank you again for your support, gifts, prayers, and care for Ukrainians affected by the war as it enters its fourth month. The war and the divisions it has caused have demonstrated to us the vital importance of reconciliation and the continued relevance of the work we do at Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation.
To support the efforts of members of the Forum community serving those affected by the war in Ukraine, you can give to our Golden Rule project online.Learn More
We aim to organize these regatherings every two to three years to provide a platform for members of the ROM and EDI community to reconnect with old friends and make new friends from across generations, programs, countries.
It is easy to grow discouraged in our roles as Ambassadors of a Better World, therefore the goal of regatherings is to provide tools, encouragement, and connections to refresh our motivation and capacity to serve as agents of peace and bridge builders in our communities.
The regathering is taking place Wednesday-Sunday, October 12-16, 2022 at Life Center in Crikvenica, Croatia. The cost is 120 euros per person, and includes accommodations, food, excursions (we plan a boat trip to Krk and a trip down memory lane to Fuzine, weather and other circumstances permitting) and materials.
Travel costs and arrangements are the responsibility of participants!
We look forward to reconnecting with old friends and forming new friendships across generations of our programs! Space is limited, so we recommend registering as soon as possible to guarantee your spot.
Q: Who is invited?
A: Anyone who has attended a ROM or EDI event, or those who have not attended but have always wanted to.
Q: How much does it cost?
A: The cost is 120 euros per person, and it includes accommodations, food, excursions and materials.
Q: What if I can't afford to pay 120 euros?
A: There are limited scholarships available, please register and indicate how much you can pay and we will continue the conversation from there.
Q: Is it possible to get a scholarship to cover transportation costs?
A: Unfortunately, no. We can, however, connect you with other participants traveling from your country/region and you can work together to try to find the most affordable transportation option.
Q: If I fly to Zagreb, can you pick me up?
A: Unfortunately, pick-up will only be available on a limited basis from Rijeka airport and Crikvenica bus station. If your plane/bus/train is arriving anywhere else you will need to take a bus to Crikvenica.
Q: Can I bring my husband/wife/kids/family?
A: Absolutely yes! We are working on making childcare arrangements so that parents can be fully engaged in the program.
Q: How do I register?
A: Please register as soon as possible through this link. Space is limited and spots will be given on a first come, first served basis.
Q: What if I can't come for the whole time?
A: We encourage everyone to join us for the whole time if at all possible, however we know that is not possible for everyone, and we want as many members of our community as possible to join us. If you would like to join for part of the time, please fill out the registration form and indicate on there what dates you will be able to attend.
Q: I really miss Fuzine!
A: That is not really a question, but we have good news for you! Crikvenica is just a 30min drive from Fuzine, and weather and other circumstances permitting, we are planning an excursion to Fuzine Saturday afternoon.
The goal of the Renewing Our Minds (ROM) summer gathering that took place in Trebinje, Bosnia & Herzegovina August 6-20, 2022 was to equip ROM participants to return to their communities as bridge-builders and peacemakers, seeking to bring unity to communities divided along ethnic, religious, or socio-economic lines.
The fifty participants were young leaders from 16 countries, including students and young professionals in various spheres.
The ROM program is a journey. This year our journey began with discussion of issues of identity, nationalism, forgiveness, the power of narrative, reconciliation, peacebuilding, and healing, then moved on to themes of leadership and action, exploring topics such as integrity, how to recognize the truth, how to disagree well, and servant leadership.
This was the first year that our summer gathering took place in Bosnia & Herzegovina, and a highlight of the program was hearing from two experienced Bosnian peacebuilders.
Mirela Popaja-Hadzic talked about the effects of intergenerational trauma and toxic narratives on young potential leaders in the Balkans: “In Yugoslavia abusive, authoritarian leadership was modeled,” Mirela shared. “Centuries of trauma led to lost dignity, power, voice. In the 90s, after the war, nationalism arose, but not nationalism for nationalism’s sake but nationalism for election’s sake. In order to talk about division and toxic leadership we must talk about intergenerational trauma. If we want to build leaders in our country we have to teach critical thinking. When you’re subordinate for centuries, you forget you have a brain. It is hard because we are unlearning what we were taught for 700 years.”
Amra Pandzo shared some of her story of how surviving the Siege of Sarajevo (and marrying a Serbian husband in the middle of the war) motivated her to become a peace activist. “If you feel like you can’t accept just one narrative as definitive, then you are on your way to becoming a peacebuilder,” Amra shared. She then led us through an engaging exercise to identity our core group values in peacebuilding.
We were grateful for the opportunity to learn general principles and also to learn more about the history and complexity of the country we were guests in, which is still starkly divided between the three main ethnic and religious groups: Catholic Croats, Muslim Bosniaks, and Orthodox Serbs.
The topics presented by our team of speakers all worked together to convey a cohesive message: we should not allow the media or society to build bigger barriers and create larger gaps between countries, or religious, ethnic, or social groups. Instead, we should cross divides, listen to each other’s stories, see each other as human beings, and then we will be able to heal divisions and have productive conversations about the issues facing our societies and work together to find solutions.
Gent, Albania: “ROM teaches you that you have more in common with other people than divisions and how to come together to create a better society and bring our countries together and avoid war between us. Also ROM is a place where you can learn that not everything that you knew is as you knew it, there is not just your truth but there are also other truths and you have to accept this and try to create a balance between your truth and the truth of other peoples, which make it possible to create a more peaceful world.”
Josh, USA: “What I learned is that ROM is a safe place to express yourself. You can express your values without people telling you that you are wrong. Its a place where different communities, countries, and cultural values come together to express themselves in a way that is uplifting and allows people to feel heard. In many ways I learned more about my country. I learned about myself and how I can apply different people’s values from different countries to my own country. Ultimately it’s a place of building amazing relationships with people you never expected to build a relationship with. ROM is a place that exposes you to so many different values, and beliefs, and ideas, only to allow you to grow your own ideas. But above all, everyone here has a good heart, a good spirit and wants to do good in their own communities, and that is something we can all relate to and connect on to some degree. I’m going to be a better person when I go back, and it’s been a great two weeks, and one of the best summers of my life.”
Noemi, team member from Spain: “ROM is a place and a moment where you can meet people from different European countries. Where you get to know each other on a personal level and many things about their countries. And they become like your family. You can talk about politics, life, many topics, and at the same time you have fun.”
Dusan, Serbia: “ROM is a great opportunity, it’s really fantastic to be here and experience all this diversity of other cultures and countries and learn about them and learn how we can overcome divisions with other countries, with our stereotypes and everything else that composes our reality. We learn how to apply the skills we learned here in our hometowns and native regions. We learned skills here and how to be leaders in our communities. There is much work to be done to influence others and take what we learned here back and try to be transformative and compassionate leaders. It’s a great opportunity!”Learn More
A ROM and EDI Regathering brought together 50 participants from 11 countries from the past 20+ years of both programs in Crikvenica, Croatia, October 12-16, 2022. The goal of this event was to come together to renew old friendships and form new ones, share and receive encouragement and new vision and motivation in bridging divides and serving the needs of their communities, and to talk about how to apply the principles of ROM and EDI to current challenges.
We heard from a number of ROM and EDI speakers from past years. Anthony Cordle spoke on our identity and purpose and Jesus’ identity and purpose. He also challenged us to examine our friendships: “With whom are you intentional in your friendship? Whom have you articulated it to? Ask each other how you are with God, spouse, children and keep each other accountable.” He continued the following morning speaking about the gift of forgiveness and sharing from his own rich life experience.
EDI Director Justin Kagin spoke about the Love Economy – specifically how the modern system of banking and debt enslaves impoverished individuals, families, and nations.
Maarten van der Fliert, General Director of ECPM spoke about faith and politics in the EU - how to live out our faith and principles in a divided Europe.
Former ROM Director Tihomir Kukolja on how we can be salt and light in divided and turbulent times.
We learned a lot from an inspiring panel with two journalists (Noemi Mena Montes and Sylvia Vrinceanu) and two women involved politics (Kristina Nano and Mihaela Kovacs) on how we can bring about change in our communities through small steps.
A highlight of the event was breaking up into groups by country to discuss what we see as the greatest challenges facing our countries and brainstorming ideas of how we can respond to them. The challenges were similar in the countries that presented their ideas afterwards: lack of respect for others and the environment; corruption and nepotism; division, lack of reconciliation, toxic leadership, and much more. While none of these problems have simple solutions, our group did have a few ideas - education (we had quite a few educators in our midst), top down and grassroots approaches, and starting with ourselves and our families and communities, among others.
We took time in the program to honor the memory of Allen Belton, who was an integral part of every ROM gathering from 2001 to 2017. His sense of humor, warmth, and unconditional love are greatly missed.
On the final morning, Alan Cutting spoke about what Jesus, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, can teach us about friendship. He pointed out that Jesus' disciples became his friends because he poured himself out to them, not because he received from them.
And ROM Director Bojan Ruvarac concluded the event with an encouragement to the participants as they returned home to continue to grow their friendships and find ways to work together to live out Jesus’ principles in their communities as they address challenges and injustices.
We hope that ROM Regathering participants will return to their communities as bridge builders and peacemakers, and help bring unity to communities divided along ethnic, religious, or socio-economic lines. Our time together reminded us that while our communities face many, many challenges, change is possible. Through the power of friendship and working together, we can bring about changess, if we start with ourselves and those closest to us in our sphere of influence and remember the power of small steps.Learn More
The Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation is organizing a Renewing Our Minds (ROM) leadership forum together with Forum for Democracy and Ethics (FDE) in Tirana, Albania, March 24 - 26, 2023. The theme of the forum is "Leadership in Times of Crisis."
This leadership forum is a continuation of ROM, with the aim of diversifying and enriching ROM's activities and vision.
The leadership forum is an international event which will bring together participants, speakers and guests from the Western Balkans, the US, the UK, and EU countries.
The hosts have created a joint team to organize this leadership forum, with the aim of providing participants with a weekend of learning, culture, education, principles and values based on Jesus of Nazareth, reflection, friendship and fun.
The speakers will include international and Albanian politicians, diplomats, academics and activists who will share their experiences, reflections, and knowledge with participants.
We invite you to register online as soon as possible for the Leadership Forum.
The Forum for Democracy and Ethics is an organization conceived, founded and directed by a group of young people in Albania involved in politics, representing different political ideas and parties. This initiative aims to promote tolerance, dialogue, and collaboration between political actors, and other actors in civil society, business, media, and academia, that influence everyday life in the country.
"Renewing Our Minds is a Southwest European project of change with a vision of a transformed leadership, inspired by the character and teachings of the person of Jesus. Its mission is to develop leaders of integrity, committed to reconciliation, peace-building and healing social action. The first ROM Gathering was launched in 1999 in the beautiful town of Fuzine in Croatia. Over the years ROM has grown into an international family of friends that embraces young adults and emerging leaders from 40 countries of the world. In 2011 ROM became part of a non-profit organization, Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation.Learn More
The Summer Gathering for Renewing Our Minds (ROM) and the annual Forum for Economics, Diplomacy, and Integrity (EDI) will occur simultaneously for the first time this year. Both run from June 25 to July 6 in Crikvenica, Croatia—a beautiful coastal location. We are excited to announce that both organizations plan to use the opportunity to bring young adults together,connecting individuals passionate about servant leadership, building up communities, and pursuing their callings. After listening to knowledgable speakers, attending workshops, participating in group excursions and recreational activities, and just relaxing and reflecting with your peers, you will leave strengthened, challenged, committed, and motivated to create change.
ROM was born in 1999 with a vision for a post-conflict future, one in which the younger generation comes together to help build a more just and peaceful world. The annual peace camp is designed for young adults from the Balkans, other European countries, and even further afield, all connected by one mission: restoring, revitalizing, and reconciling individuals and groups. Individuals with various national, ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds are transformed into leaders who then return to their homes to transform their communities. Intrigued? Find out more here
The EDI Forum gathers young professionals in the areas of economics, business, organizing, and politics who reside in Croatia and nearby countries. The organization focuses on integrity, transparency, moral leadership, service to the community, and a commitment to helping the poor. The EDI is an intensive and inspiring journey that will enrich you emotionally, intellectually, relationally and spiritually, and motivate you to make a difference in your country and community. With the help of speakers and mentors, you will dive deeper into your vision for both personal and community development. Curious? More information is available here.
Both ROM and EDI are based on the life of Jesus and his teachings while equipping participants to build bridges across areas of difference. They are designed as journeys that first transform the individual, and then equip the individual to make a difference in the lives of others. While each program will remain distinct, the chance for participants in each to learn with and from one another will strengthen connections and create a stronger network for all to lean into after returning home. Several slots are still available for each program—don’t miss this valuable opportunity to meet with like-minded leaders who are actively seeking to create change in their communities and throughout the world!Learn More
Over the last week of June and the first week of July, 44 participants from 15 countries came together in Crikvenica, Croatia to learn how to be agents of change in their communities and throughout the world. Through talks led by sixteen speakers with a wide range of backgrounds, small group discussions, and interactive workshops, attendees of ROM’s annual gathering came away better equipped to pursue peace at the individual, societal, and global level.
The first week of the Gathering was focused on ensuring participants feel welcome and embraced, allowing all to feel more comfortable sharing their stories, talking about their identities, and acknowledging their need for healing–and how they might help others to heal. A vital starting point was a talk about identity in the context of peacebuilding, and how those who take on this role might be perceived as enemies by some. We further explored peacebuilding by learning about positive and negative peace, as well as the importance of learning to disagree well, an essential component of conflict resolution. To understand our own identities better, we explored our own personalities. We were also reminded of two connected realities: it’s never too late to understand and refine our identities, no matter how old we get, and that when we have discussions about what we believe are the most pressing issues in our society, we need to invite all generations to the table.
To help aid in healing, participants attended a session on “art as a weapon of peace,” which challenged them to create as an antidote to violence and war. Later in the week, we leaned into our vulnerability by using art to reflect on our experiences and process what we’d been learning, sharing stories, poems, and paintings. We were reminded that sharing deeply, in a space filled with empathy, is a way to release our trauma and our burdens.
To mark the midpoint of the Gathering, we joined with our sister organization EDI (Economics, Diplomacy, and Integrity) for spiritual sessions centered on Jesus and his example of servant leadership. This neatly tied together a few themes from earlier in the week: How Jesus’ actions were able to disrupt the Roman Empire, the importance of maintaining our integrity when we gain power, and the need to use power to improve the lives of others, particularly those who hold very little.
This delved nicely into our second week, which focused on practical ways we can lead and serve. Leaders, we were taught, must not only know how to manage difficult conversations, but be able to ask themselves, “Am I the difficult person in this situation?” Attendees participated in workshops on the power of mentorship, leadership and parenting, and on self-knowledge and feedback. To consider problems close to home that require both leadership and service, speakers conducted workshops on the reality of human trafficking, disrupted peace, and the rise of nationalism in the Balkans.
The Gathering was brought to a close with ideas about how we can all move forward with peacebuilding and social change. Speakers shared their knowledge of how to take actionable steps in moving an organization forward, reminded us to use the skills we already have on hand, and discussed the importance of controlling the future of organizations rather than trying to predict what might happen next. We were reminded of the importance of forgiveness in healing from trauma; without healing, it is impossible to create lasting peace and reconciliation. It is also impossible to truly effect change if one succumbs to burnout, which is why we conducted a roundtable discussion on the feelings that arise when one is approaching such a point and how to halt its advance.
One of the biggest obstacles to pursuing peace and creating change is a feeling of isolation. One benefit of events like ROM’s summer gathering is having the time to forge relationships with other like-minded individuals. Friendships were struck over shared meals and hikes along the beautiful Croatian coastline. They were deepened through laughter and tears, the willingness to be vulnerable and the sharing of passions and dreams. Connections were formed through International Night, which included learning a Syrian dance, hearing music from Brazil, and sharing jokes from Serbia, as well as Talent Night, filled with songs, dances, and skits. Participants came away knowing that they’re not alone in this work, that they have others to whom they can confide their worries and express their joys.
Throughout the year, ROM intends to help strengthen the bonds created in Crikvenica, as well as encouraging new ones. In addition to individual check ins with the leadership team, we plan to host events in Novi Sad, Serbia and Bucharest, Romania, and hope to add others to the list.Learn More
ROM is pleased to announce we will be hosting a conference on the importance of environmental stewardship in Novi Sad, Serbia, from 6–8 October.
To help raise awareness about the vital importance of caring for the Earth, ROM is hosting a conference in Novi Sad. This conference will be the first of its kind in Serbia in which Christians will make a public declaration about the importance of creation care and our responsibility to protect the environment. We welcome all who are interested in the long-term health of the planet to attend, regardless of belief.
The event will begin on Friday, 6 October with a public panel discussion. On Saturday, we will spend time in nature while learning about ecosystems in the morning, while the afternoon will be centered around talks on how we can engage the church and the Christian community in actively caring for creation. We will close with a worship service on Sunday in which spirituality and ecology will be intertwined. All components will be conducted in both Serbian and English.
Please save the dates, 6–8 October. A registration page will be available soon!Learn More
Join Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation and PHZ Church for a conference on Ecology and Social Responsibility, 6 October – 8 October in Novi Sad. This will be the first time in Serbia that Christians will come together to make a faithful declaration about the importance of caring for creation and protecting the environment.
The Ecology and Social Responsibility conference kicks off on 6 October 2023 with a public panel presentation in the center of Novi Sad. On Saturday morning, we’ll immerse ourselves in nature with a family friendly walk along the Danube, collecting chestnuts as we go. As agents of change, we’ll put our commitment to social responsibility into action with a garbage collection. The afternoon will feature talks on a variety of topics, including forest protection, pollution emissions, sustainable architecture, and the connection between Christian faith and caring for the environment. The weekend wraps up on Sunday morning with a worship service focused on creation care.
All who are interested in taking action to care for the environment—regardless of belief or background—are welcome. The conference will be conducted in both English and Serbian.
Click here to register for the conference
See you in Novi Sad!
The 2023 Ecology and Social Responsibility Conference, which gathered Christians from Serbia and neighboring countries to proclaim their faith-based responsibility to care for creation, was the first of its kind in Serbia.
The event began on Friday evening with a public panel discussion at Media Centar SPENS in Novi Sad. Dusan Beredi (Bera), pastor at Protestantska Hrišćanska Zajednica, a local church, spoke about ecological damage in Serbia, particularly the region of Vojvodina. One significant problem is a general apathy toward environmental issues, especially among young people. Without significant social action, it is impossible to create systemic change, which the country desperately needs. Steve Michmerhuizen, from Resonate Global Mission and Creation Care Balkans, reminded listeners that events that impact the natural world affect people around the globe, regardless of their current location. He encouraged participants to make connections with others in order to inspire more active protection of natural resources. Gergő Pásztor Kicsi from the Evangelical Union of Students concluded by noting that while younger people do tend to care about the environment, it is difficult to get them involved, and it is vital to make such efforts.
On Saturday morning, conference participants joined Hanina Nada, an NGO helping families and children with disabilities, as well as the Royal Rangers, a church-based ministry for students, for a nature walk in Sremska Kamenica. The town is located on the edge of the Fruška gora, the country’s oldest national park, and guides provided short history and ecology lessons during breaks. One focus was a grove of chestnut trees, where the group was meant to gather chestnuts to roast after the walk. With few to be found, it was a hands-on lesson in why the trees were dying. On the walk back, participants gathered trash from the path, noting the difference between areas used primarily by hikers dedicated to protecting the ecology of the park, and viewpoints where larger numbers of the public stopped. Both activities helped to reinforce the need to commit to taking action in support of the environment, and how even small contributions can have a big impact.
The afternoon was dedicated to short presentations from community leaders and activists. Bojan and Rachel Ruvarac welcomed attendees by outlining the connection between peacebuilding and ecological responsibility. By addressing topics such as caring for creation, Christians can move closer to God’s vision of the world, a just place in which all are able to flourish. In addition, caring for the environment is crucial to establishing lasting peace, given that climate change affects marginalized populations far more harshly, and diminishing resources can lead to armed conflict. Pastor Bera built on the theme, explaining how the conference speakers would inform participants about tangible ways they could address their calling to protect the environment.
After spending time in the park, it was fascinating to hear from Dragana Arsic, leader of the OSFG Movement (Protect the Forests of Fruska Gora). Her storytelling was a great example of how personal connections can motivate individuals to help care for the environment, and inspire others to do the same. She also spoke about how environmental activism is a means to stand up to oppression and reclaim your voice, bringing people together as they advocate for justice at multiple levels of society.
Architect Ivana Rakaric provided a detailed presentation on sustainable architecture, an excellent reminder that all aspects of our lives can harm the environment if we do not make the conscious decision to act in a socially responsible manner. She also pointed out that creating sustainable living spaces tends to be a community event, which helps reduce costs, spread awareness—and makes things more fun.
Pastor Bera took to the stage again to speak about why Christians in particular should care about biodiversity, mentioning problems occuring in Serbia, but also offering positive examples of creation care resulting from people taking action to reverse ecological damage. The day ended with Steve Michmerhuizen outlining the theological reasons Christians should care about the environment, a particularly helpful tool for attendees who wanted to encourage their communities to take action by showing how their faith encourages them to do so.
On Sunday, during a special worship service at PHZ Church, where Pastor Bera delivered a special message on the beauty and importance of nature. The weekend conference wrapped up with a visit to Petrovaradin Fortress, an iconic landmark in Novi Sad. With a history rooted in diplomatic negotiations between the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires, the visit was a way to help participants remember the connection between peacebuilding and ecology.Learn More
The 2023 Ecology and Social Responsibility Conference, which gathered Christians from Serbia and neighboring countries to proclaim their faith-based responsibility to care for creation, was the first of its kind in Serbia.....
Join Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation and PHZ Church for a conference on Ecology and Social Responsibility, 6 October – 8 October in Novi Sad. This will be the first time in Serbia that Christians will come together to make a faithful declaration about the importance of caring for creation and protecting the environment....
ROM is pleased to announce we will be hosting a conference on the importance of environmental stewardship in Novi Sad, Serbia, from 6–8 October. To help raise awareness about the vital importance of caring for the Earth, ROM is hosting a conference in Novi Sad. This conference will be the first of its kind in Serbia in which Christians will make a public ...
Over the last week of June and the first week of July, 44 participants from 15 countries came together in Crikvenica, Croatia to learn how to be agents of change in their communities and throughout the world. Through talks led by sixteen speakers with a wide range of backgrounds, small group discussions, and interactive workshops, attendees of ROM’s annual gathering ...
The Summer Gathering for Renewing Our Minds (ROM) and the annual Forum for Economics, Diplomacy, and Integrity (EDI) will occur simultaneously for the first time this year. Both run from June 25 to July 6 in Crikvenica, Croatia—a beautiful coastal location. We are excited to announce that both organizations plan to use the opportunity to bring young adults together...
The first ROM Leadership Forum took place in Tirana, Albania, March 24-26, 2023. The Forum was organized in partnership with the Forum for Democracy and Ethics (FDE), and brought together 30 young leaders and speakers from Albania...
The Forum for Leadership and Reconciliation is organizing a Renewing Our Minds (ROM) leadership forum together with Forum for Democracy and Ethics (FDE) in Tirana, Albania, March 24 - 26, 2023. The theme of the forum is "Leadership in Times of Crisis...
A ROM and EDI Regathering brought together 50 participants from 11 countries from the past 20+ years of both programs in Crikvenica, Croatia, October 12-16, 2022. The goal of this event was to come together to renew old friendships and form new ones, share and receive encouragement and new vision and motivation in bridging divides and serving...
The goal of the Renewing Our Minds (ROM) summer gathering that took place in Trebinje, Bosnia & Herzegovina August 6-20, 2022 was to equip ROM participants to return to their...
We aim to organize these regatherings every two to three years to provide a platform for members of the ROM and EDI community to...
While there is currently less fighting in Kyiv, life is still very difficult –utilities and other infrastructure have not yet been fully restored, there are food and fuel shortages, many families are facing costly repairs or the need to totally rebuild their homes, and many have...
A new refugee crisis has come to Eastern Europe with the war in Ukraine, and members of the ROM and EDI community are responding. To support these efforts, we have decided to re-open our Golden Rule account. By donating to the Golden Rule account, you can...
Economics, Diplomacy and Integrity (EDI) is an initiative designed to support the development of young professionals and students in the areas of politics, economics, and business which are based on the life and teachings of Jesus. EDI 2021 gathered 27 people from 10 countries in Crikvenica, Croatia July 24-August 1, 2021 to learn about how....
This year’s Renewing Our Minds (ROM) gathering brought together about 45 young leaders from the Balkans and beyond July 1-15, 2021 in Crikvenica, Croatia. The program focused on identity, forgiveness, reconciliation, and leadership based on the principles of Jesus. The interactive program took the participants on a journey from “Who is Jesus?” and “Who am I?” to help them see those around them more...
Let me share five video reports we have produced in 2019 that highlight
several aspects of the Renewing Our Minds (ROM) ministry in 2019 as well as partnerships
connected with ROM in various ways. ROM20 #3, Jesus Plus Nothing: Since its birth in 1999
ROM - Renewing Our Minds ministry has always remained faithful to …
Preparations and registrations are well on the way at this time for the 1999-2019 ROM (Renewing Our Minds) Celebration Gathering, to take place in Ohrid, Macedonia, 29thJuly to 5thAugust, 2019. This leadership and reconciliation gathering, under the banner “20 Years of Empowering Ambassadors for a …
Dear Friends, In October last year the organizers of the ROM (Renewing Our Minds) Integration Forum released the Croatian edition of the Memorandum on the ROM Integration Forum, with conclusions and recommendations for Croatian government and non-government organizations and institutions, as well as for EU and international organizations that could benefit from the findings of …
For many years this house was a home of drug addicts and prostitutes. After several moths of
hard work and some opposition the work of the building transformation is almost complete.
Mihal Kreko shares the latest video update. Hope House March 2019 Report...
John Masuku, a seasoned and senior radio broadcaster, producer and journalist in Zimbabwe,
and a member of the international community of ROM - Renewing Our Minds friends, sent us
today the following statement
Three years ago the Renewing Our Minds volunteers witnessed the incoming waves of refugees entering Europe via the Balkan route, and crossing Serbia and Croatia. We were only a small part of a much bigger effort that engaged churches, faith based organization, non-profits and individuals who dedicated days, weeks and months, and some of them …